Before I channel my inner James Blunt and get a bit emotional, I have a confession: part of my personality is a bit controlling
A lot of times this can be a bad personality trait to have, but in the case of PPC management, I reckon it’s a good thing to look out for. When I consider the best PPC people I know, it’s obvious they love being in complete control. They love to pull levers and press buttons to steer the ship in the direction they want.

I think this also explains why my relationship with exact match keywords was love at first sight. When I think back to the start of my career, I was introduced to the 4 match types on one of my first few days. Back then, broad match modified was still the shiny new toy that most were excited about, whilst the rest struggled to let go of the use of broad keywords. Then it was onto the exact match, which I imagine was introduced something like this:

“This one doesn’t get as much traffic, but it’s cheaper and usually converts better because it’s the most relevant”. Bingo!

From that moment a strong bond with exact match was formed, and I began my career in PPC with an obsession for driving as much exact match traffic as possible.

Like most relationships, we have hit a few stumbling blocks along the way. The first big one was the inclusion of plurals and misspellings to exact match keywords – I was not too pleased. I missed the good old days, but we worked through it and our relationship stayed strong.

But then the worst change happened. The final nail was hammered into the coffin. The straw was placed firmly on the camels back. Exact match was no longer the thing I fell in love with all those years ago. And I’ll tell you why:

If you were bidding on the term [yosemite camping] in 2012, your ad would appear only when users types ‘yosemite camping’ into their search box. Bliss.

In 2018, your ads can appear when a user searches ‘yosemite campground’, ‘campsites in yosemite’, and ‘yosemite national park campground’. This is not the kind of change we can learn to live with! If this was the state of play when we first met, I highly doubt it would have been introduced in the same way. Alternatively, phrase match may have been mentioned as the match type that tends to drive the most relevant traffic.

So, what’s next for exact match?

This is presumptuous but I can only guess it will drift further away from how it began. I would not be surprised if the next step is to remove it completely, leaving all match types to be consolidated into one machine learning powered love child of the 3 original match types.

This is far from what most advertisers would wish for, but we are unfortunately at the mercy of Google, and instead have to consider the best steps to react to this change.

Here is what I think we should be doing:

Analyse your traffic:

  • This change is rolling out throughout October so you or your agency should be keeping a close eye on search query reports throughout the month. This should not only be interesting for PPC nerds to observe, it will also allow you to spot any changes that could be potentially troublesome for performance, as well as for your brand.
  • Reconsidering strategy: Most well run Google Ads accounts will be built with a clear match type strategy in mind, with keywords split at the campaign or ad group level and negatives at work to put as much through exact as possible. This would usually keep things ticking along cost-effectively, and whilst it is too early to say how this will change exactly, my guess is that a strategy that puts less emphasis on exact match could become the most effective moving forward.
  • Scripts: If you are the type that struggles to let go of the good old days, there are scripts available that work to make exact match behave in the ways it used to. This is worth considering if re-thinking and potentially restructuring your account is out of the question. If you force yourselves to trust that Google is making these changes for our best interests, this is only a short-term fix and point 2 will need to be looked at eventually anyway.

Thanks for reading!

– Marcus