Matching Google: the evolution of exact in Google Ads

The winds of change are upon us, and we are not just talking about the spring sea breeze which has finally joined us in Falmouth. Google is dexterously moving towards a new approach for PPC keyword management, and, more specifically, how we use exact match keywords. Here’s what you need to know about the recent updates to close variants.

exact match

Traditionally, exact match meant that a search term had to exactly match the keyword for an ad to trigger. In 2012, Google announced the introduction of close variants, a way for marketers to capture typing errors, misspellings and other versions of exact match keywords. Google did this for a couple of reasons: to increase reach and to relieve marketers of spending hours building keyword lists full of misspellings. The difference was, back in the day, advertisers could opt out of close variants if they wanted more control over their campaigns. In 2014, this changed with the ability to opt out being removed.

Now to the latest update. Last Friday (17th of March), Google announced an additional change to how exact match keywords will work in Google Ads. Close variants will now include variations in word order and function words, which means Google won’t always consider these elements when determining whether to serve an ad for an exact match keyword.

What are function words?

Function words are, in essence, words that don’t mean much on their own; such as prepositions, conjunctions and articles. With the most recent change, these words will not only potentially be disregarded, but also added and/or removed depending on the search query.  Here are the examples provided by Google:


Different order

This latest change from Google also means that search queries don’t have to match the word order of the exact match keyword to trigger the ad. For example, [sailing trip UK to France] doesn’t change in meaning with [UK to France sailing trip] – the intent is clearly the same. Google will not add to keywords, however it might adapt to different function words.

Room for error?

Google is relying on machine learning and its algorithm to make the decision to trigger an exact match keyword moving forward. Naturally, this adds an element of concern, especially in the case that the algorithm matches a query to a keyword that doesn’t have the correct meaning. For advertisers, we can only assume that the algorithm will recognise that [UK to France sailing trip] and [France to UK sailing trip] has a different meaning. But, in the meantime, we will be keeping an eye out for high bounce rates and a drop in CTRs.

Close variants will now include variations in word order and function words, which means Google won’t always consider these elements when determining whether to serve an ad for an exact match keyword.

How to prepare for change

This change means marketers will need to be much more diligent when reviewing search queries and keyword data. We suggest reviewing high risk exact match keywords, especially those that are vulnerable to a change in meaning triggered by word order. In addition, take a look at the search queries from the last 6 months and see if any queries are also at potential risk of change due to these updates. Negative out any potential discrepancies and then keep a close eye on your search query reports in the coming months.

Integrated approach

This change will not impact SEO keyphrase research; it is only a change to PPC right now. It does encourage us to think about how Google is regarding search behaviour and what implications it may have for SEO rank in future. But for now, you won’t see any change in our SEO keyphrase research process.

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