Keyword Match Types When Doing Keyword Research for SEO

Travis Van SlootenSmall Business SEO

Keyword research is the first and most critical step in the entire SEO process. One tool that we use when working with clients to determine which keywords to rank their web pages for is the Google Keyword Tool. This is a SEO industry-standard tool and the best part is, it’s free for anyone to use!

By default, the Google Keyword Tool returns data for the broad match but it can return three different keyword match types when doing your keyword research. The three types are:

  1. Broad
  2. Exact
  3. Phrase

Broad Match

Let’s assume the keyword you want to target and rank for is “dentist minneapolis.” If you go to the Google Keyword Tool and type in that phrase, you’ll get this result:


The first thing you’ll notice is that the keyword doesn’t have any quotation marks around it or brackets. When you are looking at broad match data, which is what the Google Keyword tool returns by default, you’ll just see the keywords listed without any quotation or brackets around them.

The next thing you’ll see is the competition indicated by low, medium, or high. This is the pay-per-click (PPC) competition – as in how many people are paying for traffic for that keyword.

The next columns are Global Monthly Searches and Local Monthly Searches. You want to concentrate on the local monthly searches as that is the number of searches done in the country location you have set in the keyword tool – which by default is the U.S.

For our example, you see 9,900 local monthly searches. This is the number of monthly searches for keyword terms that contain the words in your targeted keyword phrase but in any order.

Let me give you some examples to make this easier to follow. If your targeted keyword is “dentist minneapolis,” then the broad match data you see takes into account the number of searches for keywords like:

best dentist in minneapolis
childrens dentist in minneapolis
affordable minneapolis dentist

Those keywords have the words, “dentist” and “minneapolis” in them, but not in any specific order. They “broadly” match your targeted keyword. What this means is, there are 9,900 searches done every month (on average) for keywords that have the words “dentist” and “minneapolis” in them.

Exact Match

The data shown for exact match type is the number of monthly searches that are conducted for the exact keyword you are targeting. Here is what we see for exact match data for “dentist minneapolis”:


Notice the [brackets] around the keyword phrase? Brackets around a keyword phrase indicates it’s an exact match. There are 390 monthly searches conducted for the exact term: dentist minneapolis. This means people are literally typing in “dentist minneapolis” (and nothing else) when they do a search on Google.

Phrase Match

This data reflects the number of monthly searches conducted for keywords that contain your target keyword phrase in the same order as your targeted keyword phrase. For a phrase match search for “dentist minneapolis,” we see this result:


This time the keyword phrase has “quotation marks” around it to indicate it is a phrase match. There are 1,300 local monthly phrase match searches conducted. For the phrase match search data, it would include the monthly searches for keywords like:

top dentist minneapolis
affordable dentist minneapolis
dentist minneapolis mn

Notice how our target keyword phrase, “dentist minneapolis,” is included in each keyword term and the order stays the same. The searches for the keyword, “minneapolis mn dentist,” would not be included in the phrase match data because while it contains the words, “dentist” and “minneapolis”, they are not in the same order as our target keyword phrase: dentist minneapolis.

What Keyword Match Type Should You Use for Keyword Research?

We use broad match data only to generate keyword ideas and to determine the relative popularity of keywords. For example, if we’re working with a Minneapolis dentist, we might want to know if more people search for dentist (singular) or dentists (plural) so we’ll look at the broad match data for “minneapolis dentist” and “minneapolis dentists” and here’s what we’ll see:


Looking at the broad match data, we see that more people search for the singular version (9,900 searches) than the plural version (4,400 searches).

The next step we’ll do is look at the exact match data for keywords we uncovered during our keyword research using the broad match data. Since we discovered the singular version is more popular than the plural version, we’ll look at the exact match data for “minneapolis dentist” and we’ll see there are 170 monthly searches:


That’s actually a decent number of searches so we’d likely stop there and put that on our list of keywords to consider targeting. We’ll look at the competition next before we ultimately decide to target that keyword but during this phase of the keyword research, it will be on the top of our list.

If the exact match data didn’t look too promising, then we’d look at the phrase match data. Take the keyword, “minneapolis dentistry,” for example. Here is what the exact match data looks like:


There are less than 10 exact match searches. That isn’t good because the number is too low. We like to see at least 25 exact match searches. We’ll then look at the phrase match data:


It’s still showing less than 10 searches. While we might not totally eliminate this keyword from our list at this point, it will definitely go towards the bottom of the list. In many cases, you’ll find that while the exact match search isn’t high, the phrase match is decent – at least 100 or more searches. If the phrase match data looks o.k., then we’ll consider targeting the keyword.

The Bottom Line of Keyword Match Types When Doing Keyword Research

The main things to remember are that by default, the Google keyword tool returns broad match data, which isn’t too useful to determine which keywords to target. Broad match data is only useful to give you keyword ideas. To determine what keywords to target, you need to look at the exact and phrase match data – and in that order. Once you’ve identified keywords that have decent exact and phrase match searches, you can start looking at the competition and then decide if the keywords are worth targeting!