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20 Mar 2017

So Long, Exact Match

by Ben Harper 2

You know when there’s a feeling of inevitability that something is going to come to an end? Well, that’s how it’s been with Google AdWords exact match keywords for a while now. For years, advertisers have been able to run highly targeted search campaigns by restricting bidding to exact match keywords – you know, keywords that EXACTLY MATCH what a user has searched for. Exact match terms did what they say on the tin, but not anymore.

The writing’s been on the wall since August 2014 when Google started tinkering and including misspelling and variations of keywords within exact matches. This angered a lot of advertisers, as this was a broadening of their campaigns that they didn’t want.

Within the last week, Google have gone a step further and are now including ‘close variants’ within bidding for exact match keywords. In Google’s article about the change, they explain it like this:

“Whether someone is searching for “running shoes” or “shoes for running,” what they want remains the same; they’re looking for running shoes. You shouldn’t have to build out exhaustive keyword lists to reach these customers, and now you don’t have to.”

Now I understand that logic. But Google is missing the key point that as advertisers who are spending our client’s advertising budgets in the most efficient way, we want to build out those exhaustive keyword lists. That’s our job, and it’s not just so we can bill for more hours work – it’s so we can control what keywords our ads show for.

Yes, the intent may be the same on “running shoes” or “shoes for running”, but it may not be. Before this change, I’d run both keywords as exact match and measure a range of metrics, including CPC, average position, clickthrough rate, and most importantly conversion rate and cost per conversion. Now, of the millions of keywords I’ve run across the years, I think I’m yet to see an example like the above where the metrics are exactly the same for said keywords.

The problem is, Google are continuing to take control away from advertisers. The sceptical amongst us could say this is Google trying to spend more ad budget for us by effectively merging multiple keywords into one and taking the control away – therefore potentially leaving us with some wasted ad budget on ineffective ads. The same sceptics might argue this is one of Google’s ways of contending with increasing competition, and soaring CPC’s. Google of course, argue this is them just saving us time and being helpful – something they’re always willing to do when it comes to helping people spend money!

Google’s tests have shown that advertisers should expect their CPC’s and conversion rates to stay the same, but that they should see up to 3% more traffic on their exact match terms. An increase in traffic that you can’t control – whether it works or not, this is going to be a worry for serious advertisers.

It’s probably time for Google to rebrand exact match, as it’s certainly not a way of bidding on a search phrase that a user has made and only showing your ads if the terms exactly match anymore.

Ben Harper

Co-Founder at Datify