Google Ads Search Term Changes

Google Ads Search Term Changes - What You Need To Know & What To Do In Your Campaigns

Google is going through a lot of changes right now, and most of it is related to automation. Google believes they have written algorithms that can manage your advertising better than people, and they think that because they have thousands of really smart engineers that are constantly developing and iterating artificial intelligence.

In many ways they are succeeding, but humans are an interesting species, and we don’t always behave as predicted.

As much as the algorithms learn, we pesky humans continue to confound them.

As Google pushes toward more automation with their ads, they have loosened up keyword match types. Until about a year ago, when you bid on a search term as exact match, that’s what you got. An exact match. But Google changed how they define exact match, and now they will include close variants in your search results. These include misspellings, singular or plural forms, abbreviations, accents, reordered words, synonyms, implied words, and same search intent. Here is Google’s current definition for Exact Match:

Google Ads keywords exact match definition


Why do this? Because Google wants to show search results based on the INTENT of the searcher.

What does INTENT mean? It’s the end purpose of the search being conducted.

How do they know what that intent is? Because they have information about the searchers previous searches, websites they’ve visited, and historical behavior. None of this information is shared with advertisers, or the public. This is Google’s secret sauce.

Google’s phrase match used to do what exact match is doing now. Phrase match will show search results that include the meaning of your keyword. That’s a fairly broad interpretation.

And now Google is trying to push advertisers to use broad match when setting up keywords. It appears in the recommendations for our client’s accounts all the time now, and that’s a recent development. Here is Google’s keyword match type illustration:

So what’s the result of these changes? Well, Google will show your ad for searches it thinks match up, but really don’t.  There are so many possible variations in language that the INTENT doesn’t always come through.

If I were cynical, I might even think Google was doing this intentionally to improve the chances that they can spend all of your budget. But I’m not that cynical… most days.

As advertisers we still need to manage accounts for the best outcome, which is usually conversions. And we have to know if those conversions are actually becoming clients or making a purchase.

Negative Keywords

The key to dealing with these changes lies in your negative keywords.

And fortunately, Google just recently resumed showing all or nearly all of the search terms that are triggering your ads. They started restricting the search term data back in the middle of 2020, so getting this information back is great.

I can’t understate the importance of going through your search terms to finding those that need to be excluded.

While reviewing the search terms in some of the campaigns in one of our clients accounts recently, we found 60 terms that needed to be excluded. To give you some context, we review the search terms in this account every two weeks. We checked only 6 campaigns out of the 35 in the account. These have budgets of between $20 and $50 a day, and 4 of the 6 only run on weekdays. So not huge numbers or amounts of traffic running through these campaigns.

Before Google restored showing the search terms, we might have had 2 or 3 keywords to exclude every two weeks.

We are seeing the same trend for all of our clients. Search keywords are triggering ads more broadly than in the past. But we have the information to narrow who we want to see our ads by using negative keywords.

I think Google sees it as a trade-off. They give back the search term information, but loosen up how they define keyword matching. 

The advertiser is forced to give Google additional information about the searches by adding negative keywords. That’s data the algorithm can use to be more selective in who the ad is shown to. Google’s algorithm learns from this additional input, and becomes a little smarter.

That means you or your Google Ads manager has to pay closer attention to the search terms, what match types you are using, and the negative terms needed to prevent your ads from showing up in the wrong search results.

As always, remember that Google is going to look out for Google first, and it’s up to you to look out for your business first. You have to pay attention to how Google is changing and adjust your management of your Google account accordingly.

Need Help?

Need help with your Google Ads or social media pay-per-click campaigns? Schedule an appointment with me to talk about opportunities for improving your results. Click here to access my calendar:

Thanks for reading. If you have questions post them in the comments below and I’ll be glad to answer.


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