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Googles Match Type Evolution drives smarter targeting

newsFebruary 4, 2021

Today, Google announced changes to Paid Search keyword match types. While the depreciation of broad match modifier (BMM) will likely get the most attention, Google is also making two other more subtle changes which will give savvy marketers more control their search campaigns. Just like the good old days but with a lot more variants and AI and…on second thought, nothing like the good old days but still exciting.


The three changes:

  1. Broad match modifier (BMM)is being sunset and replaced by an evolved version of phrase match
  2. Exact match keywords will become more predictable in terms of query to keyword mapping
  3. Broad match keywords will deliver fewer irrelevant impressions due to the incorporation of incremental signals like landing page and other keywords in ad group to determine if a query is relevant

One important note: None of these changes affect negative keywords.  Negative match types will continue to work as they currently do.


BMM and Phrase Merge

Google is bringing behaviors of broad match modifier into phrase match and starting in February both phrase and BMM keywords will begin to serve using the updated phrase match behavior. They believe advertisers using phrase match are potentially missing relevant queries, while advertisers using BMM are potentially reaching irrelevant queries. Therefore, Google will be phasing out support of the BMM match type while simultaneously expanding the matching criteria of phrase match effectively consolidating the two match types into one. 


Many within our industry have been doing this for a while with the phrase match modifier hack. This purpose-built version from Google removes the need for the ‘+’ syntax and utilizes AI to determine when word order is relevant to the meaning of the search. We know, we know, less control and more faith in Google AI but we will reserve judgement until the test results are in.


Here’s the timeline:

  • Between now and mid-February: No changes
  •  From mid-February to April: BMM and phrase match types will start functioning in this new way. Both will have the reach of BMM, but the control of phrase Match. During this three-month period, only eight languages will be affected - English, German, Spanish, French, Italian, Dutch, Portuguese, and Russian.
  • June to July: The process is repeated for all remaining languages
  • July onwards: Marketers will no longer be able to create new BMM keywords. Existing keywords will remain in the account but will function in the way described above, not like BMM functions now. The only remaining match types available will be exact, phrase, and broad.

Between February and April we do not know the speed of the roll out so advertisers should not presumptively make changes to account structures or match types unless performance dictates. Deleting BMM keywords in favor of phrase keywords, or converting BMMs to phrase, prior to the completion of the rollout could result in a more substantial loss in volume than if advertisers wait until April to make these changes.

Marketers should, however, establish regular reporting to monitor volume and performance by match type, adjust budgets where necessary, and consistently examine the search terms report, adding negative keywords to filter irrelevant queries. As matching criteria changes expand, it will be important to monitor corresponding campaign budgets in order to accommodate changes in volume, in addition to reviewing keyword coverage.

Here’s an example of where monitoring is necessary – “Car Charger For Sale” is currently a phrase match term reaching people who are looking to buy car chargers. If this new version of phrase match was to misunderstand the “meaning” of the term, that it could incorrectly match to “Charger Car For Sale” which would reach individuals looking to buy a Dodge Charger. We have faith in Google’s AI but strongly encourage all Paid Search experts monitor their keywords and anticipate possible errors.


Exact Match Becomes More Powerful

Google will also be rolling out small, yet exciting, amends to other match types as well. For exact match, Google is making the most efficient match type easier to prioritize in complex accounts. No longer will other match types, or even close-variants with a higher Ad Rank, compete with a query that is identical to the exact match keyword.

You read that correctly. Search queries that exactly match the exact match keyword, live in the account, (or the spell corrected version of the query) will always be preferred vs other match types and variants. That sound you hear in the distance is thousands of search marketers cheering.

Previously, while and exact keyword that identically match a query was supposed to be preferred, there were cases where other keywords with lower bids and higher Ad Rank could be used instead. This resulted in Paid Search experts building exhaustive lists of cascading negatives to help alleviate any exact match anomalies. We can now sleep happily with the knowledge that any doubt has been removed and these inconsistencies are a thing of the past, at least when the query exactly matches the keyword.

While the effect on performance from this change is likely to be minimal, Paid Search experts should monitor exact match traffic to better understand if any uplift occurs through this slight alteration in match type preference, then adjust budgets and strategies accordingly.


Broad Match Becomes More Targeted

Finally, there is a slight yet impactful change to broad match targeting. A common complaint is that broad match is too broad and triggers irrelevant spend. This new update will insert additional signals within the match type criteria to improve overall quality and relevance. For example, landing page content will now be used as a signal to better qualify relevance to a given query. Using the previous example of “Car Chargers”, broad match would be able to better appreciate that the landing page contains copious amounts of charging hardware and no Dodge Chargers, thus (hopefully) avoiding any irrelevant results.

Overall, we understand why Google is making these changes and believe there is long term benefit to be found from the new match type definitions. BMM and phrase served a similar purpose, and the phrase match modifier hack was just that, a hack. Making exact match more…exact again is definitely a great move and the update to broad match terms will offer some interesting future tests.