Google Ads

Broad Match Modifiers Are A Thing Of The Past. Here’s How To Adapt To The Change

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Just like life itself, the Google Ads landscape is full of twists and turns. In the beginning of February 2021, Google announced one of the biggest changes the platform has seen in years, which will heavily impact the way search campaigns are run moving forward. This change consists of phasing out of a major keyword match type called broad match modifiers (BMM). BMM was one of the most widely used match types because of its near-perfect balance between reach and control.

So, what happens now? 

First, let me explain what keyword match types are and how they are going to change. If you already know, click here to skip to my tips for adapting to the situation.

What are Keyword Match Types?

In search campaigns, bidding on a keyword doesn’t necessarily mean that your ads are only going to be served when that exact keyword is searched. Rather, your ads will serve when a range of variations of your keyword are searched. Keyword Match Types are essentially how we tell Google Ads how far we want these variations to go from our desired keyword. 

These are the keyword match types available to advertisers, what they did before the changes, and what they’ll be doing now:

Broad Match 

This is the default option and the one with the widest reach. When you set up a keyword on broad match, your ads can be served when a user is searching for something related to your target keyword, even if it doesn’t retain your intended meaning or contain any of the actual words in your desired phrase. 

Example: If you put in “luxury rv,” your ad can be displayed for searches like “luxury rv resorts in florida”, “custom built fifth wheel”, “most expensive rvs”, and “buy new motorhome.”

To set up a keyword as broad match, just enter it as is without any symbols.

Broad Match Modifier

This is the keyword match type that will no longer be available. Broad match modifiers allowed for similar reach as regular broad match, but in this case, you could anchor a particular word in your desired phrase that would always have to appear in the user’s query for your ads to show. So set this up, you would input the keyword as is, and then mark the word that you wanted to anchor with a plus sign.

Example: If your keyword was “+best +running +shoes”, your ads could show up for phrases like “running shoes for guys best prices”, “best shoes for running in the snow”, and “running shoes best heel support”

Phrase Match

Historically, phrase match allowed for a little bit more restriction. Until now, keywords in phrase match served ads for search terms that included your complete keyword exactly as you entered it, with additional words before or after your desired phrase.

Example: If your keyword was “lawn mowing service”, your ads could show for search terms such as “lawn mowing service near me”, “lawn mowing service in chicagoland”, and “best prices for a professional lawn mowing service”

With Broad Match Modifiers going away, Google Ads is expanding the reach of phrase match keywords to make up for having one less match type available. Now, phrase match keywords match with search terms that include the intended meaning of your keyword AND could have words before or after it.

New Phrase Match Example:  If your keyword is “lawn mowing service”, it can match with search terms such as “hire company to mow lawn”, “landscaping company near me”, or “lawn mowing service in the chicago area”.

ID: A graph of two circles titled "Keyword: 'moving services NYC to Boston' or +moving +services +NYC +to +Boston." Te first circle is labeled "Before" and contains a large blue circle labeled "broad match modifier" with a smaller, dark blue circle inside it labeled "phrase match." On the right is a large circle labeled "After," with a derk blue circle taking up most of it that's labeled "updated phase match." There is a list of search queries between the two circles showing what queries would appear in different keyword match types. The phrase "affordable moving services NYC to Boston" appears in both phrase match and updated phrase match. The phrase "NYC corporate moving services to boston" appears in broad match modifier and updated phrase match. The phrase "moving services Boston to NYC" only appears in broad match modifier End ID.

Exact Match

This is the most restrictive match type available. Before the changes, exact match made your ads show up when your keyword was searched exactly as is, or with slight misspellings. 

Example: If your keyword was “shoes for men”, it would only match with that exact phrase or small misspellings like “sohes for men”

Now, Google Ads will be slightly expanding the reach of exact match keywords to match with close variants that retain the meaning of your intended phrase without anything added to it.

Example of New Exact Match: “shoes for men” will now match with variants like “mens shoes”, “shoes men”, or “shoes for a man”

5 Things We Have Been Doing To Adapt Our Campaigns To The Changes

1. Monitor Your Search Terms Closely & Apply Negative Keywords Where You See Fit 

This has always been a best practice and a “no-duh” tip for those who have been running PPC campaigns for a while, but these changes make it is even more relevant. 

Negative keywords protect you from showing your ads for searches that contain words that would make them irrelevant to your business. Now that keyword matching is changing, it is very important to closely monitor the search terms that your ads are showing up for, given that you may start seeing new terms pop up that wouldn’t have before in campaigns that have been very well optimized in the past.

2. Adopt Simpler Campaign Structures & Rely More On Smart Bidding For New Campaigns

The days of really granular ad group segmentation are over. Back when Manual CPC was the best course of action for running a campaign, hyper-granular campaign structures like Single Keyword Ad Groups (SKAGS) resulted in very well-performing campaigns, and they still do in isolated cases. With the changes in how phrase match and exact match will apply to search terms, these narrowed-down campaign structures lend themselves to keyword cannibalization, which can make it more complicated to monitor performance and optimize accordingly.

