What’s the exact meaning of Google’s latest change?
Along with all the high profile changes going on in SEO at the moment, Google is keeping paid search practitioners on their toes as well.
Yesterday, the search engine announced a change to exact and phrase match types on its Inside AdWords Blog.
This recent update to this matching process is only a minor tweak, but it’s a potentially damaging and costly change for AdWords advertisers. The change will now see phrase and exact match type “include plurals, misspellings and other close variants”.
As way of a background explanation, search terms can match a keyword that has been bid upon in three standard ways Broad, Phrase and Exact. (For simplicity, we’ll ignore modified broad, session broad and negative matching.)
- Broad is the more promiscuous keyword match type. Dependent on quality scores, a broad match can trigger an ad impression for any search term semantically or thematically related to the keyword.
- Phrase is a little pickier about how it is matches to search queries. The keyword must be contained in the query and can be preceded or followed by additional content.
- Exact is the most virtuous of match type, only matches to the exact search query. This is the most frugal of match types and is often the highest converting.
The latest change is minor, and Google already offers results for misspelt search queries. So what’s the harm?
It’s difficult not to get cynical about changes like this one. The AdWords programme accounts for somewhere in the region of 95% of Google’s revenue. Protecting and growing this revenue stream is therefore a big influence on much of its development programmes and products.
From our experience, too many of Google’s ‘helpful’ updates conveniently help the uninitiated to spend more money, as anyone that has received impressions on a ‘session broad’ keyword will know – although that’s a rant for another day.
Exact match is a precise tool and one of the more favoured in my toolbox. After finding a keyword that converts efficiently and reliably, testing ad copy and maybe even isolating in an adgroup, the last thing you’d want would be for this keyword to start triggering impressions on close variants. That’s why we’ve done hours of keyword research!
The examples Google offers cover products like shoes, which is an obvious choice for plural matching. But for products that don’t come in pairs, matching to a plural search query just isn’t the same. Would the commercial intent be the same for the query “frying pan” and “frying pans”, what about “fleece jacket” and the plurals? Would the landing page be the same?
Other terms we see as being at risk are single word keywords – especially acronyms, brands and other terms like “ups” vs “usp” or “ibm” vs “bmi”. Surely Google will know the difference…
The impact on PPC
There are options to opt out of this new setting, and I’m sure PPC managers across the land with have a test plan set out to determine if this is an improvement. However, the users that are potentially at the most risk of being affected are those managing their own account; those who don’t commit hours to keyword iterations, landing page testing and day parting rules.
There is no doubting paid search is in the top five media options in terms of ROI, but it often gets a reputation for eating up budgets and creating busy fools of those not having the time or knowledge to get to grips with the channel. Changes like this one will only add to those users suffering those woes and not understanding how to get the best out of an account.
I believe the changes to phrase match do have benefits but why not leave exact match alone so it does exactly what it says on the tin?
Gavin Burgham, PPC manager, Rippleffect