HomeBlogNew Changes to Google Ads Keyword Matching: What It Really Means

New Changes to Google Ads Keyword Matching: What It Really Means

Author: Kristen McCormick
Last Updated: November 18, 2022 | Marketing News & Insights

Google’s latest announcement may be the most confusing one yet. Not like it’s Display ad announcement where we’re left questioning why it was even announced and exactly what is different. But more so because it involves match types, which, between quotations and parentheses, exact matches and close variants, requires some brain gymnastics no matter how experienced you are.

Same Keyword All Match Types

So in this post, I’ll be breaking down Google’s latest announcement into the following:

  1. The three changes Google has made to keyword matching behavior in Google Ads.
  2. What Google says this means for using multiple match types.
  3. Why some PPC experts beg to differ.

Here’s what Google says

In its September 23 announcement, Google shared that it has made improvements to keyword matching technology as well as changes to rules on how it selects keywords in your account. 

As with any Google announcement (and to Google’s defense, as any company will do), this one is framed positively. So, just like how…

Google says the update is designed to help you:

  • Maintain better control over which keywords match to a search, especially with broad match.
  • Reduce account complexity by giving you more control over where traffic goes without the extra work of multiple match types.
  • Ultimately allowing you to more easily attract more relevant and high-performing traffic using fewer keywords.

There are many aspects of the announcement that PPC experts disagree with, but we’ll get into that later.

For now, let’s break down what Google is telling us in this announcement.

Change #1: BERT has improved keyword matching precision

The first point Google makes is that its BERT algorithm technology—used to interpret language, queries, and search intent—is now being applied to keyword matching behavior, making it more predictable and precise, particularly for broad match.

Here’s the example Google gives:

If someone searches a highly specific auto part like 1995 5 speed transmission seal input shaft, Google can now match that query to the broad match keyword auto parts.

google ads keyword match update september 2021—example of BERT technology

An example of how BERT helps Google better match results to search intent. (Image source)

Change #2: Exact match logic now also applies to broad and phrase match

In order to understand this change, let’s make sure you’re clear on the current logic for exact match: Back in its February announcement when it retired modified broad match, Google shared that it will now always prefer the exact match keyword that is identical to the search. So if you are targeting multiple exact match keywords in an ad group, prior to this update, Google might choose an exact match keyword slightly different from the search query if it is deemed more relevant to the meaning of that query. Now, it will prioritize the identical exact match keyword.

Now this same logic will be applied to broad and phrase match keywords. So if you don’t have an exact match keyword that is identical to a query, but have broad or phrase match keywords relevant to the query, Google will prioritize the broad or phrase match keywords that exactly match the query. 

Here’s the example Google gives:

If someone searches for sushi delivery near me and you’re targeting broad match sushi delivery and broad match sushi delivery near me, the identically matching broad match keyword sushi delivery near me will be preferred—unless you’re targeting exact match sushi delivery near me, in which case that keyword will be served.

A refresher on match types in case you need it:

google ads match types update september 2021: chart of broad, exact, and phrase match

Image source


Change #3: If you have multiple keywords and match types that are relevant [but not identical] to the query, Ad Rank will not be the only deciding factor

The last point in the announcement tells us that if your keywords are relevant to a search query but none of them are identical to it, Google will not use just Ad Rank, but Ad Rank AND other relevance signals to determine the keyword it serves. “Other relevance signals” include the meaning and intent of the search term and the meaning of your targeted keywords based on their associated landing pages (thanks to BERT).

Here’s the example Google gives:

If someone searches “quick sushi delivery near me” and you are targeting the phrase match fast sushi delivery and the broad match food delivery, Google will select the phrase match keyword because it’s more relevant—even if it has lower Ad Rank than the broad match keyword.

Google says, “These rules ensure that the most relevant keyword will always be prioritized, so you can more easily use broad match and still maintain control.” They provide the chart below to illustrate the new logic.

Here’s the chart Google uses to explain this change:

google ads updates 2021 september match types

So what they’re saying is that the new rules for keyword matching don’t rely solely on Ad Rank, but relevancy as well, which, if you’re puzzled by that (i.e., hasn’t Google always matched to relevancy?) you’re not alone. More on that in a bit.

Google’s resulting points

We’ve written in the past about using the same keyword with multiple match types to identify your highest performing keywords. Google is saying this is no longer necessary.

Point #1: You can get more qualified traffic using fewer keywords 

Again, this is only what Google is saying. With these improvements, you can maintain better control over which keywords match to a search, especially with broad match. This, in turn should “reduce account complexity,” and eliminate the “extra work” of using multiple match types to control where traffic goes in your account.

Point #2: You should create thematically consistent ad groups

Google suggests that you “group keywords into thematically consistent ad groups so your ads will serve from the ad group you expect them to.”

