We love digital

Call 0845 485 1219

We love digital - Call and say hello - Mon - Fri, 9am - 5pm

Why the AdWords Phrase and Exact Match Update isn’t all Bad

Tara West

by Tara West on 19th April 2012

Initially this seemed like a tragic new update. One that takes more control away from the marketers’ hands and passes it over to Google. The more I read into it though, the more I’m starting to realise that it’s not such a bad thing.

What are the changes?

The changes to exact and phrase match keywords mean that AdWords would automatically let your keywords be triggered by misspellings, plural / singular variations, stems of words (e.g. sing and singing), accents, abbreviations and acronyms.

Why have Google made these changes?

**Cough**. To make more money out of unaware AdWords users.

The official line on why these changes have taken place is to improve results for users and to make advertisers’ lives easier. Seems so obvious now doesn’t it? **Cough**NOT.

What are the real benefits of these changes?

If you’re not overly experienced in AdWords, or don’t work in the industry, this update might actually help you. It does allow you to maintain a reasonable level of control over your keywords, whilst still making sure your ads have the opportunity to show for keyword variations and misspellings you may not have heard of.

Even if you are an experienced or specialist AdWords user, this update does have its advantages. When I start a new account, I like to have a play around with broad match keywords, even if I don’t believe they will be successful in that particular case. I let them run for a week or so (depending on how big the account is and budget etc), and then I take a look through the Search Query Report for that time period, and look at what the actual searches are which trigger my broad match keywords (this can work for phrase match too, but you won’t get as much variety). If these search queries have resulted in conversions or a reasonable number of impressions, and are relevant to the product / service being advertised, then I add them as keywords within their own ad groups.

There is a risk with this strategy. Sometimes Google go OTT with their creative licence and decide to show your ads for all kinds of irrelevant searches. This can eat your budget pretty fast and have a nasty effect on your Click through Rate, and as a result, your Quality Score and Cost per Click.

The new update means that you can choose to use the function which lets your keywords be triggered by misspellings, plural / singular variations, stems of words (e.g. sing and singing), accents, abbreviations and acronyms. You could then look at your Search Query Report and choose to add some variations as keywords in their own ad groups (in the same way you would have done by playing around with broad match variations).

What are the negatives of this update? (No pun intended!)

If you’re an AdWords specialist, you’re probably working on an excellently structured AdWords account, which is so well split out that you may have even achieved the dream of one keyword per ad group.

You may have split them out based on themes of keywords at top level initially. For example, your ad group might contain ‘cooking classes’ and ‘cooking courses’ in one ad group called ‘Cooking Tuition’.  Then as you have more time, you will have split them into keyword variations within each theme. For example, the keywords ‘cooking courses’ and ‘cooking classes’ would now be in their own ad groups. You’d have done the same for abbreviations and any other variations you might have found. You will then have broken them down even further once you’ve collected some data on them, so singular and plural variations of each keyword will each be in an individual ad group. You may even have separate ad groups for misspellings if they often come up in your Search Query Report. If you’re seeing a significant difference in performance between the match types of the same keyword, you should have also split them out into their own ad groups.

If you choose to keep the automatic setting on, all of your hard work at splitting these ad groups out and targeting them so specifically will go to waste. This is because those phrase and exact match keywords could be shown for other variations of the keywords, which you might already be targeting in another ad group. You want to make sure your most relevant ad group and ads are being triggered dependent on each search query, so this is not ideal.

In this instance, you should turn off AdWords phrase and exact match variation targeting.

It also appears that these new settings are at campaign level (or possibly even account level). This means that it doesn’t give you the option to choose which ad groups or keywords you would specifically like to try the new functionality out on. This blanket approach is a bit of a nightmare as you might want to have greater control over some ad groups, but not others. Maybe future developments will see this functionality available at keyword level, in a similar way to the way that modified broad match keywords work.

I’m lead to believe that accounts will automatically be opted in to the new function, and will have to choose whether to turn it off. This is unfortunate as many inexperienced AdWords users tend not to pay too much attention to their account settings, especially their advanced settings:

The update is due to be rolled out by mid May, so you’ve got a bit of time to think through the implications and decide if you want to give the new feature a go, or if you’ll be steering clear. As the update is rolled out, other implications will become apparent. If you’ve got any other thoughts on how this update could affect AdWords as we know it, feel free to put your thoughts in the comments field below or find me on Twitter.

