Our poor words are often abused. A few years ago, the Merriam Webster Dictionary defined the word “literally” to mean figuratively. The next big craze was a Pumpkin Spice latte that apparently contains no pumpkins. And then a few weeks ago, we were told that the truth isn’t truth.
Definitions are changing over at Google too – yesterday they announced that starting in October our “exact match” keywords will get less exact and match to even more keyword variants. Let’s take a look at what this means.
What Exactly (Ahem) Is Google Changing?
Advertisers have always relied on keyword match types to control how their keywords match out to a user’s search. For years, a staple of any successful Google Ads account was the use of exact match keywords, which would only serve an ad when a user’s search exactly matched the keyword. Exact match keywords prevented you from serving an ad if a user’s search didn’t exactly match your keyword.
In recent years, Google has relaxed this definition of “exact match.” In 2014, Google began automatically including misspellings, plurals, and other close grammatical variants of exact and phrase match keywords. In 2017, Google again reinvented exact match keywords by automatically serving ads to searches where the words of the keyword were out of order or included prepositions, conjunctions, or articles.
Google’s most recent change is the third act of a play about the death of exact match keywords as we know them. Starting soon, your exact match keywords will begin matching to “close variants that share the same meaning of your keywords,” including synonyms, paraphrases, and results with the same implied intent.
For instance, if you were bidding on the exact match keyword [yosemite camping], you could now expect that traffic to match to someone searching for “yosemite national park ca camping,” “Yosemite campground” or “campsites in yosemite,” which is kind of broad matchy. In Google’s eyes, the intent behind these searches is all the same – the searcher is looking to go camping in Yosemite.
Google estimates that these changes will increase the reach of our exact match keywords by roughly 3%.
Last year, when Google last updated their exact match keywords, our customers saw a 10% increase in their clicks and 11% increase in their spend from their exact match keywords.
Who Benefits from this Change?
Per their own estimates, Google just increased ad clicks by 3%. But all advertisers are going to be affected in some way as their keywords start matching out to new search terms. Today for instance, 3.5 billion searches occurred on Google and even after nearly 2 decades of handling the world’s searches – about 525 million of those searches have never been searched for before. And while 15% of the world’s searches may seem new semantically, we aren’t spending an eighth of our time online doing something that no one’s ever searched for before. More of those 500+ million searches will find a match to your keywords.
We might know that Eskimos have more than 50 words for “snow,” but Google data reveals that people search for deodorant in more than 150,000 unique ways. I work with over a hundred of the most dedicated paid search professionals in the world, but I can guarantee that even on our their busiest days, no one wants to build out literally thousands of different keywords for the same search. Your Google Ads account even prevents you from creating too many keywords – capping all users at 5 million keywords max.
Small advertisers may benefit from this shift away from semantic search, particularly those who didn’t have a lot of time to add new keywords frequently.
If this change excites you and sounds like it will help your account serve to additional relevant searches, good! You might also benefit from modified broad match keywords, which effectively match out to a lot of the same traffic.
Who Does This Change Hurt?
Semantics isn’t the exciting roundtable discussion you want to have with your creative team, but if the words in your keywords matter a lot to you, now’s the time to prepare.
In particular, advertisers in niche industries should be on high alert following this change, particularly if you’re using long tailed keywords to qualify traffic. For instance, going back to Google’s own example, the keyword [Yosemite camping] might not imply a match for the search Yosemite National Park CA camping if that search were coming from Yosemite, Kentucky or Yosemite, Australia. Likewise, if you’re selling camping gear, the keyword [Yosemite camping] may perform appreciably better than the search terms Yosemite campsite or Yosemite campground.
5 Ways to Prepare for the New Exact Match Rules
Google’s changes for exact match keywords don’t all go into effect immediately. Per their announcement, the change will be rolling out in October to English keywords and other language keywords over the following months. Here’s what you need to do before Google changes your exact match keywords.
1. Review your top exact match keywords
Look at your most popular exact match keywords. Are they more than one word keywords? Does their word order matter? Would changing a word within a keyword to a synonym or a similar word change the meaning of that search? What about adding a location? Or a preposition? If you answered yes to any of those, that keyword may be in trouble.
2. Preemptively add new negative keywords
Adding new negative keywords is an important routine for every PPC manager. If after reviewing your exact match keywords you discover that they’ll start serving traffic to irrelevant reordered search terms, you should preemptively add that search term as a negative keyword to prevent you from losing precious budget on that search term soon.
3. Consider adding other match types
If the idea of losing control over word order or not being able to control the addition or removal of function keywords sounds like a nightmare for you, consider relying more heavily on phrase match keywords. Google has confirmed that phrase match keywords will not be affected by this change.
Conversely, if you’re particularly excited about this change making your keyword management easier, consider adding more modified broad match keywords to your account. Modified broad match keywords enjoy many of these same benefits such as disregarding word order or the addition of new words in a search query.
4. Remove any newly duplicate keywords
In 2017, after Google changed the rules for exact match keywords, a shocking 17% of exact match keywords now found themselves competing against one another simply because the word order within the keywords was shifted. This change, which includes both semantic additions and contextual changes to exact match, will likely have a noticeable effect on your duplicate keyword count!
5. Revisit your Single Keyword Ad Groups
Some people love single-keyword ad groups for the control that they give them in matching the perfect ad to the perfect keyword. While SKAGs may sometimes offer that control, if you’re relying on exact match keywords in multiple single keyword ad groups, there may be a bigger case against SKAGs for the time being. As these keywords match out to even more search terms and compete more with each other, you’re likely going to have much more work ahead of you trying to adjust to this change. If possible, now might be a good time to break up with SKAGs, even if only for your exact match keywords.
This isn’t the first time that Google has changed the way we control our keywords and I’d be shocked if it were the last. Still, very few advertisers appear to be celebrating Google’s recent announcement. We’re all in for a lot of new traffic in October, and determining the value of that new traffic will require some diligence.