Google announced new matching behaviour just over a week ago, nicknamed ‘near exact and phrase’: exact keywords will match misspellings and ‘close variants’, and phrase keywords will cover searches containing misspellings or close variants of the phrase. It’s not live yet (and won’t be until mid-May) but the setting for the new behaviour is already available in all campaigns and is switched on by default.
So, should you opt in or out? Here are my thoughts:
What will the effects be?
Even if you turn the setting off, you can still be affected.
As campaigns are opted in by default, it seems likely that the majority of advertisers will be using this new match behaviour. So there may well be a sudden increase in competition on misspellings and close variants – clearly this will affect you if you already bid on them.
Could it homogenise performance? There’ll suddenly be a whole group of search terms under one bid, where previously there was only one term. If many competitors have [widget] on near exact match, they’ll be using the same bid for ‘widget’ and ‘widgets’ – if ‘widgets’ is more competitive and needs a higher bid, the competitors might increase the bid on [widget] and so make ‘widget’ more expensive too. Different variants will still perform differently – there isn’t a change in the searchers, so you wouldn’t expect a change in conversion rate – but CPCs of variants may converge.
But shouldn’t I be bidding on all these variants anyway?
Proper keyword research should uncover many variants. But it’s likely that some will be rare enough to have the dreaded ‘low search volume’ status: that means Google won’t let you directly advertise for them, but you could bid on them indirectly with near exact match. Also, it’s nigh impossible to find all possible variants – searchers are very inventive when it comes to misspellings.
Doing the keyword research to find variants takes time, and (as the cliché says) time is money. Ad impressions on irrelevant search terms are also money. The question is: which is less money? Google may let in some dud search terms, but it may cover relevant variants you wouldn’t have found otherwise.
You could use near exact as part of your keyword research: have an exploratory campaign with the new setting on and fill it with exact match keywords to find the behaviour of their variants. Then take the best performing ones into your regular campaigns (where exact is exact).
Other matters to think about
Will exact or phrase negative keywords’ behaviour change? Google’s announcement does not mention negative keywords, suggesting only positive ones are affected. There could be benefits to having a near exact match, such as when using ‘embedded match’, but keeping exact negative actually exact would seem to be better for most advertisers. Even if the new setting is on, you can still exclude individual variants when they don’t work.
What happens if you use Conversion Optimiser? Suddenly your exact match keywords will pick up brand new searches you don’t have any history for.
What about keyword metrics? The Quality Score and Estimated First Page Bid columns shown in your account are based on searches exactly matching the keyword (whatever the keyword’s match type is). In high competition areas merely changing a singular to a plural can impact performance and price, so if you have [widget] on near exact match but most of the searches are for ‘widgets’ the QS and EFPB may not reflect the keyword’s actual performance. QS and EFPB are both averages and thus should be treated with care: this is another thing to bear in mind when looking at them.
So, will you switch it on or opt out?
Ultimately whether you opt in or out depends on your account. It seems unlikely that near exact will help a campaign where variants are already covered and match-types are segregated; having multiple exact match keywords cover the same search terms will get in the way of precision management in the same way that having broad, phrase and exact match keywords in the same ad group will.
On the other hand, if you have campaigns which don’t need or can’t have that level of management the new setting may well be helpful. Consider testing the new setting – no one knows exactly how it will work out, so no one can say if it will help or hinder your account.
What do you think? Are you trying the new setting, opting out everywhere, or testing with some campaigns? Share your thoughts in the comments.