Last week, Google announced a new change that will affect exact match keyword targeting. In the past, exact match meant exact match. Then, in 2012, Google announced a fuzzy match algorithm called “close variants,” which was supposed to capture plurals, misspellings, typos, and other versions of exact and phrase match keywords. With their latest update, the exact match targeting is getting bundled with the close variant targeting algorithm, which now ignores word order and function order. In this post, we’ll cover exactly what’s changing with the switch from exact match targeting, what you can do to mitigate any surprises on your end, and what experts are saying this means for the PPC world.
Rewording and reordering from close variant targeting will now include exact match targeting in AdWords. Close variant targeting not only ignores plurals, typos, abbreviations, and adverbs, but will also be broadened to ignore word order and function words. This means ads may be delivered when queries use a different word order or function words. Sadly, this limits the amount of control advertisers have over ad delivery, and further dilutes exact match targeting.
How this Update Affects Advertisers
The Google philosophy is as follows: capture as much traffic as possible with a wider net, then filter out what you don’t want, rather than building a smaller net that might not be big enough to catch everything you want. They’d prefer you spend money on some bad keywords than risk missing out on some potentially good ones.
Because of this, Google removed the ability for advertisers to opt out out of close variants in 2014. This means advertisers are being forced to place more trust on Google’s machine learning algorithms. This is obviously a smart way for Google to make more ad revenue, as they’ve claimed that early tests show advertisers could see an average of 3 percent more exact match clicks while maintaining similar click-through and conversion rates.
Below we’ll walk you through how the close variants are changing:
Function Words Could Be Ignored, Changed, or Added
Function words are essentially words that don’t have meaning on their own within a search query. Google defines function words as prepositions (in, to), conjunctions (for, but), articles (a, the) and other words that usually do not change the intent of a query. With this update, exact match could ignore, add, or change these function words to match with similar queries.
However, Google specifically states that the function words will only be ignored from the query when it does not change the meaning of the keyword. For example, “hotels in new york” can safely ignore the function word “in” because it doesn’t change the meaning. However, in the keyword “flights to new york” the function word “to” would not be ignored, because a “flight from new york” is not the same as a “flight to new york.”
Below are more examples from Google:
In some cases, two keywords can share the same meaning, and when they do, Google may reorder the keyword in order to deliver your ad. It’s important to note that word reordering will never add words to your keywords or the search query. For example, “buy new cars” and “new cars buy” likely mean the same thing from an intent standpoint. Exact match will use that same logic to match ads with reordered variations of your keyword.
However, similar to the function words exception, Google claims your keywords will not be reordered to match with a query if it changes the original meaning of those keywords. For example, the keyword [SFO to JFK] will not match to the query “JFK to SFO” because the destination and search intent is different. Below are a few more examples of how words can be reordered when using exact match with close variants.
How to Reduce the Impact From These Updates
Let’s face it. There’s no way around this global change and you’re not going to stop advertising on Google because of it. Because this update puts the onus on advertisers to explicitly state what queries they don’t want their ads to show up on rather than the ones they do want, it is important that advertisers be more diligent than ever about digging through search query reports and thinking ahead to prevent unintended consequences when word order matters.
As the exact match targeting update is rolling out over the coming months, here are a few things you can do in that timeframe to reduce the impact these changes have on your campaigns:
- Update your scripts. If you are using a script like the one from BrainLabs to make exact match exact, it will need to be updated as so.
- Review all your existing exact match queries and determine if the loss of function words or a reordering of the words changes the meaning. If so, you’ll want to add those variations as negative keywords in your campaigns.
- Review close variants in your Search Query Reports to see if other variations are currently being triggered that could be affected with the update, and add those as negative keywords.
- Going forward, schedule more time in your day to mine through your Search Query Reports, especially for close variants (screenshot below)
The Expert Take
It’s been a week now since the announcement and the PPC community has been buzzing with feedback about the exact match targeting update. We asked some of the leaders in the search world for their thoughts:
“As control freaks, this update spells doom and gloom to our tidy and structured accounts. But as marketers, this could mean additional query growth and less “Low Search Volume” keyword status.
We all survived the mandatory opt-in of close variants back in 2014 and this update only strengthens the point that no keyword structure can lead to success without active management. In the meanwhile I plan to schedule out some more SQRs.”
“This change seems to be less about “increasing reach” and more about herding advertisers down the path toward keywords as a lower level targeting layer. You can’t accidentally add exact match terms to your account, you have to do it deliberately. And, what the change actually does is already covered in AdWords by using the broad match modified match type for target keywords. It’s clear that Google is viewing related queries (or “close variants”) as fully interchangeable, so if that does not work in your particular situation, it is going to require more vigilance and work to try to keep the majority of queries matching for your preferred phrasing.”
