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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