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Everything you need to know

Everything you need to know

Keywords and match types are one of the most basic elements of PPC, but like almost everything else in technology, there is constant change.

Even if you’re an experienced PPC veteran, the Google Ads phrase battle you grew up with is probably no longer the phrase battle we have today.

In fact, the current iteration of phrase match has only existed since mid-February 2021, when it absorbed some of the functionality in keywords modified to Flexible Match (BMM).

In this post, you will learn the most important things you need to know about the new sentence adaptation. But first let’s cover the basics of match types.

What are keyword types?

At their core, match types define how close a user’s search query must be to an advertiser’s keywords to be eligible to trigger an ad.

In the early days of Google Ads, match-type behavior was very straightforward:

Exact match: Only show an ad when the query is exactly the same as the keyword. Custom match: Also show the ad if there are extra words before or after the keyword. Broad match: Show the ad as long as all the keywords are part of the search, regardless of word order.


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As you can see, is exactly the most limiting match type, and wide is the loosest. Sentence match sits somewhere in between.

By offering match types, ad platforms let advertisers indicate their willingness to show ads on searches of varying degrees of similarity to their keywords.

Instead of having to think of all sorts of queries that a user could make if they were looking for what an advertiser is selling, they can use looser match types like broad and phrase to still show ads for those queries.

Close variants

But as I said, things are changing all the time and these easy-to-understand match types got confused when Google introduced dense variants.

Whatever type of match you use, close variations change what your keywords really are and give the ad platform considerable leeway for how they match keywords with search queries.

Think of close variations as a set of defined ways that Google is allowed to change your keyword. What may look like a keyword in your ad group is actually potentially hundreds of fairly similar keywords behind the scenes. You can not see them, but they are all ready to show your ad.


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Fortunately, it’s no secret how Google comes up with all these variations. They are based on 11 specific manipulations:

The 11 documented ways of ‘close variants’ keyword matches work in Google Ads

What is the new sentence?

So match types have become more complicated. What does a sentence match look like now?

By today’s definition, “Ads may appear on searches that include the meaning of the keyword that can be suggested, and user searches may be a more specific form of meaning.”

The big shift is that it is no longer about words in the keyword, but what those words mean.

The meaning has replaced keywords.

For sentence matching, the meaning of the keyword must be part of the query – but there may be additional text in the query.

References to word order that were previously part of the original sentence definition are gone. Since Google’s machine learning is now good enough to distinguish between whether the order matters, it is no longer necessary to always maintain a strict order.

This sounds a lot like the original wide match. But the broad match itself has also evolved and can now show ads for related searches, even if their meaning is different.

The following table explains the differences between the match types and helps show where sentence matching fits in relation to broad and accurate.

Examples of how Google’s three main keyword types work.

If we look at the definition of the three match types, here is what match types are in 2021:


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Exact Match: Show an ad when the query has the same meaning as the keyword Phase Match: Show an ad when the query has the same meaning as the keyword Broad Match: Show an ad when the query relates to the keyword

Sentence match remains in the middle of the spectrum of specificity.

Now that you know what sentence matching is, let’s look at some related things that are useful to understand.

Know what Google considers to be the same meaning

Sentence matching relies on machine learning (ML) to determine things like when the order of words in the search changes or does not change the meaning.


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As a simple example, it helps Google determine if to search [buy chocolate milk] and [buy milk chocolate] means the same.

Changes the order of the orders [milk] and [chocolate] change the meaning?

By using phrase matching, you agree that Google’s ML will make these decisions for you.

But do they always get it right? We do not know unless we monitor it.

Fortunately, Google breaks out query types for us in reports, so we can see when a query was a simple phrase tip versus a phrase variant with close variants.

In the reporting section, create a table report and include rows for “keywords”, “search terms” and “search draft type”.

Note that some search terms are “Phrase” and others “Phrase (close variant).” By adding a filter, you can only see the close variations and decide if negative keywords are needed.

By the way, you can do the same for exact keywords.

Use reports in Google Ads to report on what Google considers to be close variations of your phrase matching keywords.

With more advanced automations, you can even analyze the semantic difference between the keyword and the search term and automate the negative keywords when Google gets too far from the intended meaning.


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Smart bidding is friendly with phrase match

Another automation you have control over is bid management. And you should seriously consider automating bids if you let the ad engine decide some of the keyword matching for you, such as when using phrase or flexible matching.

Since match types are loosened significantly, it is worth considering automating your bids.

When Google decides to show your ad for less related queries, you will not be stuck bidding the same amount for those searches.

When they are less related, they may convert at a lower level and possibly have lower bids to perform at an acceptable level in terms of CPA or ROAS.

Negative broad match has different rules

By adding keywords, we tell Google when to show our ads. It makes sense that Google implements dense variations and gives advertisers options for looser match types like broad and phrase because they make it easier to reach more people who might want to buy what we sell.


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Negative keywords, on the other hand, serve a completely different purpose. They are used to eliminate searches we do not want, either because they work poorly or because they are irrelevant.

So negative keywords do not use close variations and extensions and are much stricter with the words advertisers will exclude.

They only block ads from showing when the exact words of the negative keyword appear in the search.

That said, negative keywords come in different match types.

So a negative phrase like [chocolate milk] means we do not have to show ads for [buy chocolate milk] while still showing ads for [buy milk chocolate].

The keyword means something for keywords with negative phrase.


Keywords are no longer just about words, they are now about meanings. However, ad engines still provide advertisers with a range of match types so they can inform Google how loosely or closely a search query should match their keywords.

Sentence match sits between accurate and wide, so it provides a balance between precision and volume.


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Once you understand how the new phrase game works and you implement monitoring and bidding automations, it’s a very useful match type for advertisers.

More resources:

Image credits

All screenshots taken by the author, June 2021

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