The death of exact match?
Ok, I might've chosen a slightly dramatic headline, but it's certainly not the exact match we had when I first started in search all those years ago. For those who haven't heard the news, Google announced on Friday that it's 'expanding close variant matching to include additional rewording and reordering for exact match keywords'.
What does this mean?
Function words in the search query can be different to that of the keyword, so long as this doesn't impact the meaning (e.g. 'flights to…' shouldn't change to 'flights from…').
Word order can be changed - again so long as this doesn't impact the meaning (e.g. 'SFO to JFK' shouldn't change to 'JFK to SFO').
Why is Google doing this?
Google first released near-exact (and near-phrase) back in 2012 to capture plurals, misspellings and close variants of a word. Certainly, the control freak in me was upset to see the loss of control as an advertiser as to exactly when my ads would appear. Now we're seeing a move towards even less control, and the conspiracy theorist in me immediately jumps to the worst conclusion: perhaps this is to increase Google's bottom line (grumble grumble).
Is that fair? Probably not. However, Google's reasoning is actually pretty sound. It argues that 'with this expansion of close variants, you'll no longer have to build and maintain lists of reworded and reordered exact match keywords to get the coverage you want. If you already use reworded or reordered keyword variations, AdWords will still prefer to use those keywords identical to search queries.' There's almost always a huge amount of variation in keywords which basically mean the same thing, and it's a lot easier and faster to not have to build these out manually. And, you do still have your negative keywords and audience lists to control spend and efficiency.
So it's all good?
Well… not exactly. It does mean that there's less control over where and when your keywords appear, and it puts more of an onus on us as advertisers to use audience and negative keywords to define where we don't want to appear, rather than saying where we do want to appear. Google does state that if you already have these variations in place, then Google will still allow the actual exact match to show - assuming (I presume) that the ad rank wins out - meaning that if the maximum bid for one variation is significantly higher than the other, you might appear for the non-exact match (this is just me guessing though!). It also means that search query reports need to be pulled more regularly, especially at the start of these changes, to ensure that the keywords aren't matching out to irrelevant terms. If you're currently using a script to opt-out of close-variant matching, this will need updating - and if you're not currently using a script for this, you may want to consider it.
In other words…
It's not all bad, but we do need to make sure we're preparing ourselves and our accounts for this. Start by reviewing your existing keywords to see where this is going to impact you, and think about any negatives you may want to add ahead of the changes. Once this is rolled out, do make sure you're pulling your search query reports more regularly, and ensure you're excluding any searches where these changes do impact the meaning. Make sure you update any scripts affected by this change, and consider using a script to block close variants for some of your top performers.
And don't panic. Any time Google makes big changes there's often uproar, but there'll be very sound logic behind why it deems the changes appropriate. Once we've adapted to the changes and fine-tuned accordingly, it'll probably be evident that they've furthered our ability to reach the right consumers, and at the right time.