AdWords exact and phrase match is evolving

Another change has been announced by the search giant, this time it’s paid search in the firing line.

You are reading: AdWords exact and phrase match is evolving

On 14th August Google officially announced a change to keyword matching for exact and phrase match keywords, much to the dismay of PPC account handlers across the world.

Posted on Google’s Inside AdWords blog, it was announced that as of late September it will no longer be possible to opt out of applying close variant keyword matching for all exact and phrase match keywords.

Google AdWords - Keyword Matching Options

In essence exact and phrase match will still exist, but Google has redefined what could be matched to particular search queries. Moving forwards the following variations of your keywords could trigger an ad:

  • Misspellings
  • Singular and plural forms
  • Stemmings
  • Accents
  • Acronyms
  • Abbreviations

News of the change quickly spread across marketing teams with paid search marketers taking to social media to voice their anger. Although as the title of this blog post suggests, the change by Google, in my opinion, is merely part of their ongoing evolution of search. The SEO’rs amongst you will know that the ‘game’ is constantly changing despite prophetic claims that SEO is dead, as marketers it’s our job to adapt. So without further ado here’s a quick what, why, and what now for the changes to exact and phrase match:

What happened?

As already mentioned, keywords set to exact and phrase match as of late September may trigger ads for related search terms – known as ‘close variant keyword match’. Introduced in 2012, close variant keyword match was already the default option when using exact and phrase match, although it was possible for advertisers to opt out.

For those who have opted out, the option to not include close variants will disappear.


Google claims the change will give ‘control with less complexity’ whilst helping advertisers reach more customers. According to the search giant, approx. 7% of all Google searches contain a misspelling, in addition to users also using abbreviations to find relevant search results.

Another reason for the change is to increase keyword coverage and reduce missed ‘Low search volume’ opportunities. All in all, the move to close variant matching will help advertisers capture a wider audience (and dare I say, allow Google to make more money).

What now?

It’s most certainly not the end of the world. Most advertisers, as default, will already include close variants within their campaign settings. For those that are clinging on to ‘pure’ exact and phrase match, focus on adding negative keywords of close variants you definitely do not want to match for. Time consuming, maybe, but over time this could help refine your traffic further and ultimately reduce your costs.

It is worth bearing in mind that Google is more likely to trigger ads for keywords that are identical to users search terms so I wouldn’t expect a huge shift in performance.

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