Exact Match Keywords Guide, Tools & Best Practices

Embarque has created this detailed guide on how to level up your Google Ads campaigns with exact match keywords that skyrocket your click-through rate and reduce the cost of your campaigns (plus a bonus section on how to get more traffic from organic search results using exact match keywords).

Table of Contents

Google's search ad platform, Google Ads, is one of the most powerful advertising channels in the world. You can show your ads to people searching for your products and services and turn them into customers, all via a Google search page.

Sounds simple, right? Well, not so much, mastering match ads on Google or any PPC platform requires a deep understanding of keyword match types and how you can leverage them across your campaigns.

That’s why Embarque has created this detailed guide on how to level up your Google Ads campaigns with exact match keywords that skyrocket your click-through rate and reduce the cost of your campaigns (plus a bonus section on how to get more traffic from organic search results using exact match keywords).

What is a keyword match type?

Before we take a deep dive into exact match keywords let’s quickly cover the basics.

Keyword match types give you more control over who triggers your ads. When you set up your first ad you’ll be able to choose from three possible match types.

You can choose whether your ads will show up when someone searches for the exact keyword you're targeting, or if you want to show your ad when someone searches for something similar to the keyword.

The example below shows how the three match types work in action.

Image credit Google Ads Help

Let’s take a look at broad and phrase matches before we dive into exact matches.

What is broad match

Broad match has by far the largest reach in terms of the audience that can see and click your ad. The image below shows how a broad match works using the keyword low-carb diet plan as an example.

Broad match is the default setting for Google Ads campaigns. It means that your ad can appear whenever a user’s search query includes one or more of the words in your key phrase.

What is phrase match

A phrase match still allows you to target a wide variety of keywords but gives you more control than broad match.

Image credit Google Ads Help

When you use phrase match for your ads they will only appear when someone types in your target keywords or similar variables in the exact order you enter them but will still show up if they enter anything before or after your keywords.

Delving deeper into exact match keywords

Exact match keywords help you target your ads more precisely. By focusing on your exact target audience you can increase your CTR (click-through rates) and drive down your CPC (cost per click).

Compared to phrase and broad matches, exact matches will receive considerably fewer impressions (eyes on your ad), but those impressions are laser-focused on your offering, typically leading to much better CTR and conversion rates.

How does Google define exact match?

Google defines exact match ads as:

“Ads may show on searches that have the same meaning or same intent as the keyword. Of the three keyword matching options, exact match gives you the most control over who views your ad, but reaches fewer searches than both phrase and broad match.”

Here’s an example from Google.

Image credit Google Ads Help

It’s really important to take note of the section of the quote stating:

“searches that have the same meaning or same intent as the keyword”

This means that if you set up an exact match ad your ad can still appear for keywords that are:

Accounting for all of the above allows Google to still match your ads to potential customers even if their search varies slightly from your exact targeting.

To create an exact match ad in Google Ads you need to enter your keyword within square brackets[.....]. This is called Syntax and signals which keyword match type you would like to use on your ad.

So to create an ad targeting the exact keyword mens golf shoes you would enter your keyword into Google Ads as [mens golf shoes], it’s that simple!

How exact match keywords have evolved

When paid search was in its infancy, exact match was a fairly blunt tool. Ads would only show for your exact keywords meaning marketers had to create gigantic lists of very similar keywords just to cover the market.

By 2017 Google improved exact match to incorporate close variants of your keyword. This meant that ads targeting mens golf shoes could appear for keyword searches that do not exactly match your target but very closely meet the same searcher intent like golf shoes men and men golf shoe.

They made changes again in 2018 to include even more variants to exact match including “close variants that share the same meaning of your keywords” and any synonyms, paraphrases, and search results pages with the same search intent.

Using negative keywords alongside exact match

As exact match started to show up for more and more variables, marketers started to lose the granular control they loved with exact match targeting. To try and remedy this, Google introduced negative keywords.

Negative keywords allow you to select keywords that you DO NOT want your ad to show up for.

With the exact match not being quite as ‘exact’ anymore, it’s important to regularly assess your ads to see if they are appearing for any low converting or irrelevant variations of your keyword. The more regularly you check your ad performance the less risk you have of spending your budget on keywords that don’t convert into customers.

Bonus: How to Google search exact phrase

As exact match evolved in PPC, Google wanted to give search engine users more power over how they search for exact keywords and thus exact phrase was born.

Exact phrase allows search engine users to search for keywords in the exact order they type them simply by containing the keywords in quotation marks (much like Googe Ads). For example, if you want to find content that contains the exact phrase "how to search", you can use the following query in a Google search.

This is incredibly helpful when you’re looking for quotes, lyrics, specific names etc.

Where do exact match keywords fit in with my other campaigns?

Exact match is an incredibly powerful tool but shouldn’t make up all of your PPC campaigns. Despite Google’s best efforts to increase the reach of exact match, it still doesn’t provide the flexibility of other match types.

The best approach is a healthy balance of match types that compliment each other. Use broad and phrase to find previously undiscovered keywords that can help drive more sales while using exact match for laser-focused keywords with buying intent.

How to find exact match keywords

Finding exact match keywords for your ad targeting is crucial to getting the right eyes on your products or services. Equally, creating content on your website that targets specific keywords can help drive traffic from search engines without needing to pay for clicks.

With that in mind here are some free and paid tools you can use to uncover high-converting exact match keywords that can grow your brand today.

