Google’s Phrase and Broad Match Keyword Update [2021]

Digital Advertising
News & Press
An illustration for Google Update

Last Thursday, Google announced that they would be making changes to phrase match and broad match modifier keywords, “making it easier to reach the right customers on Search.” This simplification of match types is designed to be better for searchers, customers, and advertisers — but will that be the case?

The team at Blue Wheel video chatted with Jordan Grantz, our Manager of Paid Search, to get her insight on what Google’s latest keyword update means for brands and agencies.

What Happened

On February 4, Google announced that starting on February 18, phrase and broad match modified keywords will begin to match the same user searches.

Google notes that phrase match and broad match modifier often serves the same purpose in actual practice, which is the impetus behind this change.

Phrase match keywords return results that show the meaning of your keyword — whether that keyword is implied or not. For example, “tennis shoes” will return results for red tennis shoes. Broad match modifier keywords return similar results — +tennis +shoes could return results for best shoes for tennis, as this keyword type allows additional words to appear anywhere in between your terms denoted with the + symbol.

In reality, phase match and broad match modifier often return similar results or are used to achieve the same end goal.

Now, phrase match has been updated to include some characteristics of broad match modifier, resulting in more accurate search results that respond to intent and retain the meaning of the search.

According to Google, “Phrase match will expand to cover additional broad match modifier traffic, while continuing to respect word order when it’s important to the meaning.”

The broad match modifier will be phased out in July 2021, giving brands time to adjust their search strategies before the change takes place. Your broad match modifier keywords will still be applicable, but you will no longer be able to create any new broad match modifier keywords.

Why This Change Matters

So what does this change mean for brands and agencies? Is this a good move on Google’s part? Well, that depends.

“We’ll see if it’s a good move,” says Jordan Grantz, Manager of Paid Search at Blue Wheel. “The idea behind this change is that Google used to report absolutely every search. So, if somebody had a 10-word search, that would be in your report, but that won’t happen anymore. It’s streamlining your reporting, which is a good thing.”

In addition, Grantz notes that you might see a slight uptick in performance but a decrease in traffic. “We find that exact match and phrase match traditionally have the best conversion rates. This change will probably increase performance because phrase match terms are generally lower on the marketing funnel and more likely to lead to a sale, but we may see a traffic decrease.”

Theoretically, this all sounds great. Grantz agrees that this change will likely be for the best, but it will have some implications for brands. “Google is scaling down reporting because the assumption is that you get most of your searches from 20% of your keywords and search terms, and one-off searches don’t really matter — which is true. So it will streamline reporting and allow performance to go up, but it will limit searches a bit.”

To combat that slight dip in searches, Grantz recommends adding in more keywords to make up for that loss in traffic.

What to Do Next

Google is automatically going to migrate your broad match modifiers into phrase keywords, so there is no immediate action necessary. The biggest change will come with your campaign structure.

Grantz recommends making sure that your campaign structures within Google are categorized by objective. For example, since a revenue campaign would be structured differently than a traffic campaign, you should organize your campaigns by these goals rather than by campaign type. Grantz also notes that Google recommends pairing the new broad match keywords with a smart bidding strategy, which is important to keep in mind.

Bottom line: your reporting likely won’t see a ton of change in terms of numbers, but if you are traffic-focused, you’ll need to rethink your broader strategy. Because traffic will likely decrease with this change, brands and agencies should revamp their strategy to either focus on a different metric or increase traffic in this new reporting structure.

Want an expert to help you navigate the ever-changing landscape of digital advertising? Reach out to the experts at Blue Wheel today.

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