Keywords: Phrase Match and Broad Match Modifiers

By Melanie Coleman

Keywords have long been the focus of digital marketers, as they’re seen as the key (get it?) to getting in front of the right audience for each product. Google trained us to think this way, so it’s no surprise the folks at Google have been slowly making our job easier—and harder.

In the early days of search advertising, marketers tracked every single keyword—breaking out plurals and specific variations—in order to see the exact activity of each of those keywords. Over the past several years, however, Google has made changes that account for the common behaviors of users conducting a search. Now, when a user plugs in a search term, all plurals and variations of the keyword provided are automatically considered. While these changes simplify the search process for users, they have limited marketers’ ability to define the exact match and phrase match for keywords we specifically want to track.

Do you know how to play the match game?

Let’s take a moment to break down the keyword match types currently offered within Google Ads:

  • Exact Match – Ads will only show for queries containing the exact keyword or a close variation of the keyword.
  • Broad Match – The default option, this accounts for misspellings and plurals.
  • Phrase Match – Uses a phrase or close variation of the phrase, including additional words before or after, but not in the middle.

For example, if you targeted the keyword “savings account,” the plural and the variation “savings accounts” and “account savings” could be considered. Google’s point is that if the user’s intent is the same, it doesn’t matter if the order, number or spelling of the word is different. For marketers, this was great in that it expanded the reach potential of an ad—but frustrating, as it meant they had to give up some control over keywords.

In July 2019, Google announced yet another major shift coming to Google Ads surrounding keywords, searches and intent. Starting in August or September of this year, synonyms of keywords will also be considered as long as they have the same intent. This means when advertisers use broad match or phrase match, synonyms (and their plurals and variants) can trigger an ad, even if those terms or phrases aren’t explicitly targeted.

What does this change mean?

Let’s look at a couple examples provided by Google to give us a sense of what to expect:

This might not seem like a big deal, but Google expects marketers to see a 3-4 percent increase in clicks and conversions using either the phrase or broad match modifiers. There is hardly a marketer or business anywhere who would say no to more conversions.

Nervous about showing up where you don’t want to? Google of course has accounted for this. With the update you will have the ability to adjust whether a keyword is exact or has a phrase or broad match modifier. Using the examples above, say your lawn mowing service is just that, mowing and maybe raking lawns, so you certainly wouldn’t want to be considered for gardening services. To limit this, you can change the match type, or use negative keywords to ensure your ad doesn’t show up for any gardening queries.

Ultimately, Google is working hard to better align marketers with searchers—and what better way to do that than by accounting for the differences in language? Marketers will likely find that although they may have to give up some control on individual keyword performance, it’s a worthwhile tradeoff for the potential of increased engagement and conversions.

Melanie Coleman is a digital strategist at Pannos Marketing based in Manchester, NH. Pannos Marketing is an award-winning, full-service communications firm specializing in strategic marketing, public relations, social media, e-commerce and website solutions for financial institutions. Email: [email protected].