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3 min read

Google AdWords Announce More ‘Exact Match’ Changes

This article was updated on: 07.02.2022

When is an exact match keyword not an exact match keyword? With the latest AdWords shake up, exact match keywords as we know them, will be a thing of the past.

Changes announced include variations of word order and variations of function words in search queries applied to exact match keywords.

Back in 2014, Google announced that exact match keywords would no longer discriminate between plural and singular search queries. The changes also included allowing for typos and abbreviations. This was the first step towards the ‘close variants’ we now see in search query reports.

With this latest change, announced by Google on Friday afternoon, exact match is set to be diluted further.

Word Ordering Changes

What Google calls a ‘close variant’ will now extend to include word ordering variants.

This will cause issues of relevance for advertisers. If you’re using the single keyword ad group (SKAG) method in your campaigns, you’ve likely used it so you can have absolute control over your keywords and super relevant advert copy and landing pages.

For example the exact match keyword [London to Paris Flights] will generate impressions for search queries including the exact match of the keyword; ‘London to Paris Flights’, but also ‘Flights London to Paris’ and ‘Paris to London Flights’.

Function Words

Close variants will also extend to function words that could now be ignored, added or replaced with a variant. Function words are essentially any word that has no meaning on its own, for example; that, this, in, from, to, etc.

Google shared insights on how this update will work on the Google AdWords blog:


Is it all Bad News?

In short, Google is allowing advertisers less control over their keywords and suggesting that advertisers trust Google AdWords and it’s judgement of user intent. Their theory is it is better to cast the net wide and filter out the searches you don’t want, rather than be so specific that you potentially miss out on reaching the users you do want. Hmmm…  

But there is some good news…

Google states it will still be preferential to search queries that are genuine exact matches of your exact match keywords. Additionally, these changes will not be applied to phrase match.

Google also states that it won’t change word order or function words when it understands that it will change the meaning of the query. In her update for Search Engine Land, Ginny Marvin states;

The latest blurring of what exact match means is Google’s increasing trust in its machine learning and the belief that it’s now at the point where advertisers can let the algorithms take over and focus on other things.

Additionally, Google says early tests indicate advertisers could see up to 3 percent more exact match clicks on average while maintaining comparable click-through and conversion rates.

Regaining Control of your Keywords

Some more good news; it is possible to regain control of your exact match keywords. But it will take a little work (sorry, no opt-out button this time).

Here at Impression we already use SKAGs that battle plural/singular variants by adding the opposite exact match keyword as a negative. And this method will work with word ordering too. Impression’s permutation tool will help with generating your list of negative keywords.

In the case of changes to function keywords, review search query reports for your exact match keywords for close variants to determine if word ordering or the removal/replacement of these function words will impact the meaning or implied intent of the search. These variants can be added as further negative keywords in that ad group.

When these changes roll out in April, be prepared to step up your search query mining. There are a number of scripts out there that can help you with this.