"Google Ads Does Away With Exact Match"

By: Devin Aubrey, Senior Specialist, Paid Search

Google Ads’ exact match keyword setting is no more. Earlier this month, Google announced that it will begin rolling out exact match close variants, which will replace the exact match keyword setting on Google Ads.

Exact match close variants is a keyword setting that allows an ad to show only when someone searches for an advertiser’s keyword or close variants of that keyword and is currently in an experimental phase, influencing around 10% of traffic. Despite only 10% of traffic being impacted, all accounts are eligible for this setting and will only affect the Google Search network and exclude Syndicated Network Partners. This update will make it easier for advertisers to capture intent through exact match at scale, without the need for manual keyword expansion.

What are the keyword match types?

Keyword match types help control which searches on Google can trigger an ad. Historically, three match type settings were available in Google Ads: Exact, Phrase, and Broad. In 2010, Google also introduced Broad Match Modifier.

  • Exact Match: Ads may show on searches that match the exact term
  • Phrase Match: Ads may show on searches that match a phrase, or are close variations of that phrase, with additional words before or after. Ads won't show, however, if a word is added to the middle of the phrase, or if words in the phrase are reordered in any way.
  • Broad Match: Ads may show if a search query contains an advertiser’s keyword terms in any order, or singular or plural forms, synonyms, related searches, and other relevant variations.
  • Broad Match Modifier (BMM): This is similar to broad match, except that the broad match modifier option must include any keywords designated with a plus sign (+women’s hats) or close variations of them in the search query.

What does the exact match close variants update mean?

Exact match with close variants can show an ad to customers who are searching for an advertiser’s exact keyword or close variants of that exact keyword. Close variants include searches for keywords with the same meaning as the exact keywords, regardless of spelling or grammar similarities between the query and the keyword.

When Google first introduced close variants in 2012, the setting would always match to broad and BMM keywords, with the option to opt in or out of close variants matching to phrase and exact keywords. Once the exact match update goes live In October, the exact match keyword type will be deprecated and replaced with the exact close variant keyword match type.

Exact match keywords will no longer only show on searches that match the exact term. Google considers close variants such as misspellings, singular or plural forms, abbreviations, accents, reordered words with the same meaning, addition or removal of function words, implied words, synonyms and paraphrases, and those with same search intent.

  • Reordered words will only show the ad if the words have the same meaning. For example: if the keyword is [red pants], [pants red] may also trigger the ad
  • Function words, which can be included or excluded, are words that include prepositions, articles, conjunctions, and other words that have no impact on the function of the word. For example: the keyword [pants for women] may also match [pants woman] and trigger an ad
  • Implied words are words that hint or infer the meaning, for example if the exact match keyword is [tesla electric car], ads may show on searches for "tesla car" since "electric" is implied
  • Exact match keywords may now also match to synonyms and paraphrases of the keyword, for example if an advertiser’s exact match keyword is [ladies hats], ads might be triggered by "women's hats"
  • Search intent will show the ad if the keywords have the same meaning, for example, if an advertisers exact match keyword is [birthday gift], ads may also show on searches for "birthday present"

How will this impact advertisers?

According to Google, 15% of searches seen every day are new. They have also expressed that advertisers who frequently use exact match may see up to 3% more clicks and conversions for all exact match keywords, with most coming from queries they aren’t triggering today.

Although the small changes that Google makes to these types of settings every so often may not seem so significant, they are slowly taking away advertiser’s responsibilities and control. Google’s heavy push on automation through machine learning gives Google the upper hand and ultimate control on what is being displayed on Google Ads. Google is stating that its machine algorithms will know which keywords may have the same meaning and intent suitable for the advertiser. The upside to this is that advertisers can spend less time creating expansive lists and focus more on core keywords because each keyword will receive more volume from different variations given. In turn, cost issues may arise as more advertisers may end up bidding on the same word. Therefore, manual QA on keywords will have to be monitored more often to prevent inflation in Cost per Click (CPC).

What are the implications on paid search accounts?

Heavily regulated verticals such as financial, healthcare, pharmaceutical, educational, and insurance are more likely to be affected by this change. Due to approval on which keywords and ads can legally show when a searcher enters a term, advertisers will now have to strictly monitor what is matching to the exact match keywords in the Search Term Reports (STR). Along with monitoring the STR, advertisers will also have to monitor performance, impact on budget, and add additional negative keywords as necessary. Negative keywords prevent ads from being shown when certain keywords are present. If unwanted keywords are matching to the exact close variants, negative keyword lists may become more expansive.

While branded keywords may see an increase in volume as a result of close variants, Google has stated that their system will recognize the difference between branded and unbranded terms. It will become imperative to monitor STR for branded terms specifically.

Finally, advertisers may begin reducing keyword lists with the addition of functional or implied keywords. This change should not be made immediately, but after strict performance monitoring.

Legal teams should be cautious of this change, while approving keywords they should understand how certain terms with close variants might trigger ads.