Google Ads Broad Match: What's Going On, Really?

April 18, 2021
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It’s official… Google Ads Google Ads Broad Match is being retired. It’s been a slow phase-out that has been in place for about 2-3 years now. So, how is this going to affect you as a small business owner?

Today we are going to explore the demise of Google Ads Broad Match and what this means to you. We’ll explore some of the more impactful changes that Google has implemented over the last few years and how these modifications keep changing the game in favor of larger businesses.

Let’s talk about Google Google Ads Broad Match and the potentially dark days to come!

No Google Ads Broad Match = Limiting access to low CPC options

The first elephant in the room is Google’s slow, methodical series of changes that are making it harder and harder to keep a low Costs Per Click ratio.

CPC inflation is something that everyone who is advertising through Google has become painfully familiar with. Users who have slowly trimmed and optimized their keywords array are finding that the CPC/Costs Per Clicks are becoming more expensive, even if the keywords that have been successful for years have changed. It’s obviously about money. The alternative would be that people are suddenly thinking and searching with completely different phrases and that sort of verbiage change doesn’t happen overnight.

It’s all about Google’s algorithms.

Google determines your CPC based on an ‘auction algorithm’ which employs a number of variables to determine the placement of your ads. These factors are fairly fluid but we’ll explain them as best we can and detail some of the changes that have gone on in the last 4 – 5 years.

Competition

You’d think that you could set your keywords and bulk up on them to get the most attention, but that isn’t really the case. Multiple companies are bidding on the right to those keywords and this means that the perfect keyword array might still land you on page 10 in searches.

Don’t believe us? The ’Auction insights’ option inside your Google Ads can show you if you are being ‘outbid’ by detailing how many other advertisers are bidding for the same keywords. You may be unpleasantly surprised when you see the results.

Enhanced CPC protection Has Been Removed

A popular strategy has been to employ Enhanced CPC in order to help to limit CPC costs overall through the implementation of a ‘safety net’ to keep you from overbidding. Enhanced CPC essentially acts as an automated auction, allowing you to bid more for keywords automatically but before you had a 30% cap on this to prevent you from overspending on your ads. In 2017, Google switched that all around, and now you could end up bidding something like 75% automatically if you have this option enabled, just because Google’s algorithm thinks that would be best.

It’s a real pitfall of a feature if you aren’t made of money. Big business: 1, Small Business: a very expensive 0.

Exact Matches Aren't as Exact as You Think

Remember when you could run a quotes search in Google and get ONLY pages with an exact match? Less and people are remembering the good ol’ days and that’s because Google made a little change ‘behind the curtain’, replacing Exact Match with ‘Close Variants’.

Hmm.

The first manifestation of this was to decide that minor deviations in keywords were just fine, despite those defining quotation marks. This meant that searching for a company called “Kenya shoes” that might be local would also show you results for “shoes in Kenya” because, hey, they’re close!

Exact match got changed even more in 2018, to incorporate their machine learning technologies into the search (or so they say) and now your exact phrase combination will also pull up results that share the same meaning.

That’s a HUGE change. Now you have to factor in synonyms. It’s really becoming a jungle out there when you can’t rely on an Exact match.

Ad Size

Google has also increased the size of the ads which appear at the top of the page. Those are premium and quite expensive and the biggest hit to the small business is that these ads make less space for YOU. Larger ads now have Expanded text with lengthy descriptions and your chances of landing that front page are becoming harder and very, very much more expensive.

Availability of Space

Speaking of that front page, Google’s SERPs/Search Engine Results Pages have gone through a number of changes that filter down straight to the coffers of small businesses. Aside from offering more space to those who choose to pay for those enormous ads at the top of the page, Google is offering only smaller space for those who pay less.

‘Google Shopping’ is the biggest demonstration of this and if you currently advertise on Google then you are well aware how the ads here are pushing your own down. Worse, Google removed those small adds on the right-hand column, so now everyone is competing for those large and expensive ads at the top of the page. It’s driving the cost per click prices through the roof and there seems to be little or nothing that can be done.

