Changes Coming to Keyword Match Types in Google Ads

Google has announced that as of September 2019, phrase match and broad match modifier keywords will be matching to search queries that include close variants. So how does this impact your campaigns? Let me explain.

When Google moved from Google AdWords to Google Ads, many advertisers rolled their eyes and wondered if it was the start of many more updates. They weren’t wrong. Since then, Google has made numerous updates to the features and functionality of Google Ads, and they just keep rolling them out…

This time however, I’m not sure if the changes benefit the advertiser or end-user as much as it will Google. However, depending on how you look at it, you might be able to see a positive upswing from their latest change. Let’s dive in, and I’ll explain.

Almost a year ago, Google made the decision to make exact match keywords less exact. Their reasoning was that by allowing words to be reordered and ignoring function words (like ‘in’, ‘the,’ and ‘on’,) advertisers could see about 3% more clicks from the additional query traffic. Now, Google has announced that as of September 2019, phrase match and broad match modifier keywords will be matching to search queries that include close variants.

Scratching your head? Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered. A close variant is a query that’s identical to your keyword. To give you some background into the creation of close variants, I’ll go back to the origins of it in 2014. This is when Google stopped allowing advertisers to keep their exact and phrase match keywords from matching to things like accidental plurals or misspellings.

Following in 2017, Google further expanded the meaning of an exact match close variant by allowing your exact match keywords to match to queries that ordered terms differently or included function words like articles and prepositions.

To show you, I’ll use the following example:



Why It Matched

Jewelry stores in U.S.

Jewelry stores in the U.S.

Function words added

Taxis in New York

Taxi New York

Function words removed

Bahama Cruise from Denver

Denver to Bahama Cruise

Function words changed


The impetus behind these decisions is that an ad offering house painting services is still relevant to someone who searches for “professional house xainters” or “home painting services.” However, the point of keyword match types is to give advertisers more control over the queries that trigger their ads to show. After all, there’s a difference between accidentally misspelling a word and deliberately typing a completely different word altogether. That’s why advertisers were so shocked when Google publicized the further allowance of exact match close variants to include same-meaning words. Now, suddenly, a business targeting the keyword [Denver camping] could have their ads displayed for queries such as “Denver campground” and “camping in Denver.”

To demonstrate, here is an example:



Why It Matched

Denver camping

Denver national park camping

Implied words

Denver camping

Denver campground


Denver camping

Campsites in Denver

Same intent



Let’s break down Google’s reasoning behind this choice:

  1. Even if the meaning of a query doesn’t exactly match your keyword, the user intent may be the same.
  2. Relaxing the definition of exact match enables businesses to connect with a larger pool of relevant prospects.
  3. It’s impossible for someone to have time to find every single relevant keyword for their business.

Now you can see why some advertisers could benefit from this change (i.e. showing up on the SERP (Search Engine Results Page) more often), and why other advertisers are not. In the end, the similarities between both the winners and losers are these:

  1. An increase in the proportion of their impressions and clicks being attributed to close variants
  2. An increase in overall costs

It’s because of these two commonalities that I feel this change could be more beneficial to Google rather than the advertiser or end-user. With each click on the ads, Google gets paid. And with the potential to increase the number of clicks, Google will get paid more.

Some advertisers, such as Navah Hopkins (Service Innovation Strategist at WordStream) stated her view on this change in a WordStream article as “quite liberating from a management standpoint as you’ll have fewer ad groups and campaigns to build.”

Kristina Simonson, who manages WordStream’s paid search and social accounts, had this to say in the same WordStream article: “As Google points out, 15% of queries are new; unfortunately, humans don’t have the ability to predict brand new queries that a prospect may search on a given day. As the manager of our own account, I’m happy to know that Google will look for opportunities to expand our reach to further relevant queries.”

However, if you view the communities on the social platforms, they have different views about these new changes coming to keyword match types. In general, they share the concern that weakening of keyword match types limits their ability to control their accounts and hinders their ability to optimize for different types of queries. I also share their concern, as we all want to feel confident about Google’s ability to successfully decipher the intent behind a user's queries – even with the progression of AI.

With that said, I’ll be curious to see how these changes progress and how effective they are – mostly to the end-user and the advertising community.  At any rate, this is another reason why having a professional PPC Management Service handling your Google Ads Campaign is crucial, because navigating these ever-changing winds of Google can leave you feeling like a stranger in a strange land. 

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