Google is making a big change to exact match keyword targeting in AdWords. On Friday, Google announced an additional change in the way exact match keyword targeting will work for search ads. Matching for close variants—including plurals, typos, abbreviations, etc.—will be broadened to include variations in function words and word order within the next few months. Google may now ignore word order and function words when determining whether an ad should trigger for an exact match keyword. This isn’t the first time Google has changed the scope of exact match, though.
Since 2012, Google has been changing the meaning of exact match targeting with close variants. Close variants were introduced with the selling point that this would allow for capture of plurals, misspellings, or typos of the exact match and phrase match keywords to broaden coverage and save advertisers time from building out exhaustive keyword lists. While there has been much speculation around why Google has chosen to go this route, in Google’s blog released Friday, it claims that early tests show advertisers may see up to 3% more exact match clicks on average while maintaining comparable clickthrough and conversion rates. This coincides with advertiser’s thoughts back in 2012 when the first changes to exact match targeting were made: This could make advertising strategies a bit more clouded and less precise.
Google’s AdWords Update: The Details
When it comes to the most recent changes, you’re going to see shifts primarily in the areas of function words and word order. Keep reading for the specifics:
Function words are articles (a, the), conjunctions (but, for), prepositions (of, in) or any filler type word that doesn’t impact the intent of a query. Google says that function words will be the only words that are ignored and this should only happen when it won’t change the meaning of your keyword. There is also the possibility of function words being replaced or added to a specific exact match query. See the examples below provided by Google.
Additionally, with this update, Google can change word order, just as it was done in the above example with changing “Bahamas cruise from Miami” to “Miami to Bahamas cruise”. Notice that the intent of the query did not change by reordering these words. For example, [dinner recipes] and [recipes dinner] have the same meaning despite being re-ordered. One of the variations may sound odd to say but nonetheless, means the same. See below for more examples from Google.
One point to note is that Google stresses it will not change word order or function words in exact match when it understands changes would alter the meaning of the query. For example, searching for flights. Google will understand that [ATL to LAX] will not match to the query “LAX to ATL” because it is a different destination.
What Does This Mean for Advertisers?
So, what does this mean for us as advertisers? I’m an optimist, so let’s start with the good. If the theory is correct that Google is letting its algorithm do the work, maybe it won’t be so bad. Creating keyword lists is a huge part of the set-up process for campaigns and it can take time to ensure all exact match forms of keywords are represented. Special shout out to close variance here for starting to make the process better, but this change would take things to the next level in terms of capturing it all. It could close any gaps on keywords missed that competitors could be bidding on. For the end user, this could be a plus as well. With increased traffic on mobile, big thumbs and tiny buttons don’t always match up. This could guarantee better end-to-end search experience for users, who will now be able to find your product or service faster.
But, now the (potentially) bad. What if Google’s algorithm isn’t so accurate? This could require more work in setting up negative keyword lists and other safeguards to prevent irrelevant traffic from slipping in. Furthermore, it strips control from advertisers, who won’t have a say on what revisions this update can make to exact keywords. The result? Potentially wasted money for areas that won’t lead to additional sales. Search Engine Land said it best with “Inappropriate variations are often discovered only after an advertiser has paid for wasted clicks and the variation shows up in a search query report. Precision control is being ceded to the machines.” For the end user, this could lead to flaws in the searching process.
For now, these changes do not apply to phrase match keywords and AdWords is still designed to prioritize matching identical keywords to identical search queries. There has also been no word yet if Bing is to follow suit. Since the exact match keyword targeting will no longer be so precise, advertisers will need to be on top of their game with search query reporting and excluding irrelevant terms from their campaigns.
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