If you use Google Adwords, chances are you probably use Exact Match.

After all, Exact match keywords have long been the conversion-driving force behind for many, thanks to the level of control they give to advertisers tailoring ad and landing page copy to a searcher’s query.

However on Friday Google announced a change to the way exact match targeting works, with the include variations in word order and function words.

In 2012 Google introduced close variants to the Exact Match such as plurals, misspellings, acronyms, stemming, abbreviations and accents to broaden reach and coverage and save time for advertisers building out keyword lists.

Advertisers that wanted tighter control were able to opt out of close variant matching until 2014. This change shows that Google is putting more trust in its Machine Learning, believing that advertisers can let algorithms take over while they focus on other things.

The New “Exact” Keyword

The first concern that many advertisers may have is that variations of words can indeed significantly change the meaning of a keyword. For example [pancake mix] being matched to a query of “pancake mixer”, however this is how it is intended to work:

Function Words

Function words are

  • binding words phrases and sentences like “the” and “that”
  • conjunctions like and and but
  • prepositions, pronouns, quantifiers like “all” and “some”
  • modals like “could” and “would”
  • auxiliary/hedging verbs like “be”, “might” or “will”.

With this change, function words may be ignored, replaced or added.
For example, the exact match keyword [restaurants Cardiff ] could match to the query “restaurants in Cardiff.”


Word order

Word order should be less of a concern for advertisers as users may not use natural word order when searching even if intent is the same. For example the meaning for a keyword like [teacher gift ideas] doesn’t change with [ideas gift teachers] or [ideas teacher gift].



One of the biggest concerns from advertisers will be whether Google matches queries to keywords that don’t have the same meaning. Google stresses it won’t change word order or function words in exact match when it understands that changes would alter the meaning.
Google’s philosophy is to spread a wide net and then filter out what you don’t want, with it being better to waste money on some bad keywords than to miss out on some potentially good ones.

What To Do

There is no doubt that this change means advertisers will have to pay close attention to search query reports.

Exact match queries will need to be reviewed and should a loss of function words or a reordering of the words changes meaning, those variations will need to be added as negatives

Close variants in your Search Query Reports will reveal if other variations are currently being triggered that might be affected by these changes. These will also need to be added as negatives.

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