So if you’re a food delivery service and sushi and pizza are your most popular searches, you would create three ad groups:

  • One ad group with creative and landing pages for sushi delivery.
  • A second ad group with creative and landing pages for pizza delivery.
  • A third ad group with creative and landing pages for food delivery.

Point #3: If you’re pairing broad match with Smart Bidding, there’s no longer any benefit to using multiple match types 

What Google is saying is that since broad match is more precise and predictable now, and since it now follows the same logic as exact match (prioritizing the identical keyword), you can just target the appropriate broad match keywords and get the same results as you would if you targeted the phrase and exact match versions of that keyword:

“Also note that when you use broad match with Smart Bidding, there’s no benefit to using the same keywords in multiple match types. Broad match already covers the same queries and improves performance with real-time bid optimization.”

Here’s what others say

Here are a few reactions and resources from PPC experts on this update.

Amy Bishop: “Putting all your eggs in the broad-match-basket could increase CPL.”

In her Search Engine Journal coverage, Amy Bishop explains that there still may be value in multiple match types for the same keyword, and recommends running small tests in your own account to draw your own conclusions:

“There’s still value in having multiple match types, in the sense that exact match should still match more tightly and therefore may attract better relevance than a broad match keyword. Putting all of your eggs in the broad-match-basket could lead to increased CPLs because that term could likely still match to other lesser-relevant terms, driving up the cost.”

Julie Bacchini: “Have you not been matching the most relevant keyword to the query up until this point?”

Julie Bacchini shares much stronger feelings about this update in her post called Google Ads Updates Keyword Matching – AGAIN. Some sneak peeks:

  • “I should assume that Google Ads will be smart enough to know whether I actually offer a “1995 5 speed transmission seal input shaft” on my site?”
  • “If the term matches an exact or phrase keyword, that should be the only “relevance signal” that is needed, no?”
  • “No mention of our friend the “close variant” specifically in here either, so how that plays in?”

Greg Finn: “This is horrid generic advice.”

Greg Finn also responded with a counter blog post: Sorry Google, There Are Benefits to Using Multiple Match Types when Using Broad Match with Smart Bidding.

“I believe that this is a blanket statement that does not apply across all advertiser use-cases. True to Cypress North’s core pillars, I spoke out against and challenged this sweeping advice.

He then goes on to provide four scenarios where it is beneficial to use multiple match types, even when using broad match with Smart Bidding.

Mark Bissoni: “Covering every variation of a query so you’re eligible for exact match preference is a pain in the buttocks.”

In Mark’s Twitter thread, he lists out a number of closely related keywords and writes:

“This means we need very long keyword lists (using the same match type) to cover every which way a keyword could be typed.”

google ads match types update september 2021: mark bissoni tweet


Ginny Marvin: “There’s no need to list out plurals, etc.”

Ginny Marvin, Google Ads’ product liaison responded to Mark’s tweet saying:

“Close variants behavior isn’t changing, so there’s still no need to list out plurals, etc. (Agree, that would be a pain.) And exact match will *still* be preferred over the same KW set to phrase or broad match.”

She then links to Google’s help article on close variants.

Susie Marino: “This is a wake up call for advertisers who have been too lazy about keyword clean up for too long.”

Susie Marino says that she can understand where the pushback is coming from:

“I get where the pushback is coming from. Theoretically, as Julie said, this matching behavior should have been happening the whole time. This just seems like another unnecessary push for folks to use broad match. Plus, Google’s example of an auto keyword matching up to a specific auto part search was weak. What if we actually don’t want to match up to that?”

However she does agree that Smart Bidding would be helpful:

“However, Smart Bidding would be our savior in that case by (hopefully?) bidding less. Otherwise, I think this is a wake up call for advertisers who have been too lazy about keyword clean up for too long.”

She also supports the concept of downsizing your keyword list:

“I have to give Google credit for encouraging the use of less keywords to get more. Many people already overlook the rule of close variants, which is a personal pet peeve of mine. There’s no need for plurals or slight variations of your keyword. Use just the core terms you need to get your point across and you’ll cut your optimization time in half.”

Excessive keywords make things messy. While the shameless plug from Google on broad match and Smart Bidding isn’t welcome, I think the lesson on downsizing your keyword list is helpful. At the least, this will have people reevaluating their search intent, and that’s at least a step in the right direction.”

Broad match tips

As Google pushes us more and more toward using broad match with Smart Bidding, you may find these resources helpful:

What are your thoughts?

Hopefully you now have a better understanding on how match type behavior has changed, what Google means by “improvements” to broad match, and how other advertisers are interpreting it. What about you? What are your thoughts on this match type update?

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Meet The Author

Kristen McCormick

Kristen is the Head of Marketing at Hatch, a customer communication platform for service-based businesses. She was previously the Senior Managing Editor at WordStream. Her cat Arnold has double paws on every paw, and she finds life to be exponentially more delightful on a bicycle.

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