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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.

how google keyword auction works

 

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.

Keyword grouping

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.

For example:

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.

 

Test!

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!

 

Summary

To summarise:

  • 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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    Google Ad Grant Data Trends: Reading Between the Lines

    Google Ad Grant Data Trends L:ead Blog Image

    The Latest Google Ad Grant Data Trends

    The Google Ad Grant scheme has gone through many big changes and unprecedented challenges in the last 3 years. It’s weathered the COVID pandemic, seen the rise of Responsive Search Ads, and has adapted to the removal of broad match modifiers. So, what impact has this had on Google Ad Grant data trends and performance of the scheme as a whole?

    Luckily for you, I’ve analysed the data of over 40 ad grant accounts currently under our umbrella, and have highlighted key data trends which give us an insight into where the ad grant scheme currently sits. In some cases, we’re even seeing where it may be headed in the future.

     

    The Top Line

    Graph of Google Ad Grant Data Trends showing a decrease in perfromance after the removal of additional Covid-19 funding.

    You always have to view data trends within the correct context, or you risk drawing incorrect conclusions. COVID funding was removed in July 2021, which was a large source of additional budget for many Grant accounts. This is the main reason that both traffic and costs were so high during the lockdown period. Add to this that users were stuck at home, and often had little else to do that browse the internet, and you have a recipe for very high performance.

    As you dive deeper into the data, there is also a particularly interesting trend across 2022:

    Graph showing cost / click increases over a 12 month period in 2022. Cost increased by over $200,000 with only a 50,000 increase in traffic sessions.

    From February to October, we can see that cost increased by over $200k for only a roughly 50k increase in traffic. To explain why this is so different we have to talk about the rise of automation, and a bidding war.

     

    The Maximise Conversion Arms Race

    Now this is what I call a data trend! Over the last 3 years, cost per click (CPC) in grant accounts has increased by almost 60%, with most of this increase happening in 2022. We have never been bidding higher than we are now in grant accounts.

    Graph showing a significant trend of increasing cost per clicks over the past three years. A large amount of this has happened across 2022.

     

    As you can see, clicks increased, but not by a lot. So, it doesn’t seem like this increase has led to us being able to outbid more advertisers and achieve more traffic. So, what’s going on?

    The answer is very simple: Maximise Conversions.

    What is a Maximise Conversions Bid Strategy?

    Maximise conversions is a bidding strategy which, since 2017, has allowed advertisers to bid above the usual $2 maximum bid limit in grant accounts. We tested this strategy at the time, and found that it exhibited some strange behaviour which made us and many advertisers hesitant to fully utilise it. However, since then, an increasing numbers of advertisers have opted to use this bidding strategy.

    This has led to cost per clicks rising across a vast majority of the search environment. It has now reached a point where many grant accounts rely on maximise conversions simply to be able to compete on searches they wish to show for. In 2022, 33% of our grant accounts had an average CPC over $2. This is up from 20% in 2021. For grant accounts like these, maximise conversions no longer becomes a choice, but is instead a necessity.

    It is inevitable that maximise conversions will only become more ubiquitous in the coming years, and with it a further rise in cost per clicks. It will become increasingly important to manage your use of the bidding strategy to ensure that you get the most efficiency out of your account.

    A cynical view of these change sees a calculated move by Google to cause all grant advertisers to bid more, leading to lower clicks in Grants and therefore increased incentive to turn to paid accounts to make up the difference. An optimist sees this as an opportunity to bid above the competitors and appear for searches that they otherwise could not (in some cases, more on this later).

    Whether this is a good thing or not is yet unclear. Regardless, the data doesn’t lie, and the cost per click arms race has shown no signs of calming down.

     

    The CPC Event Horizon

    Google have reiterated in recent years that grant ads should always appear below paid account ads in auctions, regardless of what the ad rank is of those ads. Combined with the rising cost per clicks in the grant scheme, this has led to a sort of competition event horizon:

    Graph demonstrating how impression share in the Google Ad Grant scheme has reduced to 10% since 2021 and has been unable to recover.

    Impression share is the percentage of total impressions on your keywords that you showed for. There is a hard limit in Google Ads that if your impression share drops below 10%, you are no longer able to see the exact number. Impression share in the Ad Grant scheme has never been high – the limitations on the accounts makes that an impossibility. But in early 2021, what small impression share there was plummeted to the 10% level, and has rarely climbed out since.

    The message is clear from Google. Grants are not allowed to effectively compete with paid accounts. It is precisely this that has led to an effect I like to call the event horizon.

