How Google Ads Match Types Are Changing
Broadly go where no man has gone before!
Google Ads has changed the way that broad match types work, and for some reason no one is really talking about it!
Google search is changing. Google says it’s all for the good, and you’ll get more conversions for less money. But what does it all mean, how has it changed, how can you navigate all the jargon? And what even is a keyword anymore!
Looking for the TL;DR version – click here.
1. What is a keyword?
In paid search (also commonly referred to as Google Ads), a keyword is a specific word or group of words for which an advertiser wants to show their ad when a user searches them. A search term is the actual wording used by the user when searching on Google.
However, as an advertiser, you will not be able to cover every possible variation of way in which a user could search for you, your service, or your product.
Match types are therefore used by advertisers to allow Google Ads some flexibility in its ability to match a keyword to a match type. An exact match means the keyword and search term need to be the same (ish). Phrase match allows for the order of words to move around and some words to change, as long as it doesn’t change the basic meaning of the keyword. And broad… well broad means you give Google the keys and you let it drive off into the sun.
…at least, it used to.
2. What we know
How have broad keywords been used to date?
Most experienced advertisers have always been averse to using broad match keywords; they regularly resulted in budget being squandered on irrelevant searches and the keywords underperforming against match types you had control over.
- If you wanted to spend your budget, you could use broad.
- If you wanted to achieve your targets, you didn’t.
- Additionally, in the charity sector, broad could be seen as too risky, given the limited control.
But things have changed – quite considerably.
3. How broad match is changing
In March of this year, a Think with Google blog dropped to limited noise. It covered two engineers who had been using AI and Large Language Models to improve Google Ads.
The article details the overall history of broad match but specifically highlights three developments we need to be aware of:
- The use of Large Language Models helps broad search understand the importance that the order of words in a search can have. A to B is very different from B to A when it comes to user intent.
- Prioritising the keywords’ relevancy first, before considering ad rank.
- Utilising multilingual search.
The most interesting development here is the prioritisation of relevancy over ad rank in auctions. This development means that Google may put in a keyword with a lower ad quality, if it believes it’s the most relevant keyword you have. It also means that if you have the keyword which matches the user’s exact search (no matter the match type), that keyword is the only one put forward, regardless of the potential ad rank performance.
Without oversight on your keywords and their impact on your accounts, this change could be significant. If you have similar keywords within an account, you will likely see a change in usage among those keywords – with a reduction in impressions for some of your better keywords as their usage is limited by weaker keywords.
4. Further developments
Google Ads has also produced a weightier documentation called Unlock the Power of Search.
(It’s a good read!)
It has a lot going on, and more than its fair share of hyperbole and salesy talk, but I’ve picked out some of the key points:
Auction change (keyword matches)
The auction process now starts with relevancy to determine what keywords to even put forward for the auction. This also means Google will only put forward keywords from what it determines to be the most relevant ad group, to the user’s search. This means that even keywords which are relevant, and have a better ad quality might be blocked from entering the auction by a ‘more relevant’ ad group.
Google signals are introduced
Broad match is now the only match type to make use of all the available ‘signals’. It uses these signals to understand both the intent of the user and to gain a deeper understanding of the keywords’ meaning. These signals include but are not limited to: previous search history, time of day, location, and user search habits.
The combined context of the keywords in an ad group is now a factor. For example, if you added a more generic keyword into an ad group, Google would understand the context of that keyword and apply relevancy, based on the other keywords within that ad group.
If you added ‘rose’ as a keyword into an ad group which contained broad keywords around wine, Google Ads alleges that it would understand that the context of this keyword is wine and not the flower, the colour, or the name – and would therefore only show that keyword against users searching for wine.
Focus more on ad strength
In an interesting move, and one which will certainly be met with scepticism by a few people, Google recommends you to view Ad Strength metrics when looking for optimisation tweaks, and reiterates that Quality Score is meant only as a diagnostic tool.
However, Google’s own support pages still indicate that Ad Strength, too, is just a diagnostic tool.
And finally, the subtle language change that could be nothing but is probably everything
Google makes many references to Keyword Themes within the documentation. Keyword Themes had previously only been referenced in Google Smart Campaigns, where the user provides the relevant themes (such as ‘online bereavement’ or ‘breast cancer symptoms’). The Smart Campaign will then match to searches it believes are relevant to that theme and will help you achieve your conversion targets (typically CPA).