“Most accounts: Accounts that use combinations of exact and modified broad won’t see any more impressions. Their biggest issue will be year over year bidding or traffic moving from one ad group to another one in trending data.
The rare word order account: When word order or word variations matter, either in meaning or click values, then you need to watch the changes closely. If Google gets it right, then it might not be worth the effort to manage this closely. If Google gets the meaning wrong, then you will need to do a lot of work in order to properly manage which ad groups are receiving the clicks and their associated bids.
Small accounts using mostly exact match: These accounts are going to see the largest impact. If you are mostly relying on exact match with very little modified or broad; you will see an increase in impressions. Make sure these additional impressions are converting at the same rate as your previous ones.”
“At first I’m thinking this gives us less control. Google simply wants to push out more ads to make more money. When you dig into their statement around machine learning and think about all the data they have on how we search. I start to think if anyone can pull this off, it’s Google. The big “what about when” around this is how does this machine take into account sentiment and the true context of what someone searches. 20% of searches every day have never been done before and if that stat is still true…. what would the machine do in those cases? It has no reference for something that hasn’t happened yet.”
“Inexperienced businesses will be hurt the most because they don’t know all the intricacies of AdWords. But if you have an established account, with a long history of appropriate negatives, I believe you won’t see a huge impact unless word order matters. If I’m a Wisconsin company selling a cheese head, I don’t want to show up when someone is searching for head cheese. Look it up. Two WAY different products.”
“I’m not too concerned about the AdWords exact match update. For years, Google has been allowing close variants to show. As long as PPC Specialists have tightly themed ad groups and constantly review search query reports, these close variants can help efficiency. I don’t see the mentality changing with how exact match will now be triggered. As long as advertisers remain steadfast reviewing their queries, there shouldn’t be major issues.”
“With changes like this sometimes there’s a “the sky is falling” response and in the end it doesn’t turn out as bad as everyone thought. It’s still unclear how exactly it will affect performance, but it’s making us rethink some of our fundamental strategies around keyword, adgroup and campaign structure. I’m less confident in exact match campaigns and adgroups and more worried about what I’ll find in the search query report for exact match terms. The “golden years” of true exact match ended with close variants a couple years ago, and while this continues the trend of less control, there are still many many levers we can pull to optimize and improve our digital campaigns. I’m still optimistic about the PPC future.”
“I understand the reasoning for Google’s changes in AdWords, and think this is simply a logical progression from their previous close variants change in the Exact Match Type. Google is trying to make it easier for higher-intent terms to be bid on in advertisers’ accounts who haven’t taken the time to find and add every possible query into their account. Makes sense, right?
On the other hand, frankly, I and many others were already ensuring this was happening by including tightly controlled Broad Match Modified and/or Phrase keywords in our accounts to pick up these “exact close variants”. Thus for us, the change is redundant and unnecessary in our accounts (though admittedly it can now force these exact close variant matches out of lower bid BMM keywords and potentially provide better immediate bidding accuracy on those semantically matched terms in the future – as I have written here: Match Type Segmentation Wins with Google’s Exact March Matchness Update).
My thoughts are that this change will not kill the majority of accounts (I believe some high CPC, probably B2B, terms that have multiple meanings will be hit hard with this), I just think it’s one of those unnecessary changes that further dilutes the original purpose of the Exact Match Type. Exact means, well, “exactly the same” and this new change strips away that meaning even further.”
Have additional thoughts to share on the Exact Match Targeting update? Leave a comment below!
When you can promise new clients a 250% increase in PPC campaign growth in a year, you must have a pretty good idea of what you’re doing. Bryan Gaynor, a Digital Marketing Account Manager at Hanapin Marketing, does. He knows a lot about PPC and digital marketing in general, but we invited him onto The PPC Show to talk about one of the newest forms of advertising – programmatic. You can listen to the whole episode for more details on the following topics:
1. “Reach the right person at the right time with the right message.” There are many definitions of programmatic advertising, but Bryan’s simple explanation mentions piecing all available data together to create messaging that’s personal to the viewer. Other definitions include the automated aspect of programmatic, where algorithms are used to purchase ad space.
2. “There are 80-90 other sources of inventory outside Google Display Network.” Though many marketers rely solely on GDN, programmatic offers access to up to 90 other sources of inventory. Taking alternative routes not only helps diversify your strategy, it could also lower your bids and increase conversion rates.
3. “If you want to sell anything, you have to specialize in it.” While Bryan doesn’t see a need to form a new team around programmatic, he does encourage managers to start testing now to gain an understanding that’s well-developed enough to properly recommend programmatic to clients. The principles are similar to how you’d set up a search or social campaign, so getting started is self-serve, but there are nuances managers will need to become familiar with. DoubleClick, The Trade Desk, and Centro are great starter platforms.
