Bye bye Exact Match, hello “modified” Exact

After Google decided to introduce in exact match the so called “close variants” a couple of years ago (including singular/plurals and typos) and further diluted exacts in March 2017 (ignoring word order & articles/prepositions), Big G recently decided to make this matching option even less strict, allowing ads to show for key-phrases with the same “search intent” too. In this post you will find what you need to know about it and how to react to this innovation.

I am no fan of [exact match] and who have been following me for a while knows that I definitely prefer to focus ad-groups around few Broad Modified strict synonyms, using phrase and exact match only when the traffic tends to concentrate on few terms leaving only residual clicks on the other ones. In any case I prefer to use different kind of matches in the same group and personally consider Alpha/Beta campaigns, made up of the same keywords with mutually exclusive keyword match type groups a useless aberration in 99% of cases. And this is not an opinion, but a verified fact in several real cases exposed in the last 7 editions of ADworld Experience (the largest PPC-case-only event in the World) and personally verified in deconstructing and rebuilding accounts this way.

The main reasons for doing that are linked to the easiness and adaptive capacity of this structure. Again, It is a fact that I have always succeeded to reach excellent Quality Scores anyway, even without using different match types, by simply keeping strictly focused ad-groups (10/20 keywords max) and adding negatives for weeks after the campaign launch. BMM versatility and auto shaping on new profitable searches + Enhanced CPC or CPA bidding options did the rest for me.

Despite that, when I first read this piece of news I was quite bewildered.  The very reason of the existence of exact match was that using it you were absolutely sure that only people searching almost exactly for your keywords would have seen your ads.  It was the best (& often unique) way to separate and analyze clicks of catch-aces keywords which absorbed the majority of traffic of one group.

But let’s do a step backwards to better understand what’s happening now. Google Ads presently provides 4 different ways (matching types) to target or exclude search queries and placement content:

  • Broad Match is really wide, including all synonyms (in the platform eyes) and all the specific searches with location terms within the geographical boundaries of the target area (if you run a campaign nationwide this may include all the cities in the target country) and it is very difficult to predict all the automatic associations the platform will run our ads for.
  • Broad Match Modified (obtained adding a “+” in front of the most significant words we want to restrict the triggering power of). Unless you start from 4 or 5-words key phrases, I strongly suggest you to use at least this, otherwise the platform will be free to target all the most “creative” synonyms it can.
  • Phrase Match (obtained adding quotation marks to the whole key phrase) will trigger ads only for search phrases containing the same words (including misspellings, singular/plural variations and inversions of the same words) + eventual other words typed by users before or after the targeted phrase.
  • Exact Match (obtained adding square brackets to the whole key phrase) will trigger ads only for search phrases containing the same words, including misspellings and singular/plural variations. Now, after the roll out of the update, they will include also “same search intent queries” and will not block ads if user adds more words still matching the same intent.

All the above can be used in Negative Match too, which will prevent all ads from being shown when the user types a specific word. Within negatives are valid broad, phrase and exact matches, but correspondence is stricter than the “positive” one and do not expect to have any synonym blocked besides misspellings and plural/singular variations, even when using broad match keywords.  Here is a small recap of all the options with some examples of application.

The first question aroused to my mind after the piece of news about exact match weakening was: will phrase match be the new exact?  Now that some time has passed by after the change, I can say that the answer is: nope!  Looking at search terms activating exact correspondences in several accounts we can now affirm that the new exact match still closely relates to the keyword selected by advertisers.

We have rarely seen different words in matching queries, while is quite common to find variations in stop words (articles, prepositions, etc.) and strictly related terms (small variations of the original keyword).  In other words it seems that Google is doing pretty well in understanding the meaning of the key-phrase and its close parents, with some rare exceptions.

Given that, the first suggestion I can offer you to manage this change is therefore to give a look to real search queries for exact keys to detect anomalies and eventually block them with negatives.

The second hint is to abandon the alpha/beta model of campaigns in favor of ad-group structures more related to other targeting options besides matching types, or prepare yourself to add tons of small variations of extra negatives.  The new “modified” exact match is strongly pushing towards more “semantic related” grouping, rather than “keyword matching focused” ones.

The third is a general suggestion. After a period of testing trust GA automation and do not believe in any case to PPC people swearing that there always is a “best way” or a “super model” to do effective AdWords campaigns. They either do not know what they are talking about or never tried something different from what they think is the best way to structure an account. Be sure about that, this is not an opinion. I literally have seen things in Google Ads campaigns that you people wouldn’t believe 😉 But the most surprising thing was that some of them worked anyway!!!  

To deepen this and other fine optimizations I suggest you to download the free Google Ads Synthetic Guide written by myself and recently updated with the latest suggestions based on hundreds of real PPC & CRO case studies.

Gianpaolo Lorusso

About Gianpaolo Lorusso

Freelance AdWords & CRO professional, Gianpaolo is among the first Italian web marketing professionals and ideated ADworld Experience, one of the largest PPC events in the world.