As digital marketers, we’ve always relied on keyword match types to control how our keywords match to a user’s search query, and it’s no secret that over the years Google has continued to change the way that these match types operate, in line with their ever-growing automation methods. But how has this impacted PPC and how we run our campaigns?

Let’s start with how keyword match types looked pre 2014.

Exact Match

Before major changes were rolled out in 2014, exact match was simply as the name describes, exactly what you specified. This meant that in order for a search query to match that keyword, it had to include those words exactly, in that exact order.

Using this match type wouldn’t account for any misspellings, plurals, or close variants. If you had wanted to appear for those variants, you would need to manually add these as targeted keywords or stick to broad match modified, which gave you a bit more flexibility.

Phrase Match

When using phrase match, you determined the exact words and word order you wanted to appear for, however, there could be additional terms at either end of the keyword. 

For example, the keyword “buy to let properties” could appear for the following searches:

Broad Match Modified

Using broad match modified meant that a users search query had to include all words but in no particular order, it could also include other words within the query. 

For example, the keyword +buy +to +let +properties could appear for the following searches:

The way these match types operated around this time allowed full control of the search queries you wanted to show ads for and made it easier to segment campaigns based on the keyword match type or keyword intent.

Fast forward to 2014, Google rolled out the close variants change across the exact and phrase match keywords. This huge change now meant that these keywords would also appear for misspellings, plurals, and close variants – for example, the keyword ‘clothes’ could now appear for ‘clothing’.

Whilst these changes took away the manual work of accounting for misspelt words and plurals, many of us saw this as the beginning of the end of exact match.

A few years later in 2017, we saw further changes rolled out which determined that exact match keywords could appear for search queries in any word order and different function words (such as the, for, to, etc).

This had huge implications for PPC, particularly for keywords which relied on word order, for example, the keyword ‘buy to let properties’ could now be shown for ‘let to buy properties’ which is a completely different offering.

It also meant that where we’d segmented ad groups by match type or in some cases where we’d implemented a single keyword ad group structure, we began to see query cross-over between various ad groups as those segments no longer became necessary due to the broadening of close variants. This then led to more consolidated campaign structures and a lot of us moved away from the single keyword ad group structure as it no longer had a place in most accounts.

These changes didn’t stop there, over the last couple of years Google added same-meaning words to exact, phrase, and broad match modified keywords.

How did this impact each match type individually?

Exact Match

Following the most recent changes to exact match, search queries could now include implied words or paraphrases, so whilst the search query may be fairly different to the keyword you’ve specified within exact match, Google will still show your ad if it deems the query to have the same intent as your original keyword.

Google’s reasoning for this change was down to search queries evolving and their ever-adapting machine learning being able to adapt to this, as they were now able to fill in gaps for advertisers. Google also claimed that we would be missing out on new search queries by maintaining too much control over our queries through the use of the old exact and phrase match (but isn’t that what broad match modified was great for?!).

Phrase Match

Phrase match has maintained the most control over the years, despite the same-meaning changes (as described above) also being rolled out for phrase match, the word order has remained in place.

This has been useful in cases where keywords completely rely on word order to be relevant to the right search queries, like the above ‘buy to let’ example.

Broad Match Modified 

Whilst the above changes have also been rolled out for broad match modified keywords, this match type has seen the most expansion and in my opinion, has wiped out the need for the OG broad match keywords.

This match type is now perfect for identifying new search queries and keyword opportunities due to the roll-out of same meaning queries, plurals, misspelt words, stemmings, abbreviations and so on.

Now, as standard using broad match modified alongside a dynamic search ads campaign is absolutely key to opening your account up for growth and expansion, especially when working with niche industries. 

Whilst exact and phrase match are still important, there is no longer the need to strategically segment keywords, but instead, focus on grouping closely related keywords (including grouping keyword match types), which will give your automated smart bidding strategies (if you’re using them!) more data to work with to focus on driving more conversions and revenue.

To conclude, there have been many changes to the way we control the search queries our ads are shown for, in line with the ever-growing ‘automated approach’ we’re seeing Google roll out and I expect this to change even more so over the next couple of years.

If you have any further thoughts on this, I’d be keen to hear what you have to say! Feel free to get in touch to discuss all things match type related.

Paige Lambert

PPC Executive

PPC Executive at Impression. Specialising in lead generation PPC campaigns and working closely on not-for-profit google ad grant accounts.

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