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Say Goodbye to Broad Match Modifiers (BMM)

By Nathan Pabich

The changes with Google Ads keep coming! Google has combined two of advertisers’ favorite match types – broad match modifier (BMM) and phrase match. If you’re not familiar, match types are essentially operators applied to your keywords. They define how much flexibility Google has in determining which search queries will trigger ads for your desired keywords.

As a result of this match type merger, we will see a slight tightening of the matching power of BMM. On the phrase match side, we will see a slight weakening of its historic restrictiveness. This modified match type will live under the name “Phrase Match” and the BMM match type will officially be retired later this year.

[Here is the official Google help page article]

Timeline for BMM & Phrase Match Rollout:

We expect the rollout to happen in two phases between the first and third quarters of 2021.

  • Phase 1: In mid-February BMM & phrase match started to transition. As a result, they started matching for the same set of search queries. At DTC, we have been keeping an eye on search volume and account matches since February 15th.
  • Phase 2: Starting in July, advertisers will no longer be able to create new keywords with the BMM match type. However, existing BMM keywords will continue to match and function as they did after phase 1 of the roll out.

This change in match types should not greatly impact Google Ads on a strategic level. We will continue showing ads for the most valuable of user search queries. But tactically, we may need to make some shifts based on our goals and account needs.

It is hard to stay at this point how the changes to BMM will impact everyone. Each Google Ads use case is slightly different, meaning the impacts are likely to vary from account to account.

Pros & cons of broad match modifier (BMM) and phrase match

Customers are still surfing the web and searching on Google. But how users go about their searches varies from product to product and service to service.

Broad match modifier (BMM) was great at anchoring a core idea while allowing some leeway in how it could match up with customer’s searches.

For example, if we offered every size and color of a particular shoe, we could get away with a broader keyword using BMM like +Adidas +superstar. With those parameters we would likely match up with all color and size type searches appended to the user query. 

Phrase match, on the other hand, allowed for some such combinations but did not capture as thorough a keyword universe as BMM. Meaning – if we desired to keep our matching options open to hunt for new opportunities, moving forward we may need to experiment with broad match keywords to cast a wider net.

Phrase match was also great at anchoring a specific idea in a more precise word order. This could be incredibly helpful when word order impacted the semantic understanding of a user’s search.

For example, something like “website development business” is likely a search for a new website development partner. But if you rearrange that same phrase to say, “business development website,” the search intent changes to someone likely seeking some type of sales assistance.

There are countless examples like this across industries. In such cases, you can add phrase match negative keyword variations to ensure your ads don’t appear when the semantic understanding of word order is not favorable to your advertising goals.  

How with the changes to BMM and Phrase Match impact you?

Let’s talk through some big picture ideas about the potential impact of these Google Ads changes.

If your goal is to achieve a broad reach, and your customers use a variety of ways to find your goods/products/services, then you may need to explore broad match while restricting its reach through negative keywords.

If your goods/products/services are static and your customers search tendencies are firmly established, then you will want to move forward with more restrictions; relying on phrase and exact match to connect with your customers. As phrase match will be a bit looser than it has historically, you may find yourself moving more keywords to exact match. Or, you may need to pay closer attention to search queries and get more aggressive in adding negative keywords.  

Concerns with Google’s broad match modifier changes

The part of the announcement that makes me nervous is the following:

“To give you more control and better reach, we’re bringing the best of broad match modifier into phrase match. As a result, phrase match will expand to cover additional broad match modifier traffic, while continuing to respect word order when it’s important to the meaning.”

Unfortunately, as Google loosens the restrictions of keyword and match types there is no clarification as to how Google will understand your chosen keywords. Nor is there any clarification as to how your selections will map to your customers’ search intent.

In this new universe, when will word order matter?

We, as advertisers, cannot verify without experimentation. This effectively allows Google to move this risk onto their advertisers while monetizing their advertisers’ “mistakes” in the process.

Another issue to consider is the reduced visibility into search terms data.

Remember the great search query purge of 2020? Google significantly reduced advertisers’ insights into which search queries your keywords were matched. With additional gaps in our visibility from the merger of BMM and phrase match, it will likely take even longer to identify search query combinations that deliver unfavorable results for our account goals. It may even create some black holes from which your data will never escape.

The tricky choice will arise when you want certain core ideas on either side of a query, but your users often use some level of search modifier within their search query.

*One special case is where you may be using mixed match types – such as red +shoes. In this case, the advertiser was leaving “red” more open to Google’s interpretation, but ensuring to anchor in the core concept of “shoes.”

For the use of broad match, Google recommends using this match type in conjunction with Smart Bidding. This approach leverages the Google AI to choose your bidding based on factors that human account managers cannot control for such as search history, propensity to convert, etc.

That’s all well and good, but relying on Google to make “good” decisions with your advertising budget is akin to asking your barber if you need a haircut. In my experience, his answer will always be: “Well of course you do!”  

But at the end of the day, I am always in favor of tactics that are aligned with our advertising goals. So when the opportunity presents itself, we will test these strategies and gauge their successes.

How to Prepare for Broad Match Modifier (BMM) Changes

This is just the latest in a line of changes made by Google that have slowly stolen away control from advertisers. Each update has eliminated insights and visibility while allowing Google to tout and refine its advancements in applying machine learning to digital advertising.

How can you prepare and stay ahead of the curve? Continue to focus on excellent conversion mapping because artificial intelligence is only as good as the data it is fed (garbage in, garbage out, as the saying goes). 

Prioritize writing great ad copy and continued ad testing. Watch your search queries, and vigilantly add negative keywords to block out queries that are less than idea. Finally, continue to provide best in class user experience (UX) on your website. If you continue making these strides, you’ll continue to put yourself in position to succeed.

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