What is the Difference Between Broad Match, Phrase Match and Exact Match?

There can be a lot of confusion between the use of the three match types in various search or SEO functions.

Let me try to explain.

Now, there’s a big difference between using these things yourself in a Google search, and the traffic data you’ll see in Google AdWords Keyword Tool or other keyword research tools.

In Brief

  • Broad match = Contains all the words, may be in any order, and may include other words
  • Phrase match = Contains all the words, in order, and may include other words before or after the phrase
  • Exact match = Contains only these words in this order

Searching Using Broad Match and Phrase Match

If you type the words – unusual christmas gifts – into a Google search, you’ll get a lot of results.

Here I got 3,560,000 results from google.com.

Broad Match

That’s a BROAD MATCH. I typed in the 3 words “unusual”, “christmas” & “gifts”.

What’s Google telling me here? It’s telling me there are 3.5 million pages that are about all of these words – but not necessarily about “unusual christmas gifts.” They just happen to have something about “unusual”, something about “christmas” and something about “gifts.”

For example, you could get a page that includes all those 3 words – anywhere on the page.

Phrase Match

If I put the phrase inside quote marks, I’m giving Google a request for PHRASE MATCH.

This is saying: Give me pages that are about “unusual christmas gifts”.

Usually, what that means is, you’ll pages that include that phrase – in that order. That cuts down the number of results – from 3.5 million to 198,000.

What About Exact Match?

(You can’t do an exact match search on Google.)

Now let’s look at the three match types in something like Google AdWords Keyword Tool.

Broad, Phrase and Exact Match in Search Stats

In the screenshot below, I have asked Google AdWords Keyword Tool for stats on “unusual christmas gifts” using all 3 match types: Broad, Phrase, and Exact.

It is showing the number of searches per month, both Globally, and Locally (UK, in this case).

But it’s giving 3 different numbers. Which is right?

It depends what you’re asking for.

  • unusual christmas gifts (without punctuation) is showing the Broad match results, i.e. “how many people type in search queries that include all of these words, but not necessarily in that order, and possibly among other words too”
  • “unusual christmas gifts” (inside quotes) is showing the Phrase match results, i.e. “how many people type in search queries that include those words in that exact order”
  • [unusual christmas gifts] (inside square brackets) gives Exact match results, i.e. “how many people type in that exact phrase in that order, and no other words”

How to Understand the Differences

  • You’ll always get more results for Broad match over Phrase and Exact, and you’ll always get more results for Phrase than you do for Exact. (Of course, if you type in a single-word query, the numbers for Broad and Phrase will be the same.)
  • It’s possible for different pages to rank for a Phrase match than for a Broad match. Remember that most searches are Broad anyway. Most people don’t know you can put quotes round a phrase in Google. (But the Phrase-match results don’t mean that someone has used quote marks!)
  • So what’s most useful when it comes to predicting traffic? For phrases of at least 2 words, I generally use Exact match type, which I find gives the best indication. I rarely do keyword research for single words these days, and if I do, I’ll use my judgement to estimate the likely search traffic from between the Broad and Exact match results.
There is a lot more to understanding the subtle differences between the match types. Please feel free to ask any questions in the Comments below.
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