POV: Google Changes Exact Match Keywords


Google has announced that further changes are being introduced to the way ‘exact match’ keyword targeting works in AdWords. Close variants (plurals, typos, abbreviations, adverbs, etc.), rolled out across advertisers in 2014, will now be broadened to include variations in word order and function words. This change allows Google to ignore word order and function words (binding words, prepositions, pronouns, conjunctions and quantifiers) when determining whether your ad is triggered for an ‘exact match’ keyword.

Details and Implications

There are five different keyword match types which advertisers can use to target and qualify traffic: broad, broad match modifier, phrase, exact and negative match keywords. ‘Broad’ being, as it sounds, the widest in scope and ‘exact’, which is the most precise, but also the most restrictive.

Google first introduced close variants for ‘exact match’ and phrase match in 2012 as a way to broaden reach, coverage and save time building out keyword lists. Advertisers that wanted tighter control were able to opt out of close variant matching until 2014, when Google removed the ability to opt out. Bing followed suit the following year.

The latest series of changes and additions to ‘exact match’ sees Google increasingly trusting its machine learning and belief that its advertisers should also trust the algorithms and focus more on strategic account management. According to Google, early tests have shown that advertisers can achieve up to 3 percent more ‘exact match’ clicks, while maintaining comparable click-through and conversion rates. While this may be the case, advertisers will also now lose the ability to have complete control over the query which triggers a keyword in their campaign and thus leaves a deal of uncertainty for campaign performance.

Semantic and syntactical word changes may have an effect on brand advertisers, especially if their brand includes a location or other common words. Advertisers in niche-industries and those using nouns or adjectives to qualify traffic may also look to be more cautious of search traffic in the initial stages as Google rolls this out in first the English language and then in Spanish.


Google’s philosophy has and always will be, to spread a wider net to capture available traffic and then filter out what you do not want rather than build a net which is restrictive and not capture what is available. It is better to test and spend budget on keywords that are not relevant, rather than to miss out on potentially converting terms.

This approach often works and it has certainly improved since the introduction of close variants a few years ago. It is rare that an advertiser enjoys building out an endless iteration of similar keywords, however many will also feel that this change is much more favourable to Google. It removes an element of control from advertisers and forces them to use remarketing lists for search ads (a feature that lets you customize your search ads campaign for people who have previously visited your site, and tailor your bids and ads to these visitors when they're searching on Google), bidding strategies and negatives to help shape their traffic and reduce costs, but in turn allows more time spent on account expansion, strategy and other best practices.