As anyone who has run search ads knows, keywords are the fulcrum the medium balances upon. The advertiser’s challenge is to balance a user’s search intent against the actual search query they’re typing in. To give advertisers greater control over the way their keywords are interpreted and applied, Google created a range of match types from very broad application to very specific. The match types are broad, broad match modified, phrase, and exact; with broad match showing ads on any search queries containing misspellings, synonyms, related searches, and other variations and exact match keywords being triggered only by a search query that was a perfect match.
Broad match is always used in tandem with negative keywords, which unqualify search queries from showing your ads if the query contains one of your negative keywords. As broad match triggers keywords on a wide variety of searches, negative keywords are necessary to keep a campaign or ad group focused and targeted. Conversely, exact match keywords were used to target only specific words and were crucial to Dynamic Keyword Insertion in ads. However, exact match keywords haven’t functioned with this specificity in years, and Google is rolling out even more drastic changes this October. If you’re already caught on the changes Google has made to exact match or are just interested in what steps to take next, click here. Otherwise, check out our recap of the evolution of exact match over the years.
In August of 2014, Google announced the first in series of changes to exact match by requiring all keywords to show on “close variants,” a previously optional feature. Close variants is a feature that recognizes misspelled words and very similar iterations or plurals of the same word and allowed these search queries to trigger exact match keywords. There is some obvious utility in this change; an advertiser can hardly be expected to think of every possible way to misspell a keyword and they shouldn’t be ok with missing out on conversions because of this. Variants of keywords often helped in a similar manner, by saving advertisers a little leg work and expanding the scope of exact match by the slightest margins. While some digital marketers were ok with this change, others pointed out that not all close variants indicate the same intent (e.g. surgery and surgeon) and that this change diminished the targeting ability of exact match keywords.
In 2017, Google took the next step in blurring the lines between exact and phrase match or, as some might argue, expanded exact match to make up for the blind spots in phrase match. This update broadened the scope of close variants to ignore word order or the use of function words, which include “prepositions (in, to), conjunctions (for, but), articles (a, the) and other words that often don’t impact the intent behind a query” (Google). It’s worth noting the use of the word “intent” here. Where previously user intent was solely up to the advertiser to decipher, Google’s increased capabilities with machine learning, and their insistence on forcing it upon advertisers whether they accept it gladly or go down kicking and screaming, has led to far greater involvement in determining a user’s search intent for any given query. Again, this can certainly be helpful. Some people search by listing off key nouns and adjectives. Some with full phrases, sentences, or thoughts. Google takes some of the burden off the advertiser again by including these variations in the exact match. What really irked people this time around was the decision to ignore word order. People correctly pointed out that search intent can be completely changed by switching the order of just of few words. But Google wasn’t just showing ads on any random combination of keywords. They only showed up if Google’s machine learning determined that the intent was still the same.
Google’s latest announcement puts even more faith in their machine learning capabilities as they announce exact match close variants will now match the intent of the search rather than the word itself. Google shared a rare bit of internal data, claiming that about 15% of daily searches are new. Of an estimated 3.5 billion searches a day that makes roughly 525 million brand new search queries every single day. In a short post, Google explains how this expansion will reach more people and even improve CTRs. Using the word “intent” several times in a paragraphs length, they ensure that the integrity of a user’s search intent will not be compromised and still matched to your chosen keyword. Further down in the post a small banner suggests using Smart Bidding in tandem with exact match to automate your bidding and make sure your ad spend is going to search queries most likely to click and convert.
What to Expect
These changes will be rolling out in English over the month of October, so watch the traffic your exact match keywords are bringing in. Preemptively go through your keyword lists and add negative keywords you suspect might start triggering your ads and skewing your audience. However, search term reporting will be crucial to understanding how this update actually affects your campaign’s traffic. Continue to update your negative keyword targeting accordingly and take advantage of the exploratory nature of this update by adding new keywords based off newly converting queries.
Other changes to expect could be higher CPCs as advertisers begin to compete more often in auctions due not to overlapping keyword lists, but variations that Google has designated as having a similar search intent. Keep in mind, that Google will still give priority to an actual exact match over close variations of it.
Where Do I Turn?
If you’re struggling with how to keep up with Google’s ever-changing search engine and the way users are interacting with it, get in touch with us. We’re happy to help!