2021 Q1 is not over yet and we have some major news from Google about how different keyword match types will function starting around February 18, 2021. In short, Google Ads is parting ways with Broad Match Modified *(BMM) keywords and enhancing the Phrase Match (PM) to function more effectively; *BMM functionality will be unavailable sometime in July 2021, yet still visible in the UI.

What are the specifics around this major change?

PM has been around for some time yet will now expand to accommodate additional traffic that previously came from BMM. PM will still attempt to preserve word order, however, when order does NOT change a user’s intent, PM will likely match to a keyword regardless of order. Essentially, Google believes that now it is better able to infer true intent and context from user searches. 

For example, words like “garage sale” will be preserved and not matched to their reflection “sale garage”, as the word’s meaning significantly changes. For phrases like “vacation Hawaii” the word order can be in any form, as the meaning is the same either way.

What’s the difference between the Keyword Match Types?

Here are the match types that exist right now  and how they match to queries:

Here is how match types will work moving forward:

Why is Google changing the way Broad Match Modifier and Phrase work?

BMM seemed like a great hack to bring in additional quality traffic, however, it was being used often in place of Phrase Match. Most keywords were added with the ‘+’ sign. This signaled to Google that the advertiser wanted to prioritize each word in the phrase instead of trying to prioritize words based on what was best for the business. For instance, phrases such as  ‘+Netflix shows about +historical events’ were instead changed by advertisers to ‘+Netflix +shows +about +historical +events’. Eventually, BMM organically lost its initial intent, hence, the new update.

What does this change in advertising?

Many advertisers are concerned about losing additional traffic, which was one of the beneficial factors of Broad Match Modified. Now, with no options to prioritize specific words, the new updated PM is promised to be the smart match type to trigger, not based on the word order or close variant, but also intent and meaning, thus filtering out traffic, yet improving quality.

The first change will appear in mid-February with BMM and PM fusing into this new updated PM. As both BMM and Phrase will inherit this new Phrase functionality, we don’t necessarily need to make adjustments at the moment and moreover, we suggest monitoring data during the transition period.  Existing BMM will continue to serve as the new PM until July 2021 when BMM will be functionally phased out. After this time, Google will not allow advertisers to create any new BMM keywords.

Will Microsoft Ads (Bing) follow the lead?

PM in Bing functions a bit broader, as compared to Google. In a rare case, it seems as if Bing was ahead of the curve. Here is Bing’s definition regarding the PM match type:

“PM triggers your ad when all of the words in your keyword match words in a user’s search query. The words can be present in the search query in exactly the same order or re-ordered if the intent of the search query matches that of your keyword.”

Let’s see how Bing and Google phrase keywords function in real search scenario:

Food for thought

Each account will vary depending on how many of the search impressions are coming from each match type. 

Let’s analyze a scenario where more than 50% of impression share is coming from a current PM. This account will surely see an increase in impression volume, as it will match to a broader query inheriting from BMM. For instance “vacations in Hawaii” will also match “vacation destinations in Hawaii”.

If more than 50% of impressions are coming from BMM keywords, this will most likely lose traffic due to a decline in impressions. For instance, +tickets to Miami will become “tickets to Miami” and will not prioritize the word ticket in any way. 

What we need to do with all this information:

    1. Analyze the account by identifying higher volume PM and BMM keywords and label them to monitor before and after Feb 18.
    2. Run a historical search term report to identify some logical term phrases that may be lost due to this change.
    3. There may be some overlapping keyword occurrences when BMM keywords fuse into the new Phrase, so label the duplicates. Monitor closely during the transition and after and keep the best performer. 

It’s easy to see that advertisers with high BMM or partial BMM search volume might see a decline in impressions because, in those cases, these new phrase keywords will be matching to fewer searches.

Other details from Google: language and negative keywords

“This change will become available to advertisers in the following languages first: English, German, Spanish, French, Italian, Dutch, Portuguese, and Russian. For all other Google Ads languages, the new matching behavior will roll out later this year.

Keep in mind: The changes to PM and BMM will not impact negative keyword match types. Learn more about negative keywords.”

How you should move forward

1. Monitor

As this system is an algorithm, it’s not guaranteed to catch everything. By reviewing the search query report weekly, we’ll be able to identify any new keywords that do not align with business needs. These can later be added as negative keywords. Inversely, keywords may be left out because of BMM morphing into Phrase; in this case, keywords that originally brought in traffic may need to be added back in.