Tara West

Tara West

Tara West is an experienced SEO and PPC specialist at Koozai, with particular expertise within AdWords PPC and Remarketing. She has worked on a wide variety of verticals, from plumbing and travel to fashion and beauty.

down arrow

Your Free Whitepaper

AdWords Beginner's Guide (2nd Edition)

AdWords Beginner's Guide (2nd Edition)

Download this whitepaper now and get a new one every month!


  • Katie Saxon 19th April 2012

    The new keyword matching option already appears in your campaign settings – and Google, er, kindly have already opted you in.

    I’ve heard from someone in the Beta test group for this that it did improve traffic with only a slight dip in profitability. Still undecided whether or not I want to take that risk with my own accounts though..

    Reply to this comment

    • Tara West

      Tara 8th May 2012

      Thanks for the comment Katie. It’s reassuring to see that when you tried using it you didn’t experience much of a negative effect. I’ve turned it off on my campaigns for now but I’m going to by trialling it on a few accounts in the coming months to see how it goes. I’m a bit worried about using it on accounts where I bid on product numbers or terms that could easily be misinterpreted by Google. Looking forward to seeing how it turns out!

      Reply to this comment

  • Mike Essex

    Mike Essex 19th April 2012

    Great update Tara, I like the honesty on the *COUGH* making more money part *ACHOO*

    Reply to this comment

    • Tara West

      Tara 8th May 2012

      Thanks Mike. There’s always a sub-motive related to the money when it comes to Google! (in my opinion).

      Reply to this comment

  • Paul Cockburn 20th April 2012

    Nice post, great topic,

    I do agree that it could help some advertisers.

    Most new features that are introduced can probably help when applied correctly and carefully, although I’ll certainly be testing it on isolated campaigns of minimal importance first, pretty much just out of curiosity. However, the people that will probably benefit most from features like this, should be offered more assistance in the correct usage for their account as using them correctly would probably take more knowledge/experience than the users they’re designed for will have.

    The thing I find utterly deplorable, as you and Katie have mentioned, is the top down assumption that we would all want this update applied to our campaigns, activated and ready to cause mayhem.

    Yeah, they won’t actually come into effect until mid may, I hope I’m going to receive several emails prior to that happening, otherwise there could be scope for ruining (bit harsh maybe? affecting) the performance of an account.

    The other thing that irks me (sorry for ranting!), and has done throughout my time working on adwords accounts, is the lack of clarity in the introduction on the adwords blog or in their training material. Little things (or not so little) like negative keywords, they’ll obviously not have the enhanced feature applied to them, but it should probably be stated nonetheless.

    I could go on but already I’m sounding a bit bitter and probably a tad sad, anyone who’s had to bore themselves to tears through some of Google’s training material will tell you that there are outdated sections (even in the exams themselves), please correct me on this one if anyone has recently sat adwords exams or studied for them.

    Plus, into the bargain, I just don’t think exact match should be called exact match with the option to include close variants.

    You hit the nail on the head with the google greed insinuation.

    Did I say I really like adwords and as a service it’s been pretty good to me. Ah well, everyone needs to let out some steam once in a while = )

    Reply to this comment

    • Tara West

      Tara 8th May 2012

      Hi Paul,

      I agree. The fact that the update is automatically applied as default to all campaigns is the main is the main issue I have with it.

      I think AdWords should do more to educate users about the update in a little more detail and make it clear that there can be both positive and negative effects on campaigns and that the setting can be turned off.

      I have seen campaigns which have been running for years take a decrease in CTR since the update came in (in instances where I have left the setting as default).

      I sat one of the advanced AdWords exams recently (for the second time as the certification expires over time), and found it a bit dissappointing that the exams still contained out of date material that they had contained the first time around when I took the exam.

      Thanks for your comments.

      Reply to this comment

  • Dean Marsden

    Dean 22nd April 2012

    Good summary Tara. I was slightly confused with the update but I can see it will help new users easily increase their reach. Plus I would hope that these users take up the opportunity to move from just broad match to these phrase and exact match options instead. It almost bridges the gap between appearing for loosely related terms and exact terms/phrases.

    For professionals though it can mess up all the hard work we’ve done for a highly targeted account. We are saved by the ability to turn this feature off but it would be a nuisance if it is only at campaign level.

    Reply to this comment

    • Tara West

      Tara 8th May 2012

      Thanks for the feedback Dean.

      Glad the post communicates that there are some positive aspects to the update that can help more inexperienced users.

      I think the success of using the function will differ greatly in different accounts based on different products and different industries.

      Very thankful it can be turned off but unfortunately yes it is only at campaign level so for some of my accounts with 8+ campaigns it was a bit of a pain!

      Reply to this comment

Subscribe To The Koozai Blog