Until now, and since September 2014, Google’s definition of what constituted an ‘exact match’ keyword was relatively straightforward.

“A keyword setting that allows your ad to show only when someone searches for the exact phrase of your keyword or close variations of the exact phrase of your keyword.”

So far, so simple. But things are changing, and the new match type definition will be the broadest it is has ever been. What’s more, it’s coming this month, so advertisers don’t have long to react.

Exact match is getting broader and broader

Exact match is being expanded to include rewording, to ignore functional words (such as “the” and “and”) and to close variants and plurals.

Part of the change means keywords will be reordered to match wider search queries with the same meaning. In real terms this means the keyword ‘mens shoes online’ will show ads for the search query ‘online mens shoes’ without the need for adding the latter in as a keyword. Overnight, your keyword coverage will increase dramatically.

Google has also considered the meaning for this to ensure that the search query has the same intent. For example if a searcher types in ‘leeds to paris’ it will not show ads for ‘paris to leeds’. How accurate Google’s understanding of this meaning will be determined through the search query reports.

The second part of the update will ignore functional keywords. These words do not add meaning to the sentence, therefore Google have decided to ignore these from exact match. Google’s rational is that the same intent is there regardless of the functional keywords. Below shows more detail as to how this looks:


Why the change to ‘exactish’ match?

The rise of voice search will be part of the reason behind these changes, (although that isn’t an official line coming from Google) as voice search is growing rapidly through the use of smart phones and the rise of virtual assistants such as Amazon Echo and Google Home. The way users search by voice is different from typing which is likely the reason behind functional terms being excluded from exact match keywords.

In addition to this, the main aim for Google is to increase ad clicks and thus revenue from Adwords. However, this means that more advertisers will enter auctions for reordered search terms and functional keywords, making the landscape more competitive and increasing CPCs. The increase in CPCs will be less noticeable at an advertiser level, but still there.

Google estimates this change will increase clicks by 3% on average.

What can advertisers do?

There are three possible approaches advertisers can adopt, below starting with the easiest through to the most complex approaches:


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You can make no changes to account, and take a hit on the increased traffic and potential impact on CPCs. However, if you follow this approach keep an eye on your budget caps and the search query report.

You could opt to optimise within existing framework, but we would recommend that you conduct regular search query reports and add in exact match negatives for the ‘exactish’ terms. This is likely to take up some time.

The third option is to make use of scripts, and to use a tech stack using custom scripts (already freely available) that will automatically add ‘exactish’ match keywords as negative terms. However keep in mind the search term will have accrued cost before being added as a negative.

Most advertisers, we suspect, will benefit from the latter two options depending on the size of their account, their account structure and match type strategy adopted. Using a script will require putting faith into the tool but from an ongoing management point of view, it will make the process much more accurate and manageable.