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Google Further Extends Same-Meaning Close Variants

Over the last few years the technical definition of Google Ads’ keyword match types has shifted massively, but the naming conventions have remained almost identical. With the upcoming addition of close variants, are we seeing a final nail in the coffin of precise keyword and search query management?

How are keyword Match Types Changing?

In a nutshell, Phrase & Broad Match Modified keywords will follow Exact match in triggering your ads for queries which share the same meaning or intent as your targeted keyword. This differs from the ‘close variant’ matches rolled out in 2014 which included “misspellings, singular or plural, stemmings, abbreviations and accents” for keywords. Instead, Google will now use its machine learning algorithms to identify if a users search query has the same intent as your targeted keywords.

Broad match modifier keyword

In Google’s own example, we can see that not only does BMM now match to queries in any order, but individual targeted keywords can be entirely replaced by queries with a similar meaning – notice that ‘+mow’ is matched with ‘grass cutting’ and ‘cut your grass’.

Phrase Match keywords will soon also match for queries with a similar meaning – however unlike Broad Match Modified above, keyword order will be preserved. The example below shows “lawn mowing” matching “grass cutting” and “lawn cutting” then followed by “service” and “services” as expected.

Phrase match keyword

What is still unclear is whether or not these upcoming changes to BMM and Phrase match targeting will use the same ‘implied information’ targeting that Exact match keywords have taken advantage of since last November. Exact “Implied Intent” matching allows Google’s machine learning algorithms to identify and match search queries containing additional longtail information to keywords in your account which you do not actively target. You can see an example of Mackerel Media’s own below:

We can see that while Mackerel Media only actively target [digital marketing edinburgh] Google’s Exact Match now ‘intelligently’ understands the intent of the query is relevant to the exact match keyword we targeted. Thats why our ads would trigger for ‘digital marketing agency Edinburgh Scotland’, ‘online digital marketing agency’ and ‘digital marketing agency Edinburgh’ – because the additional information is implied by the the keywords we target.

Avoiding Competing Keywords

At this point, you might be thinking “But what if I’m already targeting a keyword that is intelligently matched by Google – won’t this mean I’m competing against my own keywords?”.

Well, you’d be right – and Google knows it. To stop keywords that match a query from competing against each other and costing you more money, Google plans to introduce a change to it’s keyword selection process: 

“If a query currently matches to an exact, phrase, or broad match modifier keyword that exists in your account, we’ll prevent that query from matching to a different phrase or broad match modifier keyword that’s now eligible for the same auction as a result of this update.”

In other words, if you are already actively targeting a keyword that Google’s algorithms intelligently identify as part of a same-meaning close variant, only your actively targeted keyword will be eligible to trigger an ad. 

Why is Google Making These Changes?

Google claims that 15% of all search queries are new, and this means that advertisers are missing out on customers because the tightly controlled nature of the traditional Keyword Match Types means there is no real way to target every possible variation of a keyword. 

Ultimately, the changes are an excuse for Google to flex their evolving Machine Learning capabilities. By using AI to infer intent and fill in the gaps between targeted keywords & user queries, Google hopes to reduce the vast numbers of keywords digital marketers have to create to get their ads to trigger for relevant search queries.

As a counterpoint to this: consider a company we spoke to today, who spends a generous monthly sum on Google Ads but focuses on – wait for it – three keywords. Three. 3. Troi. Drei. 1-2-3. Three in total. Those are the only ones that convert for them, and the only ones that have ever converted profitably, in years of advertising. What will this change mean for them? More negative keyword management, more wasted budget and probably a harder job to keep their account KPIs on track.

What Can We Expect?

Unsurprisingly, Google expects advertisers to see a 3-4% increase in clicks for Broad Match Modified and Phrase Match keywords. In addition to this, Google claims that 85% of those clicks will come from keywords that advertisers do not actively target. 

In our opinion, this means that while clients can expect to receive more clicks to their site than ever before, keeping a close eye on the source of these clicks will be vital – checking and updating negative keyword lists will become a fundamental part of daily account management, ensuring that Ad Groups remain as focused and relevant as possible.

Consider also the halcyon days when exact match meant exact match, and nothing more. We spent a couple of weeks on the overhaul of a huge ad account with over 100k exact match and long phrase-match keywords, building out combinations upon combinations…but safe in the knowledge what we were bidding on is what we would get. Can you imagine doing that now? Clue – the answer is almost certainly “No!”

How Did Google Ads Change in 2018?

Today is our first day back in the Mackerel Media office following the Christmas break. So what better time than now to look back at some of the biggest changes Google brought us in the past 12 months – and what they could mean for 2019?

