On 4th February, Google announced a change to match types – and the end of Modified Broad Match – under the tediously Pollyannaish headline Making it easier to reach the right customers on Search.
- Modified broad match will soon be removed
- The behaviour of Phrase Match will be updated, allowing it to incorporate the vast majority of what was covered by modified broad match
- Existing BMM keywords will adopt the new behaviour from mid February
- New BMM keywords will not be possible from July
1 What’s changing?
The main changes in behaviour from BMM, relate to the assessment of search query meaning, and whether these meanings match those intended with your keyword.
Take a look at these three examples given on the explanation page:
In each case, one or more of the words in the search term has shifted its meaning from the intent of the keyword.
The idea is that the new phrase match will determine when this has happened, and enter or bypass the auction on that basis.
Of course – that relies on the algorithm correctly determining those meanings…
2 Are you sure about that, Google?
Google is now putting a lot of faith in its ability to determine what the advertiser intends by a keyword; what the user intends by a search, and when word order and accompanying words do or don’t matter to that intent.
It’s asking us to have a lot of faith in that ability, too.
There seems to be a lot of excitement from the decision makers about an algorithmic breakthrough in natural language comprehension made within the last couple of years… It was written about in detail here,
and rolled out quickly in a major organic results update at the end of 2019.
The learnings from it were always likely to filter through to the algorithms used for Google Ads, and almost certainly already have, to some extent…
But examples of stupid search query matching are still common, and it is unlikely that the update to phrase match will mean pushing the button on any significantly more successful intent reading capability…
So while Google’s natural language understanding is doubtless getting better, I don’t believe it is as strong as it purports to be. Irrelevant and surprising search terms are not going away any time soon.
3 We were already half way here…
Modified Broad and Phrase had both already moved substantially towards the behaviour of the new Phrase Match, with the 2019 update which allowed BMM and Phrase to match close variants (which could be whole phrases rather just single-word synonyms).
Phrase Match in particular may not have to travel far for this update… But any vestiges of its original brief that still remained (words must be in the specified order, with no words in between) will be shaken off.
So this change would be much more significant if current match types behaved in the ways we usually define them.
They don’t – and they have been shifting towards the updated behaviour for some years, so this is evolution not revolution in terms of the way keywords operate in practice.
4 So what are we losing?
Not for the first time in recent months, we’re losing a little bit of flexibility, predictability and control.
Phrase match has been in something of a no man’s land since it stopped behaving the way it originally did, and it is by far the least-used match type… but BMM really did have a unique set of skills.
The most obvious one we’re losing is the ability to pin certain words within the keyword.
e.g. business +loans meant ‘I’d like the search to be related to business and similar terms but please, definitely stick to searches that include the word ‘loans’’.
While the 2019 update stopped the ‘+’ from being a binding instruction to match the exact word… it still meant a lot in practice.
There will no longer be any way to highlight the value of certain words within the keyword.
5 What to do about it?
If you want as little as possible to change for your accounts, then the best option is to leave your BMM keywords as they are (and, as usual, keep checking your search terms for any new negatives needed).
The closest equivalent to your current BMM keywords will be the revised phrase match… The closest equivalent to any phrase match keywords is also the new phrase match.
But as search term-keyword matching becomes more automated, it becomes less predictable, on top of being less visible with the recent veiling of search terms…
So while the obvious move is to allow robo-phrase to take over our BMM keywords, there will also be a strong case for greater use of Exact Match.
In the bigger picture, this change should come as no surprise. It’s another stop along the same route towards automated targeting.
It is, though, also another point to Microsoft (Bing) Ads…
In small ways, MS Ads is becoming a more transparent, more advertiser-friendly version of Google Ads. just by opting not to follow Google Ads on certain updates (e.g. the removal of average position / the great search term cull).
Microsoft may choose to adopt this match type change at some point, to allow for greater uniformity and clarity for the many who import their Google Ads campaigns… but for now, MS Ads has become a little bit more useful.