Search Marketing

Google Expands Reach of Exact Match: What Marketers Need to Know

March 20, 2017

Last Friday, Google announced a major change to exact match that will be rolled out in the coming months. Exact match is a Google AdWords match type that allows an ad to show only when a searcher uses that exact wording. Close variants, another match type that first launched in 2012 and were later made a default setting in 2014, were introduced to maximize advertisers’ reach across relevant searches by matching to misspellings, singular and plural forms, abbreviations, and acronyms. Now, close variants on exact match will be used to match to queries regardless of the use of function words (like “in”, “to” and “for”) or word order.

How It Works

According to Google, function words like prepositions (“in”, “to”), conjunctions (“for”, “but”), and articles (“a”, “the”) do not often impact the intent behind a query, and as a result, exact match will now ignore these words as long as it doesn’t change the meaning of the query.

In addition to ignoring function words, exact match will now serve on queries that have the same meaning but a different word order. For example, the exact match keyword “men’s dress shirt” will match to the query “dress shirt men’s” because the word order does not change the intent. Google claims that with the new close variant matching, keywords will never be reordered to match a query if it changes the original meaning of the keyword.

Why the Change?

Google wants to make it easier for advertisers to connect with people despite slight variations in the way individuals search. Early test results show that advertisers can expect a 3% lift in clicks on exact match keywords while maintaining comparable click-through and conversion rates.

This update is also the latest in a series of major changes Google has made to its core platform as part of  their ongoing effort to adapt for the mobile-first world. In early 2016, Google did away with the right rail to have a consistent SERP (Search Engine Results Page) across devices and then rolled out expanded text ads, which were designed specifically for mobile engagement.

These updates to close variants seem to fall right in line with mobile-first thinking as well as Google’s focus on automation in its ad products. Search behavior is noticeably evolving as a result of the increasing use of smartphones and the emergence of voice search, and close variants will likely help bridge the growing gap between query and keyword.

Considerations for Marketers

With this change, Google suggests that advertisers do not need to maintain an exhaustive list of reworded and reordered exact match keywords to provide adequate coverage. However, if a marketer already has these keyword variations built out, AdWords will still default to those keywords that more precisely match the individual’s search query.

360i also recommends marketers should consider the following:

  1. As with any new feature in AdWords, it’s important to monitor overall performance trends for exact match campaigns including CTR, CPC, and conversion rate.
  2. Review the close variants in Search Query Reports and add in negative keywords for any under-performing or less relevant matches.
  3. Add in high volume and top-performing close variants to your exact match campaigns in order to have more control over bids for those queries.
  4. Close variants may help cut down on the investment in building out keywords for short-term or last-minute campaign launches.
  5. The percentage of overall traffic mapping to broad match terms may decrease and shift to exact match. Be sure to communicate these expected changes to your clients or marketing teams.


360i Media Directors Kenneth Hamner and David Bosniak also contributed to this post.