How are match types evolving on Google Ads?

September 8, 2021


Google is changing how they match advertisements to keyword phrases. The trend moves us to a more broad, automated approach. Andrew Fuchs joins the show to share his perspective on:

  • the difference between broad, phrase, and exact match
  • what happened to broad match modified (BMM)
  • the impact to display/video keywords
  • trends across Silverback’s client portfolio

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John Tyreman:  Howdy gang. Welcome to The Digital Marketing Troop, where we go in the trenches to help you learn more about digital marketing. I’m John Tyreman, your host, and today we are here to make sense of Google’s evolving match types, which is why we’ve got Andrew Fuchs, Director Of Paid Media and Analytics, also a returning podcast guest. So Andrew, how are you doing today? 

Andrew Fuchs:  I’m doing great, John, how about yourself? 

John Tyreman:  I’m doing good. And before we dive into our topic, I learned that you’re taking dance lessons, and I wanted to ask you what kind of dances are you doing? 

Andrew Fuchs:  Yeah, so I’m not a big dancer, historically, and I’ve got a wedding coming up and I hear that’s a big, big part of it so trying to figure that out. We’re doing a pretty fast, first dance song, so pretty rhythmic and we’re actually gonna do a hustle dance song or dance routine which I just learned about. But it should be a pretty fun one. But kind of learning the fundamentals and then choreographing it with the song. 

John Tyreman:  Good for you for sharpening your dance skills, ahead of the big day. That’s awesome. Let’s start here with, let’s dive into our topic today. So we need to make sense of Google’s evolving match types. They’re always changing things on us, so it’s important for us to stay on top of these trends so that we can just really make sense of it all. So maybe let’s start with the basics. For listeners who may not know, what do we mean by match types? 

Andrew Fuchs:  Yeah, of course. It’s funny you should say Google’s always changing things because actually, historically match types are one of the oldest and most consistent levers that paid marketers have had to pull so, until recently, they’ve been very, very consistent in how we’ve been able to use them. But essentially when you’re running search ads as an advertiser you have both search terms or search queries, and that’s what the user is actually typing into Google. And then on the back end as an advertiser, we have keywords, and that’s what we’re building out and entering into our campaigns. And the bridge between the two, you know, essentially Google is deciding when and to which search terms they should match our keywords or the user’s search query. So, we use match types as basically the rules that exist to match keywords to search queries, and there’s a few different match types that help us do that broad match, phrase match, and exact match. 

John Tyreman:  Can you give us a little bit – like what’s the difference between these different match types? Like, for example, what’s the difference between broad match and phrase match? 

Andrew Fuchs:  Yeah. So phrase match is a match type – it’s kind of in the middle, in terms of control. So essentially it matches keywords to search terms or search queries based on the words that are contained in the phrase, and historically until recently, the word order had to exist in the same order. Now Google is saying it’s more about matching the meaning of the keyword behind it. So an example is if a user were to search “moving services DC”, nowadays we might phrase match to something like, “DC area moving services”. So basically the same phrase but a couple of the words, you know, moved around a little bit but same basic intent and meaning. Broad match on the other hand, is a much looser form of matching. So Google’s gonna take more liberties with what types of search queries they’re gonna match to a broad match keyword. So in the same example, if a user searches, “moving services DC”, that might match to… or, excuse me. If we enter the broad match keyword “moving services DC” that might match to queries like “moving checklist” or “moving services”, “Northern Virginia”, you know, right outside of DC. So Google takes a little bit more flex or uses a little bit more flexibility in how they match to give you a relevant user, searching for a relevant keyword but maybe not the same intent or buying intent behind what they’re searching. So a little bit more leeway in how they match. And then the last last match type is called exact and that one’s pretty self explanatory. It’s basically what it sounds like. Google’s matching search terms to keywords, essentially exactly how you’ve entered them, or at least very closely in the variants. 

John Tyreman:  I’d imagine that a very focused exact match type would yield a higher conversion rate if you know exactly which keywords you’re going after. Do I have that right word whereas a broad match that may be a little lower, but you’re reaching a broader audience? 

Andrew Fuchs:  Yep. Yeah, exactly. Exact match, you’re not going to see a lot of surprises. You’re going to match to what you’re trying to, conversion rates will be pretty consistent because you’re getting in front of people in the same part of their journey, depending on what that keyword is going to be. Phrase is going to be somewhere in the middle and then yeah, broad match, you might pick up on some folks that are ready to buy, but you might pick up on more research oriented queries like the DC or the moving checklist search term that I referred to. Maybe not quite in market yet, but it allows you to expand, while keeping things still relevant. 

John Tyreman:  It’s good to know that these are different levers that you can pull in a given paid search campaign. I’ve heard of broad match modified, and I know that you didn’t mention that. Can you shed some light on broad match modified? 