Thankfully, we are at a time when Smart Bidding actually works. This means that in a lot of cases we don’t need to be that granular in our targeting anymore! Now, smart sidding is taking signals from the users recent online behavior that we can’t see on our end to tweak bids in real-time to reach users that are more likely to take relevant action on your site. Smart bidding was created to make advertisers’ lives easier, and is designed to work best with account structures that are not that complicated, as they allow for the reach the algorithm needs to learn what works and what doesn’t.

ID: A chart of how the Google smart bidding algorithm works. In the bottom center there is a person figure labeled "bid." To their right is the category. "Signals available with bid adjustment," under which there are icons labeled "time of day," "remarketing list," "location," and "smartphone." To their left is the category "Exclusive signals for AdWords automated bidding," under which are the categories "OS," "app," "browser," language," "actual query," "ad creative," and "search partner." The categories "location," "OS," and "language" are annotated as "combinations between two or more signals." End ID.

We have found that adopting account structures with larger ad groups organized by intent & context (rather than plain semantics), and focusing more on ad copy to be a very successful strategy in this new landscape of search advertising. 

Now, there is a caveat to all of this. While smart bidding is a powerful tool, it doesn’t always work best with small-budget campaigns. If you launched a campaign on a low budget and smart bidding is not working out for you, don’t be afraid to switch back to manual. I’ve found that enhanced CPC is a great option for this situation. It still does what automated strategies do but in a partial way, allowing you much more control over how much you bid on a keyword. Will you show up at the top of the SERP every time a user that is likely to convert searches one of your keywords? Maybe not, but ads at the bottom of the page still convert, and can get you a great return on investment.

3. Take Advantage Of First-Party Data/CRM Data

Why optimize to get more leads when you can optimize to get more finalized sales? With smart bidding becoming so powerful, it is important to teach it to optimize for the conversions that would be most valuable to you.

Importing your sales data as an offline conversion has proven to be an incredibly effective strategy. With third-party cookies going away, importing your own data about what type of customers are most likely to buy your product or hire your service has never been more important. 

Most companies are already utilizing CRMs to qualify their leads and move them through the sales pipeline. For people using Salesforce, this can be done fairly easily, as they have a Google Ads integration designed to link both accounts. For other CRMs, this can be easily done with the help of third-party apps like Zapier.

4. Leverage Audience Targeting With Broad Match Keywords

Many advertisers are discouraged to target keywords in plain broad match because of how wildly the search terms can deter from the original keyword, which in turn can result in overspending on unqualified traffic. But what if you used them with an extra layer of targeting?

Like display campaign ad groups, search campaigns often perform their best with more than one layer of targeting (Audiences + topics + placements). 

Placing audiences in observation for better reporting has been a common practice for a while, but placing them in targeting has proven to be a very successful strategy. This way even if your keyword’s reach is wider than you initially intended, it would still only show up for your desired audience. You could even take this to the next level by doing multiple versions of the same ad group targeting different audiences and tailoring the ad copy especially for them.

For example, one of the accounts I manage sells high-end luxury RVs. Before this change, it was easy to utilize a broad match modifier on the word luxury on keywords like “+luxury +rv +for +sale” and get a wide yet precise reach with my ads. Now, if I were to put that same keyword on plain broad match, it would most likely keep the “for sale” intent but stray from the “luxury” qualifier. By targeting the “luxury vehicles” In-Market audience for that same ad group, even if the broad match keyword is bringing me some irrelevant terms, at least I know that the ads will only show for people that are actively looking for luxury vehicles.

5. Make Sure To Have Clear Marketing Objectives And Segment Your Account Accordingly

It is very common in our industry for the lines to be blurred between business objectives and marketing objectives. Business objectives are usually very general, such as increasing revenue, or sales. Marketing objectives are realistic and measurable goals to get you closer to achieving your topmost business objective. Not having a clear idea of what your marketing objectives are is an easy road to chaos in your Google Ads campaigns. Like a “jack of all trades, master of none,” trying to do it all in one campaign results in mediocre performance.

Every business is has different challenges. What’s holding you back from profiting more? Is it that people don’t know about your business? Are you entering a new market? Or is it that you’re not getting enough leads? Having a clear idea of this can help you prioritize your efforts and distribute your budgets accordingly. 

Furthermore, dividing your campaigns by marketing objectives can help you to achieve your desired goal, by taking advantage of Google Ads’ goal guidance to choose the right bidding strategies. Do you want more sales? Try Maximize Conversions or Target CPA. Do you want to raise awareness of your product or service? Then try Target Impression Share of Viewable CPM for Display.


This is not the first major change that has happened in Google Ads, and it will certainly not be the last. A big part of our jobs as PPC Managers is to stay on top of these changes and adapt, rather than just complain about them. This means always being open to trying new things and to be constantly testing something new. On the other hand, it’s crucial to not rush, and make decisions with patience and as much information as possible. 

If you can take anything away from this article, let it be this:Sometimes the tests you run are going to end up in great profits for your business and other times they are going to tank, but knowing what doesn’t work is just as important as knowing what does.

Posted in Google Ads