Changes Coming to Google Exact Match: What They Mean For You

Understanding search intent is a crucial component to SEM strategy, and as our customers grow more complex across screens, devices and experiences, it’s never been more important to connect people with the right experiences based on that intent.

On trend with its efforts towards streamlining the search experience from both an advertiser and consumer perspective, Google is now making a change to exact match that may allow brands to capture more traffic based on more close variant matching – aimed to compensate for variations of a search phrase that otherwise don’t change the end user’s intent, but might impact the ads that ultimately get triggered.

Google first introduced close variants for keyword targeting in 2012, in efforts to help advertisers maximize the potential for their ads to show up for a given search phrase – which included plurals, misspellings, typos, abbreviations and other versions of either exact match or phrase match keywords. Over the upcoming month, Google will be expanding the definition of “exact” in exact match even more, including different variations and reordering of search phrases. While the move is certainly meant to instill confidence in the search platform’s ability to continually leverage machine learning to better understand search and intent, it could ultimately impact SEM programs from a CPC perspective.

Ahead of the official changes, set to roll out in late April, here are the most important details, as well as some things we’d recommend advertisers pay close attention to in order to avoid losing out on qualified traffic:

How will the function of exact match keywords change?

Exact-match keywords will start matching to semantically similar queries, even when words are re-ordered or the query includes superfluous words like “the”, “for”, “and”, etc.

So, the keyword [hotels in new york] might match the query “hotels new york”, but the keyword [flights to new york] would not match the query “flights from new york”. Similarly, the keyword [bicycle bell] might match the query “bell for bicycle” but will not match to “bike bell”.

What could this mean for CPCs?

On average, we see exact match CPCs in the retail category that are 65% lower than phrase match, and 70% lower than broad/BMM (Broad Match Modifier) match, due to stronger click-thru-rates and higher quality scores. For brands that bid predominantly in exact match terms, CPCs may actually increase due to the fact that close variant CPCs tend to be significantly higher than the true exact match CPCs. When we dug into AdWords for a group of retail clients, close variant CPCs were 152% higher than exact match CPCs.

Exact Match CPCs

On the flip side, advertisers who already operate a robust phrase/broad match program may see traffic shift from these match types towards exact match. In this case, you may see topline CPCs decrease, given the significantly lower costs we see associated with exact match keywords. While advertisers in this scenario may not see much influx of topline traffic, there will definitely be a noticeable shift in match types.

Exact Match Traffic

What this means for budgeting

If CPCs are increasing as a result of this change, advertisers will want to ensure that campaigns have enough budget prepared in order to gain full impression share. Particularly for brand campaigns where exact match keywords are typically strong performers, capturing more of the qualified traffic will mean keeping a fluid budget. In general, we expect to see incremental increases in traffic from exact match, and still highly qualified traffic at that.

For advertisers that have a segmented match type strategy, you’ll want to revisit your directional negative approach to ensure you’re not blocking any of this new close-variant matching from routing to exact match campaigns.

As in the case of any AdWords changes, it’s best to get ahead of the curve and make any adjustments to your budget and/or strategy before they cause any negative impact. Our SEM teams are always here to answer any questions you may have!

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  • Celine

    Great work. Do you have any idea when this is going to come into play? Let’s be ready and prepare for the change.

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