Business Strategy

  • Google continues to further dilute “exact match” in AdWords

    21 Mar 2017

    Google will begin to ignore word order & function words in exact match.

    While the concept originally launched for plurals and misspellings, close variants will extend to include word ordering and function words in exact match keywords.

    Last Friday, Google announced another change to the way exact match targeting works in their AdWords platform. Matching for close variants — plurals, typos, abbreviations, adverbs and so on —  will now be expanded to include variations in the order of words and additional function words over the next few months. With this change, Google may ignore word order and function words when determining whether an ad should trigger for an exact match keyword.

    This concept was launched by Google in 2012 as a way to capture plurals, misspellings, typos and other versions of exact match and phrase match keywords. It was announced as a way to broaden reach and coverage and save time building out keyword lists. This was reasonable at the time as I knew many PPC managers who were voraciously building exact match adgroups and campaigns based entirely off common misspellings of expensive keywords to boost ROI on their accounts.

    The newest change to exact match is another step towards Google’s continued reliance on its machine learning and the belief that it’s now at the point where advertisers can let the algorithms take over and focus on other things.

    Google says early tests indicate advertisers could see up to 3 percent more exact match clicks on average while maintaining comparable click-through and conversion rates downstream for marketers.

    So What Does This Change Really Mean?

    There are many cases in which variations can change the meaning of a keyword. Take a recent example of [bread mix] being matched to a search for “bread mixer.” Those are not the same thing. However, there are many cases in which variations don’t change the meaning at all. Google is asking us to trust that their algorithm will know the difference.

    Function words

    Function words are binding words phrases and sentences like the and that, conjunctions like and and but, prepositions, pronouns, quantifiers like all and some, modals like could and would and auxiliary verbs like be or might or will.  Essentially, these are the words that don’t have their own meaning, but are used frequently.

    With this change, function words may be ignored, replaced or added.

    For example, the exact match keyword [restaurants denver ] could match to the query “restaurants in denver” More examples straight from Google:

    What About Word Order?

    Notice in that last Miami cruise example, the function word changed along with the word order. Word order often doesn’t make a difference in English. Additionally, many people don’t actually search in correct grammatical word order in Google. For example, just this morning I searched for “Landing pages 10 best pages”

    When word order is changed, Google says it will not add words to keywords (though it may change function words as shown in the Miami cruise example above).

    Will Google Actually Get This Right?

    As an advertiser, our biggest concern is whether Google will accidentally match queries to keywords that don’t have the same meaning. Google has attempted to comfort us by stressing they will not change word order or function words in exact match when it understands changes would alter the meaning of the query.


    Google is obviously building off their philosophy to spread a wider net and filter out the pieces you don’t want. Essentially, they would rather you find more good keywords at the expensive of a few bad ones along they way, than miss out on the good ones.

    This approach may work as it is rare to find an SEM manager who can get every single variation and combination of keywords built out – but the concern is that the machine pendulum swings too far. While in theory we might things things continues to dilute the value of a good PPC manager, I suspect it will actually increase their value. As the machines take more and more control, the people who know the fine details of how to really wring all efficiency from them will be critical.

    How to manage these changes

    This change means Adwords advertisers will have to be increasingly diligent about mining search query reports and thinking ahead about unintended consequences when word order matters.

    There are a few things you can do to prepare for the coming changes.

    1. Pull your current exact match queries data to determine if the loss of function words or a reordering of the words changes the meaning. Add those variations as negatives in your campaigns.
    2. Review close variants in your Search Query Reports to see if other variations are currently being triggered that might be affected by these changes. Add those as negatives.
    3. Starting in April, begin mining your search query reports regularly to see if you spot any critical shifts.

    5 years ago, Google’s Exact Match was exactly that. Let’s hope Match Exactly is a step in the right direction. If you’d like help preparing your account or checking in on it, give us a shout.


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  • Season SEO Trends: A Guide To Capitalizing

    14 Mar 2017

    Most frequently when we think about the holidays and holiday shopping, we envision panicked crowds on Black Friday storming a Walmart, Cyber Monday desk shoppers and last-minute gifters filling their Amazon Prim cart 2 days before Christmas. That’s no surprise, since last year, the winter holidays accounted for over $658 billion in sales, according to NRF. They’re an important time for retailers – one could argue this trend is primarily driven by us Marketer; but they’re not the only time that search behavior and sales spike.

