Google Ad Matches Keep Getting Less Exact

Google Ads reported in September that “exact match close variants will begin including close variations that share the same meaning as your keyword.” This example from Google is for the keyword “yosemite camping.”

Editor’s Note: This column was written by Robert Brady and appears at

In April 2017, I wrote about a change to AdWords — now Google Ads — affecting exact match keywords that made them, well, less exact. The change had three components:

  • Function words such as “in,” “a,” “the,” and “to” could be ignored by Google in queries or in the exact match keywords inside of Google Ads;
  • Function words in the query could be changed by Google;
  • Word order could be changed by Google as long as it “doesn’t affect the meaning.”

I was not a fan of the change then. I am still not a fan because keywords are no longer an “exact match.” However, Google has now taken it even further.

Matching Variants

Google announced the latest change on Sept. 6, in a post in the Google Ads Help documentation. The post stated, in part, “exact match close variants will begin including close variations that share the same meaning as your keyword.” This was accompanied by a graphic, which is shown above, with an example using “yosemite camping” as the keyword.

As pointed out by search practitioner Brad Geddes, even these changes show a bias. There could be multiple intents behind a query such as “yosemite camping,” including information about bears, permissible camping locations, camping policies, and permit rules, among others.

Ad Copy

Assume you’re an outfitter who arranges camping trips in Yosemite National Park. If you’re bidding on the keyword “yosemite camping,” what do you put in your ad copy? If you look at Google’s example, you can safely assume that people are looking for campgrounds or campsites and therefore you would include information about how you arrange that for your prospective clients.

But what if they’re looking for information on the best time of year to go? Or whether they need a permit? Or if RV are allowed?

If the ad copy is focused on campgrounds and campsites, the outfitter likely misses a lot of clicks from these searches because ads do not seem relevant.

In the past, an advertiser would have built numerous ad groups to accommodate these possibilities. It could have a “Yosemite Camping Permits” ad group and a “Best Time To Camp In Yosemite” ad group and a “Yosemite Camping” ad group. Using the exact match keyword type would have meant that the advertiser could write ad copy specific to each instance (or generic for the “Yosemite Camping” ad group) to ensure relevance and get the click.

With the change, however, Google is now deciding which keywords should enter an auction and the ads that go with them.

To read more click here.


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