4. “You can get results with just $500 per month.” Bryan warns smaller budgets will yield fewer data points, which makes interpreting results a bit more challenging, but the minimal price to experiment with programmatic is very reasonable.
5. “Testing programmatic starts with what you’ve already tried.” You don’t have to start at the beginning to test out programmatic. Start with where you currently are, and use more in-depth reporting to further dissect placement and audience, so you can fine-tune messaging.
6. “The level of reporting with programmatic gets very deep.” Programmatic’s deep and detailed reporting helps surface information that might not show up in the reports you’re pulling now. Bryan’s worked with clients that were able to drill all the way down to adjust creative for viewers seeing ads on older phones.
7. “If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.” Though much of programmatic is automatic, it’s still important to keep a close eye on reporting, especially exchange or network reports. Taking a look at data related to impressions, traffic, and conversions will help flag and filter instances where performance might be incorrectly affected by non-human interactions (bots). Reviewing reports on a weekly basis will ensure you’re not spending money on wasted inventory.
Want all of Bryan’s tips? Listen to the whole episode below:
Bryan will be speaking at Hero Conf April 18th to 20th in Los Angeles (with AdStage CEO, Sahil Jain), where he’ll hold a session on programmatic for PPC managers. You can follow him on Twitter to stay up to date. For even more PPC wisdom, check out Hanapin’s library of resources.
When you scale your AdWords accounts, you start to find even some of the most basic tasks start to take up huge amounts of time. I remember stepping up from managing smaller AdWords accounts with a few hundred ads (where I could easily keep track of my split tests in a few minutes per day), to some much larger ones where there were tens of thousands of ads. It would have taken me literally hours a day to review each one by hand.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. The key to keeping on top of your AdWords accounts when you scale is Automation. And, one of the most straightforward ways to automate tasks is to use AdWords Scripts.
So what are the best AdWords scripts? Here are the 10 I absolutely could not live without:
This is hands down one of the best AdWords scripts ever written. It allows you to automatically record your Quality Score once per day so you can keep track of your historical quality score without having to purchase any software.
And, not only does it help you keep track of your historical Quality Score,it also allows you to create a dashboard within Google sheets that shows you your current quality score distribution and impression weighted Quality Score.
The script provides a number of settings that you can change to add further charts to your dashboard, such as click-weighted Quality Score.
Split testing when you have a few ads is not a problem, but when you have 10,000 or even 100,000 it becomes a big problem. This automated ad creative testing tool makes it easy to keep track of all of your split tests.
It works by analyzing the ads within an ad group and making a calculation as to whether there is statistical significance. This can be set to test a range of different metrics such as CTR and conversion rate.
Once statistical significance has been reached the script labels the ads as either “Current Champion” or “Loser 95% confidence”. It can also be configured to email you to say that a split test has finished.
One of the limitations of AdWords is that you can only use 6 different bid buckets per day, but you are likely to find that your conversion rate changes hourly.
There is however a workaround for this using AdWords Scripts and the Google Sheets API. It allows you to set the different bid modifiers for each hour within Google Sheets and then import them using the API into AdWords to change bids 24 times per day.
There are a significant number of industries where AdWords performance is affected by the weather (literally!) such as automotive, travel, home improvement, retail and many more, and for maximum ROI is it essential to change bids to reflect what’s going on outside.
This script allows you to increase or decrease your bids based on the weather in the location where a user is searching.
Most merchant feeds allow you to pause your Google Shopping ads when they are out of stock but there is no similar functionality built into Google search.
This script allows you to pause ads that are linking to out-of-stock products by scanning the page for the “out-of-stock” piece of code.
Seeing trends within your search query reports is fairly straightforward when you have a small AdWords account, but this becomes a lot more complex when you have millions of different search queries to review.
The solution here is to use something called N-Gram analysis, which allows you to see the aggregate performance of individual words or phrases. So, for example, if you are selling Alloy wheels, you would be able to see the performance of all of the search queries that contain the color “silver” for example.
Keeping track of your competitors is fundamental to AdWords success, however, it can be time consuming on larger accounts. The solution here is to use this competitor tracking script that allows you to map your competitors’ impression-share over time.
There are several limitations of using AdWords experiments. For instance, not being able to test the campaign settings themselves. This AdWords script provides a workaround in that it allows you to test virtually anything.
It works using labels. The results of the tests can be reviewed within the dimensions tab and will look like this.
This AdWords Script allows you to see how your AdWords performance changes hour-by-hour in the form of a heat map so that it is easy to visualize.
This script has also been updated so that you can see the performance of each device (mobile, desktop and tablet) hour-by-hour.
Most readers will know that visible Quality Score is made up of “expected CTR,” “landing page experience,” and “ad relevance”. This script allows you to visualize how your account is doing based on these three metrics so you can see which aspect of your account needs to be improved.
If you are interested in learning more about AdWords Scripts here are some good resources: