Could Google’s Phrase Match Update Bring More Accuracy to Your Campaigns?

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Google’s update to its phrase match and broad match modifier promises to improve how we create our Google Ads campaigns. We explore whether this is really the case.

Google ads phrase match update

Google has been no stranger to modifying and tinkering with search match types. Back in mid-2019, the search engine giant announced that its phrase match and broad match searching mechanism would begin matching queries with the same meaning as your keywords - rather than attempting to join-the-dots based on each keyword. Later, in February 2020, exact match and phrase match were expanded to consider pluralisations, misspelt words and abbreviations.

Google’s latest changes announced on the 4th February 2021 involve expanding phrase match to include additional broad match modifier traffic, while support for broad match modifier will be phased out. This update will start being rolled out in late February.

These changes will carry ramifications for how Google Ads users create their campaigns, to better explore the impact of this, let’s take a deeper look at Google’s latest update and how it can impact marketers:

How Phrase Match Will Change

Google has undertaken its change to phrase match and broad match modifier with the goal of simplifying its search processes.

Prior to the update, it has been possible to reach audiences via the keyword queries below:

  • Exact match for precision: Ads might show on search results that are the same meaning or intent as the keyword. Of the three keyword matching options, exact match offers you the most control over who sees your ads. Exact match is marked with brackets in Google Ads, for instance, [camping equipment].
  • Broad match for reach: Ads can show on searches that are related to your keyword. These can include searches that don’t contain the keyword terms. This is designed to help users attract more visitors to your website, while spending less time creating keyword lists. Broad match is simply signified by inputting the keywords in question.
  • Phrase match and broad match modifier in unison: Ads can show on searches that include the meaning of your keywords. The meaning of this keyword could be implied, and user searches may be a more specific form of the meaning. In this sense, phrase match is more flexible than exact match, but it’s also more targeted than the default broad option. This means you can reach more customers while still showing your ads to customers who are likely to be searching for your product or service.

However, in an attempt to offer users and marketers alike a greater deal of control and reach, Google has looked to incorporate various aspects of broad match modifier into phrase match. This means that phrase match will largely expand to cover the additional broad match modifier traffic while continuing to value query results based on meaning. The intention of this move is to make it easier to reach customers while managing their keywords better.

With the coming update, Google aims to make it possible for marketers to rank for the searches they want simply by using phrase match, all without having to concern themselves with the phrases that they’re not interested in. However, it’s worth noting that the real effects of this update are yet to be measured, and that combining various search types may actually limit the effectiveness of ranking through Google Ads.

As an example, Google has visualised an example surrounding a moving company aiming to reach people interested in moving out of New York City. With this update, it’s possible to reach users looking to move from New York to nearby Boston, for instance, without showing up for people running queries about moving from Boston to New York.

Example phrase match update

(Image: Google)

As we can see from the diagram above, the change is designed to help marketers to streamline their keyword management and save money on ill-fitting queries.

More accurate queries

(Image: SearchEngineLand)

The table above further illustrates how queries may become more accurate following the update, where it’s hoped that modifier keywords won’t have the ability to return irrelevant results while more semantically appropriate solutions will be returned to better match phrases.

What Does This Mean for Broad Match Modifier?

The changes mean that both phrase match and the broad match modifier will transition into the new matching behaviour in late February. However, because this change is happening to both match types, there will be no need for marketers to migrate keywords and advertisers will be able to keep their performance data.

By the summer of 2021, after the update has been fully rolled out across the world, advertisers will be unable to create new broad match modifier keywords. Existing broad match modifiers will instead serve under the new behaviour.

The phasing out of broad match modifier shouldn’t necessarily be regarded as a failure. The function offered to bring extra relevance to marketers by enabling them to add a ‘+’ symbol ahead of critical keywords.

Sadly, this function contributed to rendering broad match modifier ineffective. Instead of adding a ‘+’ ahead of critical words, many marketers simply added ‘+’ to every word. This meant that keywords looked more like: +tents +for +going +camping rather than: +tents for going camping.

While the approach of adding ‘+’ ahead of every search term worked on a level, it essentially told Google that all the words had to be in the search, similar to a phrase or exact match.

With this way of using broad match modified, advertisers were actually limiting their chances of matching queries than broad match. The coming update seeks to address this widespread misinterpretation of the function and transfer it to something altogether more straightforward to understand.

How to Adapt Your Campaigns to Accommodate The Update

While this transition clearly indicates that Google is confident in correctly matching queries with the right Google Ads campaigns, there are still a few things that you can do to optimise your ads to ensure that you’re on the same page as the update:

If you currently have phrase match keywords set up, your search terms will now be capable of covering more queries - leading to an increase in volume.

With this in mind, it may be worth reviewing your negative keywords. As phrase match keywords can cover more searches, you may want to review your negative keywords to avoid appearing against queries that you’re not interested in covering.

You should also take a moment to revise your campaign budgets. If you split your campaigns by match type and have specific phrase match keywords in place, take some time to review your budgets so that they can cover more ground.

Be sure to create alerts to ensure that your spending is on track following the update. You may see significant changes in volume following the update if you’re bidding on phrase match keywords today. By putting these alerts in place, you may see new opportunities for negative keywords or for expansion.

In addition to this, there are also many new considerations to make when bidding on phrase match. Firstly, it’s important to consider that the higher volumes on phrase match can cause the bidding engine to fundamentally change. If required, the algorithm could leverage data from broad match modified keywords to better improve calculations.

With this in mind, it’s certainly worth conducting A/B testing of your targeting approach when the release is out to better optimize your campaigns. With varying volumes and bidding costs, revise your relevant keywords and begin bidding on broader terms to recalibrate your marketing strategy.

Keyword strategy

Look out for your cost per click. It’s likely that in the wake of the update, more advertisers will start looking to new keyword themes and adding popular phrase match keywords - meaning that competition and CPC could increase as a result. Notably, negative keywords and high quality creative terms could be essential in the post-update landscape, but it’s also important to consider adding an Impression Share cap to have a failsafe from CPC rises catching you off-guard.

Finally, it’s key to take some time to review your dynamic keyword insertion. This form of keyword insertion allows marketers to insert the user query inside their ad copy - a strong tactic to ensure more click-throughs and a higher quality score. However, as you’re adjusting to a whole new query matching ecosystem while taking time to consider adding negative keyword opportunities, it may be worth considering if you want dynamic keyword insertion to be a live feature as you adapt to the new query landscape.

Google’s update to its phrase match and broad match modifier promises to make your advertising campaigns much more accurate by optimising your ads to show only for the most relevant queries. This promises to provide plenty of opportunities for marketers to outmanoeuvre their competitors in ranking higher for the right keywords. By moving quickly to accommodate the latest significant update, you can gain an early competitive edge over your rivals this year.

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