Google Exact Match – Now, less exact!

More close variant keyword matching

Even those keeping a close eye on the digital media landscape might have missed Google’s low-key announcement last week that close variants for exact match is expanding again. For those of you less familiar, exact match keywords allow advertisers to specifically target a user using an “exact” phrase within their search. This precise targeting usually results in lower costs and higher click-through-rate as advertisers can tailor their messaging and optimization based on those exact searches.

Close variants allow search engines to loosen the rules on what it means to match “exactly”. Let’s take a quick look at how these close variants have evolved over the years.

  • April 2012: Introduction of “close variants” as an optional setting for advertisers to let Google match exact and phrase keywords to user searches that are misspellings, singular/plurals, stemmings, accents, and abbreviations of the keyword
  • August 2014: Google makes close variant keyword matching standard
  • March 2017: Close variants expanded to include function works (in, to, for, but, a, the, etc.) and the order of words within a search

Now, back to present day.

Based on Google’s machine learning algorithms, “exact match will now match with the intent of a search, instead of just the specific words.” Exact match keywords will now match to users who are searching for implied words, paraphrases, and other terms with the same meaning.

Let’s call it how it is, Google -- exact match is not “exact”. This change takes it a step further than past expansion by leaving it up to AI to determine what a user is intending to find. In fact, each of the examples above may have matched through broad match prior to the update.

“How could you do this Google?” “Can’t you just make exact match, exact?”

At this point, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Google continues to push the machines to take away the control that we advertisers have known and loved out of our hands. However I, for one, am not heartbroken. According to Google internal data, 15% of searches everyday are new searches that have never been searched before. As user behavior continues to evolve, it is impossible as an advertiser to build out my keyword list to cover exactly what users are typing in. With this change in close variants, Google continues to focus on understanding user intent and using technology to match searchers to the most relevant and valuable information.

Here at Thruline, our digital media team welcomes the change in close variants. We are bought in on embracing machine learning to power our advertising, allowing us to focus time on what we’re best at – optimizing to business outcomes like applications, enrollments, and starts that truly matter to our partners.

So, do what you will with our match types, Google. We’ll keep optimizing on. I’ll end with a bold prediction: No match types by the end of 2020. Mark that one down!


Myron Liu, Digital Media Manager