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Unexpected Loss of Control: Google AdWords Exact Match Controversy

Google AdWords’ recent announcement on the retirement of exact match in favor of the “close variant” default setting not only came as a bit of surprise to me, but definitely garnered the expected outrage from the PPC community, including petitions, Tweets and blog posts like this one. (Strangely enough, we seem to have avoided the obligatory Robin Williams anecdote in all of them.)

I agree with my fellow search colleagues in the area of outrage, it’s just not acceptable what is being taken away in favor of a murkier, harder to control setting in terms of managing your keyword list. Some of us were using true exact match in a very specific and profitable manner and this loss of control seems senseless.

For example, we have a couple of clients that have a huge brand name, brick and mortar stores, online presence and a rabid social media community. We’ve been using the exact match of their one word name to dispel same named entities and direct traffic to the appropriate places, at a great CPC and high CTR. Everyone wins in this scenario, Google gets money for the clicks (instead of organic), users find what they’re looking for and we get the visits for Google at a great rate with the corresponding transactions.

So that brought me back to the WHY. Seriously, WHY?

The default setting for new campaigns is close variants, so only those that are well versed in PPC marketing would know to not only change that setting  but also why you would want to change it. Additionally, the advanced search community practitioners number far less than those out there new to running their own campaigns for their business, in house or otherwise, so what would it hurt to leave that level of control available for those that know how to use it?

The claim by Google is that only 7% of queries are misspellings and that we’re missing out on those queries. I would say that if I had two campaigns, one for that true exact match and one for the rest, would I not I still get that query anyway? The claim that it would “simplify” things and therefore you would only need one campaign with the close variants argument ignores that now we’re going to have to comb through search query reports (which aren’t available in real time) to add negative keywords, after the fact. And after we may have paid for a click or two as well, which if you deal in $100+ clicks is just not OK.

So, again, WHY?

The conspiracy theorist in me started going to a couple of different places; the timing, surprise and overall oddness of this change just isn’t sitting right. At least with enhanced campaigns it was clearly a money thing. (It’s always a money thing, but that trail was a lot easier to follow.)

  1. Rolling this change out in September, right before holiday, means that Google will be capitalizing on matching more ads to queries, driving up clicks/cost as traffic volumes increase.
  2. Google’s filed a few patents focusing on entity names, relationships between queries and intent and their database about entities (especially since acquiring Freebase) has swelled to over 250 million. This means that they can match a query for “Dec” to “December” and “Michael Jackson” to whether or not you mean the singer or the Homeland Security guy. Check out Bill Slawski’s recent article on this.
  3. Then check out how Knowledge Base Entities can be used in searches– these example queries may be longer and in question form like, “what is the movie where Scarlett Johansson is the computer” and more likely will trigger the result you’re looking for based on the additional attribute information given in the query, especially when checked against their Knowledge Base. Whereas if you were to search for “Her” as a keyword, the SERP could be very different looking. Are they trying to close that gap so that they can start showing ads on those longer queries more often? It’s very unlikely that you’ve bid on that phrase in a keyword list.
  4. The accuracy and quality of matching has improved in AdWords immensely in just the last few years.  Stop and think about what “broad” match meant in 2007 and the types of queries that would match the keywords on your list versus how it works now in 2014. This is probably where the confidence is coming from in a move like this. If the search query report still resembled anything like 2007 with a broad match, people would have stopped using the platform.
  5. How long do you think it is before we get “intent” or “informational” as bidding options? Or something along those lines? Aren’t we already kind of doing that with Google Shopping and Product Listing Ad units?

My hope is that we (the search community) are able to change Google AdWords’ mind on this loss of control, because as long as people still type words into a search box, keywords are still relevant, and until we are in a place where we can control these intent, entity and attributes like keywords, we’re still going to need that level of control.

Sign the petition here, if you haven’t already.

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  1. Elizabeth,
    I think your theories are spot on – especially #4. I’ve been surprised (in a good way) at the relative lack of crazy matched search queries over the past few years – even when using modified broad match (I hardly ever use the un-modified flavor).
    Also, re: #5: I think Dynamic Search Ads can be added to that list.
    Kudos on the great post,

  2. I stopped using google adwords b/c after analyzing google’s own analytics data against them, it seemed not to deliver in terms of revenue, sales, or actual purchases. I own and market- meaning I create, bid, and deliver ALL my own adwords campaigns- to a specific niche clientele with “high end” clothing. Broad match and close variant do not work for the brand, so it was a personal choice to use exact match for specific keywords. I even paid top $$$ for a few of the keywords just to get the top listing. Still did not work out. So I settled for what is now PLA and Remarketing-still not winning me over. Adwords simply does not deliver on it’s “promise”.
    If you actually to the math for our brand, depending on the campaign it usually cost us $$$ in the long run. When you account for all ad cost minus other expenses not directly involved with the campaign, such as cost of acquisition, manpower, cost to deliver the campaign-ad creatives, landing pages, seo- it just does not deliver.
    Exact match helped reduce cost of adwords keywords that just did not fit. I do not want to waste any money on a keyword I know from the beginning will not convert.

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