Many Google Ads users were understandably nervous about the recent changes to what Google counts as “exact matches” to search queries, and many saw it as losing more control over their keywords. After two months, early results are in, but how do they stack up against Google’s initial predictions?

Exact Match is no longer Exact

Back in September, Google made waves in the SEM industry by announcing that Ads for exact match keywords would, from October, show up on ‘close variations’ of those queries. In the latest development to their machine learning algorithm, the search engine is now able to identify words with the same meaning, plurals and some implied words in a search, which will be counted as ‘exact matches’. Google gave the following example:

So, what has the impact been? Google predicted that, overall, users would see a 3% increase in clicks and conversions on average after the latest update.  A study by WordStream of more than 16,000 Google Ads users revealed that exact match ads were now generating around 1.8% more impressions and 2.4% more clicks. So, while not quite as high as Google’s estimate, it is in line with what we were told to expect.

More Clicks, Lower Costs

These extra clicks have come at an increased ad spend of around 1.8% for advertisers, as well as a loss of control over the specific ads shown on exact matches. The good news, however, is that these close variant keywords actually produce a much better return. Under the new model, close variants have a 95% higher Click Through Rate than ‘true’ exact matches! It would appear from this that the algorithm change is working as intended, and mostly returning relevant ads. What’s more, close variants have a 12% lower Cost Per Click than exact matches, meaning the potential for a great ROI on these terms.

The Downside

The main challenge now facing advertisers is to ensure their keywords aren’t competing against one another. WordStream’s research also found that up to 36% of your exact match queries may now be duplicates bidding for the same spot. Not only could this result in an unnecessarily high CPC, but also in searchers not receiving the most relevant ads, or best optimised landing pages.

The most important action to take in the coming months is to keep a careful eye on their Search Term Reports. Which are your best ranking keywords, and what are the possible permutations of each word in the phrase (think of words like campsite vs campground in the example above)? You can then either remove the ads for close variants, so that only one campaign is capturing all of the exact and close matches, or set the different variations as negative keywords against each campaign, so that your ads aren’t competing for the same spot.

How have your own Ad results been affected by the latest updates? Tell us below in the comments
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