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Google recently announced the next evolution in its Keyword Match Types. In February 2021 we said “goodbye” to BMM and “hello” to the new & improved Phrase Match Type. In addition, Exact Match is more powerful and predictable, and Broad Match now considers more signals which should reduce the number of irrelevant search queries. Over the past few years Google has accelerated the pace of change to keywords. In exchange for taking away the control that Match Types once offered, Google continues to push solutions with better automation to help make decisions in auctions for advertisers. Today we explore what these changes mean and what you need to do about them. 


What’s changed to Match Types?

Overall, Google has made 3 changes to simplify Match Types:

  1. Broad Match Modifier (BMM) is dead. This is being absorbed into an evolved version of Phrase Match.
  2. Exact Match becomes more predictable. Similar to how it used to be.
  3. Broad Match should now deliver less irrelevant search queries due to the addition of new signals intended to deliver better relevance for the advertiser and user.

What does this mean?

Long term, Less time managing keywords. Short term, you’re going to be busy restructuring

Both BMM and Phrase tend to cover some of the same use cases. By sunsetting BMM, it makes accounts easier to manage. Long term, it will require a shift in Best Practice from the use of BMM to Phrase Match, so we’ll probably be spending most of the first half of 2021 restructuring accounts to accommodate these changes.

How will Phrase Match change?

Let’s explore the example that Google provided us. If you are currently targeting +moving +services +NYC +to +Boston as a Broad Match Modifier keyword you may appear against the search query “moving services NYC to Boston”. What’s annoying about BMM for this example is that it can also target “moving services Boston to NYC”. Obviously the intent is completely different here as it’s the opposite direction. This could serve irrelevant ads which reduce performance efficiency.

Of course, you should have the correct account structure and negative keywords in place to eliminate this with BMM. This creates granular approaches to accounts and ultimately gives advertisers a lot of control which Google thinks breeds bad practice for effective automation.

To combat this, the updated Phrase Match will continue to respect the word order which means much simpler account setups.

Google Ads Help Keyword Match Types

Credit: Google Ads Help, 2021

With Phrase Match in the above example, the direction in the keyword will match the search query with the same intent. Here’s some more examples that Google has highlighted will take place after this update:

Google Ads Help Keyword Match Types

Credit: Google Ads Help, 2021

Broad Match becomes more relevant

It’s a slight change, but it’s pretty impactful for Broad Match. Historically, Broad Match has always been “too broad” which would sometimes see advertisers targeting irrelevant search queries. This update will add in additional signals within the match type criteria which should improve both quality and relevance of the search queries.

An example of one of the signals is the Landing Page. Landing Pages will now be used as a sign to better qualify the relevance to a given search query. Think of it almost like how Dynamic Search Ad targeting acts today – without the dynamic ads.

Exact Match is more powerful

Google is making changes to Exact Match too by making it more precise. Other Match Types, or even close variants with a higher Ad Rank, will no longer compete with a query that is identical to the Exact Match. Put simply, search queries that exactly match the Exact Match keyword will always be preferred over other Match Types and variants. This is definitely a good thing.


What’s the timescales?

Google isn’t going to do anything that will put its revenue at risk. As a result, this change is being phased in, with plenty of time for advertisers to adjust.

  • Mid-February ’21 to April ’21
    • BMM and Phrase Match will start functioning in the same way, both will have the reach of BMM but the control of Phrase. It’s important to note that during this period, only 8 languages seem to be affected; English, German, Spanish, French, Italian, Dutch, Portuguese and Russian.
  • June ’21 to July ’21
    • All other languages will be rolled into this change.
  • July ’21 onwards
    • Advertisers will no longer be able to create BMM keywords.
    • Existing BMM keywords will remain in the account and will continue to function like the above. The only keyword targeting options left will be Exact, Phrase and Broad Match.

Why is Google making this change?

BMM was always a hack. It caused Google problems it needed to resolve to make better recommendations

The BMM keyword is a hack that advertisers use to get more reach than Phrase Match, but more control than Broad Match. The hack always caused Google problems for reporting as well as recommendations. Let’s think about where Google is heading, its making Google Ads more accessible and useful to advertisers. I mean this is the whole reason why it built the ‘Recommendations’ tab to try and identify opportunity for you to apply in your account. By simplifying the use of Match Types, it makes it easier for Google to make better recommendations to advertisers. The rules of engagement are cleaner between the keyword and search query. As a result, keyword recommendations that Google can make are much more relevant which builds trust. This means an increased likelihood of applying Google’s recommendations in the future, which gives it more control over advertiser accounts and ultimately its own revenue.

