Google Set to Enhance Phrase Match & Phase Out Broad Match Modified Keywords

February 10, 2021
Posted in Paid Search
February 10, 2021 Jen Lopez

Google Set to Enhance Phrase Match & Phase Out Broad Match Modified Keywords

If you’re in the PPC world, last week was probably a little hectic! Google sent out an email to many Google Ads advertisers with an important (albeit very confusing) update regarding match types. In the email, Google stated that starting on February 18, 2021 phrase and broad match modified (BMM) keywords will begin matching to the same user searches. The email explained that due to the updating matching behavior, advertisers may see an increase in traffic on any phrase match keywords and slight decrease in traffic on any BMM keywords.

Problem is, they left out a world of context and the industry kind of exploded – at least for our close-knit community who relies heavily on BMM keywords to scale accounts and exact match keywords to provide efficiency.

While we’ll explain the change below in greater detail, we should note that the change by itself isn’t that concerning – it’s is the combination of this change, along with their September update which greatly limited the terms provided in our Search Terms Report that has us up in arms. Combined, Google is updating their algorithms for “better matching” from keyword to query, yet they are limiting our ability to really see what is covered with the new matching within our Search Terms reports for our specific accounts. For those not familiar, Search Term Reports show us the search queries that matched to our keywords – what people actually typed into Google when our keyword and ad combination was triggered. PPC marketers regularly review Search Terms reports to optimize and maintain strong accounts – using them to look for new potential keywords and new negative keyword additions within these reports.

Before explaining the change, we’ll first explain how phrase and BMM match types currently work (pre-February 18).

  • Phrase Match: Currently, phrase match keywords contain quotes around your chosen keyword phrase, and Google is allowed to match search queries to that keyword phrase, as long as the words are in the same order and there is nothing in between them. There can be additional words before or after the keyword phrase. An example is “red shoes”. Google can match this keyword to following search queries: stylish red shoes, red shoes for women, red shoes on sale, best prices for red shoes. However, they cannot match to these search queries, which break up what is in the phrase: red women’s shoes, red clown shoes, shoes that are red.
  • BMM: Currently, BMM keywords contain plus signs (or, we like to call them anchors), in front of any keyword in the keyword phrase that needs to be in the search query. However, Google can match the keyword to any search query that puts words in front of or behind the keyword phrase OR in between the anchored keywords. If a keyword within the keyword phrase does not have an anchor, it is treated as broad match and can be swapped out for another keyword or similar meaning or not shown in the query. An example is: +red +shoes. Google can match to stylish red shoes, red shoes for women, red shoes on sale AND they can also match to these search queries, which break up the keywords within the phrase: red women’s shoes, red clown shoes, shoes that are red.
  • While every account is different, in our experience, phrase keywords have tended to be more expensive than BMM keywords. Additionally, BMM keywords are a bit more open and have allowed for more keyword-mining in Search Terms reports than Phrase match keywords have, historically.

According to the update, phrase match keywords will now function as BMM keywords – meaning that now within search queries, words can be placed in between the individual words of a keyword phrase and still be a match. Additionally, phrase match AND BMM keywords will be working off of a new algorithm update that Google says will allow for better keyword to query matching. With the update, Google says that they will continue to respect word order when it’s important to the meaning. Here are some examples directly from Google:

You can see in the top example for BMM keywords, in the right column, that Google has attempted to weed out irrelevant search queries from matching to BMM keywords, which is why they have cited that there may be small decreases in BMM traffic starting on February 18. As relevancy goes up, impressions served will likely go down.

In the bottom example, you can that in the right column that Google is trying to infer the meaning of keyword to serve on relevant search queries, but even in this example – they may be off base. For “holiday spots in Zambia” – this may not be a good query for the keyword in your accounts. You may want to actually serve ads about what holidays are celebrated in Zambia and so showing and ad on holiday spots may not be relevant. Hopefully, you would “spot” this in your Search Terms report and be able to negate it, but as mentioned, those reports were limited last September, so that’s the concern we’re facing.

Will Google’s new matching update be stronger?

Will it be better?

And, how to do we know?

What Google Recommends:

Google recommends to build all new keywords in Phrase match instead of BMM. They have told us that there is no reason to migrate any existing BMM keywords over into phrase match, as when the change is finished rolling out globally (ETA July 2021), then all current BMM keywords will begin serving as phrase match in our accounts anyway. From this point forward, you will no longer be able to create BMM keywords in your account.

Our Recommendation:

After speaking with a few Google representatives and industry folks, we have determined that for most accounts we manage, we will continue to build in BMM for the time being and allow everything to switch automatically in July, unless there are any new updates. We will use this time wisely though, pulling search query reports and looking for any instances where Google may have a “mismatch” or not quite understand the meaning of our keyword.

What are your thoughts on the update? If you need help navigating the change, be sure to leave a comment below or contact us.