Not Happy With Recent Exact Match Changes? Here’s What to Do

new exact match keyword rules in 2018
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It’s happened again – guess it was only a matter of time.

On September 6, 2018, Google announced changes to its exact match keyword targeting (yet again), this time to include searches with similar intent. Essentially, your ads can show up for searches which Google deems to be close enough intent-wise to your target keyword. This table shows their example of what alternate queries might now match your “exact match” keyword.

So, is it all doom and gloom? Actually, maybe not.

A recent analysis here at WordStream found that in most cases the change is actually helping advertisers.

exact match update performance data bar graph

The folks at Search Engine Land also seemed to find that post-update the exact match option is generating a pretty decent quality of clicks. To offer one dissenting opinion – Adalysis’s analysis suggests that even though keywords may be matching to similar searches, conversion rates and average order values for some keywords may have dropped.

exact match change analysis

These different results just go to show that each account may perform differently – so it’s always a good idea to do your own checks to see if any of your accounts needs some fine-tuning to your exact match keyword targeting.

How to Audit Your Exact Match Keywords

Here’s how to audit your Google Ads accounts to see if you should be worried or need to make changes.

Search terms data

The first and most obvious way to see if the changes have hurt your performance is to go through your search terms data just like you would to identify any negative keyword opportunities and see if there’s a problem.

For the purposes of this analysis you only need to look at the exact match type (close variant) but I personally look at the original match type as well just to be doubly sure.

exact match change settings

Are there any keywords you wouldn’t expect to see and definitely don’t want to be paying for?

Conversion rates

Another way to determine if your keywords need improving is by looking at your conversion rates on a keyword level.

Make sure you filter your keywords so you’re only looking at data for exact match, and look at your keyword conversion rates to see if they’ve dropped since the change went into effect.

exact match change filter

If you’re not one of the lucky ones who saw improvements due to the change, keep reading…

3 ways to tune up your keyword targeting

Due to the nature of the recent expansion of the exact match type, the possible combinations or variations your exact match keywords might now show up for aren’t easy to pinpoint.

When Google expanded exact matches to include typos and plurals, Brad Gilbert’s exact match script was all you needed to take control of your targeting. Now, your keywords can trigger for searches with similar intent, which is a bit more difficult to make a list for.

Nevertheless, here are some of the changes you can make so your Google ads show up less often (and the key word here is less) for close variants.

Identify new negative keywords

No discussion on improving keyword targeting would be complete without a mention of negative keywords, right?

As discussed above, go through your search terms lists to identify keywords you don’t want your ads to show up for and keep adding them to your negative keyword list.

The only caveat here is that depending on how your account is structured and whether you use Single Keyword Ad Groups you may need to resort to negative keyword ad groups, negative keywords within individual ad groups or individual negative keyword lists as opposed to using master negative keyword lists on a campaign level.

Filter your search terms

If there are specific qualifying terms that are really important within your account, you could create a filter for exact match (close variant) + keyword text containing [x] + search terms not containing [x] to identify any problem areas quickly and effectively.

For example, I have included a screenshot from a client campaign for gravity blankets – I may wish to see a list of search terms for which the keyword text includes the word “blanket” but the search term does not.

exact match change blanket

Move to phrase match

Another option is to switch to phrase match only and see if that improves your results.

In fact, a while back I wrote about the incredible power of Experiments in Google Ads, and running an Experiment to test if one match type performs better for your account than another may have quite a positive impact on your Google Ads ROI.

If you do decide to do this, be careful with SKAG’s, as if you simply change the match type to phrase for those keywords you’re going to get a lot of (possibly junk) clicks.

In closing…

Considering Google’s push toward automation, some of our work has to be geared toward what we don’t want our ads to show up for, not just what we do.

I dare say we’re going to more of these changes to match types in the future, and as PPC professionals our best bet is to keep a close eye on our accounts and use all of the tools available to improve ROI.

About the author

Shirish Agarwal is the founder of Flow20, a digital marketing agency based in London that focuses on delivering leads for businesses via PPC, SEO and Social Media.