An In Depth Guide On How to Fix Google’s Exact Match Changes

On 14th August, 2014, Google announced “Starting in late September, we’re applying close variant keyword matching …. to all exact and phrase match keywords.” What this means is “All phrase and exact match keywords will begin matching close variants, including misspellings, singular/plural forms, stemmings, accents, acronyms and abbreviations.” Google claims, including close variants brings at least 7% more clicks.

There were lots of voices of dissent from PPC community, including one online petition.  The primary complaint was the loss of control from PPC managers.

At the end of September 2014, Google finally rolled out this change.

What has changed?

Let’s start with some basics that you are already familiar with.

Earlier, if you have opted out of ‘close variants’, here is how it will work.

Keyword :

[blue widget]

Search Queries : blue widget

Now, the same keyword will bring more search queries.

Keyword : [blue widget]

Search Queries : blue widget, blue widgets, blue widgteer, …

While, Google clearly has improved the matching, some of the variations could be undesirable since the textual similarity of keywords does not necessarily translate to semantic similarity.  For example, “window” and “windows” are textually similar. But, the first one refers to the opening in a wall, and the later may refer to the operating system. Two entirely different things.

Are you affected by this change?

Do you manage AdWords account(s) with significant percentage of budget spent on Exact Match? If yes, you should check the performance to ensure that everything is in order. If your campaign’s performance has dropped after this change, you need to take corrective action.

How do you know if this change has affected you?

If you are tracking performance of your campaigns on a monthly and/or weekly basis, you probably would have noticed significant change in the important metrics such as Cost per conversion, CPC, Clicks, etc.

If there hasn’t been a major change, you probably are fine.

Nevertheless, it is a good idea to check the performance with following steps to ensure that this change has not affected by you.

Step 1 : Filter out Exact (and Phrase) match keywords.

Go the Keywords tab in your campaign. Click Filter. Create a new filter as shown below. You can select Exact and Phrase match both (if you extensively use Phrase match as well). This will give you all the keywords that may have been affected by the recent change.

Filter Exact Match Keywords

Filter Exact Match Keywords

Step 2: Select the desired date range.

Select the custom date range of 1st October 2014 to 31st October. (Google’s change went live around 30th September 2014).

In the date dropdown menu, turn “Compare” switch on with the option “Previous Period” checked. This will enable you to compare performance of the campaign before the change and after the change. Easy, isn’t it?

Compare On

Select the Desired Date Range

Step 3: Compare various metrics before and after the change.

All the headers showing metrics become active once you switch on the Compare option in the date range selection.

Sort all the keywords by cost, in descending order. That way, all your money keywords will show up at the top.

Now click on the “+” button in the column “Avg. CPC”.

Compare CPC

Compare various metrics

You will see your CPC before the change, after the change and the %difference.

You can do the similar exercise for the metrics you care about – Cost per Conversion, Clicks, etc.

If you scroll down to the summary rows, you should be able to find out the total impact.

Now you decide if the change in your important metrics is severe enough to warrant attention, you have to take action on it.

How to get back “Classic” Exact Match and fix the performance?

Now that you have realized that you have been affected by this change, here is how you go about fixing it.

There is no way to ensure that your ads get shown for only the keyword that you have added. But, you can eliminate large amount of unwanted traffic with the help of negative keywords.

For example, for the keyword [blue widget], you don’t want your ads to be shown for any variations of “widget,”  you can add the variation terms as adgroup level negatives. If you add “widgets”  as adgroup level negative keyword, your ads will not be shown when user’s queries has “widgets” in it.

Clearly, this is a sub-optimal solution, but if you block the popular variations of the term, you can minimize the impact to a large extent.

Finding out keyword variations

Now that you know you have to block the variations of a given term, your next task is to find out the variations and add them as adgroup level negative keywords.

First approach is to find out the variants from your Search Terms Report.

You, probably, already have the keywords tab, filtered with match type and sorted by cost.

Select the first keyword, then in the “Details” drop down menu, choose “Search Terms -> Selected”.

Get KW Variations

Keyword Variations

This will show you all the search queries typed by the user that matched with this keyword.

KW Variations

Search Term Report

Use this data to identify your adgroup level negative keywords. In fact, you block some of the right away from the same screen.

Add Negative Keywords

Add Negative Keywords

Additionally, variations like singular/plurals, different forms of your keywords can be added as adgroup level negative keyword.

To find even more variations, you can use this keyword variation tool to find out popular variations of a given term.

With this approach you should be able to get back the desired control of your Exact Match keywords.

About the author:

Shashikant Kore is co-founder of Karooya, an automated negative keywords tool. Karooya has added a solution to painlessly address the Exact Match change in AdWords.