On February 4, 2021, Google announced they would be phasing out support for the broad match modifier in Google Ads. Given that broad match modifier keywords are used by approximately 89% of all advertisers on Google Ads, this announcement naturally brought on a lot of questions and concerns.
What is the Broad Match Modifier and Why is it Changing?
In Google Ads, different match types can be used to help ensure ads are being served to the intended audience: broad, exact, and phrase. As the name suggests, exact match allows ads to be targeted to people who search for an exact keyword. But sometimes being so precise with your targeting can be limiting. Google estimates that about 15% of all searches are so unique that it would be impossible for advertisers to hit an exact match for it.
Phrase match and broad match were intended to give advertisers more flexibility about how ads are served. With phrase match, ads can be set to be triggered when a person searches for a phrase with words in a specific order, even if there are other words before or after that phrase, like “pizza restaurants near me” or “Detroit pizza restaurants.” Broad match allows ads to show up in searches that include closely related terms that aren’t an exact match. For example, broad match would allow an ad targeting “car accident lawyer” to also appear in searches for “car accident attorney” or “car accident injury lawyer” because Google understands that the user intent is the same. With broad match, modifiers can be used to indicate that part (or parts) of a keyword must be included in a search.
With Google’s new changes, broad match will essentially be merged with phrase match. Over the years, Google’s algorithm has gotten more sophisticated and better at understanding user intent. As this understanding evolved, it allowed Google to take the functionality of the broad match and phrase match options and combine them in one tool. When announcing the change, Google stated, “...phrase match will expand to include additional broad match modifier traffic, while continuing to respect word order when it’s important to the meaning.”
When Does the Change Go Into Effect?
The changes to the broad match modifier started going into effect in mid-February 2021, but that doesn’t mean campaigns using broad match modifiers suddenly stopped running at that time. This is just the beginning of a gradual phase out. Ads with existing broad match modifier keywords will continue to serve, but beginning in July 2021, Google Ads users will no longer be able to create new keywords using broad match modifiers. If you still have broad match modifier keywords in use after July 2021, you can still make changes to bids and to the URL, but any changes to the keyword text will result in the match type being changed to phrase match.
It’s also worth noting that advertisers using some languages will be impacted before others. Ads in English, German, Spanish, French, Italian, Dutch, Portugese, and Russian are in the group to start seeing the change in February 2021 while ads in other languages won’t be impacted until July 2021.
Preparing for the Change
As this change continues, we will be closely monitoring ad performance and making adjustments to spend where appropriate while also looking for new keyword opportunities. Use of negative keywords will also remain a big part of our strategy.
We routinely maintain lists of negative keywords to prevent ads from being served in irrelevant or undesirable searches. The good news is that this change will not impact the match types used on negative keywords, so negative keywords will remain an effective way to continue making sure your ads are being served optimally.
What We’re Watching For
This is an interesting change for us because we’ve long been closely watching to see how seemingly small differences between keywords can result in notable differences in performance in the PPC campaigns we manage. On the organic side, Google had already been making a distinction between closely related keywords as far as rankings go. For a long time, Google tended to lump closely related keywords together without differentiating volume between them. But in the past few years, they’ve gotten significantly better at recognizing synonyms and other related words, so it is possible for a site to be ranked in different positions for similar keywords, like wire shelves vs. wire shelving.
As the changes to broad match modifier keywords continue to roll out, another big thing we’ll be keeping a close eye on is the quality of the automatically generated keyword suggestions in Google Ads. Lately, we’ve noticed that some of the keywords recommended by Google Ads have been too broad to be useful or, in some cases, irrelevant. Even though this isn’t directly related to the change in match types, it’s something we need to be aware of if these recommendations end up shaping the types of keywords that are included in the phrase match expansion.
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