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Google's new exact match – how advertisers should adjust

Published: March 27, 2017

Author: Scott Trevellyan

In a move to “help…connect more people with what they’re looking for,” Google announced Friday afternoon they would be loosening their definition of their most stringently defined match type: exact match.
Previously, exact match meant, well… exact match. Keywords set to exact match would only trigger ads when users typed the exact keywords in the same order without extra tokens before or after. Exact match provided users the most control over whom ad is shown to, and in turn how an AdWords budget is spent with the main benefits of increased economy and precision.

To help advertisers cast a wider net of customers, as Google claims, they will be expanding exact match to include additional forms of rewordings, synonyms, and word reordering. In addition, this match type will soon ignore function words, such as “prepositions (in, to), conjunctions (for, but), articles (a, the),” pronouns and others, which as they contend, don’t often affect the intent of the user query but can unnecessarily narrow the coverage of keywords.
For example, if someone is searching for “tent for backpacking,” it could trigger the exact match keywords [backpacking tent]. Whereas before “backpacking tent” would only return exactly that plus close variants, misspellings, and plurals. According to Google, function words will only be ignored when they will not change the meaning of the query. For example, words like “to” or “from” in the query “flights to San Diego” would not be ignored as they would change the intent.

Implications & Best Practices

As you have likely noticed, more and more, Google is promoting their machine learning technology for AdWords, whether it be with how search results are generated, or enhanced bidding for how advertisers show up in results. Like many of these other moves to “make life easier” for advertisers by Google taking more control, there is a presumed financial benefit for Google to take over bidding by broadening nets and increasing clicks. After all, in many cases people will identify irrelevant variations to become uploaded as negative keywords only after they have paid for the clicks.
So what does this really mean for advertisers? It is hard to say exactly at this point, but what can be said is that like the other machine learning initiatives, there will likely be a “machine learning curve.”
Changing word order of the query can often change the meaning and intent. The question many people will have is, how fast will the machines learn? Google claims this new match type will use artificial intelligence to determine query reordering, rewording, and function word changes – though it is not clear how well the new match type setting will “think” right away. Misses here and there while it is learning can add up to a significant amount of wasted spend and decreased efficiency.
Unlike the enhanced bidding options that are at this point optional, this new version of exact match will replace the old version and could directly affect your existing keyword structure. The first version of a new feature is rarely the best iteration and rarely the last. For this reason, it is critical to closely monitor how the changes affect your accounts, especially early on in the implementation process.
For the time being, here are some things you can do to prepare for this change:

  • Carefully review existing campaigns for exact match keywords that would become irrelevant if different wordings, orderings, and variations were applied.
  • Regularly run search query reports to monitor these keywords to make sure that they are returning relevant queries. This might entail a more frequent and in-depth mining of negative keywords.
  • Expand your negative keywords to exclude any variations of your exact match keywords that would lose relevancy through rewording, reordering, or loss of function words. This includes both variations that are identified in initial reviews, and through your search query reports.

Hopefully, this new feature works as it is intended, saving marketers time from building out exhaustive keyword lists while helping to connect companies with more customers. According to early tests, Google found that advertisers were able to increase their exact match clicks with the new version by an average of 3%, while maintaining similar CTRs and CVRs as the current version. Chances are, if your existing exact match keywords are not as function word-dependent as say, “flights to san diego,” then this might not be such a big deal, requiring little to no changes to your existing campaigns. If function words generally don’t dictate the meaning of your exact match keywords, it should help increase traffic.
Either way, we would love to hear about your experience with this change. Best of luck!

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