AdWords is Changing Exact Match…Again

Ryan Moothart

Exact match is dead; long live exact match!

Last Friday, Google announced that it is “expanding close variant matching to include additional rewording and reordering for exact match keywords.” In other words: “exact match” will not exactly be exact match.

If you’re not a PPC nerd, exact match types are used for keywords that the advertiser only wants triggered if a user’s search query matches it exactly. For example: if you bid on the exact match keyword [mens red running shoes], then an ad impression will only be triggered if the user’s query is “mens red running shoes” exactly. This allows advertisers to maximize quality scores and optimize for better conversion rates and/or costs.

At least, that was the original intent of exact match. But times, they are a changin’.

This isn’t a new trend. Close variants were introduced a few years ago to exact match keywords. This allowed exact match to trigger ads for queries which included plurals or misspellings of terms. Hence, the exact match keyword [mens red running shoe] could generate an ad impression for the search query “mens red running shoes”.

Now, Google is taking this one step further. Function terms within a query, such as articles, conjunctions, and prepositions, will also be included in close variants so long as they don’t change the intention of the query. Furthermore, the word order of a query can be ignored so long as that doesn’t change its intention.

Confused? Allow me to expand on the example provided by Google:

The search query “hotels in new york” will be able to trigger an ad impression for the exact match keyword [new york hotels] because the word order and the term “in” can be ignored and not change the intent of the query.

The search query “flights from new york” will not be able to trigger an ad impression for the exact match keyword [flights to new york] because the term “from” defines the intention of the query and is opposite of the term “to”.

Google also provided a couple of tables to further explain when a close variant may be used. First, regarding function terms:

AdWords Exact Match Function Term Changes

Second, regarding word order:

AdWords Exact Match Word Order Changes

This development will make it easier for advertisers to generate more impressions without having to create extensive exact match keyword lists. However, there is plenty of uncertainty about its effects.

Will conversion rates for exact match keywords decrease with the additional flexibility of close variants?

Will impressions for phrase and/or broad match keywords decrease as a result?

What unintended consequences will this change have on things like campaign or ad group structure?

Why is my NCAA bracket completely busted already?

Over the next few months, advertisers will find out the answers to these questions and more. Be sure to keep an eye on click and conversion metrics for exact match keywords in bulk for each of your accounts to see if any trends change as a result of close variants.

What are your thoughts on this development? Got any concerns we didn’t address? Be sure to comment below.

Ryan Moothart
PPC Architect

Ryan is a PPC Architect and has been with Portent since 2010. He has over nine years of hands-on PPC experience including large-scale e-commerce, international B2B lead gen, and everything in between. Graduating from Willamette University with a BA in Rhetoric and Media Studies, he became a published author in 2016 with the release of his book, Towards Cascadia, which is a non-fiction exploration of Pacific Northwest identity, bioregionalism, and nationhood. He and his husband, Paul, enjoy traveling and are avid followers of Sounders FC, Seattle’s Major League Soccer club.

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