Google Ads Exact Match Just Got Broader

Exact: strictly accurate or correct

Google Ads has long employed 4 main keyword types; broad, phrase, exact & negative. Today, we need to have a discussion about exact match keywords.

The History of “Exact” Match

Starting in 2014 Google began including singular/plural variations and in 2017 they began ignoring word order and function words. So you could say that “exact” has been getting less and less exact for some time.

However, Google insists on continuing to call it exact match.

Please refer to the definition at the beginning of this post while contemplating Google’s newest change.

Exact Match Now Incorporating “Intent”

Here is the exact wording from the Google announcement:

That’s why exact match close variants will begin including close variations that share the same meaning as your keyword.

This change will be powered by Google’s machine learning to discern the original intent of the search, despite the actual keywords used. To help explain what that means, Google also provided this graphic:

Exact Match Just Became Broad Match

There are a lot of potential problems here, even with a simple example like this. Consider the following:

Implied Words

I don’t have a problem here. They’re basically inserting words that connect with one of the terms. Yosemite is indeed a national park in California, so this is pretty straightforward.


This is where we start getting into trouble. Google has made the assumption that “camping” is in reference to a campground. There are lots of aspects to camping. They might be looking for information about weather, what time of year is best, whether you need a permit, cost, etc. However, Google has picked one specific aspect of a very generic term like “camping” and is now matching PAID ads based on that.

Same Intent

Same problems as above. With Google deriving over 90% of it’s revenue from advertising, you’d better believe that the “machine learning” will be biased toward commercial aspects where bids and competition are higher.

All About The Benjamins

The announcement states that “(e)arly tests show that advertisers using mostly exact match keywords see 3% more exact match clicks and conversions on average, with most coming from queries they aren’t reaching today.”

Let’s look at some numbers. Google made $31.1B of revenue in Q1 of 2018. Advertising brought in $26.6B of that. If only 1/4 of advertisers use mostly exact match then a 3% boost in clicks could mean $200 million of revenue during a quarter. All because they changed the rules of the game a tiny bit.

How Google Should Have Handled This

I don’t have a problem with Google innovating and using machine learning to help advertisers. Their logic is solid and I want to see how it impacts results too. But when the change is being made to a keyword type that you labeled EXACT MATCH then it becomes a problem. You’ve set the expectation with advertisers (through the semantics) that the match is exact. You’re not delivering on that expectation. Make the changes to broad match or phrase match or introduce a new match type. Then sell that to advertisers. Don’t change the rules of the game part-way through.

What is your opinion on this change? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!