Andrew Fuchs:  Yeah, so broad match modified was a slightly more conservative usage of broad match. So essentially how it worked behind the scenes is, you would add a keyword with a plus sign in front of specific words in that phrase, and by doing so you were telling Google this word must appear in a user’s search query in order to match to it. So, +DC, +moving, +services – a user can search those three words in any order, but they have to be contained in order for Google to match to your keyword. So it was a more conservative usage of broad match keywords like I said, it was something that we leaned on heavily just because it gave us more control, without totally letting go of the reins so to speak and letting Google match for us but broad match modified has been phased out. And now phrase match is actually filling most of that void. Although phrase match is slightly more restrictive and how it matches, essentially Google bumped up the broadness scale to phrase match and then phased out broad match modified. And actually, very recently, Google has been not only phasing out broad match but also encouraging us to remove those keywords from our accounts. And they even rolled out a couple tools to help us do that to either convert the broad match modified keywords to another match type like phrase or exact. And there’s a metric that’s pretty important nowadays called optimization score, which essentially calculates all of the opportunities within our Google Ads account, and Google started factoring in whether you have broad match modified keywords contained in your account into that. So, essentially, they were kind of dinging you if you still have those included. So we noticed that a few weeks ago, all of a sudden, all of our account optimization scores, which are pretty good, fell like five percentage points and we were curious to find out why because, you know, not a lot changed. But all that meant was that Google was now factoring in having broad match modified in your account as a recommendation that they wanted us to remove, so we’ve taken action on that and are now relying much more heavily on the phrase match for the same type of volume. 

John Tyreman:  That’s interesting. It seems like that Google really wants to phase that out. Do you know why?

Andrew Fuchs:  I think what’s happening is they’re basically shifting four options down to three, so that there’s fewer things to choose from. But essentially what it does is bump up the broadness one notch, because previously broad and broad match modified were sort of at the bottom, at least for us in terms of priority. Now phrase match, which was a type of keyword that already got a lot of volume, is now getting even more volume through this update. So I think they want to encourage the ability of their system to match, slightly more broadly to keywords. So, essentially juicing up phrase match to match two more things does that, and you know, helps our campaigns drive more volume and helps us match to more various search terms. 

John Tyreman:  Interesting. Well, you mentioned to me the other day actually, that Google is taking us to this more broad automated approach by pairing these keywords with smart bidding. Can you elaborate on that a little bit for our listeners? 

Andrew Fuchs:  Yeah, and really it’s part of a larger direction that the industry is going in, not only on Google, but also on other platforms and the main underlying theme is more automation and more reliance on the algorithms to drive the ship and drive performance. So, essentially what Google’s narrative now is, is that broad match can be used more with more confidence and more safely than in the past because you can pair it with other automated features like smart bidding. So for example, we can use a target CPA bid or target return on ad spend bid, and tell our campaign exactly how much we want to pay per conversion or what type of return we want to get, and essentially Google’s stance is that match types don’t really matter a whole lot anymore, and you know, being super precise and specific in saying we have to have this set of match types isn’t as relevant anymore just because we can now dial in performance of our campaigns. So, you know, essentially, if we have those targets defined with our bids, we can still run broad match keywords with confidence because Google is going to know just how flexible they can be in their delivery, and they’re going to be selective and not match us to a bunch of keywords or search terms that are irrelevant because they know, “Okay, this advertiser wants to hit this CPA so we can’t go too crazy with matching the phrase or the broad match keyword”. So it’s something we’re, as an agency, you know, that’s Google’s stance, what I just summed up. It’s something that Silverback is approaching cautiously. You know, we’re not diving headfirst into the broad match usage. We’ve never been… it’s never been our top priority. We’ve always thought of, “Okay, let’s get exact impression share filled out and then phrase and then broad match modified”. So, you have to test into all these things. We’ve seen in limited tests that broad match can work safely though with smart bidding paired alongside but yeah it’s a shift. It’s an important distinction, you know, the blend of different products and features that you use together in concert to get the results that you want. But in limited tests we’ve seen it, it works. 

John Tyreman:  That’s interesting. So with more the underlying theme is more automation, we’re trusting these algorithms a little bit more to get us to our desired results, whether that’s, you know, a certain cost per acquisition, you know, a certain return on ad spend figure. I’d imagine that the inputs then become more important, like what we’re feeding the machine. So does that mean keyword research in the initial stages becomes a little bit more of a bigger factor in the equation? 

Andrew Fuchs:  I’d say keyword research is equally as important as it’s always been. Really important that you understand what your potential audience is searching, and not just the ready to buy, intent keywords but also the research oriented keywords. That can help you, you know, we still have search query reports, and that’s a really important thing to keep monitoring and add negative keywords as needed. Again, thinking historically that’s one of the oldest practices and in search marketing that is still super, super important. So, I think it’s important to keep a close eye on what you’re running, regardless but yeah keyword research is still very foundational to getting started and choosing the keywords that you want to run whether they’re exact match or broad match.

John Tyreman:  And for those that are listening, Andrew, we recorded a podcast episode about how paid media and SEO can work together. And I think we dove into this topic a little bit in depth with our buddy Kurt. So if anyone’s listening to this, they should definitely go check that episode out because that’s really insightful. Andrew, so these changes to these match types, do they impact all different results like display or video keywords?

