How Google’s Exact Match Keywords Update Will Impact PPC

How Google's Exact Match Keywords Update Will Impact PPC

As a PPC advertiser, you may know by now that in September, Google announced that it planned to further expand the broadening of exact match keywords to make them, well, not so exact.

As its name once suggested, exact match keywords triggered ads that matched the exact keyword search. The function essentially hindered or prevented an ad from being served altogether if it didn’t perfectly match the keywords in the specified order of your choosing. While stringent, and perhaps even limiting, it also gave advertisers complete control over the terms for which their ads appeared.

Google’s recent announcement upends those previous parameters. Powered by machine learning, Google’s update may also trigger ads for searches with close variations — ones that match the keyword intent or that otherwise have the same meaning as the specific keyword, including the same keywords in any order.

“This means your exact match keywords can show ads on searches that include implied words, paraphrases, and other terms with the same meaning,” Google said in its help docs.

Granted, “exact match’ might now be a bit of a misnomer. But think of it this way: If you’re marketing for a hospitality industry business and using the exact match keywords “San Diego luxury beach hotels,” your ads might show on terms such as “luxury beach hotels in San Diego” or “San Diego luxury hotels near beaches.” The list goes on, but you get the idea. Even if it isn’t an exact match, the new Google update now takes into consideration a multitude of new words that fall under the umbrella of “implied words, paraphrases, and other terms with the same meaning.” Subsequently, your ads would appear because all of the search terms contain the same basic intent as the original keyword. What wouldn’t necessarily trigger ads are terms like “best San Diego hotel” or “four-star San Diego hotels,” simply because the intent is slightly different.

Google says that the impetus for its latest development is largely attributed to the constantly changing ways that people search, noting that new searches comprised “roughly 15%” of the total they see every day. And that’s a lot.

Google’s latest keyword expansion follows a 2014 update to its platform that included plurals and misspellings as ‘close variants’ to phrase and exact match keywords. But the biggest difference between the two is that plurals and misspellings are generally easy to determine and course correct. Intent, on the other hand, can incorporate broad definitions that are often open to interpretation, indicating that advertisers should closely monitor how this will impact their campaigns, both in the short and long term.

Of course, the same “intent” might not translate to the same value for your campaigns. What’s more, even slight variations between keywords can result in significant disparities in conversions, which in turn could have a dramatic impact on your PPC strategy over time.

That said, thus far there doesn’t appear to be major performance fluctuations at a macro level, but the industry is seeing changes at the keyword level, as those with more history, higher click volume and quality score are receiving more impressions. For example, one ad group is now seeing the exact match of “flu treatment” triggering ads more often than the exact match of “treatment for the flu.” While overall performance from cases like these hasn’t changed much, CPCs have increased slightly in some.

Also, one potential drawback as a result of the change is that some advertisers are splitting one campaign into three or four different campaigns in order to target by specific match types. That, in turn, causes complications for bid automation if those campaigns don’t generate enough conversions to use automated bidding.

It also might mean some extra legwork on your part to beef up negative keyword lists. While there are an exponentially greater number of relevant keyword combination possibilities, there are perhaps just as many, if not more, keywords and keyword combinations that wouldn’t be a fit or that wouldn’t target the right audiences. For advertisers, that will inevitably require valuable time, resources and personnel that could otherwise be spent elsewhere. On the other hand, it might eliminate the need for you to separate exact and phrase match keywords (allowing you to recoup some of the time you lost adding to negative keywords list).

But for digital advertisers, results from Google’s expanded exact match keyword update are thus far positive. For one, it provides a wider array of close variants to what would have been pure exact match terms, of which 99 percent have thus far have been relevant. That means that you have more keyword possibilities, along with a slew of new opportunities available to you that you otherwise would have missed because a phrase wasn’t ‘just so.’ Also, with the exponential number of new queries and search terms that are continuously emerging and being used, it’s likely that consumers are looking for your products with terms you haven’t even considered.

Ultimately, time will determine whether Google’s latest experiment will have a significant impact for digital advertisers. But opening new keyword possibilities has a strong potential to open new doors that lead to new audiences, higher ROI and yet untapped revenue that will ensure that your campaigns remain on an upward, and profitable, trajectory.


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Stefanie Hoffman is a Content Marketing Manager at QuanticMind. As a former award winning journalist and public relations specialist, she specializes in the art of storytelling, with a passion for developing compelling narratives and creating strategy that drives brand awareness and elevates industry thought leaders. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Cornell College.