Earlier this year, Google announced its most recent change to the way keyword match types will work. This change sees the end of the modified broad match while expanding one of the other existing match types, the phrase match.
The modified broad match was introduced in 2010 and allowed advertisers to specify keywords that needed to be included in a search query to pull up their content.
Commenting on the change, Google explained that the modified broad match’s functionality was partially folded into the phrase match because the two often intersected. However, for many advertisers, the removal of the modified broad match feels like the loss of an important tool for manually specifying what keywords are most relevant for any given ad.
Before we get into the finer details, let’s review how match types work, and how the recent February changes will reflect on common keyword practices.
What Are Match Types?
Search results on the internet are displayed based on a complex set of factors, each of which attempts to contribute to the accuracy and relevance of the results respective to the query entered by the user. Keywords have always played a central role in this, and search engine optimization techniques have always involved utilizing a targeted approach to match content and ads to popular, niche, or valuable search queries.
This goes for both organic and paid results, paid results (or Google Ads) being the sponsored search engine results that usually show up near the top of a Google search. Keyword match types are a unique and important metric for pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns on Google, and they determine what search queries your ads are matched to. You can utilize different keyword match types by formatting your keywords accordingly.
Before the February 2021 change, there were five main match types for you to select for your ad. These were:
- Broad match type. This would bring in the widest audience, but with the least specific targeting. As long as a query would be even contextually related to the keywords you have specified, your ad might be shown to the user. For example, the keyword “men’s shirts” as a broad match type keyword would trigger your ad on relevant searches, including queries for jackets, coats, and hoodies. Broad match keywords are written without brackets or quotation marks.
- Modified broad match type. When selecting modified broad match type, you could further specify what keywords must be included in a query to trigger your ad. For example, adding “+shirts” as a broad match modifier keyword means your ad would show up to contextually similar queries as long as they included the term “shirts”. Queries for just jackets, coats, or hoodies would be ignored. Word order also didn’t matter. You could add multiple modifier keywords to your campaign to increase the relevancy of your ad to specific queries. Modifiers were specified through a prefixed plus sign.
- Phrase match type. Phrase match type keywords were a little bit in-between, putting a greater emphasis on queries that match the keywords provided. When using the phrase match type, your keyword would need to be found in the query, but other terms could be added behind and after (but not in the middle) of your keyword phrase. For example, “men’s shirts” would also cause your ad to show up on queries for “shirts for men”, “men’s shirts for sale”, “casual shirts for men”, and “striped men’s shirts”. Phrase match keywords are written in quotation marks.
- rolling it into a feature. The exact match type allows you to target very specific queries to maximize your conversion rate, at the cost of missing out on a wider audience. For an exact match type keyword, the query must be exactly like your keyword phrase, or a close variation thereof (i.e., “men’s shirts” is functionally identical to “shirts for men”). Exact match keywords are written in brackets.
- Negative match type. rolling it into a feature allow you to filter terms that would disqualify a query from seeing your ad. You can set negative broad match keywords, negative phrase match keywords, and negative exact match keywords. These function just like normal keywords, but for search term exclusion rather than inclusion. This is useful when you want to make sure your product isn’t confused for something else, or when you want to improve conversion by cutting out contextually similar queries that end up being completely irrelevant. Negative keywords are specified with a prefixed minus sign.
Throughout the years, Google has been making changes to its search engine – including how each match type really works. In other words, broad match keywords were always spec’d to reach the widest audience, but the mechanics behind how they worked have been tweaked time and time again.
While this change is more substantial than usual – removing a match type altogether – it was presumably done in the service of leaning out the concept of keyword matches and avoiding redundancies. Whether or not the idea was executed properly is still up for debate between advertisers and SEO experts.
Why is Google Phasing Out Modified Broad Matching?
Google has removed the modified broad match type in favor of rolling it into a feature as part of the phrase match type. In other words, at least on a conceptual level, nothing has changed. But on a more specific level, advertisers now need to be careful about how they add modifiers to their keyword strings, and they need to keep in mind that modifier keywords now count as phrase match keywords.
To sum it up, you can continue to prefix keywords with a plus sign to single them out in your ad campaign, and they will continue to function as broad match modifiers. However, Google will also treat these as phrase match keywords, which means word order and context is important.
What You Should Do Next
Google itself is discouraging the use of the modified broad match type, as part of this shift towards the focus on the phrase match type is to highlight the improvements Google has made in recognizing context and intent for search optimization, through machine learning. Going forward, Google wants advertisers to utilize keywords on a simple slider of three basic settings
- Very broad, barely targeted (broad match type)
- Somewhat broad, somewhat targeted (phrase match type)
- Barely broad, very targeted (exact match type)
Whether these changes are positive depends on how your ad is currently performing. Google states that there should be no change in performance data and keyword migration wouldn’t be necessary and that modifiers can still be used until July when the change is completely integrated.
However, some campaigns will inadvertently do worse (reaching fewer people), but most should generally be doing better, as the increase in flexibility and automation means, at least on paper, your ad will be shown to more potential users. Here are some basic tips to navigate the change moving forward:
- Review Google’s recommendations. Google’s optimization tips can be a handy starter checklist to help you work through the most obvious issues in your ad campaign, especially new duplicate keywords and match type suggestions.
- Utilize negative keywords to specify queries you DON’T want. If you’re worried about Google’s new changes pulling in traffic you don’t want or need, take the time to highlight and exclude terms that are definitely bringing you non-converting visitors.
- Listen to what advertisers have to say. Keeping up to date on the conversations and discussions between PPC experts and advertisers can help you optimize your keywords moving forward.
Worried about the new changes to your PPC campaign? Get in touch with us today for a free consultation.