Seriously, Google, can you just make exact match exact?

In the wake of Google’s announced changes to exact match, contributor Daniel Gilbert offers a passionate argument against the shift, as well as a script to help advertisers regain control.


In case you haven’t heard, Google has decided to ignore function words and word order for exact match keywords.

If you just want to know how to fix this travesty, then scroll to the stopgap solution section where I’m sharing a script from Brainlabs (my employer) which will automatically add so-called “close variants” as negative keywords. Yippee! If you also want to hear me rant about Google’s astonishingly stoopid behavior, then read on…


A few years ago (2014), Google eliminated advertisers’ ability to exclude close variants as part of “exact match,” and they got away with it. People were angry. The industry suffered a blow. But people gradually moved on.

Now they’re messing with exact match again, but this time they’ve gone too far.

In the new exact match universe, an “exact match” can include close variants of the keywords and can also include the same words, but in an entirely different order. Google is denying the importance of syntax, at the expense of the industry and, ultimately, itself.

To clarify, not all syntactic variations of the same set of words will match. Google’s machine learning algorithm will, to some extent, avoid matches where the word order changes the meaning. An obvious example is for flights: [LHR to JFK] is obviously very different from [JFK to LHR], so there’ll be no match there.

When A B C does not equal B C A

But what about the more subtle examples? Where will Google draw the line in terms of when a match will be made and when it won’t? Wherever this line is drawn, our experience shows that it will cause considerable damage to the performance of a campaign: Reduced relevancy means reduced ROI, as Google is fully aware.

There are countless examples from our clients’ accounts where ROI differs substantially based on word order. (I’ll write a follow-up article with more examples and analysis.) To us, it’s pretty obvious that even something subtle like [london hotels] is just not the same as [hotels london], even if they look the same and seem “similar.” The data tells us that they perform differently. Therefore, we’d like to bid differently for those keywords. Is that really so much to ask? In fact, isn’t that level of control exactly what has made Google such a successful platform in the first place?

To me, it’s easy to intuit why Google has decided to do this. They’ve run a test and determined they’ll make more money with this setup. Which they definitely will in the short term. But long-term, removing this control will only mean that sophisticated advertisers see lower ROI from the platform and therefore move budget to other channels.



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