What does Google's change to exact match keyword targeting mean for PPC?

Search terms are constantly changing. And to keep up, Google has once again updated exact match keyword targeting. But what does this mean for your PPC ads? To get you up to speed, we’ve rounded up what you need to know about the latest change to exact match close variants.

What’s changed?

In the past, exact match keyword targeting meant that a search query had to match an ad’s keyword exactly. All pretty straightforward.

Then in 2014, exact match targeting grew to include close variants, such as plurals and misspellings. Roll forward to 2017, and exact match targeting expanded once again. Different word order and function words were also taken into account, allowing for even more variations around the same keyword.

Now for the latest update. Exact match close variants have evolved to include variations that have the same meaning as your keyword. So, if your keyword is Yosemite camping, matching queries might include:

Yosemite National Park CA camping (Implied words)

Yosemite campground (Paraphrase)

Campsites in Yosemite (Same intent)

This means that your ads can now reach people who are using search terms that have the same intent as your keyword, removing the need for them to type in the keyword exactly as it appears.

However, if Google understands the intent of a search term to be different to your keyword, it won’t match it. For instance, in the case of Yosemite camping, queries such as Yosemite hotel or motels in Yosemite would not match the keyword and your ad wouldn’t be served.

Why the switch?

According to Google, the way people search is continuously evolving. Internal data from April 2017 revealed that 15% of the searches they see every day are new. Which, as you can probably imagine, is a hell of a lot.

One example Google used in their explanation of the change was deodorant. In the last year alone, people searched for deodorant in more than 150,000 different ways. For those managing PPC ads, capturing all those keywords in one list of exact match keywords is near impossible. So, to save us all creating exhaustive keyword lists, expanding exact match to include variants that have the same intent as your keyword saves both advertisers and customers quite a bit of time.

What’s the impact?

Essentially, your ads will reach more people who are likely to convert. Early tests by Google have shown that since the change, advertisers who use mostly exact match keywords have seen an average of 3% more exact match clicks and conversions, with the majority coming from queries they weren’t reaching before.

What do you need to do?

The change will affect English keywords throughout October 2018, then roll out for other languages in the following months. For those managing Google Ads accounts, you may need to pay a bit of extra attention to your search term reports for exact match keywords. Depending on how the results compare to your pre-roll out reports, you might want to add more negatives or new keywords.

If you already use paraphrases or other similar terms, Google Ads will still prefer to use keywords identical to the search query. Phrase, broad and broad match modifier keywords aren’t affected by the update.

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