Late in 2018, Google announced that amongst other things, Exact match keywords would now match on searches where the words used have the same meaning as a keyword. So for example, the keyword running shoes would be able to show for a search for running trainers seeing as though the meaning is similar.
The update to Exact match keywords is now coming to Phrase match and Broad Match Modified keywords as well. On the 31st of July 2019, Google announced that Phrase match and Broad Match Modified keywords would now also be able to match on searches where the words used contain the same meaning as one of the words in your keyword.
It is important to note that Phrase match and broad match modified keywords can already match searches containing misspellings, singular/plural, stemmings, abbreviations and accents of a word within a keyword. This update allows phrase and match broad match modified keywords to also match on words that are different to the word within your keyword but have a similar meaning.
Here’s some examples of extra searches that Phrase match and Broad Mach Modified keywords can now pick up:
|Phrase Match keyword||Match search term|
|“lawn mowing service”||grass cutting services near me|
|“lawn mowing service”||local lawn cutting services|
|Broad Match Modified keyword||matched search term|
|“lawn mowing service”||grass cutting and gardening services|
|“lawn mowing service”||rates for services that cut your grass|
How Google justifies the update
According to Google, 15% of searches every day are new, never before seen searches. Perhaps this is partly due to voice search becoming more prominent and searches becoming more ‘conversational’. This means that it’s near enough impossible for advertisers to have keywords that can pick up all relevant traffic. Advertisers could use broad match keywords instead of Phrase match or Broad Match Modified keywords, but then they lose the ability to customise the ad copy and landing page to the search term as well as having a number of other problems. However, with Google’s machine learning improvements, Google is much better at understanding the context and meaning of words. It can use these improvements to help advertisers to show ads to those 15% of never before seen searches. For the advertiser this should mean more (hopefully relevant) traffic. For Google this would definitely mean more advertising revenue.
Google says it expects clicks (and subsequently conversions) from Phrase match and Broad Match Modified keywords to increase by three to four percent. eighty five percent of those clicks, Google expects to be searches that the advertiser doesn’t have keywords for.
Even though Google is tooting this update as something that will make advertiser’s jobs a little easier by helping them to show for more (hopefully relevant) traffic, make no mistake. This is an update to help Google increase it’s advertising revenue. If an advertisers’s clicks are expected to increase by three to four percent, then that’s an extra junk of advertising revenue that Google will make. The person in responsible for this update is definitely in for a pat on the back by his/her manager. While the advertiser is left to sift through their account looking for potentially irrelevant extra traffic coming through.
Similar meanings won’t match for existing keywords
This could potentially have been a disaster for accounts that already have multiple meaning keywords currently in the account. This is because a lot of negative keywords would be required to ensure that traffic is picked up by the right keyword.
For example, if you have the keywords running shoes and running trainers as phrase match keywords in your account. If someone searches for ‘buy running trainers online’, then you would want this traffic to be picked up by your running trainers keyword and not your running shoes keyword. This is because the search term is more closely related to the running trainers keyword and not to the running shoes keyword. With this update , it could have been possible for a search for ‘buy running trainers online’ to be picked up by the running shoes keyword as a similar meaning search term. This is unless this keyword was specially blocked out from the running shoes adgroup. However, Google has this covered which, to their credit, does show that they have put in a little thought into the update.
Google has said that if you already have an Exact match, Phrase match or Broad match modified version of a keyword that a search term matches to, then the search term won’t match to a different keyword with a similar meaning.
History of dwindling keyword targeting control
2014 – Exact match and Phrase match keyword would pick up searches containing plurals, misspellings and other variations
2017 – Function words and words in a different order could be picked up y Exact match
2018 – Exact match keywords could pick up similar meaning searches
2019 – similar meaning searches update comes to Phrase match and Broad Match Modified
Tips on managing the update
If you’re running Phrase or Broad Match Modified keywords, then expect to see an increase in traffic. If the extra traffic is good quality, then this could even be a good thing for your account. Keep an eye on the click-through rate and conversion of your keywords. If you see any of these two drop, then this could be because the keyword is now starting to match to some irrelevant traffic.
Run regular search query reviews
You should be reviewing your search query reports regularly anyway but make sure you look for similar meaning search terms being picked up by your Phrase and Broad Match Modified keywords. If this traffic is irrelevant, then block these searches out.
If you notice similar meaning terms coming through your account that are relevant, have enough volume but should be going to a different landing page or have a different message in the ad. Then you can split theses searches out and add them into a separate adgroup. This will allow you to tailor the ad copy, bid and landing page to this traffic.
Could Phrase match become more popular now?
Years ago, there was Exact match, Phrase match and Broad Match Modified. Then Google released the Broad Match Modified matchtype. This became very popular because it allowed for broad traffic to be targeted whilst still retaining a good amount of control. I noticed Phrase match adoption start to dwindle as a lot of advertisers (myself included) would utilise an Exact match and Broad Match Modified strategy.
The added complexity of having Exact match, Phrase match and Broad Match Modified keywords was just not needed in most cases. A lot of advertisers chose to go with Exact match and Broad Match Modified keywords because they provided a good balance of relevant keywords and a method to find new traffic to target. However, with Phrase match becoming more broad, I’m starting to warm to the idea of having an Exact match and Phrase match keyword strategy instead of an Exact match and Broad Match Modified keyword strategy.
This is because Phrase match may now have become broad enough to pick up a lot of traffic whilst also giving more control than the Broad Match Modified matchtype. I’d say it’s something to consider for your accounts.
The keyword is dying
Google has definitely been making strides in machine learning both in the PPC world and in general. Google assistant gets better smarter every year and machine learning can be used to do amazing things on camera to name just a few things. As machine learning improves, it definitely looks like Google wants to move to a keyword free world and where the advertiser gives Google more control. Dynamic Search Ads are not new but are an early example of Google exploring a keyword free search campaign. I remember testing Dynamic Search Ads years ago and finding a lot of very poor quality traffic. But I’ve definitely been noticing the quality of traffic coming from Dynamic Search Ads improving over time. Similarly, local campaigns, Smart campaigns and App campaigns are a step towards keyword free targeting. Audience targeting has also improved and no doubt will improve in the years to come.
The update is just one more of the many updates that Google has introduced to give less control on keywords. It helps to push the use of non keyword campaigns like Dynamic Search Ads by constraining the benefits of keyword targeted search campaigns.
The bottom line is machine learning is here to stay and it is improving at a rapid rate. Whether advertisers think it is better than the manua solution right now is debatable. However, every year it becomes smarter and every year we question whether we can still do things better than the automated process. Eventually there will come a point where machine learning can do targeting better than an human can and it will be the human’s job to make sure that the AI has everything it needs in order to optimise targeting.