    Other holidays like Fathers Day, Mother’s Day, Halloween and the Back-to-School “holiday period” all compel shoppers to search for different needs. And depending on your business this may actually be your prime time. For example, do you sell Ties? Father’s day is probably huge for you. Do you sell flowers? Mother’s day could be your biggest day of the year. Ironic dog costumers? Bring on Halloween! whether it’s costumes, table settings, flowers or dorm room supplies. And what about the seasons? In additional to literal seasons, there are times of the year when certain activities become more frequent, like hiking season, wedding season or summer shorts. Fashion trends can also suddenly and dramatically affect specific groups of shoppers.

    All of these holidays, seasons and trends can (and likely do) impact your customers’ search & purchase behavior. Doing a little digging into the historic trends in your data and some publicly available data may hold the keys to helping your brand take off.

    Find, identify and quantify holiday and seasonal behavior changes

    Google Trends

    One massively powerful tool for identifying online behavioral changes is Google Trends. Google Trends shows search interest over time for any term or terms you choose. Here, I’m comparing interest in “Salad” with the yellow line and “Dog Costumes” the redline. You can see that salad gets a nice bump as we go into the summer months, while Dog costumes spike right before halloween.

    With Google Trends, we can see how people have searched for these terms over time. We can narrow our search to locations we’re interested in if you run a local business – Google Trends will let you go all the way to city level. We can even filter by intent. For retailers hoping to target searchers with purchase intent, we’re able to identify search interest in the types of queries that signify intent to buy.

    Google Keyword Planner

    Keyword Planner is another way to identify high-level trends. When you enter a few search terms, Keyword Planner suggests related terms to consider, shows the amount of search interest in those terms, increase or decrease in search interest, a very general measurement of competition, and often an idea of how much it would cost to use PPC advertising on those terms. This tool helps identify larger general trends and will give you an idea of where you want to be digging deeper.

    The only downside to Keyword planner is that it’s built as part of the Adwords advertising platform, so you will either need to create an account or work with an agency or consultant who has access.

    Google Search Console

    While Google Trends shows data from all of Google, you can look specifically at data from your site using Google Search Console. This tool helps webmasters and SEOs identify trends or seasons that are popular now for your site. Search Console data is first-hand Google data, and it is a great supplement to your standard website analytics. The Search Analytics report includes information about clicks, impressions, positions, devices and more over the last 90 days. Most importantly, it includes actual ranking performance for your website, pages and keywords. Additionally, it shows you search terms your website is ranking for even if you aren’t actually getting clicks from them.

    Analyzing this ranking data can help you understand current popular products, growth in interest in certain topics and high-potential terms. The 90-day window is an important restriction for webmasters, though. It doesn’t allow you to view year-over-year data and won’t help you prepare for upcoming annual holidays and seasons – if you are interested in gathering long term data from this platform, you can work with your SEO or Advertising agency to setup data exports to compile a database for future use.


    If your business / website is more than a year old, your analytics data holds a wealth of insight into the seasonality of you business. Inside Google analytics, you can see both a high-level view of performance over time and performance of specific topics or sections of your site. While some of these trends are easy to spot, others can hide in your overall traffic and sales.

    Reviewing overall year over year traffic will highlight your highest-traffic times of year. As you spot differences in total website traffic or behavior patterns like time on site, pages visited etc., consider how holidays and seasons could be impacting jumps or drops. Also consider what kinds of context factors could be affecting search behavior on your site.

    When reviewing traffic data, it’s imported to segment out different traffic medium like Paid / Organic / Direct / Referral to understand how each channel is contributing to the cumulative picture. Additionally keep in mind if you have changed your marketing during that period. For example did you start advertising on Facebook during the year? Did you sponsor an event that might have generated a spike in direct traffic?

    It’s always critical to keep a good log of your marketing activities so that you can differentiate between natural cycles and self made spike.

    Explore more specific topics within your analytics as well. While overall traffic may look pretty steady throughout the year, digging into the performance of landing pages will likely paint a very different picture if organic is a primary driver. You can also evaluate timing of search interest, rankings (largely from your linked Search Console account) and associated sales or leads generated from those pages.

    From this performance insight, you can identify which holidays, seasons and trends are bringing users to your site. You can determine which holidays that you identified from Google Trends or Keyword Planner are not bringing users to your site. These insights can help you decide which content to prioritize for your holiday and seasonal strategy.

    How To Take Advantage of SEO Trends

    Most marketers move at an ever increasing speed are are always focused on getting the next project or test out the door – but remember that SEO often takes time and investment. Additionally, while we don’t want to admit it, many factors of consumer behavior are beyond our control. Learning to understand them can help us capitalize.

    Beginning to invest thought and work on 2017’s Halloween or Back to School content today may have a larger impact on your business than sending out this month’s newsletter. Though it can be hard to find time, take a step back to focus on a seasonal and holiday strategy can mean taking control of your long term strategy, rather than just reacting to searcher behavior as it happens.

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