An introduction to BMM keyword changes

For those that aren’t aware, in February 2021, Google Ads began the phase-out of broad match modifier (BMM) keywords – pushing the removal of these from accounts and expanding the targeting capabilities of phrase match to facilitate the losses.

Moving forward to July 2021, the change had completely been rolled out, and BMM keywords were now nothing more than phrase-match keywords in disguise – yep, that’s right, if you still have BMM keywords in your accounts they have adopted the targeting properties of phrase match keywords. To put it simply, if you are still using both phrase and BMM variants of a keyword, then you have duplicate keywords within your accounts.

Duplicate keywords in accounts are not ideal unless using additional targeting options, e.g., campaigns split by location targeting. If there is no true segregation between these, you could effectively be paying more than required for auctions; the winning keyword will be the one that costs more! Quick recommendation to prevent this:

  • Use Google’s recommendations tab to review BMM keywords in your account(s)
  • Manually check through all campaigns and pause all ‘duplicate’ BMM keywords (only if you had a phrase match variant)

By July 2021, any edits made to BMM keywords caused advertisers to convert or remove them – depending on other keyword variations within your accounts. Alongside this, the creation of BMM keywords will no longer be supported.

Now we’re all caught up, let’s get into the real exciting stuff! 

Updated Phrase match – Explaining the difference

As phrase-match has now ‘picked up’ most behaviors of BMM keywords – making them much broader, the reach of phrase-match keywords has expanded. Not quite to the level of BMM, however, the difference is substantial.

To illustrate this, Google has provided a diagram on a support page referring to this topic:

Source: Google 

As we can see, the breadth of phrase-match targeting has drastically increased – with phrase match now including a wider variety of possible search-query matches. The primary takeaway from the diagram above is not just the change in targeting, but more specifically the ‘missing’ section for phrase match.

Is this going to or has this impacted your account(s) you ask? In short, yes. To illustrate the potential outcomes of this change, we have delved into our own accounts to provide real-life examples of performance impacts.

Real-life examples from our accounts

Here’s where things get real – in terms of account impacts from keyword changes, advertisers have had some notion of what to expect from previous match-type rule changes through recent years (2014, 2017, 2018, 2019). However, this change is nothing like previous, whereby we all expected previous changes would simply result in more traffic through keywords. For 2021’s change, accounts may have seen quite the opposite: a small decrease in impression volume, and therefore potential conversions.

For our accounts, we have seen plenty of mixed occurrences. For campaigns that historically ran predominantly using BMM’s, and were particularly smaller in volume (<1000 impressions per month), we were seeing campaign status changes from “eligible” to “Limited by search volume”. On the other hand, we are also seeing phrase-match-only campaigns becoming limited by budget, so it’s worth checking up on these!

Google has provided recommendations on how to act against the above, which we will touch on later alongside recommendations of our own.

To summarize performance changes in general, we have seen both positive & negative impacts:

  • For one client we had noticed a reduction in both traffic and conversion volume
  • For another, we had seen less traffic, however a more refined account with greater lead volume
  • And finally, we have also seen accounts with next to no change at all

What have we done to ‘fight’ against the change?

In general, the simplest action was to add more keyword variations to accounts. Google has provided most accounts with keyword recommendations under their ‘recommendations’ tab, however, be very cautious with these as we have seen quite a few irrelevant ones. For example, the recommendation to include “free legal advice,” within one of our B2B legal client’s paid services campaigns. Be cautious of what keywords you add, and never click ‘apply recommendation’ without reviewing everything first. 

If you’re not keen on using the recommendation tab, another way to action this is to review search query reports a few months prior to the match-type change (we recommend at least six) and compare with more current data. If you notice certain valuable search terms are no longer gaining traction, you can add these as exact-match keywords.

For our campaigns “Limited by search volume”, adding additional keywords didn’t always ‘hit the mark’, and therefore we have tested additional options; including recommendations from Google and thoughts of our own. To give some examples:

  • Roll-out of ‘true’ broad match keywords with smart bidding: Sounds crazy right! Many like us have always been conditioned to uphold maximum relevance between keywords, ads, and landing pages – pushing either the use of single-keyword or themed-keyword ad groups. Well, as recommended by Google, we took the plunge and updated a ‘generic’ campaign in one of our client’s accounts to include true broad-match variations of their existing keywords. Not only did we see fantastic results, but year on year conversions for the client increased by over 50%. 
    • How did we see better results than more targeted keywords? Well, this strategy utilizes AI to focus more on the user rather than the actual keyword – powered by Google’s AI which has improved significantly over the last year, in particular at learning which users are more likely to convert within your keyword topic. 
    • In 2022, Google is suggesting that building an account this way is best-practice, or at least should be, and themed or single keyword ad-groups are going to be a thing of the past. 
  • Utilizing dynamic search ads (DSA’s): Can provide some fantastic results, though we have seen that greater success is typically found when aligning DSA’s with specific custom audience segments, and again, automated bidding strategies. Another push towards really opening up your account(s). This can also be a fantastic way to mine for new keywords to then implement into your phrase- and exact-match campaigns/ad groups.

To summarize our findings, we noticed that coupling incredibly broad campaigns with strong automated bidding strategies and detailed audience segments produced greater results than the original campaigns. Is the way of the future to focus on algorithms and audiences instead of focussing on the nuances of what people are searching for? Considering that Google’s recommendations tab is full of advice linking to each of these, we expect so. 

To further this, in June 2022 expanded text ads will be removed and responsive search ads will take over; another layer of automation and algorithm-based decision-making throughout accounts. You’ll be sure to see our thoughts and feelings about this update too in an upcoming blog on our website. To learn more about these upcoming changes, click here.

Takeaway Tips For 2022

Hopefully, this article has helped you to understand the importance of these changes and has started to get you thinking about both the changes that needed to be made, and what to expect as time goes on.

To summarize the above, we’ve added our top takeaway tips for 2022 below:

  • Check your campaign budgets for any phrase-match-only campaigns, as these may now be constrained with the increase in volume.
  • Review Google recommendations: the option “add new keywords” can give some great ideas, however, do not add them all for the sake of an increase in traffic. Remember, not all traffic is good traffic.
  • Think about testing DSA or broad match keywords for specific campaigns, though ensure to couple it with relevant audiences and machine learning tools (bidding strategies) for optimal performance.
  • Deploy stricter negative keywords across phrase match variants as these may now be a little broader than you initially planned for.
  • Finally,  make sure your phrase-match keywords are serving ad copies relevant to the new search terms which may come. There is nothing worse than losing a potential customer at the first hurdle.

Getting your ad structure and settings right is absolutely vital, but only half the battle. To excel at paid search you must ensure you understand your audience and that you plan this understanding into your campaign structure across your marketing strategy. This is what we, at Reflect Digital, are masters of – so please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you want to understand more about our paid media approach.