No More Google AdWords

Ever since its launch in October 2000, Google’s core advertising platform has always been known as Google AdWords. However, in July 2018, we were introduced to the platform’s new moniker – the much more streamlined Google Ads. While a simple change in name may not seem all that impressive in itself, Google also introduced us to a new version of DoubleClick known as Google Marketing Platform and revealed Google Ad Manager, a shiny new programmatic platform for large publishers and businesses.

So why is this so important to advertisers that it is the first item in our 2018 lookback?

Well, the AdWords re-branding symbolises Google’s ambitions to move away from simple text and keyword based responsive advertising and into smart, AI-driven searches which can be triggered by user behaviour, interests and even physical location. Offline, we’re seeing Google strongly push their Smart Speaker and Hey Google technology, giving us some idea of how Google expects us to perform searches in the future.

To put it another way, Google AdWords doesn’t need ‘words’ to advertise anymore. The time of Google Ads is now.

New Google Ads Interface

Along with the Google Ads name change came the introduction of an overhauled Google Ads UI – and boy, did it divide opinions in the digital marketing industry! Now, six months on, I can take a more objective view of the new interface and can report… I really like it!

The new interface isn’t without its flaws – but overall the platform is vastly improved over the old, which had been mostly unchanged for 10 years. From a practical standpoint, the new interface gives equal weighting to all campaigns types which we felt was lacking in the old UI – finding Smart Shopping Campaigns and working on them is as easy now as working on your Search campaigns, which again hints at Google’s advertising ambitions in the future.

Better Reporting

One of the most useful features of the new Ads interface is the ability to quickly find and report on information that is most relevant to your digital marketing campaigns. As well as being able to surface potential optimisation strategies, the new Google Ads interface has introduced a number of easy-to-reach reports, which for the most part have always been beneficial in our day-to-day management of accounts. These new reports include a highly detailed breakdown of Ad Position and Rank, as well as competitor activity comparisons – both of which can provide great in-sight for clients.

On the Google Analytics side, Session Quality and Conversion Probability reports are beginning to apply machine learning to web analytics data, which in turn helps marketers define high quality audiences and include them in Smart Lists and Smart Goals for marketing campaigns. This suggests that in 2019 Google will continue to put greater emphasis on the importance of using Google Ads & Analytics together to optimise your account, as well as a possible hint that one day these may not be seen as separate tools at all…

Intelligent Targeting & Smarter Keywords

By now, it might be obvious, but 2018 was the year that fully Google embraced Artificial Intelligence.

From the introduction of Smart Shopping campaigns (which can intelligently adjust bids and product recommendation in the Google Shopping format based on user history and intent), to the introduction of responsive, dynamic ad-creative formats and automated Impression Share Targeting – Google has spent the past 12 months introducing us to new, intelligent ways of getting our ads in front of the right people at the right time.

For most advertisers, Goal Based Campaigns have been one of the most interesting additions to Google Ads in the past 12 months. Simply by picking the results you want to achieve – such as increased leads, greater brand awareness or higher conversions – Google Ads can now provide you with a greater understanding of which Google Ads campaign types will perform best for you and your budget, while it’s powerful Machine Learning can provide countless automatic bid and placement optimisations.

However, one of the most shocking changes of the past 12 months was Google’s announcement that it has applied its AI technology to one of the core staples of modern PPC marketing – the [Exact Match] keyword. From September, Google’s machine learning has meant that close variants of keywords which show “intent” – such as implied queries and paraphrasing – can trigger the previously fixed [Exact Match] keyword type. According to Google, testing has shown that advertisers see approximately 3% more clicks and conversions using this technology, however many have reported that this has just resulted in less relevant queries triggering keywords.

Updates to Ad Formats

From the roll-out of non-skippable TruView YouTube bumper ads to the introduction of a third text-ad Headline, we have seen some significant changes to the formats advertisers can use in 2018. And, unsurprisingly, Google’s AI algorithms played a huge roll here too during the past 12 months.

The most useful of these updates has undoubtedly been the introduction of Responsive Search Ads – an updated version of Dynamic search ads – which uses machine learning to match user intent to ad-creative from a pool of up to 15 headlines and 4 descriptions, individually tailoring the message a user sees to their initial search query as well as their historical search behaviour and in-market intent to increase ad engagement and CTR%.

What Does 2019 Hold for Google Ads?

I hope by now you’ve noticed a recurring theme in this blog post; Google is pushing AI in a bid to capitalise on non-traditional methods of online advertising. In 2019 expect to see the introduction of tools designed to target people using voice search technology, as well as an increased reliance on Machine Learning and AI to allow you to better target the audience that matters most to you.


What does 2019 hold for your digital marketing? If you want to find out, drop us a quick email to hello@mackerelmedia.co.uk.