Andrew Fuchs:  Just the search side of things. So, display and video keywords – they still remain relatively broad in how they match. It’s a slightly different philosophy when you compare to search keywords. Essentially what Google is looking for when you’re targeting on a display campaign or YouTube campaign, Google’s looking for content of a website or YouTube video to match to, to show your ad on. So it has to be a little bit more flexible in how it matches just because, you know, content can appear in all different ways, especially when you think of like the topic of a video. So that match type is still relatively broad and the updates we’ve discussed so far today are really just focused on the search side of things. 

John Tyreman:  Oh that’s good to know. So, let me ask you, Andrew, you oversee our paid media team and our analytics team, so what are some of the trends that you’re seeing across Silverback’s client portfolios?

Andrew Fuchs:  When looking at our aggregate Google Ads account data, we broke it out by match type and just plotted the trends of spend and impressions and we noticed a pretty distinct shift, looking back to late May, early June. We essentially saw that when these updates started to roll out broad match, which again for us was primarily broad match modified, the volume of those keywords dropped significantly very quickly. And at the same time, phrase match started taking on a lot more costs and impressions. So essentially the volume that we were getting just shifted from one match type to the other. And that makes sense because of what we discussed in that essentially phrase match inherited the qualities of broad match. So Google pretty directly just passed off volume from one to the other. And we continue to see, especially in the last few weeks, you know, obviously we’re pausing more broad match keywords or getting rid of them. So as they’re being phased out broad match volume is really going down and we just continue to see phrase taking on more and more. So, you know, Google can always make updates with how they match, how flexibly they want to match different keyword match types, so I think that’s what they’re dialing in with phrase, you know, maybe they’ll continue to make it more broad behind the scenes, and give it more volume. But pretty distinct trend or shift when this update came out that we noticed an exact match volume has remained relatively the same, just because it’s pretty much unchanged at this point but super important for us. So really a lot of exact and phrase volume, keyword volume is what’s driving our success in volume for us.

John Tyreman:  Have you seen there… maybe there’s a difference in different industries that are impacted by this change? Or if there’s an industry that’s maybe not investing in paid search now, and they should be, what kind of industries have been impacted?

Andrew Fuchs:  To be honest, I’d say just about any industry should be investing in paid search. One of the common hesitations we see is that some B2B companies who have a more niche product or service, and you know, maybe their audience is not searching for their keyword all that often, and you know, that makes sense. The market is what it is and it’s not going to get as much volume as, let’s say HVAC services keywords will. But I would encourage any business, any advertiser to really max out their search presence, no matter what their keywords are, and there’s a lot of different types of keywords that should be thought about. Not just the non-brand keywords. You know, the core services or product that you offer. That’s obviously something that you want to cover as much as you can just because your competitors or if you’re not, your competitors are going to be doing that. Also think about brand keywords, protecting your brand. Even if you’re ranking well for organic keywords, some of your competitors might eventually decide to run on your brand. It allows you to control your ad messaging and change your seasonal offers and just be more dynamic with what you’re showing at the top of search results, but then also competitor keywords. I think this is the one that’s thought of the least. If someone’s in market for the service or product that you’re offering and they’re searching for a competitor of yours, I don’t see a much better opportunity to get in front of them, help change their mind, tell them why you’re a better alternative than that competitor that they’re searching for. So, definitely a good strategy to employ. Again, if you’re not, your competitors are going to do the same for you. So, we think of search as a completely vital channel, regardless of the industry. And even if there isn’t ,for this type of B2B example, even if there’s not a ton of search volume now, the idea that we  always employ is we’re going to drive a lot of traffic across other platforms like Facebook or LinkedIn or display or YouTube, and it’s not as simple as just driving traffic from those channels to the site and that’s the end of the story. Those users are going to be searching after that. They’re going to be looking for, hopefully, your brand. But maybe just your non-branded keywords. So as you drum up more search intent for your own services and your own brand, you want to be present when people are ready to search and buy. 

John Tyreman:  That’s exactly right. You’ve got to be visible at each stage of the buyer’s journey. Well, this is incredible insight, Andrew. I love the tidbit about focusing on competitor keywords, like you said, that that’s a strategy or a tactic that maybe not a lot of marketers that have thought about, but it could be a way to use your competitors’ brand strength against them. That’s very interesting to me. 

John Tyreman:  Well, Andrew, thank you so much for taking the time to have this podcast chat with me, it’s always a pleasure to talk with you. For listeners who want to connect or learn more, where can they find you? 

Andrew Fuchs:  Yeah of course. Well, thanks for having me. Great to be back. And for anyone listening, connect with me on LinkedIn. Always love talking about this stuff and happy to chat more. 

John Tyreman:  If you found this podcast episode insightful, please subscribe, tell a friend and leave a rating and review. And to learn more, head on over to where we have a wealth of digital marketing insights on our blog and Resource Center. We’ll see you next time on The Digital Marketing Troop.