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Phrase Match Modifier: The fifth keyword option

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Jessica Ries 15/01/21

The Phrase Match Modifier is an (unofficial) keyword option that allows marketers to target relevant keywords even more accurately.
In general, keywords and search phrases are the be-all and end-all of a successful search campaign on Google Ads. However, the possible official keyword options are surprisingly rigid constructs that put clear limits on marketers. We will introduce you to the Phrase Match Modifier below, which will allow you to significantly reduce your wastage in the future.


Anyone who uses Google Ads knows the keyword options inside out.

Google gives us marketers the opportunity to determine which search queries trigger the delivery of an ad. The better the match between search intent and keyword, the higher the probability of success of your advertising measures. This means your conversion rate increases and the click costs decrease.

However, strong, restrictive broadcasting measures can limit the reach of the ads. For example, if you only use the Exact Match option to perfectly match search intent and ads, you avoid wastage (and cost). But have you really thought about every keyword variation? And can you keep track of your Google Ads account with so many keywords?

We also know from experience that low wastage often contains a lot of new potential.

And it is at this point of your consideration that the usual juggling with Google Match Types begins and sooner or later the first question arises:
Can I combine keyword options? 

Because your problem to include the keywords as flexible as necessary and at the same time as rigid as necessary can’t be solved by the usual match types.

Can keyword options be combined?

In general, Google does not allow a combination of different keyword options (Broad Match and Broad Match Modifier are both considered Broad Match and can therefore be combined)

correct execution of keyword options
(Source: Google)

In the end, this “combination prohibition” means that there is no possibility to combine separately written words in a certain order WITH additional single terms, which are then allowed to enter sequence-independently. In short: Phrase Match and Broad Match cannot be combined.

In German ads, it is a problem for few marketing managers, because the German language allows fascinating word constructs. You can combine (almost) at will several terms in one word. With or without hyphen. And we German speakers really like to take advantage of these possibilities. See words like: Rinderkennzeichnungsfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz (just one of many insane examples from the Duden).

So all you have to do is offer Google the most common combinations possible as broad match modifiers and your ads will be served.

In ads and keywords which are in English, the situation is different. Combined terms are not written together in English, not even with our beloved hyphen. Therefore, the order of keywords or search terms can be relevant.

Understanding search intention

Let’s say you offer in-service training courses in Excel. A possible keyword is +part +time +excel +course.

The search terms report shows you the following search terms on which your ad was placed:

  1. part time course excel for beginners
  2. excel course part time
  3. time of the excel course part
  4. advanced part time excel course

I guess you have recognized the problem. The third search term has a completely different search intention than finding your course offer. This user simply wants to find out about the time of an undefined course.

The ideal solution would be a combination of the keyword options phrase and broad match modifier, i.e. “part time” +excel +courses

Due to the combination prohibition of the keyword options, this is not possible and you are unfortunately left with little choice: Either offer the search terms in many combinations in a severely restricted manner or live with the scattering losses or the costs for these.

The Phrase Match Modifier

Marketer Ian Sherk has found the solution for us.

Due to his own frustration, he tried to outsmart Google – with all sorts of (even bizarre) variations of symbols in the keywords. During these attempts, he noticed a circumstance that we’ve all seen before. Only, apparently, no one drew the right conclusions yet.

Here’s the theory: If you enter www.weventure.de in the search, the search term report shows the URL without dots: www weventure de.

Google apparently interprets the dot as a protected space, as do writing programs. In the reports, the dot is of course no longer displayed (just like in Docs, Word and Co.).

Ian ran several tests to confirm his hunch and got the desired result. He was able to fix Broad Match Modifier keywords in their order.

Syntax of the Phrase Match Modifier

The syntax allows a combination of Broad Match, Broad Match Modifier and Phrase Match in just one keyword. All that is needed is a dot to connect the terms and simulate a protected space for Google.

Match TypeSyntaxBeispielSuchbegriff
Phrase Match &
Broad Mod
+phrase.match
+broadmod
+part.time
+course
course excel part time
Phrase Match &
Phrase Match
+phrase.match
+phrase.match
+part.time
+excel.course
excel course part time
Phrase Match &
Broad Match
+phrase.match
broad
+excel.course
best
top excel course in town
Phrase Match &
Broad Mod & 
Broad Match
+phrase.match
+broadmod
broad
+part.time
+excel
course
excel workshop part time


And the quality factor?

Observations and tests (among others by Ian Sherk) show a positive effect of the Phrase Match Modifier on the quality factor.

Logically, the chance of a click is higher if the displayed ad matches the search intention..

This means that there is automatically a higher CTR, which is the factor with the strongest influence on the quality factor. In addition, the relevance of the ad and the target page also play a role.

Simply put, the more the search intent matches keywords, ads and landing pages, the higher the CTR and consequently the higher the quality factor and the lower the average CPC will be.

Influence on stemming

With stemming, Google refers to the freedom to vary relevant keywords in order to be able to play them out on search queries. Google uses the root word for this purpose. In the basis, the variants refer, for example, to changes from singular to plural: “chair” becomes “chairs”.

The Phrase Match Modifier also allows the use of stemming, but is much more conservative in the variations allowed than other keyword options.


Conclusion: Actually not foreseen by Google, the Phrase Match Modifier offers a fifth keyword option for online marketers. If used correctly, it can bring significant added value, especially for companies for which only a certain sequence of words in search terms is relevant and who at the same time do not want to do without the freedom of the Broad Match Modified option. For proper implementation, it is important to consider in advance whether the Phrase Match Modifier is really the ideal tool. When using it, search volume is excluded to avoid wastage. However, this apparent wastage can also provide profitable opportunities for a company. Considering possibilities and limitations, the option can be a powerful tool in the Google Ads universe.

Jessica Ries
Jessica Ries Digital Marketing Manager

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