3rd party bid management tools, such as Optmyzr, can offer additional support for this new change. As we currently use Optmyzr (and are fans of 😉), we are able to leverage their rule engine to add additional monitoring for this change (see below).

2. Start

Any new keyword production should include Exact, Phrase, and Broad Match. Where accounts are significantly limited by budget, Broad Match can be uploaded yet should be held on pause. We recommend setting up match types at the campaign level as performance varies between match types; the budget is set at the campaign level, hence, match types can be split in order to let spend continue for more efficient match types rather than sitting in the same campaign.

3. Change

Before July 2021, all BMM structured campaigns/ad groups may need to be transferred to PM. If there are existing BMM campaigns or ad groups, these may need to be renamed to Phrase; if Phrase already exists, then these related keywords should be either paused or updated to Broad if Broad doesn’t exist (where applicable based on business needs). We recommend doing this in phases for complex accounts. Top traffic and conversion driving campaigns should be adjusted first. In addition, while this change does not affect every language, we recommend updating ALL languages to this structure in advance, simultaneous with English accounts, etc.

4. Consider

For accounts requiring additional traffic, experiment Broad paired with Smart bidding (e.g., ‘Maximize Conversions’) where there is enough conversion volume for statistical significance (at least 50 conversions per month, per campaign) as that’s what Google is ultimately suggesting. More on Smart Bidding.

FAQs, directly from Google Ads

What can I expect to see with my phrase and BMM traffic?

For your phrase keywords, it’s possible you might see an increase in traffic volumes. It is recommended that you closely monitor your search terms report and account performance.

For your BMM keywords, especially those using modifiers on some words but not all (for example +moving services), it’s possible you might see a decrease in traffic volumes.

To avoid losing traffic volume, consider taking the following actions:

  • Add additional relevant PM keywords
  • Add broad match keywords paired with a Smart Bidding strategy
  • Explore “Add keywords” recommendations to recover traffic volume
  • Compare your BMM keywords’ performance over time to see which search queries show decreased traffic, and add new PM keywords where there are decreases

How can I prepare for this change?

While no action is required, you should monitor your performance and update bids, budgets, and targeting as needed to adjust for any performance changes. Also note that changing BMM keywords to PM prior to the rollout could result in a loss of traffic volume. See the official announcement post for the full list of recommendations. 

When will this change take place for my language?

In February 2021, the new matching behavior will begin to roll out for both phrase and BMM keywords in English, German, Spanish, French, Italian, Dutch, Portuguese, and Russian.

The updated PM will go into effect for all remaining languages by July 2021. In the meantime, phrase and BMM keywords in these languages will continue to use the old definitions:

  • PM: Matches user searches with the keyword phrase (or close variations of the phrase) with additional words before or after. Close variations include terms with the same meaning.
  • Broad match modifier: Matches user searches with all the keyword terms designated with a + sign (or close variations of those terms) in any order. Close variations include terms with the same meaning. Additional words may appear before, after, or between the terms.

Will this impact my keyword Quality Score?

This change does not impact the Quality Score. Learn more about Quality Score

If I have both BMM and phrase keywords in my account, which will be preferred in the Auction?

There is no difference in treatment between phrase and BMM keywords. Typically the keyword with the highest Ad Rank would be preferred for triggering an ad, however there are exceptions to the preferences. Learn more about similar keywords in a Google Ads account.

What happens to my BMM keywords that use modifiers on some words but not others?

Broad match modifiers will no longer operate on a word within the keyword. If you use a keyword such as +moving services, the operator will now apply to both words, similar to +moving +services or “moving services”. To help offset the decrease in traffic, the following actions are recommended:

  • Use a full broad match (for example, moving services), especially if you’re using Smart Bidding
  • Add additional user searches through the search terms report
  • Explore “Add Keywords” recommendations and Keyword Planner to recover traffic volume

How can I convert my BMM keywords to PM?

Keep in mind: Your existing BMM keywords will continue to work and there are no performance benefits to converting your BMM keywords. If you choose to convert your BMM keywords to PM, the BMM keywords’ performance statistics will not carry over to the new phrase instances of the keywords.

Once the rollout is complete in April 2021, you may wish to convert your BMM keywords to PM. Additional tools will be launched to more easily convert BMM keywords throughout the year. To help you remove duplicate BMM and phrase keywords, Google will start to surface recommendations to help remove redundant BMM keywords in the same ad group where the keyword is already present as PM.