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Google Sunsets Modified Broad Match - What Does It Mean for You?

Written by Neil Baker

This month Google have come out with what seems to be their annual big change announcement for all PPCers. For this year’s instalment they have decided to remove Modified Broad Match as a keyword option. In addition, phrase match will now expand to include additional broad match modifier traffic.

What is Modified Broad Match?

Modified Broad Match was introduced in May 2010 to bridge the gap between a ‘broad’ and a ‘phrase’ keyword. Broad alone was seen as far too open and phrase a little too restrictive - advertisers wanted a middle ground. Google introduced Modified Broad Match.

Image source: PPC Hero - 'Revisiting Modified Broad Match'

As you can see from the diagram above, Modified Broad Match really filled the gap by allowing your ad to appear if the search had any of your Modified Broad Match terms within it, in any order or using a variant of the term. For Phrase match, it would allow your keywords to be triggered, but only if the two keywords were together with any other term appearing either side. Comparatively, Broad Match alone would bring up far too many variations, so it made it so difficult to control the searches you would appear for.

What changes now?

With Modified Broad gone, we lose that middle ground working on accounts and now Phrase will take on some of the roles that a Modified Broad once had. Google have used the example below:

Image source: Google Ads Help 'About changes to phrase match and broad match modifier'

As you can see the new Phrase Match will now allow for search terms to appear in-between your keywords. It has also been stated that it will respect the word order when it is important to the meaning. Here is an example of how matching should change:

Image source: Search Engine Land 'Google expands phrase match to include broad match modifier traffic'

Has anything like this happened before?

Yes, in 2014 Google ended its support for the “pure” Exact Match type when it opened up all keywords to include close variants including plurals, misspellings and other variations. I remember when this change was made, I was a year or so into being a PPC professional and this was the first time I had seen an update cause havoc on accounts. Now it is worth saying that not all accounts were affected but one cosmetic company I worked on certainly did not ‘benefit’ from that change. With clicks coming from terms we did not want to appear on, it had an instant impact on CPA and traffic volume.

Will this affect my account?

At this stage it is hard to say, as some accounts will notice no change at all and some may feel the knock-on effect. Any good team working on your account will identify the issues when they occur and fix them. You may see some issues in the short term but trust in your agency to fix them quickly.

One thing we can say for sure is that if you have developed a strong automation strategy designed towards a CPA or ROI then your account should be in a good place to avoid any damage from this change.

Back in 2014 when we saw the change to Exact Match, automated strategies were simply not good enough and as many advertisers were still predominantly using manual bidding, the effect was often felt a lot harder. Automated bid strategies have significantly moved on since 2014, so should continue to know who will convert and who will not and keep your CPA at your desired level. Whilst any good PPC team should be able to negate any negative impact for you, the fact remains this change is just another way of taking control away from the advertisers and removing the transparency from the account.

I see no benefit to removing Modified Broad Match for the advertiser, it just feels like Google is once again forcing the advertiser to step further towards automation. When you continue taking away levels of control and transparency, it is only a matter of time until it impacts advertisers.

What can my team do to prepare?

  1. Firstly, you need to migrate any Modified Broad Match campaigns into Phrase campaigns and possibly Broad campaigns (client dependent), to ensure you do not suffer that initial drop in traffic.

  2. Secondly, make sure your Negative keywords in Phrase/Broad campaigns are up to date, so that any additional searches you may get that you do not want, are included. This is especially important for those who do not use Modified Broad keywords but do use Phrase.

  3. Continually expand your Phrase Match keywords as Phrase Match may not pick up as many variants as Modified Broad once did, especially regarding word order.

  4. If you have not already, then begin testing automation within your campaigns to ensure that if there is a sudden impact, the bidding strategy can stabilise things in the short term.

  5. Communicate with your team and clients, we know this change is coming and for most accounts we will not see a huge impact. But if we do, we want everyone to be aware of the short-term impact and how we would intend to fix it.

Ultimately, we have enough time to prepare. Although Google will start to make movements towards these changes at the end of February, Modified Broad Match won’t cease to exist until July 2021.

Here at M.i. we are already taking the steps necessary to prepare our accounts and will be ready when the change comes.