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On 4th February 2021, Google announced one of the biggest changes to keyword match types in recent years. They are killing Broad Match Modifiers and Expanded Phrase Match.

It's not the first time Google makes changes to its features. If you've worked in the industry for as long as we have, you'll know how Google Ads and the strategies needed to succeed have evolved. This next update widens the net even further.

How is Google changing Broad Match Modifiers and Expanded Phrase Match?

Starting 18th February 2021, phrase match will expand to cover additional broad match modifier traffic while respecting word order when it's important to the meaning.

In other words, phrase and BMM keywords will begin to match many of the same user searches. 

Should you panic about the new changes to Google Ads?

Yes, you should panic.

(just kidding).

It's not the first time Google makes changes to how keyword match types work. In 2014, Google applied close variant keyword matching to Exact keywords, meaning those terms could now trigger close variants as well, and not just the exact keyword targeted. However, this next update widens the net even further.

Up until now, Phrase match would inform Google that the words for a search must appear in the same order as that of your targeted keyword. With Broad Match Modifier (BMM), in contrast, all terms must be present in the search query, but in any order and with any other words between the targeted words.

It looks like, after the update, Phrase match might be covering both of these scenarios, whilst deciding if word order is necessary based on intent.

Below is an example of keywords that won't match as Broad Match Modifiers after the update:

Based on this example, this looks like a good thing. The queries BMM is triggering are not relevant to the keyword in these cases. They would require close monitoring in the Search Query report to exclude irrelevant keywords, which can be very time-consuming.

However, it's worth keeping in mind searches that ARE relevant and missed when this change occurs. A search for 'companies that sell used HP Officejet printers' might be relevant in the example above, but will no longer match the keyword.

In contrast, the table below shows examples of Phrase match keywords and queries that would have historically not matched, but will after the update.


Take 'long sleeve dress' for example. This keyword would have matched searches that included the targeted term + any other terms as long as they appeared before or after. However, it will now match a search for 'long sleeve lace dress'.

Google is continuing to respect the words' order in your phrase match keywords. If they know what the advertiser is looking to target, they will now allow for queries that include variations of those keywords (i.e. lace) inside them to match the Phrase keyword.

Why are Google removing Broad Match Modifiers, now?

Google's explanation around this update is that rolling out these changes will make it easier for advertisers to reach their customers, no matter how they're searching. It also helps advertisers to streamline keyword management within accounts.

In context with recent changes, it's evident that Google is on a mission to push machine learning and automated campaigns and bidding strategies. Why? Because they have invested heavily in automation tools and are very interested in seeing as much adoption as possible. 

Advertisers need to shift their focus away from keyword-level searches and closer to search themes and personas/audiences. Updates such as this or limiting search query report results help push accounts in that direction.

Whilst relinquishing this control will make many advertisers nervous, Google has done its best to encourage this transition by increasing its available automation features, such as Smart campaigns and Smart bidding strategies. These types of updates are likely to continue in the future, so it's worthwhile testing them out so we can be ready for them.

Who will be affected by the changes to Broad Match Modifier and Expand Phrase Match?

Anyone who advertises through Google Ads, practically speaking. However, advertisers who use a strategy based on splitting campaign by match type, or use manual bidding and stack keyword bids, will likely feel the impact of these changes more acutely.

Advertisers who miss this update or don't react to it risk seeing a drop in impressions and clicks (not necessarily Impression Share), mainly from Broad match keywords. From July 2021, advertisers will also no longer be able to create new Broad match modifier keywords. You must adjust your strategy to prepare for Google to phase out these keywords.

How can you prepare for the upcoming Google Ads update?

It's unlikely that most advertisers will see a huge change on their accounts immediately, but here are some steps to minimise any impact:

  1. Prioritise Phrase match keywords for future campaigns. Whilst advertisers will still be able to create BMM keywords, these will behave in a very similar fashion to Phrase keywords. Start thinking in these terms as soon as possible and focus on predominantly creating Phrase match keywords in the future.

  2. Streamline your keywords as more become duplicates. Keep an eye on the Recommendations section on your account. Recommendations around removing duplicate keywords will likely increase, as both Phrase and BMM start matching the same queries.

  3. Add valuable broad match keywords to your account. Look back at your Search Query report and identify any relevant keywords triggered through Broad match keywords that you haven't added to the account. Going forward, you will need to keep tighter control over negative keywords for Phrase match terms as they start to match broader queries.

  4. Increase keyword research. Include more keyword that BMM would have matched, and the new Phrase might miss.

  5. Identify new broad match keywords through related searches. Do a Google search for your best performing broad keywords. You can identify popular variations and include them in your account if they aren't there already.

  6. Reconsider budgets split by match type. If you allocate budgets based on split by match type, you could see budget limitations. Your Phrase match campaigns may suddenly be limited by budget, whilst your Broad match campaigns won't spend the full budget. In these cases, reallocating budgets to Phrase match campaigns will help prevent a drop in performance.

  7. Experiment with new bidding strategies. If you're missing out on relevant queries due to this update, you can create an experiment and test your Broad match campaigns with an automated bidding strategy. Whilst not the best strategy for every advertiser, it has shown very strong results on several campaigns we manage. Testing them out with an experiment will help decide whether to implement it long term.


Our clients can rest assured that their accounts are looked after by our Google partnered marketing and advertising team, meaning we have Google's full support and experience to help them navigate changes like this and achieve their goals. 

Concerned about how this particular update will impact your Google Ads strategy? Or want to discuss your current account's performance? Our experts are always happy to help.

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