Keyword Planner

Google Keyword Planner is a free tool you can access via Google Ads. You can start by entering a stem keyword that will generate other relevant keywords or by entering a website.

Pro tip: If you have a competitor that offers similar products or services, by entering their website address, you can often uncover high-converting exact match keywords that drive their traffic and sales.

You’ll be met with a list of potential exact match keywords you can use for your next PPC campaign. You can easily sort by search volume to help allocate your budgets and they give you a handy indicator of the CPC for any given keyword.

You can either export all of your keywords into a sheet or select them using the tick-box on the left to start deploying your campaigns right away.

Don’t forget these keywords aren’t just for PPC campaigns and can be great content ideas for your website or social media.

While you can get access to Google Keyword Planner without running ads you do receive considerably more accurate search volumes when you’re running live paid ad campaigns.


Ahrefs is a powerful marketing tool that allows its users to find new keywords and track competitors’ organic and paid search strategies alongside lots of other tools.

You can take advantage of the keyword magic tool to uncover new keywords or dive into the organic research section to spy on your competitors' paid and organic keywords.

Google Search Console

Another Google tool that offers you an insight into the keywords that power your own website. Google Search Console is a gold mine of keyword ideas. It’s simple to set up and starts gathering keyword data right away.

To make the most out of Search Console you’ll need to head over to the performance report as pictured below.

Scroll down to see a list of the queries your website ranks for in Google organic search. It should look just like the example here.

Here you can order keywords by impressions (how many people viewed your listing on search results) or clicks (how many people clicked from a search results page through to your website).

Inspecting the keywords you rank for in organic search results is a great way of finding new exact match keywords for your PPC campaigns. You can easily export up to 100 keywords at a time directly from Search Console.

Critical thinking

Not necessarily a tool but invaluable either way. While all of the tools above are a fantastic way of discovering new keywords they are just that, tools.

The primary factor at play here is you and how you use the data these tools provide. Just because a keyword works for a competitor doesn’t mean it will work for you if it doesn’t relate to your particular products or services. 

No tools will be able to ascertain how a keyword relates to your business or how well it will perform other than you. Take all of the keywords you find and think ‘would I use this keyword to find my products or services’ if the answer is no, it’s probably not the keyword for you.

Broad and phrase PPC campaigns

Broad and phrase campaigns are constantly uncovering new exact match keywords.

Don’t forget to consistently monitor your broad and phrase campaigns for high-performing exact match keywords that can be split off into individual campaigns.

How to use exact match keywords in your website content to rank on Google

Organic Google search results don’t give you the same granular control you get with PPC campaigns. Unlike Google Ad’s virtual auction house the order in which websites are shown for any given keyword is controlled by an algorithm and exactly how it works is somewhat of a mystery for obvious reasons.

As with all systems, there are some pioneers who have taken the time to test different techniques and their effect on Google’s organic search results. The findings and best practices derived from these ongoing tests are used to help individual web pages rank higher on search results, this is commonly known as SEO (search engine optimisation).

Thanks to this we have established some best practices that allow you to target exact match keywords using the pages on your website. Let’s run through how you can optimise your web pages to appear on page one of Google.


Your H1 is the title of your web page and is possibly the most powerful signal you can provide to search engines. 

To rank well in search results it’s critical that your H1 contains your exact match keyword. It can appear anywhere in the H1 alongside supporting copy but it needs to be there.

Now, this doesn’t mean you should go changing all your H1’s to exact match keywords with no context. Include words that help convey what the page is about like in the example here.

Anyone visiting the page knows exactly what they're being presented with and the exact match keyword orphan pages is there for search engines to decipher the content and meaning of the page.


A URL is a Uniform Resource Locator or a web address. It's the unique identifier for a resource available on the internet.

When you create a new page on your website you’ll be able to select the words that are included in your URL. Try to keep your URL short and where possible only include the exact match keyword as shown above.

Start of content

Always include your exact match keyword somewhere in the first four sentences of your blog or article.

This typically happens naturally while writing but it clearly highlights that your page is focusing on your exact match keyword and reinforcing the relevancy of your H1.

Throughout your content

When you create the copy for your new web page it’s really important to use close variables much like those that would trigger exact match keywords in Google Ads.

By including synonyms, plurals and variations of your exact match keyword you display a deep understanding of the subject you are writing about and will be rewarded with a higher ranking on search engine results pages.

Check out our guide on semantically related keywords to learn more about how you can use closely related keywords to level up your page and website rankings.

Image ALT tags

An image ALT tag is a short description of the image. It helps users who are visually impaired to understand what the image is, but it also helps search engines to understand what the image is about in order to index it properly.

Including your exact match keyword in your image ALT text sends another positive signal for Google to rank your page for your exact match keyword.

Only include your exact match keyword if it concisely describes the content of the image, ALT tags are here to help people not just for SEO wins.

If your website uses WordPress it’s easy to jump into your media folder and assign ALT tags to all your images as shown below.

If you use writers to create the content on your website consider using an SEO editing process to ensure you’re ticking all of the boxes above.


Now you’re all set to start finding new exact match keywords to power up your PPC campaigns at scale. Check out our blog for other great tips on PPC, SEO and digital marketing that you can put into action today!

Julian Canlas

I’m Julian, one of the co-founders of Embarque, which offers productised SEO content marketing services. I’m an SEO content strategist by trade. My line of work involves creating a top-to-bottom SEO content strategy for brands based on their current needs and how well they’re attracting clients through organic search.

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