Keyword match types are dead

Kari Kennedy, Digital Marketing Consultant
Posted on Sep 10, 2020

Say goodbye to match types as we traditionally know them.

Yup, I said it.

Once I came to the realization that keyword match types are dead, a piece of the pay-per-click (PPC) manager in me, the one who agonized over match types strategies for years, died.

RIP to hours of my life I will never get back.

Now, I know some of you reading this are about to comb through your countless case studies to prove me wrong, but hear me out. I recently attended a MozCon session hosted by Francine Rodriguez from Wordstream (give her a follow @francine18pr).

During the session, Francine talked about the tasks PPC managers can automate to save time. She argued that PPC match types are dead, and if we’re still spending hours stressing about them, then we’re wasting valuable time.

I couldn’t agree more, and I’m going to tell you why.

A trip down memory lane

For those of you who are just getting your feet wet in the PPC world, let me remind you what exactly keyword match types are.

Match types are a set of directions or parameters you put on your keywords that tell Google when a user’s search should trigger your ad.

There are four main match types:

  1. Broad match
  2. Broad match modifier
  3. Phrase match
  4. Exact match

Each match type is identified by a specific symbol specified by Google. As you move from broad match to exact match, your searches become increasingly more specific.

Or at least this is how it USED to be.

Match types in 2020

For years, Google has been making small shifts in the way match types are interpreted.

Let’s look at the changes made to exact match over the last several years:

  • 2014: Google allowed for grammatical variations including misspelled words, plurals, and other close variants.
  • 2017: Google started serving ads for searches where the keywords were out of order and included prepositions, conjunctions, or articles.
  • 2018: Google introduced “close variants,” allowing ad results for keywords and searches that have the same meaning as the original keywords. According to Wordstream, this includes synonyms, paraphrases, and results with the same implied intent.

Here’s an example:

You want to bid on the exact match keyword [New England Patriots Tickets]. Yes, I’m a Patriots fan, don’t @ me! This exact match keyword would show up in the following searches:

In 2019, Google announced that phrase match and broad match would now show for queries that are considered close variants and have the same intent. This further broadens these match types to catch up with the changes made to exact match.

What this means for you

So what does this mean? Essentially Google is forcing us to expand what used to be very specific keywords.

Why would Google do this? There are a multitude of reasons, but the most important is that 15% of search queries are brand new. If you have highly restrictive match types, PPC managers could be losing out on valuable traffic.

How much will this expand the reach of your keywords and increase spending? Google says around 3%, but in the past, companies have seen up to 10% increases.

Who do these changes affect? Big brands will likely not see a huge change as they have the budgets to support broadening search queries. However, small to medium-size businesses (SMB) with restrictive budgets may need to adjust to account for the increase in traffic.

How will this affect popular match type strategies? If you’re a fan of single keyword ad groups (SKAG) then I’m sorry for your loss because this strategy just got a lot more difficult.

SKAG allowed us to tailor ad copy and landing pages to specific keywords. However, now that Google says various match types can actually appear for a variety of queries, that highly focused strategy isn’t as relevant or effective anymore.

So what do we do now?

To start, you can spend less time splitting every match type into individual ad groups and more time considering the different ways a user may search for your keyword.

By nature, some keywords will require broader or more restrictive settings, but you likely won’t need all the match types in a campaign in order for your ads to appear.

You’ll need to spend more time building negative keyword lists. You can do this proactively, through keyword and competitor research, and retroactively through search terms reports.

Where to go from here

By now, you’re probably thinking, “Okay, so what match type should I use?”

The answer, like most things in PPC, is “it depends” – which I know is wildly unsatisfying.

My best advice is to first spend time thinking about search queries associated with your keywords and let those queries guide you to the right match type.

Second, check your search term report every single day. You’ll be able to see if the match type strategy you’ve chosen is effective.

Last, stop stressing about whether a specific match type in theory “should work,” and start looking at the data. A low cost-per-click (CPC) keyword that results in a high click-through-rate (CTR) is extremely valuable regardless of the match type.

What are your thoughts about the future of match types? I’d love to hear them – Let’s talk!