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Phrase and Broad Match Close Variants

Paid search has come a long way since the early 2000s, but the last few years have seemed to shake things up more than usual – and few things have changed more than match types


On the 31st July 2019, Google announced an update which allows broad match modifier and phrase match type keywords to match with queries that share the same meaning as the keyword. This is a huge update as it means your keywords will start matching to queries they haven’t ever connected to before. After several weeks of monitoring the change this is what we have experienced.

Over several years Google has been making gradual changes towards matching queries rather than keywords. If the user’s search intent is the same, Google wants to match their search to your ad. Last year changes were made to allow “exact” match keywords to match to close variants. This has progressed with the addition of these close match variants to phrase and broad match modifier keywords.

This broadening of available queries to match with means that while your ads will have a broader reach and be shown to more people, they could however be less relevant – matching to searches that may not be the right fit for your business.

Google defines close variant matches as ‘searches that are similar, but not identical to the targeted keyword’. This can include:

  • Reordered words with the same meaning (e.g. “black car” and “convertible car black”)
  • Adding or removing function words (e.g. “men’s umbrella for golf” and “men’s golf umbrella”)
  • Implied words (e.g. “London weekend break” and “weekend breaks in London England”)
  • Synonyms and paraphrases (e.g. “office suppliers” and “office distributors”)
  • Words with the same meaning (e.g. “wasp sting cure” and “wasp sting treatment”)

According to Google, the benefit of this change is a 3-4% increase in clicks and conversions for these match types. 85% of the new clicks are expected to be brand new traffic not currently matching to existing keywords in your account – there is a big advantage to this increased reach however this move does come with a price.

This update reduces the need to create a huge keyword list, allowing you to connect with more potential prospects and save time for other tasks. With this shift and the rise of smart bid strategies there is a definite move towards Google automating your day to day tasks, freeing up your time for overall account strategy. This could be a huge advantage in terms of time saved but the trade-off is not being able to see into the Google ‘black box’ of account optimisation.

Broad match keywords are excellent for building brand awareness and acting as a net to catch a wide variety of traffic. From the search terms report you can then pluck relevant searches out and add them into your account as exact or phrase match keywords with a higher bid.

This addition of exact variants is a positive as it will bring in more volume in terms of clicks and impressions, however, it will also mean your ads will be less tailored as they could match to so many more terms. This will reduce your quality score and ad rank, and cause average CPC’s to rise.

In order to stay on top of this change it’s important to regularly manage your search term report, you should expect an increase in matches to terms that are irrelevant to your business that will need to be added to your negative keyword list.

In the future we expect Single Keyword Ad Groups to be replaced by Ad Groups that are more focused on themes. This is a shift away from tightly structured accounts of the past. The potential removal of match types, the prevalence of smart bid strategies and the 2020 replacement of Expanded Text Ads with Responsive Search Ads show a future based on user intent and account strategy changes and saying goodbye to strict SKAG structures.


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