    If there are too many paid accounts bidding on a keyword, then no matter how highly you bid on a term, you will never receive traffic. This is because, even bidding $5 or $6 per click, you would still only show on the third or fourth results page. This trend  can be most easily viewed when looking at donate keywords:

    Google Ad Grant Data Trend showing low click volume for donate related keywords, due to ineffective competition against paid accounts.

    Clicks from donate keywords have never been high in Grants due to competition, but 2022 was an all time low. Most months failed to achieve over 300 clicks, and a majority of clicks achieved came from branded searches which included donate phrases. These terms are often lowest competition, allowing the grant to at least show some of the time.

     

    Advert Additions And Crashing CTRs

    So what has been happening to ads during this period? Well, the biggest change can be seen when we look at the different types of ads generating traffic in our accounts:

    Graph showing trends in clicks for expanded text ads, responsive search ads and expanded dynamic search ads between January 2020 and December 2022.

    Responsive Search Ads (RSAs) have seen a steady rise in traffic since the start of 2022, and are now the only format new ads can be made in. Since April last year, this type of ad has been bringing in the largest amount of traffic. This will only continue in the future as expanded text ads, which can no longer be edited, become defunct and have to be paused. Google is also likely deprioritising these ads in favour of RSAs.

    These ads are touted by Google to produce a better clickthrough rate (CTR) than manual ads. So, surely we should be seeing a steady increase in CTR across time?

    Graph showing a large decrease in click through rate for responsive search ads over time, with a big drop in September 2021 due to a Google edit.

    Well, this trend definitely isn’t steady…or an increase. Of all the graphs in this blog, this is the most difficult one to analyse. The first drop from September 2021, appeared to be due to an edit made by Google themselves, which was an unusual event that occurred across three days. There was an initial period of recovery up until April 2022. Responsive search ads then became the top ad format in terms of traffic, at which point we it start to drop back to the same level as October 2021.

    An additional factor is undoubtably the large number of new, less optimised ads being added to accounts. But, this cannot be the only explanation for such a big drop. We have our own ideas on how you can successfully run RSAs, but these have taken time to develop and there is always more learning to be done. Let’s take a look at the CTR for each of these ad types:

    Click through rates for responsive search ads, expanded text ads and expanded dynamic search ads. We can see steep reduction in Sep 2021, a gradual recovery till June 2022, which drops back down again.

    Here we can quite clearly see that responsive search ads seem to have suffered most from this drop. Indeed, for a time in 2022 dynamic search ads, usually the lowest performing ads in our accounts and used in a very specific manner, actually jumped to the top spot in terms of CTR. In 2023 this seems to be starting to recover, but it seems we are in an age where CTR will remain far more volatile than it has been in the past. Close monitoring is going to be vital to react to changes in the environment.

     

    Beyond the Data

    It’s crucial to remember that data can only tell us so much. There are trends we are seeing in grants that are very important, but have no direct affect on the results we see.

    Throughout Google Ads the age of automation seems to have well and truly come, and the Grant scheme is no different. Responsive search ads, maximise conversions and dynamic search campaigns are all indicating this shift.

    Also, the removal of much of the search term data which advertisers used to fine tune their keyword targeting means we have less tools to manually make changes ourselves. Make sure that you take time to test and learn these new automation systems, so that you find the best way for your charity or nonprofit to utilise them.

    Many of these automation options rely on conversions as a primary source of data. However, in a post GDPR world, conversion data has become harder to come by and more inconsistent. Now more than ever, it is important to ensure that your conversion selection is comprehensive. Remember, lower level engagement conversions may not be useful in your reporting, but could be vital in feeding your bidding strategies and automated campaigns the information they need to succeed.

     

    Get to Grips with your Google Ad Grant Account

    It has been a hectic three years in the grant account, and the data shows that much has changed from the start of 2020 to now. If you want to find out how we can support you in making sure your Grant account is fully prepared for the next three years, then why not have a friendly chat with our expert paid media team.

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      Dynamic Search Ads – A Powerful Tool For Google Ad Grants

      laptop on standby resting on desk at Uprise Up office.

      Dynamic Search Ads (DSAs) are similar to standard search ads but instead of defining keywords, they are created automatically, based on the contents of your website or business product feed; and use this to match users’ search queries to your site. 

      They’re also different from regular text ads due to the ad headline being dynamically created by Google rather than manually inputted. 

      We’d usually prefer more manual control in ads, breaking campaigns into careful granular ad groups.

