SEM World

Google extends same-meaning close variants to phrase match, broad match modifiers

When same-meaning close variants rolled out to exact match keywords last fall, the joke was that phrase match was more exact than exact match. That joke’s dead now.

As expected, Google is further loosening the reins on close variants, this time extending same-meaning close variants to phrase match and broad match modifier. With the changes, Google is also changing its keyword selection preferences to prevent keywords from competing against each other.

How we got here. First, a bit of background.

  • In 2014, Google began requiring all campaigns to use close variants, which, at that time, included “plurals, misspellings and other variations of exact match and phrase match keywords (clothing instead of clothes, for example). That was the beginning of the end of true “exact match.”
  • With 2017 came the addition of word order and function words to close variants for exact match. Exact match keywords could trigger queries with different word order and function words.
  • Finally, last fall, Google added same-meaning words, including implied words and paraphrases, to exact match close variants. Google matches a query to an exact match keyword if it determines the query has the same intent as the keyword.

Google’s reasoning for this stream of changes is that queries evolve and machine learning has advanced to the point where it can fill in those gaps for advertisers. Google says 15% of its daily searches are new — and advertisers will miss out on these new queries if matching is too tightly controlled. Its machine learning systems, the company says, can infer intent and spare advertisers from creating exhaustive keyword lists in order to get their ads to trigger on relevant queries.

What’s changing now? Phrase match and broad match modifier will match to same meaning queries and keyword selection preferences are also changing. The change will roll out “in the coming weeks.”

Broad match modifier keywords can match to queries in any word order. In the past close variants have included misspellings, singular or plural, stemmings, abbreviations and accents. Now, it will also include same meaning queries. Google provides the following example of the new matching. Notice +mowing matches to “grass cutting” and “cut your grass

Phrase Match also already trigger on close variants. Word order will still be respected, but they too can now show on same-meaning queries. The example below shows “lawn mowing” matching to “grass cutting” and “lawn cutting” followed by “service” and “services”.

To keep keywords that match to a query from competing against each other, Google is making a change to its keyword selection preferences.

“If a query currently matches to an exact, phrase, or broad match modifier keyword that exists in your account, we’ll prevent that query from matching to a different phrase or broad match modifier keyword that’s now eligible for the same auction as a result of this update.” 

What to expect. Google said it expects advertisers using phrase and broad match modifier to see 3-4% more clicks and conversions on those keywords, with 85% of those clicks, on average, coming from queries not currently covered by your existing keywords. (While advertisers can expect a relatively small bump in volume, in aggregate, a 3-4% bump in clicks for Google adds up.)

As with previous changes to close variants, you’ll want to monitor performance and set a routine for checking your search terms reports and adding negatives.

Why we should care. The days of zero-keyword search campaigns have long been predicted as machine learning has taken over and audiences have come into play. In fact, those days are already here with automated campaign types such as Local campaignsSmart campaigns and App campaigns.

This is a fundamental shift for SEMs who tightly organized campaigns by match type — or even single keyword ad groups (SKAGs) — and sculpted query matching carefully with negatives. For standard Search text ad campaigns, keywords are more like guidelines that advertisers feed to the Google machines. We’ll be following up with thoughts and recommendations from around the community as we all learn to adjust to this latest change.

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