Google’s mission is to look at keyword matching more “holistically” to better match user context & intent

Keyword targeting is no longer just matching the search query to the intended keyword target, it’s so much more than that. Its now more about other signals and better understanding the meaning behind the search itself. By better understanding the user context & intent, Google can deliver a more relevant experience to it’s users. In theory, this then leads to better performance for advertisers and therefore an increased investment into Google Ads. Win Win!

Google is moving into a new era with the Keyword matching. This will be focused on Reach, Relevance and Performance. For example, the new Broad Match will use other signals to match the query to the keyword by taking into account the Landing Page (to better understand the relevance of the user search query to the advertiser keyword) & much more. This delivers more reach for advertisers, better relevance and performance.

Google is forcing a philosophy across accounts; simpler setups, more machine learning

This stops the need for such granular accounts. By forcing advertisers to adopt more of this philosophy, it means that it can continue to adapt its products and services at a quicker pace in the future. This will be key to when markets start to recover from the impact of COVID and advertisers further invest in online. You think 2020 was a competitive year for Paid Search, don’t expect this to get any easier this year.


What do you need to do?

Audit the foundations of your account. Are you ready to evolve?

What’s clear is that this is by no means the last time we’ll see a keyword update in Google Ads. The impact of COVID for advertisers and business around the world has given licence to Google to accelerate the pace of change of options available in Google Ads. The best tip I can give you, make sure the foundations of your account are solid. Nail the basics. If you do this, you’ll be able to adapt to the evolution. Don’t get left behind!

Your Negative Keyword strategy might need some tweaks

None of these changes effect negative keywords. They continue to work as they do, for example an Exact Match negative is literally removing the exact query you add. Phrase Match negatives will block any search queries that contain the phrase within the search query string (try to keep these to single words to make them more effective). Broad Match negatives will continue to block your ads where every word, in any order, of your keyword phrase appears in the search query. However, as this change affects the kind of queries that your keywords now target, you may need to revise your current negative keyword strategy. This is particularly true for the new Phrase Match Type campaigns/ad groups. With the Exact Match change, you might even need to revise your use of Exact Match negatives against your current BMM campaigns. In theory, Exact Match will always trump any other Keyword now right? Personally, I still think it’s best practice to do so.

Monitor your Match Type performance over time

You should be watching your Match Type performance very closely. Make sure you are looking at the trends over time too. You might start to see less impressions coming through Exact and BMM as the search queries start to get mapped elsewhere. Adjust accordingly.

Don’t just turn off your BMM and switch on Phrase. Try to phase this over time. Be more considered

The changes in your account should be more gradual so that you can more effectively monitor and adjust your account as you need. This setup is new for Google, and any drastic change in your account structure might result in a loss of volume if you don’t manage it carefully. Maybe wait until April to make any substantial changes. For now, analyse and strategise.

Uploading new keywords between now and July?

It’s probably worth just sticking with Exact and Phrase Match if you are uploading new campaigns and keywords in the near future. This should save you doubling up on workload in the longer term.

Anticipate mismatching if you are using Broad

There is no doubt going to be some mismatching in areas of your account. This is another reason to take the cautious route and make the changes slowly over time. This is especially true if you choose to use the new version of Broad Match.

We anticipate the new Broad Match to still be fairly unpredictable in nature, even with the additional signals it can now leverage. There is no doubt that this will improve over time, especially as you start adding in more negative keywords. To make them work more effectively, Target & Bid your best audiences to test it out.


Overall, I believe that this is a good change. I believe it will not only mean easier account management for advertisers, but it will also deliver a more relevant experience for users. For Google, this change helps to make sure that the foundations of all advertiser’s accounts will be much simpler; which is key to its future of a more automated & machine learning approach to search campaigns. It was inevitable that a change like this would happen at some point. It makes the rules of engagement between keyword and search query much clearer, which means that Google can help advertisers with better matching & recommendations and therefore better decisions using its solutions. Now it’s time for you to evolve your strategies. 

Dan Roberts
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