Google Updates Keyword Matching Processes for Phrase & Broad Match

Google has announced changes to keyword matching, including a change that prefers the phrase and broad keywords which are identical to the query string. Google is also updating the matching process for queries that don’t have an identical keyword match. The last time Google made a change like this to its keyword match types was in 2019, so this is a pretty significant change for anyone running paid search campaigns. 2021 has been a pretty tumultuous year for the world of paid search, with additional changes having been put in place in the first half of the year as well. Now, with the new announcement, PPC managers can expect more changes to the way their accounts look and how they run. Not to worry though, the PPC team at Embryo have created this guide to help make sense of the new changes and what both managers and clients can expect from their ad campaigns moving forwards.

To find out more about how keyword matching processes might affect your campaigns, or to find out more about paid search and how it can help you in general, why not drop the paid search team at Embryo a line?

What has happened so far?

The “phrase” match type was extended in the first half of the year to meet more search queries, and the broad match modifier, which was introduced in 2010, and allowed advertisers to specify certain words that needed to be included in a search query, was eliminated. Essentially, the broad match modifier type (BMM), was absorbed by the expanded phrase match type. What that means is that now PPC managers only have three match types to play with, instead of the old four.

  1. Exact match (tight matching) – This is the most targeted match type for maximum relevancy and more accurate user targeting, however, it results in less volume in traffic, as your user’s search term has to match the keyword exactly.
  2. Phrase match (moderate matching) – When using phrase match, ads will show for searches that include your keyword meaning. This is where Google’s own BERT algorithms become particularly significant (more on that in a minute), as Google itself will analyse the meaning of your chosen terms and serve users who search for similar and related phrases to your ads as well.
  3. Broad (loose matching) – Broad match ads will show if the search term simply relates to the keyword, and in a much looser sense than phrase matches. Broad match ads gain the largest volume of traffic but can often provide poor quality traffic as it’s much more loosely matched.

This keyword matching update was an effort on the part of Google to simplify the process of reaching the right customers by decreasing the amount of match types used. With the broad match modifier gone, Google looked to streamline its ad accounts and provide an easier-to-understand, more cohesive account structure.

So, what Google Ads updates are we seeing now?

The search engine giant has now announced an update that suggests exact match keywords that are identical to query strings will be preferred whenever that keyword is eligible to match, again reducing account complexity. While this has been the case for exact matches for a while now, this announcement told us the same protocols will be in place for phrase and broad matches.

The update is not completely new. Over the years, Google has put a great deal of effort into understanding the intent behind search queries, particularly those targeting long tail keywords. Through the introduction of BERT in 2019, Google’s algorithm gained a deeper understanding of the nuances and the context of words in searches. Google has greatly improved its ability to understand why search queries make sense now, and it has made significant improvements to how search queries are now interpreted. As well as being significant for paid ads managers, Google’s BERT technologies have also had a significant effect on how SEO success is measured in recent years. BERT technology is used to help Google understand the context of words and phrases in a more human way, with a better understanding of the context around keywords and phrases to ensure it acknowledges context in it’s searches, rather than just working around isolated keywords. Having been used in organic search for a while now, this same technology is now creeping into Google Ads to better match every search with the most relevant keyword in an ad group.


Why are we seeing these updates?

Google’s main aim with these updates has been to simplify and streamline ad accounts by allowing users to attract a wider range of relevant traffic while also using less keywords. This involves increased automation from Google’s side, including the use of BERT algorithms which some PPC managers have pushed back against, but others have welcomed with open arms!

What difference do the keyword match updates actually have on client campaigns?

On one hand, there are some experts who love to diversify their PPC approach and keep a manual tab on accounts. These kinds of PPC managers now have fewer options in terms of keyword match type variations, which will require considerable overhaul on the part of more manual campaign managers.

However, on the other hand, there are other paid managers that are glad to see these new changes, as it means there are fewer factors for them to worry about, and can instead entrust this side of things to Google’s algorithms. This also allows managers to spend more time on overarching strategy and other elements of their campaign management to improve returns and create success for their clients. That means one less thing to think about and one less tool they need to incorporate in order to achieve campaign success!



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