5. What we can do about it
Review match types
This is a substantial shift in direction for Google Ads, which has
spent a considerable amount of time in recent years making each match type broader and broader!
With the introduction of smart bidding, Google Ads now treats the same keyword equally across match types (assuming ads and landing pages the same). This means that if you are splitting out match types, you will actually just be splitting out your data up to threefold – and thereby limiting learnings and optimisation potential. Google tells you to simply remove different match types and just run with broad, nut if you have a strongly performing account with good account history, our recommendation would be to test this process over time.
The last thing you want is to make a sudden, drastic change and lose all the benefit of historical performance.
Review your keywords
Your keywords should be grouped into similarly themed ad groups already. But it’s now even more important (if using broad match) to ensure there is limited crossover in keywords (and their associated search terms) between these ad groups. Being tight on keywords used here will help you keep control of which ad shows in those searches – and where users get sent.
Remember – if a keyword exists that matches the user’s search exactly, Google Ads will use the matched keyword and not (necessarily) the best keyword.
If you, like many of our clients, have account structures meticulously crafted over many years, then you don’t want to be making substantial changes on an impulse. You start by testing on some lower risk campaigns, assess the keyword structure within, and then utilise Google Ads Experiments to see the impact of this new AI-driven approach.
6. What we’ve seen
We’ve not seen a huge change in our Paid accounts – especially the ones with good account history and prolonged performance.
However, we are seeing Google Ad Grants being affected. We discuss this in more detail in a separate blog, but we are seeing a substantial change in Google Ad Grant performance, though this is due in part to some additional factors.
The biggest impact here lies in health-based searches, where there isn’t as strong a focus on conversions.
7. What’s the future of broad match?
Google trials new broad campaign type
Google has recently introduced a new campaign type to select accounts whereby, during account creation, you can opt to remove keyword match types in their entirety. This means that any keywords applied to the campaign will be broad match, with no alternative option. Whilst this is a beta test, ultimately this is likely the first step in removing the ‘keyword management’ element of Google Ads. We’ve already been removed from bid management, and it seems that match types are the next component to go.
The death of keywords
Myself and Dan have often prophesied about the inevitable demise of keywords with Google Ads. The fact that, in this article, Google Ads are talking about keyword themes as much as individual keywords is a strong indication that this is coming.
This is certainly a deliberate use of language and is likely the first step in moving to this ‘keyword-less’ model. We’re already well on the way to the removal of match types, with Google suggesting that only in specific circumstances should you be using Exact and Phrase matches:
Content is king
There I said it. In a Paid Search blog! But it is true. As we lose more and more control over the keywords (and their matched search terms) that we want to bid on, our skills as paid search experts will come increasingly from the ad copy we write, as well as our ability to optimise landing pages.
That involves ensuring the content is aligned to the ad copy and the paid search keywords (or theme, once keywords go), but equally that the content also represents a good user journey and user experience.
We should also look at testing the copy – can we manipulate the search terms our ads match to by implementing new keywords in the copy? Or by changing the hierarchy of those keywords in the copy? There are abundant possibilities for new testing!
- Match types are all but confirmed to be on the way out, with Google making it clear that (in its best practice) you should only use exact or phrase in specific cases.
- Keywords now match for relevancy first and if a keyword matches the search exactly, that is the only keyword to be put forward.
- Keywords themselves are likely on the way out, with Google set to pursue a ‘keyword theme’ model instead of individual keywords.
- The ad and its landing page become even more important- and the main places you (as an advertiser) can make an impact.
Those are some enormous changes; there really is nothing like digital media to keep us on our toes.
On a personal level I’ve been screaming into the void about some agencies’ ill-formed use of broad matches over the years. To feel that those agencies are now potentially on the front foot through negligence is a very bitter pill to swallow.
However, it’s an exciting challenge. We’ve just gone through (still going through) the death of our beloved Universal Analytics, so it makes sense that we now prepare ourselves for the inevitable death of the keyword.
To discuss the demise of keywords, and how we can best manage this new approach, why not contact us for a chat.
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