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Changes to Phrase and Exact Match in Google AdWords

Changes to phrase and exact match in Google AdWords

It’s been noted as ‘the end of exact match’ and ‘the biggest change to AdWords since enhanced campaigns’, by many


However, Google’s change to exact match and phrase match keywords is not entirely new. Since April 2012, AdWords users have had the option to have Exact and Phrase keywords also match to ‘plurals, misspells and, other close variants’. In fact, this has been the default option for new campaigns for so long that many campaigns will have been already opted in.

Announced on 14th August 2014, the change, which is expected to come into effect from late September this year, will remove the option for campaigns to be opted out.

So what does this actually mean for PPC marketers?


Potential negative effects

Your campaigns are not going to be ruined overnight and the impact on well-built, well-managed campaigns will be minor. However…

If your campaigns are not already opted in, Google says you can expect increases of 14% in impressions and 7% in clicks. This will mean a drop in click-through rate (CTR), which could potentially have a negative impact upon your quality score.

You will lose a very small amount of control over your ad appearance and the granularity of keyword data. However, if you have both the singular and plural keyword in your account, you can still expect the true, exact match keyword to be triggered.

Competition will increase on misspells and close variants of the most popular keywords. Any campaigns that did not already have these keywords active, will enter the auction and push up relative cost-per-clicks (CPCs). This is the only thing that will affect campaigns that are already opted in.


Combat negative effects

The main tool you have to combat the negative impact of your CTR dropping and to avoid losing control of ad appearance is negative keywords. Adding irrelevant search terms as negative keywords shouldn’t be anything new to a managed campaign, though you will now need to use ‘ad group negative keywords’ to ensure the right keywords trigger your ads.

For example:

Ad Group: Christmas Parties Christmas Party
Keywords: “christmas parties” “christmas party”
[christmas parties] [christmas party]
Ad Group Negative: -party -parties

Please note that the above example is used to illustrate my point. It is not intended to be an extensive keyword and ad group negative list.


Potential positive effects

It really isn’t all doom and gloom; in fact there are some potential positives to the change: The number of keywords that are inactive due to low search volume will hopefully reduce. Having a phrase match including close variants is still better than having the alternatives of ‘broad match modified’ or only generic keywords.

Our message to our clients is that you should see an increase in relevant traffic. Due to the structure of our campaigns and the level of long tail coverage we use, we expect to see increases of 5% in impressions and 3% in clicks across our clients’ AdWords campaigns.




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