Google Google Ads Broad Match: The latest of Google’s Shenanigans

We can’t say that we are fully onboard with Google’s decision to retire Google Ads Broad Match, which used to be an excellent way to improve visibility, allowing you to select a string of keywords and then if they were searched in any order then potential clients could still find your website.

For example, if your keywords were ‘machining Jackson Mississippi’, if someone searched ‘Jackson Mississippi Machining’ or ‘Mississippi Jackson Machining’ then people would still be able to find your website. In some cases, this increased your chances of being found and getting clicks by as high as 94%. It also made the whole experience more user-friendly, as concocting exactly the right set of keywords is an art, and covering every possibility without Google Ads Broad Match capability can get pretty expensive.

It’s almost like Google is trying to squash small businesses. We’re not happy about this.

As far as why Google Ads Broad Match is being retired, Google has been a bit vague on the subject. They’ve advised that Google Ads Broad Match can be used until July and after that, it is going to be replaced with an expanded version of Phrase Match. As far as what you already have in place, Google says they will continue to respect word order “when it is important to meaning” and this isn’t much of a comfort to those of us who’ve spent years learning the current system.

So, how is this really going to affect the searches and CPC?

Google Ads Broad Match Removal Implications

With Google Ads Broad Match you could add a plus sign and a list of words and the general gist was that if all of those words were included, no matter the order, that someone could potentially find and click your link. Phrase match, by comparison, states that the words must appear in a specific order. Incorporating the Google Ads Broad Match functionality into one designed for exact Phrasing sounds scary at best and while Google is not waxing very verbose on exact changes, we are told that they will be using machine learning algorithms in order to determine the INTENT of a search string.

The intent is to make searching more intuitive, so that if you set a modified for +used +desks then you would no longer come up in results when someone searches for ‘people who used big desks to intimidate employees’ but would find your page if someone types ‘where can I buy used desks”. The intent is good but we’re really wondering how it’s going to really play out and how it’s going to affect small businesses when it comes to being found.

Overall, the rules keep changing, smaller ad spots are being taken out, exact phrases aren’t exact anymore… it’s getting to where the average person is not going to have a lot of options to advertise their business and actually be seen, not without hiring an Ads specialist and throwing a LOT of money at the problem.

What Is Google Advising in Regards to the Phasing-out of Google Ads Broad Match?

We have good news and bad news on this subject. The good news is that Google does have some advice but you might not like it. First, they advise advertisers to pay attention to the ‘Recommendations’ section which Google provides in Google Ads. It’s not really the most concrete bit of advice, unfortunately, but they do have some practical recommendations.

Google says that you should receive notices about duplicate keywords during the changes and recommends that you ‘pause’ those instances to keep down the overall costs of the keywords managed in your account. The bad news is that this will certainly have a serious impact on those who are dividing up match types via a Campaign or an Ad Group strategy and budgeting accordingly.

It’s Basically a Push Towards ‘Themes’

The ultimate goal from Google seems to be to push away from specific keyword searches and towards theme-driven or persona-driven advertising. The ultimate goal is certainly noble. They want the searches to be intuitive. They want machine learning algorithms to take a look at what a consumer is typing and to anticipate their needs.

Some Final Words

This ‘intuitive searching’ goal is all well and good, but what we don’t like is the phasing out of those smaller ads on the right, the encroachment of larger and larger ads ‘front and center’, and the pushback on small businesses. There is no more bid-cap safety net and you can’t rely on picking the right words anymore. With Google Ads Broad Match expected to be completely retired in July, we’ll be doing the same thing that you are, because it’s all that we can do.

ClickGUARD will be keeping a close eye on ‘recommendations’, hoping that things change for the better, but certainly not holding our breath.

Jason is a passionate data-driven specialist with extensive PPC & SEO experience. When not writing about SEM he can be found surfboarding the wildest ocean waves of the Argentinian coast.