Google Adwords, Scripts

Au Revoir! Google Sends Exact Match Packing

I’m sure we can all agree that 2017 has been big year so far for Google and advertisers.

It’s been fast paced and full of nail biting action, and I’m not even talking about the algorithm updates affecting SEO!

Slow roundhouse kick

At the end of January all AdWords accounts were forced into a new ad format – the wonderful Expanded Text Ads. We were given plenty of time to prepare for this one, but it still caught many off guard. We noticed that the AdWords system rapidly went through all standard ads, reassessing their relevance and performance which resulted in increased cost per clicks and decreased Quality Scores.

I believe that the Expanded Text Ad format is an upgrade to the previous limit on characters and provides advertisers with far more context and keyword insertion opportunities.

Quick left jab

Google changes the little green Ad label in search results for a far less noticeable hollow green badge that looks and feels just like it’s part of the Display URL at a glance. I’m sure this tiny little adjustment has bumped up the Google profits a fair amount as the casual searcher is now a little less aware of what they have clicked on.

Steps back & laughs giving you false hope

Google assistant is rolled out globally and everyone is welcoming the opportunity to enjoy the taste of a real digital assistant and how capable the Google AI really is. I’ve been using it for 3 weeks now and still get amazed at the capabilities. Sure, it’s not perfect, but it is getting better at quite a pace.

Interesting fact: Did you know that all traffic to a site that originates from the Google Assistant or Google Now Cards is counted as Direct Traffic not Organic (even though it could technically be called a “search”, so the best result picked should be organic)?

Powerful right-handed uppercut to leave you staggering

We get hit by this double whammy and we’re still in the first ¼ of the year!

On Friday March 17, Google announced that Exact Match is “dead”!

Well not exactly dead, but severely diluted.

Let me break the announcement down for you:

Google will now be expanding close variant matches (already applied to your Exact Match keywords) to also include rewording and reordering for these exact match keywords. STOP! Now before we get too carried away, they do add a few caveats;

Function words will be ignored

These include words such as “the”, “for”, “in”, “a”, “but”, “to”, “from”. Words that, according to Google, should not change the meaning of the search phrase, except for when you are the exception to the rule and get left out in the cold.


Right: This is the example Google uses.

Left: Example; Google AdWords.


Word may, and will, be reordered

AdWords has indicated that they will allow the reordering of certain subsets of keywords, within reason. This is somewhat vague, but comes down to this, as long as the meaning doesn’t change, the word order will no longer matter for Exact Match keywords. Google states that the algorithm can understand the difference between a phrase like “Sydney to Melbourne” and “Sydney from Melbourne”, but the proof will be in the pudding.

It is going to be interesting to see how this pans out as Google punts targeting very broad keywords aimed at remarketing lists. Will Google understand the difference between “mountain trail bike” or “mountain bike trails”? Or what about “office fire and safety” and “fire and safety office” or “fire safety officer”?

It seems that Google’s strategy of, ‘open the floodgates and force the marketer to filter out what they don’t want’, has the sole purpose of increasing Google profits.

I’m not quite sure where I stand with this one yet.

On the one hand, anyone who has ever built a large-scale account is fully aware of the pain involved in generating numerous keyword variations and keyword orders. This update will definitely be a big help to them. On the other hand, Google’s unofficial motto is, “Relevancy is King” (isn’t that why they invented the Quality Score?), but Exact Match is the most relevant of the keyword match types? Are they that confident in their algorithm that it will continue to deliver the most relevant results?

Google is leaving a lot open to their AI and its ability to learn and understand language. From my experiences with the Google Assistant, it is far better at understanding natural language and the meaning of words than it used to be. But, and this is a big but, it is still a long away from being perfect.

A phrase you’ll hear a lot this week is, “Better to waste money on some bad keywords than to miss out on some potentially good ones”. I disagree. I actively manage my Search Query reports and add keywords. The words in my accounts are there as they generate ROI, Google is, in essence, undoing a lot of these types of account optimisations if this is a go.

My advice is to monitor your Search Query Reports and keep an extremely close eye on what keywords your ads are showing. I have a strong suspicion that your lists will grow at a surprising rate over the next few months. It’s almost just as well you can now load MCC level negative lists and share these across all your accounts.

I’ll be using 2 AdWords Scripts to monitor and reverse these changes for the time being.

Script #1: This script that’s been around since the last match dilution change in 2014 will manage your keyword lists. It’ll add any search phrases that do not exactly match the keyword they triggered AND have keyword match type exact (close variant) as a negative. As such, turning exact match back into, well, exact match.

Script #2: This script from will monitor your SQR’s and should save you some time.

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