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The death of broad match modified keywords

February 25, 2021 / Reading Time: 4 minutes /
Rich Martin

Whilst it’s clearly a clickbait headline, it’s not that far from the truth. Forgive the pessimism but the reality of the matter is actually much more worrying than it would appear at first glance. We’re not just losing BMM keywords….

Last week, Google announced that they would be “simplifying match types” in order to “make it easier to reach the right customers”. 

Here we will give you an overview of what’s changed (and maybe some of our own opinions). You can then make up your own mind about whether Google is doing this out of the kindness of their hearts. We’ll also look at what it might mean for Ads accounts going forward and what we can do about it.

What is happening?

In simple terms Google is ‘removing’ one of the keyword match types in their platform. By mid-Feb, phrase and BMM keywords’ behaviour will be consolidated, and from July onwards you will no longer be able to create BMM keywords.

In Google Ads we’re able to specify the ‘match type’ of the search keywords that we wish to bid on. In essence a keyword’s match type dictates how closely a person’s search needs to match your keyword in order for you to show an ad. More specific match types generally result in lower traffic volumes but much more closely related searches (and therefore higher quality) and broader match types, the opposite; less quality but higher traffic volumes.

This isn’t the first time Google has done this type of thing. In 2014, there was a fairly significant change to Exact match type keywords which had the industry in up-roar. Further updates to exact match came in 2018. Honestly, with wider recent changes to the platform (DSA, Smart campaigns, RSA’s auto bidding, removal of some SQ data etc) we can’t say that we’re surprised to see them take it further.

To better explain what’s happening and why this is such a problem for anyone managing a Google Ads account we’ve compared the match types we had (before the major changes in 2018) and what we’ll now have after this most recent change.

The thing that we are most frustrated by, and that the wider industry doesn’t seem to be talking about as much is that Google aren’t ‘just’ removing BMM keywords. We’ve actually lost the traditional phrase match too, and in favour of a much broader match type. It may still be called ‘phrase match’ but, in my opinion it absolutely is not. Even ‘exact match’ nowadays is nothing like it used to be (pre Feb 2018), and nothing like its name implies.

In fact, analysing the information provided by Google, exact match in effect behaves as BMM used to, phrase match is now essentially a variation on broad match (that apparently has some consideration for user intent), and broad match, well, you probably still shouldn’t be using broad match anyway.

Google’s statement on the matter reads; 

To give you more control and better reach, we’re bringing the best of broad match modifier into phrase match. As a result, phrase match will expand to cover additional broad match modifier traffic, while continuing to respect word order when it’s important to the meaning. This makes it easier to reach customers and manage keywords in your account.

No matter how you try to spin it, removing targeting options (especially something as fundamental as keyword matching) does not provide us with “more control”. Whilst it could be argued that it does, in theory, make accounts “easier” (and I use that phrase very loosely) to set up, that is really only for entry level users.

What does it mean?

In short, less control. 

If you’re using both phrase and BMM keyword match types you’ll likely begin to see traffic fluctuations, with phrase match keywords ultimately increasing in traffic volumes. Though unless you’re using match type segmentation it’s unlikely that you’ll need to make any major changes (right now).

If you’re using match type segmentation (which is arguably now an outdated practice anyway) I would suggest you plan on restructuring your account as soon as possible. Not doing so will result in account-wide search query duplication and ultimately worse performance.

Whilst only time will tell what the true impact will be. In the short term we’re anticipating spending more time reviewing our clients SQR’s and bolstering our negative keyword strategies. Along with reviewing account structures and keyword targeting to proactively eliminate search query duplication. We suggest that if you manage your own Google Ads accounts, that you also do the same.

What should we do about it?

You will need to make those around you aware of these changes and the implications.  We’re likely to see some instability in traffic volumes over the next few weeks (potentially months). Prepare for CPA fluctuations as traffic quality and intent may change for (phrase and BMM) keywords that have historically performed consistently well.

Spend time reviewing your Ads accounts. Pull keyword reports from the platform and find any areas in your account where keywords may overlap based on the new match type criteria. Then either through restructuring your campaigns or by adding negative keywords, eliminate the overlap.

If you’re using match type segmentation. Stop what you’re doing, lock yourself away for the next week, and completely rebuild your ads account(s). Seriously.

Make sure your conversion tracking is on point. Forgive the pessimism but we’re slowly losing control over the words and phrases that we serve our ads against. Google is relying less on what we tell it to do, and more on wider signals such as conversion data. If your conversion tracking isn’t working effectively, or you have a bunch of low value conversion actions in your Google Ads account then you’re in for a tough time. Especially now we can no longer specify the exact words we want to serve ads for in Google SERPs.

Do you want to hear more on how to adapt your strategy?

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