Making sense of Competition & search Volumes – Exact, Broad & Phrase Matches

I had an email the other day asking some questions about using
phrase match or exact match for keywords. I stated to type my quick reply
and soon realized that trying to explain it all in a few words was
not easy. After half an hour I ended up with a thesis instead of

Anyway, some of it is a little heavy but if you can get through it
all without falling asleep i think it will clarify a lot of things
about keywords and broad/phrase/exact matches etc. It is more
complicated than the simplistic explanations normally given and I
try to explain the why as well as the what, which always helps me
understand better.

Maybe someday I will put it in a video but for now it’s all here in
this email.

Anyway enjoy (or sleep, your choice:)


deep breath……….

Phrase match – Broad match – Exact match.

There is a difference  between a “Phrase match search”. i.e. what
is typed into Google with quotes around it (which is really an
exact match search)and the phrase match results in Google Adwords
KW tool (GAWKWT)

This is because GAWKWT gives results that would trigger an Adwords
ad. NOT find a website via the search.

So results would look like this

keyword = “large red nose”


exact match = “large red nose for sale”
The exact keyword appears in the search expression

phrase match = “how to fix a red large nose”  or ” a will a large
red moustache enhance a small nose”

Note the keywords do not need to be in the same order, just exist
in the search expression.

Broad match = “Does Alice Cooper have a large nose” or “Rudolf the
red nosed reindeer”
Only part of the keyword  need exist in the search expression and
even related keywords can trigger an Adwords with broad match

So,  in GAWKWT:

An EXACT MATCH result is where the keyword appears in the  results
in the exact word order.

A PHRASE MATCH is where the all the keyword words appears in the
results in any order and even inter-spaced by other words.

A BROAD MATCH is where any of the Keyword words appear in the
results and even closely related words like plurals etc.)

Things are different, however, in Google Search Results

When Typing into Googles search page the rules are slightly

So, In Google search: (in this sense “keyword” and “search
expression” are interchangeable descriptions)

Phrase match = “large red nose” (keyword in quotes) would return
websites with that exact search expression in it. So it is more
like the Exact match of GAWKWT.

Broad match = large red nose (keyword without quotes) would return
websites that contain all, any or related keywords like plurals
etc.. Similar to the broad match of GAWKWT.

It is also important to understand that Google’s search results are
not just based on matching keywords to website content. They are
also based on off-page SEO (backlinks) and anchor text.

Anchor text is the actual text that is the clickable link from
another website. When searching for a keyword In more mature blogs
or those with a lot of backlinks, Google will also look at the
anchor text for the keywords.. So in extreme examples a website can
display one the first page results for a keyword that it does not
actually have on the page. It is likely that they appear heavily in
the anchor texts of other websites linking to this one. So when
looking at the actual search results, they may not be absolutely
reflective of the “keyword match” you may expect.

The final thing to look at is the number of results displayed when
you perform a Google search.

A phrase match search (exact?) will generally show a lot less
results than a broad match  search for the same keyword. This is
fairly obvious given all the above information.

So considering that a “phrase” match generally means the whole
keyword is found in the website content, you can assume that the
total number of sites shown in the search result are the
competitors for that keyword.

This has been taken one step further and has been used as a measure
of the “strength of competition” as well as the “number of
competitors” . Now although the later is probably accurate enough,
the assumption of the former, in my opinion (and testing) does not
hold water.

If you are looking to estimate the strength of competition for any
particular keyword using the Google search results then you will
need to apply some additional search parameters to improve your

Firstly adding “allintitle” to the keyword (using phrase match)
will give you the number of sites that have the exact keyword in
the title tag. This is likely to be sites that have
specifically optimized their on-site SEO for the keyword.

Secondly adding “allinanchor” to the phrase match keyword search
will return the number of sites that appear to have  their of-site
SEO optimized for that keyword. (but keep in mind that this would
list a site with only 1 Backlink with the keyword in the anchor

This is likely to give you a better measure of competition for the
keyword but it may not be as accurate as it may seem at first.

Firstly, there is no way to be sure that the results of both those
searches include the same websites. So if, for instance, you
returned 50,000 sites in the “allintitle” search and 50,000 sites
in the “allinanchor” results then you can make the following

From one extreme you could have 50,000  sites that are completely
on-site and off-site optimized for that keyword.

At the other extreme you could 100,000 sites that have either the
keyword in the title or one of it’s backlink anchors contain the

In the first case you would be facing stiff competition but in the
second case there would be very little competition even though the
total number of competing sites is higher.

Now, to add one more layer of issue with this you need to consider
the actions of your fellow marketers over the last few years.

When everything on the websites was more “natural” then using
the above selections would probably have been OK in maybe 75% (or
even more) of the time. However the very fact that everyone has
adopted the “competition criteria” means that they have skewed the
results. Highly targeting the keywords that fit the parameters
will, by that very action, make their competition unnaturally high
and make obsolete the very selection process that chose them in the
first place.

OK, lets now move from keyword Competition to Search Volume.

The search volume of a keyword is important as it is a guide to how
many visitors you may get to your website if it was optimised for
that keyword. Search volumes come from GAKWT not the Google search
results. Clearly it is better to choose higher search volumes than
lower ones.

But which measure exact/phrase or broad?

When considering visitors from natural search engine results (NOT
Adwords) I find it easier to compare the GAWKWT exact match to
Google Search Phrase match and the GAWKWT broad match to the same
in Google results. You can then forget about the Phrase match
results in GAWKWT.
When a website is new (and optimised) it will tend to rank for it’s
main keywords only. Over time it begin to rank for longer tail
keywords and related terms until at some point as the site becomes
more  “authoritative” it is likely that the longer tail keywords
will bring in more traffic than the primary original keywords.

So when looking for keywords for anew website you should use the
EXACT search results in GAWKWT. This is a better indication of the
early traffic to your site.

For the long term though you should look at the broad match
results. This is an indication of the traffic you may get as the
site ranks for the longer and related keywords. It is indicative of
the ultimate potential of the site.

So a keyword with say 1000 exact searches a month and 100,000
global a month would be good starter but potentially a very high
traffic site I the long term.

A 4000 a month exact search keyword with only  10,000 broad match
global results would be better in the short term but unlikely to
ever achieve the same traffic levels of the previous example






11 responses to “Making sense of Competition & search Volumes – Exact, Broad & Phrase Matches”

  1. Barry Avatar

    Thanks Tony,

    I must admit I didn’t fully understand all the differences or how they affected my results but you have explained it in depth.

    It is bit heavy going at times but i understand it is a complicated subject. I’ve printed this off to re-read again later as I am sure I won’t remember everything.

    keep up the good work

  2. Doug Avatar

    Hi Tony
    Love the new site and am really appreciative of your explanation of the differences between what you get on GAWKT and what you get from Google search.
    I can see I’m going to have to read it again and make notes this time that I can refer to when I’m trying to work out new domain names.

    I thoroughly endorse your first post about sticking to the task in hand and breaking it into bite size pieces. As you know I’m easily distracted and I need a “to do” list to keep me on track.

    Looking forward to investigating the site in greater detail when I get up to date with the list.

    Many thanks and best regards

    1. Tony Avatar

      Thanks Doug,

      It’s a long post I’m afraid and one that you will definitely need to read more than once. I’ll try not to make too many of those 🙂

  3. Allen Avatar

    Hi Tony,

    Thanks for all the great free resources you give us.

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