PUBLISHED: Feb 10, 2021 8 min read

Google Ads Match Types Have Changed Again – Here’s How to Take Advantage

Google announced a change to the matching behavior for phrase match keywords that will significantly expand the search terms these keywords will be eligible to serve for. The phrase match option has long been considered a middle ground between exact and broad match keywords, but this change moves phrase match significantly closer to broad match terms. Also, broad match modified (BMM) keywords will no longer be a distinct match type and any existing BMM keywords will follow the new phrase match behavior. Google says that this change will streamline keyword management and will improve reach to customers.  

Not sure what to make of it all? Let’s examine what this change entails, the potential effects it will have on advertisers, and what you can do to prepare.  

Surveying the Current Phrase Match Landscape 

Before we dive into the coming changes, let’s take a moment to parse Google Ads’ current keyword options.  

Breaking it down to the basics, a search term is the word or phrase that a user types into the search bar. An advertiser bids on certain keywords that are then matched to search terms entered by consumers.  

These keywords can fall into three different match types:  

Broad Match  

Includes words not in the keyword that Google identifies as being related to the search term. 

A subtype of Broad Match keywords is called Broad match modified (BMM) keywords. BMM keywords have long been used by advertisers as a safer version of broad match that is less likely to serve an ad for irrelevant search terms. BMM keywords are indicated by placing a ‘+’ sign before a word in a broad match keyword which ensures that specific word must be a part of the user’s search term for the ad to show. Advertisers used BMM keywords to show ads for a larger range of search terms while still maintaining some control on specific words that had to be present in the search term.  

Phrase Match   

In its current behavior, matches search terms with keywords that appear within the phrase of the keyword. For example, a phrase match keyword of “shoes on sale” would serve for a search term of “new shoes on sale in New York.” 

Exact Match  

This one’s exactly what it sounds like: it serves ads for search terms with the same meaning or intent as the keyword. 

Google Ads match types are constantly evolving.

Upcoming Changes to Google Ads’ Keyword Matching 

Starting on February 18th, 2021, phrase match keywords will serve for more search terms and BMM keywords will serve in the same way as phrase match. In other words, there will be no difference between phrase match and BMM.  

Google defines the new phrase match to serve ads for search terms that include the meaning of your keyword. This means a phrase match keyword for “tennis shoes” can serve for searches for ‘shoes for tennis’, ‘buy tennis shoes on sale’, ‘red tennis shoes’, and ‘comfortable tennis sneakers’.  

Image courtesy of Google

Keywords that are currently set up as BMM match type will now match to search terms as phrase match, even though they will not appear differently in the account. If advertisers change the keyword text in a BMM keyword the match type will be updated to phrase match—which is a change in name only. The way the keyword matches will be the same for phrase match and BMM.  

Another important note is for advertisers that used a partial BMM on one token within a keyword—the update will turn that entire keyword into a phrase match. An example of this would be the keyword ‘+digital advertising agency’. This keyword would only serve if ‘digital’ was in the search term but might serve for “digital marketing company” in addition to “best digital ad agencies”.  

Google is working on tools that will make it easier to change the match type of a keyword from BMM to phrase match. New BMM keywords can still be created but advertisers will lose that capability starting in July 2021.  

Image courtesy of Google

The Effects of Google’s New Phrase Match Structure on Reaching the Right Audience 

The immediate effect of this change will be for phrase match keywords that will now match for more search terms. As long as the meaning of the keyword is included in the search term, the ad will be able to serve. While Google’s technology has been consistently improving around matching relevant search terms to the right keyword, this change has the potential to cause more irrelevant search traffic to serve ads for phrase match keywords.  

Google provided these three examples of search terms that will match for the new behavior.  

None of these would have matched under the previous phrase match definition and it’s easy to tell how all of these search terms are relevant to the keyword.  

If advertisers have been using the same keywords with both phrase and BMM match types applied, those keywords are now unnecessary duplicates. The recommendations tab will start to surface options to remove redundant keywords, something it already does for other keywords that use the same match type. This aligns with Google’s ongoing efforts to incentivize less granular campaigns and for advertisers to utilize automated bid strategies.  

Many advertisers have been hesitant to serve ads for broad match keywords, using BMM as a safety net to ensure a minimum level of relevancy between the keyword and the search term. Advertisers could serve their ads with greater reach and learn more about their customers’ search behavior, using search term reports to better inform what exact match keywords to target and how to update ad copy to align with how their customers perform searches. Advertisers may need to start using broad match keywords to serve a wider range of search terms if they want to continue to use the search terms report to expand their keyword strategy. This potential use is stifled by Google’s change to the Search Terms Report which doesn’t show data for all search terms.  

Negative keyword lists have always been important but these changes reinforce the need to have a robust and consistently updated negative keyword list across your account. This will help to keep ads from serving for irrelevant search terms, in addition to ensuring that campaigns and ad groups that are grouped by theme will serve the relevant ad for the right search term.  

Steps to Take to Make Sure You Aren’t Adversely Impacted by Match Type Changes 

If you’re worried the changes might have a negative effect on your bidding strategy, there are a few factors to keep in mind when revising your plans:  

  • When creating keywords that you would have previously used BMM or phrase match for, only upload the new keywords with phrase match.  
  • Monitor search term reports for phrase match keywords to understand the impact and change this has on your campaigns. 
  • Add negative keywords to ad groups and campaigns that are irrelevant to your business goals (this should be happening regularly regardless of the news from Google.)
  • Check the recommendations tab to remove keywords that are now redundant based on the change.  
  • Consider adding new pure broad match keywords if they aren’t used in your account already, especially if your account is already using conversion tracking and automated bid strategies like Target CPA or Target ROAS.  

As the search advertising landscape continues to evolve, make sure your account is set up for success. If you need some assistance navigating the new landscape, feel free to reach out. The Google Ads experts at Amsive Digital are happy to work with you to fine-tune your account structure or offer more holistic SEM services.