Google’s Latest Change has Search Marketers Rethinking Keyword Match Types

Google is once again degrading the original intent of the exact keyword match to include “same meaning” close variants. The response from marketers is widely varied.

Expected Impact on Performance with Keyword Match

“The impact of this will probably be most felt by accounts where an exact match has historically been successful and where an exact match of a query made a difference in conversions — hence the reason you’d use exactly in the first place,” said digital consultant and President of Neptune Moon Julie Friedman Bacchini.

According to Bacchini, the loss of control with exact match defeats the purpose of the match types. Many marketers use exact match to be explicit in their targeting. They expect an “exact” match to be just that.

Andy Taylor, associate director of research at Merkle, said they saw an increase in traffic assigned as an exact match close variant with the last change, “and those close variants generally convert at a lower rate than true exact matches.”

However, others who took part in the test see the reins loosened as a good thing. ExtraSpace Storage, one of the beta testers for this, saw positive results.

“The search queries were relevant to our industry and almost all of our primary KPIs saw an overall improvement,” said Steph Christensen, senior analyst for paid search at ExtraSpace. He went on to say that they didn’t do any keyword management during the test. They let it run in a “normal environment to give it the best chance to provide the truest results.”

Advertisers as Machine Learning Beneficiaries

Machine learning is a big driver of these changes. The AI race is on among Google and other big tech companies. Google says its machine learning can now determine when a query has the same intent as a keyword. It should also have a high enough rate of success that advertisers will see a lift in performance.

From another perspective, by opening an exact match to include same meaning queries, Google benefits. They can have marketers train its algorithms by taking action on query reports. Or, as Geddes says, “Advertisers are basically paying the fee for Google to try and learn intent. The fact that Google doesn’t understand user intent coupled with how poor their machine learning has been at times, means we might just move completely away from the exact match.”

One example highlighted by Google, Geddes says, “If I search for Yosemite camping; I might want a blog article, stories, social media, or a campground. If I search for a campground — I want a campground.”

Changes in Workflow

One thing emphasised by Google is that these changes will mean advertisers can focus less on building giant keyword lists. Instead of upfront keyword research, the idea is that management can occur after the campaign runs and collects data. Marketers will add negatives and new keywords as appropriate. However, this reframing of the management process and a new definition of the exact match has

“The further un-exacting of the exact match has me looking at phrase match again,” says Friedman Bacchini. “I definitely see it impacting the use of negatives and time involved to review SQRs and apply negatives properly and exhaustively”.

Taylor agrees. “This change places more importance on regularly checking for negatives, but that has already been ingrained in our management processes for years and won’t be anything new.”

Geddes believes that advertisers may be faces with negative keyword limits. Instead of relying on adding negatives, they may consider only using phrase matching in the future. As well as having ads trigger for irrelevant queries, there’s the issue of having the right ad trigger for a query when you have close variants already in the account.

Matt van Wagner, president of Find Me Faster, says the agency will monitor the impact before assessing workflow changes. However, he’s not anticipating performance lifts.

“We’ll watch search queries and how, or if, traffic shifts from other ad groups as well as CPC levels. We expect this to have a neutral impact at best,” says van Wagner, “since we believe we have our keywords set to trigger on searches with other match types.”

Measuring Impact can be a Challenge

The change will take time. Taylor says it took months to see the impact of the last change to exact match close variants. Calculating the incremental effect of these changes to close variants is difficult. This is because some close variant online traffic comes from keywords that already exist in the account.

“Google gives a nod to this in its recent announcement, saying that ‘Early tests show that advertisers using mostly exact match keywords see 3 per cent more exact match clicks and conversions on average, with most coming from queries they aren’t reaching today,’” Taylor highlights with bolding added.

Looking Ahead

Performance advertisers follow the best results.

“At the end of the day, the question is if poorer converting close variant queries might pull keyword performance down enough to force advertisers to pull back on bids and reduce overall investment,” says Taylor. “Generally speaking, giving sophisticated advertisers greater control to set the appropriate bids for each query (or any other segment) allows for more efficient allocation of spend, which should maximize overall investment in paid search.”

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