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Google Plays Match Breaker with Adwords: More Options for Marketers or More Dough for Google?

Monday, April 23, 2012

Google quietly made some pretty big changes to its long-standing keyword matching options within Google Adwords earlier this week, altering the way its exact and phrase match types will trigger keywords. The long and short of it is that keywords set to these match types will now include what Google is referring to as “close variants” like misspellings, abbreviations, plurals, etc.

This isn’t the only recent change in Adwords match types. Google has been gradually rolling out its modified broad match over the past two years. That change has been well received, as it gives search marketers a happy medium between the extremely wide net of broad match and the much more restricted territory of phrase match (for more on Adwords match types, click here).

The big difference with these changes is that they represent fundamental shifts in the way that Google’s longstanding match types will work. I’m a bit surprised that they didn’t just come out with new match types called modified exact and modified phrase, as this is essentially what the new match types will be. The fact that they didn’t should be a clue to what’s coming.

So what will the impact be? Google, not surprisingly, is claiming that this will be a benefit to the user and the advertiser (they don’t mention the benefit to Google – more on that later). One interesting nugget in the announcement is that more than 7% of searches include misspellings. That part of the change should almost certainly be a boon to search marketers who spend their time trying to bid on all of the myriad of misspellings of brand names or other keywords. It’s the other “close variants” that get me wondering. This includes stemmings (whatever that means), accents, abbreviations and singulars/plurals in addition to the misspellings. That’s a pretty wide open field, especially when you’re talking about a match type that’s supposed to be exact.

Google says in its beta testing of the change that this added 3% to advertiser click volumes with a disclaimer that results will vary by advertiser. That number seems strikingly low, especially when you consider that they’ve just said at least 7% of searches contain misspellings. My gut tells me that the change will easily result in a double digit increase for campaigns that primarily use exact and phrase match. That’s a lot  more clicks and a whole bunch of additional cash for Google.

It’s important to point out that, although these modifications to the match types will become the default over the next month or so, you will still be able to turn them off. That can be done in the advanced settings. In that sense, at least in the near term, the change is effectively giving search marketers more options and control in terms of keyword matching. However, considering that this change will be the default,  I can envision them phasing out that additional setting over time and just making the new match types the unchangeable standard.

In a broader sense, this change speaks to a trend of Google telegraphing to Adwords users that they know best when it comes to what keywords should trigger ads. Will this specific change and that overall trend be good or bad for campaign results? We’ll certainly be keeping a close eye on that, but one thing is for sure: Google will not be getting any poorer as a result.

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