Understanding The Difference Between Exact And Broad Match

This week I discovered something very interesting through my post about buying a domain name from one of my readers. In the post I asked for people to submit domains with over 1,000 exact-match local searches, most people clearly had no clue what I meant. What I discovered is that many (and by many I mean most) Domainers don’t seem to know the difference between broad and exact-match. This is incredibly dangerous for investors who think they are buying domains with lots of search volume, when really there is little or in many cases, none.

So what’s the big deal? I’ll tell you.

First let’s talk about the tool that you need to use if you want to understand search volume, there’s only one and it’s the gold standard, it’s called the Google Adwords Keyword Tool and it uses real data from Google. This is the only tool you should be using to get this data, many other tools on the web claim to estimate this but often they are just using Bing data and applying a random multiplier which doesn’t quite work.

Okay, now that you know the tool you should be using, what the heck is the difference between exact-match and broad-match, and why does it matter so much?

Exact-match search volume will show you how many people are searching for the keywords you enter. So if I input “buy insurance” it will show me how many people are searching for the words “buy insurance” on Google. Simple enough right?

Broad-match search volume does something completely different. It shows how many people are searching for the keywords I enter, and other “relevant variations”. So if I enter “buy insurance” it’s going to show me the aggregate search volume for “buy car insurance” “best insurance to buy” and the list goes on, and on, and on. This is why broad match is so much higher than exact match in so many cases because it is a zillion different combinations of words, only one of which is the exact keyword phrase you entered.

When it comes to Domain Development broad match doesn’t give you the slightest clue as to how much traffic you would get if you ranked well for the keywords in your domain. Instead broad match tells you how you’d rank for hundreds or thousands of other terms, all aggregated together. Getting on the first page of Google for all the gazillion different terms that broad-match takes into account really is impossible, you might be able to get on the first page for a handful of them, but that means you’re only getting a small percentage of that traffic.

So why is broad match checked by default?

The Google Adwords Keyword Tool was built for advertisers, and advertisers want to see big numbers because they want their campaigns to reach a larger audience. If I’m a big car insurance company I don’t just want to appear on the first page for “buy insurance” I want to be on the first page for anything slightly related to the concept of buying car insurance, and thus broad match is a great fit.

Sadly, what I found from my post this week as that so many new Domainers have names that match keywords with absolutely no search volume at all, but think they have names with tons of search volume. Chances are they’re trying to sell these names and not finding any buyers and then scratching their heads because they think the search volume is high…when it’s not.

You can get a domain that has a broad search volume of 100,000 on the first page of Google, heck let’s say the #1 spot and only get 10 visitors/month. This could happen because the exact match is only 20.

I don’t mean to burst anyone’s bubble here, but I know that I probably am. Better to learn this now rather than later when you’ve acquired an entire portfolio of junk right? So next time you go to buy a domain and you’re basing your decision on search volume, make sure you’re looking at exact-match otherwise you could be growing your collection, rather than your investments.

{ 14 comments… add one }

  • Sukh May 2, 2012, 2:46 pm


    Very informative article which should be read by everyone who involved in IM sector. I was surprised to read so many replies on your other post that people didn’t have clue about Exact match search volume or local search volume. I have seen you mention these stats (exact search volume, min cpc, max of 2 words etc) so many times through out this blog and in your ebook. So either people don’t read these things or choose to ignore.

    I remember you use to have a video show where people submit domain names and you use say ” Yes, Yes, Yes” or “No, No, No” and all other combinations ( I think it was Buy, Develop, Flip). Any chance bringing that back.


    • Morgan May 2, 2012, 3:17 pm

      Thanks @Sukh, very glad that you liked the post! I too was very surprised and also sad to see so many people with domains they thought were great, that probably aren’t even worth reg fee!

      Oh well, better for them to learn now than never right!

  • jimmy May 2, 2012, 5:31 pm

    this is insanely frustrating when you’re trying to buy a domain and the domainer thinks there’s 500,000 searches a month, when in fact there are about 75 and they then think their domain is worth 15K…

  • World Ne.ws May 2, 2012, 6:11 pm

    hey wow the old comment system is back …..now i will make the effort, it is truly is amazing how many folk do not get the importance of an exact match search. Perhaps the most common mistake for newbies ?

    • Morgan May 2, 2012, 11:31 pm

      Yes, brought back the old comment system after having too many problems with disqus. Glad to hear you like this more and thanks for your comment!

      Very true, this is probably one of the #1 mistakes I see people making.

  • Thomas May 2, 2012, 9:00 pm

    For a single keyword such as “books” which would be the difference ? It would combine the keyword with random words using broad?

  • Louise May 2, 2012, 9:48 pm

    Let me just ask you: Would you EVER sell an exact match one or two keyword dot com with over 1000 exact local searches, and CPC higher than $1.00 for only $1200? Would you? Would you?

    • Morgan May 2, 2012, 11:32 pm

      Hi Louise, yes I would and have many times 🙂

  • Louise May 3, 2012, 2:07 pm

    Thanx for answering.

  • SDM May 3, 2012, 5:21 pm

    In December of 2010, I posted this brief summary for new domainers that covered what I considered to be some of the most important info on domaining:


    It speaks to exact match domains and other issues relating to SERP & site visitor traffic. The warning I issued following Mark’s comments are coming to fruition because all the mini-sites I referred to in that post enjoyed first page Google search result ranking at the time.

    Unfortunately, 2010 mini-site content just won’t cut it any more, but that is a site quality issue — not an exact match domain issue. Sites with quality content like BrainComputerInterface.com moved ahead of 200,000 other published sites with the same three word phrase to claim a Google page one SERP within about one month of launch and have maintained that position ever since.

    I gotta get busy updating those other mini-sites!

  • Bruce May 4, 2012, 8:13 am

    Thanks Morgan. The article was very informative.

  • DomNics May 4, 2012, 4:24 pm

    Exact isn’t exactly as exact! I will have to man up and admit my mistake – it seems I erred on the other extreme. Here I was thinking exact meant the actual name as it is in the domain name exactly. As there is no such thing as a domain name “buy insurance”. So logically, to me anyhow, an exact match would be “buyinsurance” as one word – this obviously only makes sense in one word domains, however, google does intuitively seperate the words quite often.
    I might have to withdraw names I submitted. e.g. “nLogo” gives 5,400 EXACT searches, whereas “n Logo” gives 60,500 exact searches according to Morgan’s generally accepted version.
    Morgan, thanks for pointing out how I have been underselling!. However, there is always more than one way of looking at stats depending on if you’re a seller, investor buyer, developer buyer, end user or whatever…
    It’s all good and well to have the fanciest fishing rod out… but you gotta be able to land that fish…!

  • Sunil May 15, 2012, 5:10 am

    This is excellent info as i am just starting out in Domain buying and selling as a business. Thanks for the tip and heads up – although i do use Google Adwords to lookup Keywords and searches – I never paid attention to this small but important aspect.

  • Ed May 16, 2012, 5:22 am

    Exact match is the best measure of traffic
    if you are looking to get free traffic from
    search engines. Unfortunately, only veteran
    and intermediate internet marketers are
    aware of this fact.


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