      However, Google Ad Grants are often focused on informational campaigns, where a significant amount of website content needs to be promoted. As these campaigns aren’t often directly revenue-driven, there might be limited time and resources that can be allocated to them. Here automation can be invaluable.

       

      Why they’re a great tool for Google Ad Grants

      For charities that are running the Google Ad Grant scheme, and may not be fully utilising their available budget, need new keyword ideas, or have frequent content being published but limited time to set up new ads, RSAs can be a great tool.

      Below we delve into this in more detail and explore the good (and not so) bad of these often unnoticed bad boys.

      The benefits of DSAs:

      • They’re time savers

      Dynamic Search Ads are predominantly created through automated systems, which requires less time to be spent on generating new ads. 

      It’s worth noting because of the less focused nature of DSAs (and the fact that higher priority traffic campaigns will likely already be set up in the account) they’re likely to not generate as strong results in return.  However, they can still be a valuable tool for creating additional traction to awareness-focused content. 

      • Creation is easier 

      With this type of ad campaign, less manual input is required due to the way headlines are dynamically created based on the product or service being matched to the search query. 

      Meaning there is less manual input required making creation a whole lot easier. 

       

      • They can help identify keyword and content gaps

      DSAs can be a strong tool for filling in keyword gaps and identifying search terms that you’re not already targeting. 

      Usually, gaps can occur by having an unintentional keyword blind spot.

      Regularly reviewing your Dynamic Search Ad campaign, allows you to be able to easily identify these loopholes and find new keywords that your content is being matched for that aren’t already targeting intentionally. 

      You can then bank these keywords and integrate them in campaigns elsewhere which will allow you to better optimise them. 

      Similarly, it can help uncover content gaps in your account, allowing you to then set up new ads based on popular landing pages that haven’t previously been promoted in the account.

       

      They can help budgets to be fully utilised

      The Google Ad Grant enables non-profits to spend up to $10,000 each month, or $330 per day but it may not always be possible to spend this. For example, if your account is relatively new, or you have been struggling with new keyword ideas (as above). DSAs can help make the most of any unused spend and therefore generate additional traffic and conversions.

       

      When DSAs are perhaps less favourable:

      Budget is limited and you want tighter control over performance

      As we briefly touched on above, Dynamic Search Ads may not be a great fit for all digital marketing strategies. Particularly in cases where budgets are tighter and you want more control over your account.

      If you have very clear conversion-based goals, we would always advise opting for the traditional ad set-up approach first, in order to get the best performance for your priority pages. 

      Limited control over messaging 

      The dynamic headline element of this kind of ad campaign is a great benefit but it can also present challenges due to reducing the control you have on targeting and messaging. 

      As the dynamic feature relies on the search systems understanding the content and matching this with the user’s search, it can result in displaying information from your website that isn’t as relevant perhaps as a different page or area of the site for that particular search query.

      The pre-defined descriptions also may not be as tailored to the ad as you would like.

       

      Extra considerations to be mindful of when using DSAs

      We’ve been using Dynamic Search Ad campaigns on behalf of our charity clients for some time now and here’s what we’ve learned along the way:

      • Breaking down ad group targeting into different sections of a site, to see how each performs individually will allow you to gather effective learnings more easily. Particularly in areas like new keywords to target or the performance of landing pages. 

      DSAs can be highly beneficial here, as they can allow you to quickly (by automatically generating ads) leverage any new content coming out.

       

      •  As well as being able to target specific sections of your site, you can also remove areas of your site for targeting using ‘Negative Dynamic Targets’. This gives you an extra level of control when using DSA campaigns. An example of this would be  promoting the careers section of your site is not a priority.

       

      •  We would advise keeping a close eye on your Negative Keywords, as a measure to prevent cannibalising traffic from the same keywords in other campaigns. Sometimes existing keywords in your account could be matched to a page on your site that you’re not already using. We often see this with brand keywords. 

       

      • It’s really important to frequently monitor the search terms reports, but as a safety net, we would suggest setting up a Negative Keyword list for all of your priority terms and applying it to your DSA.

       

      • A final tip: we often use the targeting option of using landing pages from your standard ‘ad groups’ as a good way of finding new, relevant keywords for ads and campaigns that are already running.

       

      If you’d like to find out more about how to get to grips with Dynamic Search Ads, or would like some assistance with your Google Ad Grant, drop us a line at hello@upriseup.co.uk or fill out our contact form.

      If you found this blog to be useful, subscribe to our newsletter where we often delve into how charities can maximise their digital media.  

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