Google to further dilute exact match in AdWords; will ignore word order & function words

Not just for plurals anymore, close variants will extend to include word ordering and function words in inexact match keywords.

In the good old days, “exact” meant exact. Then things got fuzzier. Now they’re about to get downright blurry.

On Friday afternoon, Google announced another change to the way exact match targeting works in AdWords. Matching for close variants — plurals, typos, abbreviations, adverbs and so on —  will be broadened to include variations in word order and function words in the coming months. With this change, Google may ignore word order and function words when determining whether an ad should trigger for an exact match keyword.

Google introduced close variants in 2012 as a way to capture plurals, misspellings, typos and other versions of exact match and phrase match keywords to broaden reach and coverage and save time building out keyword lists. Advertisers that wanted tighter control were able to opt out of close variant matching until 2014, when Google removed the ability to opt out of close variants for exact match and phrase match. Bing followed suit shortly the following year. The latest blurring of what exact match means is Google’s increasing trust in its machine learning and the belief that it’s now at the point where advertisers can let the algorithms take over and focus on other things. Google says early tests indicate advertisers could see up to 3 percent more exact match clicks on average while maintaining comparable click-through and conversion rates.

What the change means

There are many cases in which variations can change the meaning of a keyword. Take a recent example of [pancake mix] being matched to a search for “pancake mixer.” Those are not the same thing. However, there are many cases in which variations don’t change the meaning at all. Here are the nuts and bolts of how these changes are meant to work:

Function words

Function words are binding words phrases and sentences like the and that, conjunctions like and and but, prepositions, pronouns, quantifiers like all and some, modals like could and would and auxiliary/hedging verbs like be or might or will.  Essentially, they are words that don’t have meaning on their own. Well, hmmm, unless by will you mean a legal document.

With this change, function words may be ignored, replaced or added.

For example, the exact match keyword [restaurants cleveland ] could match to the query “restaurants in cleveland.” More examples from Google:

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