How Do Google Keywords Work In Search Ads? Your 2022 Guide

How Do Google Keywords Work In Search Ads? Your 2022 Guide

When customers are searching on Google, they use a variety of search queries, known as ‘keywords’; these can be one or two words, or strings of text. As an advertiser, Google allows you to bid on those preferred keywords that are relevant to your business.  If you don’t know already, Google made some changes to how advertisers will select keywords for their Google Ads in 2021.

Today we want to focus on how the three key categories of keyword match types work for you in 2022, i.e.: ‘Broad’, ‘Phrase’ and ‘Exact’. If you are unsure of what these categories mean, that could be costing your business, particularly if you go with Google’s default ‘broad match’, which could mean your ad shows up when unrelated searches are made, but there is a remote link to their search intention.

Once you get clear on what keywords could work best for you and which type to select for your campaign, your next step in drilling down will be research on the relative prices of different terms and phrases.  , Then you then pay to display your relevant ads to your potential customers and keep a close eye on how your ads perform daily, if not hourly to begin with.

Prices for any particular term do vary, depending upon demand for those words from competitors, but a rule of thumb is: the shorter the phrase, the more competition and therefore, potentially less conversions, or even presence on pages 1 or 2 of Google’s SERPS, where most of the marketer feeding takes place!  ‘Long tail’ phrases, that get more specific on your ‘seed words’ are more likely to reach those people looking for exactly what you are describing, i.e. their conversion rates will be higher and in all likelihood, will have less competition.

Keywords Intents Matter

Before we jump into keywords match types, it’s important to cover keywords intents. Be aware, that every search has behind it the intent of the person Googling.   These user intents fall into four main categories.

To understand what’s at play, let’s have a look at four keywords and phrases and the intent behind them:


  • Google. Navigational intent by the researcher, i.e. the Google search engine user wants to find a specific web-page, site, or location.
  • Google Ads Agency. Commercial purpose, whereby a user wants to investigate brands, products or services offered by Google Ads service providers.
  • How to Advertise on Google. Informational. The user wants to find an answer to a specific question about advertising on Google.
  • Advertise my Business on Google. Transactional intent, when the user wants to complete an action to advertise via Google, or they want to make a potential purchase, i.e. bid on keywords to achieve conversions from clickers to consumers.

As you can see, although all search queries are related to Google, the intent of each search might be quite different between online browsers, indicating their priorities by the context and phrasing involving the word ‘Google’.

Google’s job in offering their browser is to bring together those people seeking knowledge, services or products, with the providers of what they want. Google want to match both parties up as quickly as possible, so users will continue to use their search engine.  Over their years of data harvesting, they have continually sought to match the intentions of researchers with parties who can help them with their search.   Understanding your intention, as a Googler, and meeting your research needs by matching you with appropriate offers hinges on the keywords used by you and the organisations reaching out to you.

Good is  all about the intent now! Google has slowly changed the way the keyword match types work with ‘Intent’ in mind to speed up the process of meeting the needs of researchers and providers of products and services alike.   

This is why it’s essential to conduct a comprehensive keyword research and planning process, using any of the free, or paid, keyword advertising tools available out there, including the Google’s keyword planner.  As a solution provider, you must identify what your potential customers will be searching for, by looking at the words that they use to find what you want to offer them; it’s a kind of psychological profiling based on language your target audience uses.  

You have a range of tools available for checking out which terms best define what you offer, as defined by your audiences.  As a beginner, Google’s free Keyword Planner tool is a solid foundation, but as words and intent matter, it’s also worth checking out paid tools such as SEMrush and ahrefs that offer free trials to check out their value in enhancing your keywords research in your Google Ads.

Keywords Match Types

Broad Match

Broad match keywords are Google’s default setting when setting up your campaigns; check out the bottom of the box you drop your keywords into.  This can be altered to get more tight targeting. As opposed to ‘exact’, your ad could show up when a search is made on a similar term or product.  So if you bid on ‘winter jacket, anyone searching on that term will see your ad, all being well, but also, other people looking for ‘winter coat size guide’ can get to see your ad too.  Google may also display your ad for the singular or plural versions of your keywords. 

According to their guidance : “Your ads could also show for … synonyms, and other relevant variations”. This is where results can get slightly unpredictable.  So for instance, brand names may appear before the words ‘winter jacket in someone’s search; if you don’t stock those brands and you have not been brand specific, then if your ad is clicked, this is a bounced away click, because your terms used were too generic, or ‘broad’

Think about what products or services you are providing and really drill into the thinking of your ideal customer.  Will generic terms cut it for someone who wants exactly what you offer?  If not, then you could lose money by accepting the default ‘broad match’ keyword type. Don’t be seduced by Google’s apparent promise that broad match offers, i.e. that: “ broader match types capture all the queries of narrower match types, plus more,,,”  It is as they say, only ‘loose matching’.

Phrase Match

Phrase match Ads get closer to the concept of ‘intent’, i.e. what the intentions of searchers could be as they type into search engines.  So, when you put double quotation marks around your keyword, e.g. “winter jacket” , this puts you into the ‘phrase match’ category. 

