Google Ads is Making ‘Exact Match’ Less Exact for Search Term Targeting

Google Ads is Making ‘Exact Match’ Less Exact for Search Term Targeting

Beginning in October 2018, Google’s exact match keyword targeting became less-exact for English keywords. This means that Google now allows your ads to show up for close-variants of the exact match keywords you’re targeting. This is the second time that Google has rolled out a change like this to its advertising platform.

What is an exact match keyword?

You may be asking yourself, what is “exact match” keyword targeting? Google has five different match types that advertisers can use when running Google Ad campaigns. Exact match is the match type that is the most conservative and will show your ad for the narrowest range of terms actually searched for on Google. The chart below compares and contrasts the match types available.


A brief history of exact match keyword targeting

Prior to 2014, if you targeted a keyword with exact match, your ad would only show up if that exact term was searched for. For example, if your target keyword was [alpine skiing resorts] in Google Ads, your ad would only show if the searcher entered that term exactly into the search bar. If they searched for the following examples, the ad would not have shown up; “alpine skiing resorts” (a misspelling), “downhill skiing resorts” (a variation with the exact same meaning), “alpine ski resorts” (a term with the same intent) , “where to go alpine skiing” (similar intent), “alpine skiing resort” (same word, but singular not plural), “an alpine skiing resort” (includes an article), “skiing resorts alpine” (same idea, but out of order).

In 2014, Google decided to make exact match a little less exact. They starting to automatically show ads for misspellings, plurals and other grammatically close variants to your exact match keyword. From the list of examples above, your ads would now start to show up for the following searches; “alpine skiing resorts” (a misspelling), “alpine ski resorts” (a term with the same intent), “alpine skiing resort” (same word, but singular not plural).

In 2017, Google again made changes to exact match targeting, beginning to include close variants such as the following; search queries included articles, conjunctions or prepositions as well as the search query having words that are out of order. From the post-2014 list above, Google starting including the following examples in 2017; “an alpine skiing resort” (includes an article), “skiing resorts alpine” (same idea, but out of order).

And, this month, Google opened things up even more, now including search terms that are “close variants that share the same meaning of your keywords,” which is expected to include synonyms, paraphrased terms, and searches where equivalent intent is implied. We believe that all of the variants from the examples above would now generate ad impressions for the exact match [alpine skiing resorts].

How does this impact Google Ad campaigns?

Google estimates that exact match keyword targets will generate 3% more ad impressions after the change is rolled out. Google is notorious for publicly underestimating the impact of these changes, whether intentional or not. For example, the effects of the 2017 change had about a 10% increase in impressions after Google estimated a 3% change.

Importantly, advertisers should prepare for exact match keyword targets to generate impressions for searches that are both favorable and unfavorable variants of a keyword target. Favorably, you will now show up in searches that are relevant to your ad and offering that you wouldn’t have before. This is favorable because you don’t have to brainstorm and then enter as many relevant keyword variants into your campaign to get those impressions, which can be time consuming. Unfavorably, you will now show up in searches that aren’t-as-relevant to your ad and offering. This may cause you to buy lower-quality clicks as well as potentially creating keyword conflicts where two different ad groups are now competing for the same keyword.

 No one will know for sure what the exact impact will be until this change is officially rolled out in October and we get to analyze real data. However, there are steps we can take now to make sure our ad campaigns are prepared for the upcoming change to mitigate risk.

What should you do in Google Ad campaigns as a result of this change?

We have a few recommendations to help mitigate the risk of potentially wasting budget on less-relevant search queries:

1. Look over your campaign budgets

For any campaigns that rely on exact match keyword targets, make sure you have a conservative daily budget cap in place. In the event your campaign is one that is more susceptible to increased impressions and clicks from undesirable search terms, having a spend ceiling in place will make sure you don’t burn through valuable budget too quickly before you can adjust.

2.  Set a reminder to review search term reports by the end of October

Once the change is implemented, you should see new search terms appear in your search query report that are now driving impressions and clicks which weren’t a factor before the change. You’ll want to thoroughly review this report and add any undesired search terms to your negative keyword list. Any favorable terms should be added to your keyword targeting.

If you see any drastic changes that are unfavorable, you may need to reconsider the exact match term in your account that is driving the impressions. For favorable changes, you may want to rebuild some ad groups to make sure your ads are properly speaking to these new search impressions by breaking some keywords out into a new ad group. Also, be on the lookout for competing keywords across ad groups. You’ll want to adjust keyword targeting and negative keywords at the ad-group-level to avoid keyword conflicts.

3. Review your exact match keywords and brainstorm proactive fixes

Tip number two above is a reactive solution, but you can also approach this strategy proactively. Review all of your exact match keywords and think critically about close variants that may start to generate ad impressions for your campaigns. If you come up with any undesirable search terms that may soon drive impressions, add them as a negative keyword now. Similarly, you may want to isolate certain exact match keywords into smaller ad groups to give you more control over needed changes to your ads, negative keywords

Hopefully these changes to keyword match types will have more of a positive impact on ad campaigns than a negative one. If you’d like help navigating these Google changes or managing your ad campaigns, feel free to reach out to us. Happy advertising.