In the past few weeks, Google has released a few fun updates about how it will match and measure traffic in your AdWords accounts. Awhile back, we saw a transition to “exact matching” to close variants that included abbreviations, singular or plurals, and misspellings. With the new version, the exact match scandal boils down to two fundamental shifts.

1) Function Words

Google now reserves the right to insert “function” words into an exact match keyword and still consider it a close variant. These are likely going to be participles, such as “from,” “around,” “to” and so on. While the function words are explicitly expected to have little to no change in the searcher’s intent, we control freaks of digital marketing will need to prepare for unexpected query matching.

While Google provides a few examples, here are a few more:

Function words

2) Word Order

In addition to adding or switching terms within a keyword, we will also see more instances of exact match keywords being switched around. We’ve been assured that this will occur only if the re-ordered close variant would reflect the same meaning as the original exact-match trigger keywords. An example of this scenario might be:

Word order

What Does This Update Mean For Performance?

  • Less control of precisely what queries trigger your ads. This means a slight risk of lost relevance.
  • More impressions on your exact match (and close variant) content. This might add a bit more oomph to your account or it may cause major shifts in comparing before-and-after performance.

What Does This Update Mean For Account Managers?

  • You might see a slight decrease in relevance (read: CTR) as more variations are matched to exact match terms.
  • Suddenly you will need to utilize embedded negative keyword lists for exact match content!
  • Upside: Creating BMM and Exact match keywords just became much easier! As an example, if I’m creating keywords around +hotel +barcelona, my exact match variations needed to include [hotel barcelona], [hotel in barcelona], [hotel in barcelona], and [barcelona hotel], to name a few.

And in a final redeeming note, AdWords will still prefer to use those keywords identical to search queries. Phew.

What Have We Seen So Far?

Upon this release, Google boasted that preliminary data showed up to 3% more exact-match clients, while “maintaining comparable” CTR and conversion rates.

This update officially occurred on March 17th. We pulled the first 7 days of data to see how our exact match and exact match close variants performed. As a note for you sticklers, we only looked at non-branded traffic and excluded Dynamic Search Ad content.

For this first look, we compared how our Exact Match keyword performed regarding overall impressions.

Week 1 changes

Those matching identically to the keyword increased by 7% week over week. Those matching by a close variation increased by 53% week over week, a huge bump to the way our keywords are being accessed! The CTR for these matched search queries also performed interestingly. The more impressions the query received, the more negatively it impacted CTR and potentially relevance.

In another account, we saw similar performance. This account is also a large one and again we focused on how exact match terms for search performed since the update, excluding DSAs and Branded content.

First 10 day changes

In this data, showing a Friday-Tuesday performance before the update and the first Friday through Tuesday performance after the update, we can see a similar trend. More impressions for exactly exact matches and quite a bit more impressions for those close variants. CTR has fallen to similar extents as the previous example. The inference could be that the new matching is showing a little too much liberty in how its connecting queries with keywords. The conversion rates for these matches were also markedly lower since the preceding period, potentially indicating that the traffic we’re generating from the update is less of a sure-thing than Google had intended.

Are We Really In Trouble?

Like many of the updates released by Google and reported on by the big lovable nerds at PPC Hero, the immediate data isn’t particularly great. However, Google is nothing if not relentless in updating and revising its approach. I suspect that while the numbers of the past week or two are not promising, we’ll see performance come around. In the meantime, I will be scouring my search term reports for any new queries coming through and etching away at my account!