With double quotes around your keywords, your ads could show up for searches that include the implied meaning of your keyword. So potential customers seeking a particular brand might not see your ad appear for them, because the intention is clear on your part that you are not looking for the generic seeker.

There may be words before or after in a long tail search which demonstrate more exact meaning, but still match what you offer with your phrase match type keywords, e.g. ‘waterproof winter jacket’, ‘outdoor winter jacket’. Meaning is captured too, e.g. ‘jacket for winter, ‘winter jacket offers’ and so on.  What you won’t show up for is: ‘Are normal winter jackets O.K. for snowboarding?’ You will definitely never show up for ‘(Brand name) women winter jacket, but that probably says more about the brand than keywords!

So phrase match allows you to prevent your ad showing up for searches that are less relevant than with broad match, so although you show up less, your ad will also appear against more searches than with exact match keywords.   

You do need to monitor results here, because where word order is switched it could mean a different intent altogether to yours.

Google Keywords Matchtypes

Source: Google ‘About Keyword Matching Options

Exact Match

As the name suggests, exact match must do exactly that; your ads containing your bracketed [keywords] (exactly like that) will only show up when a Googler uses those exact terms in their search, e.g. for [winter jackets], anyone searching on winter raincoat should not see your ad but they would see your ad if they typed ‘jacket for winter’ as it’s a close variant.  Exact match keywords are your tightest fit, most targeted of match types.

Choosing exact match, you are telling Google to ONLY show your ads when a Googler types keywords into the search engine that are virtually identical to yours; the intention between seeker and provider are highly compatible, optimising conversion rates.

In Googology, this is: “A keyword setting that allows your ad to show only when someone searches for your keyword or close variants of your keyword.”

In other words, only when someone searching online uses your exact keywords, in the order you have inputted them and without any words before or after, will your ad show.

So, how do you know when to get really specific with your keywords?  Well, it depends also on where you are in your advertising campaigns.  So, for instance, when starting out, having seen some good search volume for some significant longer tail keywords (or keyword phrases), these could go into exact match campaign strategies.  If you are in the game already and looking to optimise performance of keywords, check out volume in other campaigns and bring them into phrase and exact, split testing for greater insight.


Negative Keywords 

Negative keywords are added into your campaign set up on thinking through all the ways your keywords might be used by online users, but who have no intention of buying into your offer.  It’s worth putting in the time to eliminate irrelevant keyword searches that can waste valuable clicks.  This could be terms that will perform weakly, even if somewhat relevant; but ‘somewhat relevant’ is a costly strategy as you will find out with observation. 

According to Google guidance on  search campaigns, you have the option to choose between the different keyword match types for negative keywords, just as described above, but with the key difference that you will need to think about synonyms (words of similar meaning), singular and plural spellings, likely or common misspellings, plus any  other close variations you can come up with needing to be excluded. 

When All Said and Doing… (Keywords are never done!)

Finding the right keywords, by learning to speak your audience’s language from your research, then undertaking some statistical analysis, followed by sorting your audience segments, is the key to your Google marketing success. Putting in the ground-work of testing match types and checking out volume of searches against conversion is the time-consuming aspect of Google advertising, but after all, you might need to bid on your preferred terms against your competitors, in Google ad auctions for a higher SERP ranking, so getting the edge of them by understanding keywords at a granular level is key. 

Be assured, however, your initial research efforts on what terms and longer tail phrases are being used by your audiences, then segmenting match types and testing the relative performance of match types will pay dividends.  Remember, getting it perfect at the outset is, of course, an ideal, but getting going ‘as near as dammit’ is more important; you can tweak, once you start to see what happens with clickers once your campaigns are running, as suggested moving from phrase or exact, then as you get clearer on where the volume for keywords being used by your audience lies, you can move to broad match, to protect your budget.

If you are worried about wasting your tight budget, Google will help you get clear on where some compromises might be required in the early days, by offering some keywords that are not exactly your ideal, but will certainly attract some of your audience.  Some keywords are pricier than others, the value determined by a number of factors, not least of which is popularity among your competition.  Your competition is your biggest hurdle to getting set up so your ads show up exactly before your hottest audiences.  The reality for many businesses is that there is only so much money you can waste on non-converting search queries, however, so it’s important you choose carefully by going through the learning and planning in split-tests at the earliest stage, perfecting as you go.   Google will always be evolving, but go with their flow in 2022, as described above and your marketing budget will be better spent.

Sam Nouri
Sam Nouri
Hi! I'm Sam Nouri, the founder of AdsRunner. I've been working as a full-funnel digital marketer for nearly a decade, and have managed millions in ad spend for my clients. My aim is to help businesses scale and hit their growth milestones one at a time using innovative advertising methods and proven digital marketing strategies across all digital channels.
Sam Nouri
Sam Nouri
Hi! I'm Sam Nouri, the founder of AdsRunner. I've been working as a full-funnel digital marketer for nearly a decade, and have managed millions in ad spend for my clients. My aim is to help businesses scale and hit their growth milestones one at a time using innovative advertising methods and proven digital marketing strategies across all digital channels.