So it happened. Again. Google has taken another step towards making Phrase more Broad. This is really just another step in the same journey – which has been taking place for years already – towards breaking the chains that bound our ads to the simple (but overly limited) keyword-centre model.
The keyword is dead, long live the keyword!
Hey, we cannot complain about Google not making its intention obvious: even the old, good ‘Adwords’ brand has now turned simply into ‘Ads’ -with the ‘words’ gone for good. Not so fast, though. The keyword portfolio is still the center and the soul of our accounts. Only difference being that those keywords keep moving more and more into having a life on their own.
Is this good or bad news? Well, it depends. This is good news for extended reach, maybe not so much for control freaks. Good news for growth, not so much if you’re really counting every dime of your marketing budget.
Within GANDT, we have been discussing this move from the perspective of our clients. Here are three good things, three bad things, and a short to-do list we put together to evaluate Phrase.
Three GOOD things we found about this change:
Let’s face it: The matching options were getting increasingly complex. Gone are the times when exact meant exact and phrase was phrase: Google’s continuous moves towards allowing more freedom for their engine to trigger your ads for more and more click-hungry customers have been materializing in those initial, simple concepts not being so simple anymore.
As a reaction to the advertiser’s cry for a perceived loss of control, Google released Broad Match Modifiers back in 2010: an extra match type attempting to bridge the huge gap between Phrase and a constantly broadening Broad. Thanks, Google! But, was another match type really what we all needed to be more successful? With this last move, the options get back to three. And – if you think of it – that should suffice.
If your goal as an advertiser is to facilitate growth for your business by reaching as many customers with commercial intent as possible, this is good news for you. Your phrase match keywords are now more likely to go the extra mile and reach to more people who are interested in your product. That simple. If, otherwise, your goal is to be able to predict to the millimetre, which queries you will see in your SQR, then you’re playing the wrong game. Actually, this might not have been your game for some time now.
3. It’s the future, stupid!
I mentioned it before, “Google Ads” is not about the “Words” anymore. Or, at least, not only about them. With the rise of mobile and voice search, and the growing importance of contextual and behavioural signals (all blended together in Google’s Machine Learning-powered mixer), the old idea that your ads run on your cherry-picked list of keywords is only getting older. Change is here to stay, and the faster you embrace the new rules and master the new game, the better.
Three BAD things about this change:
If the ways customers articulate their searches are infinite, the possibility to transcend a finite keyword list becomes a necessity, not a luxury.
1. Lack of control
Fact: The broader the match type, the narrower our chances to predict exactly what queries will trigger our ads. Which is evil but maybe a necessary evil; if the ways customers articulate their searches are infinite, the possibility to transcend a finite keyword list becomes a necessity, not a luxury.
And the feeling of control that we used to have as advertisers, about keeping our keyword lists on a leash while still allegedly capturing all the relevant traffic with conversion intent, was just an illusion. Let‘s face it: we were all comfortably accepting to live a beautiful lie.
The problem comes when we not only lose control beforehand, but also afterwards. Google’s continuous steps towards limiting visibility in the Search Query Reports (and therefore making it more obscure to know what our audiences exactly search for), is definitely not helping advertisers feel comfortable in our roles running the show.
So, because of this reduced transparency, this new feature whose description could have been nicely started as “reaching out to more people within the right audience…” is missing out on happily ending with “…and selectively weeding out the irrelevant queries through negative keywords”. Because Google will not let you see all the negative keywords you need. Pity. Would that have been too perfect, maybe?
2. Need for adjustment
This is one of those changes that will require you to roll up your sleeves and do a little spring cleaning. Google says the creation of a new Broad Match Modifier will be phased out as of July 2021, while the old BMMs will keep serving. But, do we want to have obsolete keywords with Jurassic-age matching type operators in our accounts?
Someday somebody will look into our ad groups and those plus signs will look as the footsteps of thousands of extinguished brontosaurus, petrified and fossilized forever. I know, you’re feeling an uncomfortable itch running down your back just by the thought of it. Me too.
3. Good for many… but not for all
Once again: If reaching to increasing volumes of potentially interested customers is the goal, this is a happy move for those with the budget to really afford those extra volumes. But, what happens to small businesses with extremely shrunk marketing budgets, where minute control means the difference between a healthy business and inefficiency? What happens if the extra volume means a bunch of precious dollars that need to be taken away from something else?
It is likely that for low-volume accounts the extra freedom will not mean the right spending – at least not right away. That’s what happens when you leave the control to an automated system that learns how to succeed after three bad attempts – but sometimes you can only afford two. If this is your case, an urgent review of the phrase match terms and negative keyword lists is mandatory.
And here’s our to do list:
The news is out and the transition has started. While the Broad Match Modifiers in your account are likely to keep running just the same, the old phrase match keywords may start using their new superpower anytime now.
So it’s time to take action. Pull reports of the performance that your phrase and BMM terms have in your accounts, and the weight in your overall results to have a preliminary idea of how much is at risk for you. Start thinking of how the new, extended reach of your phrase terms will overlap the Broad Match Modifier terms and work to reduce duplicity.
Create dashboards where you can monitor the evolution in performance of your different kind of keywords. You can use labels if your account structure doesn’t differentiate enough. Try to imagine what is going to happen with your traffic and your performance and then follow up regularly to see if your hypothesis is confirmed. If not, look inside.
Embrace the Change
Start including this new, less rigid, and predictable setup in your usual thinking. As we said, it‘s the future and it‘s here to stay.
What are your thoughts? Are you looking forward to a farewell to the good, old BMM, or rather concerned? Let us know!
Photo by Mitchell Luo.