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Google Ads Bids Adieu to Broad Match Modifier…Or Does It?

What next for match types for B2B search advertisers?

By John Woods  |  February 15, 2021

Last week Google announced some significant changes to match types. This is a big deal: the last major change to match types was the introduction of broad match modifier back in 2010. So this is a once-in-a-decade event.

In B2B search marketing we often need fine-grained control over search terms to deliver acceptable ROI from search campaigns, and match types are a key tool in maintaining that control. So while Google’s changes will have big implications for most search advertisers, they are particularly significant for B2B search marketers.

In this post I will outline the changes that are happening and some steps that B2B search marketers should take right away to ensure their Google Ads setup remains cost effective.

What is Google changing?

Google is combining two existing match types, phrase match and broad match modifier (sometimes called modified broad match and abbreviated “BMM” or “MBM”).

Phrase match keywords are written with quotation marks like this: “b2b digital agency”.

Broad match modifier keywords are written with a plus sign, like this: +b2b +digital +agency

Prior to the recently-announced change, phrase match required a search term that contained all of the same words and in the exact order, matching the full “phrase” in the keyword. So for example:

Search phrase Keyword (phrase): "b2b digital agency"
b2b digital agency in Reading
b2b agency in Reading specialising in digital

Broad match modifier provided more flexibility in the search term – the words must all be present, but they do not need to be in the same order. So:

Search phrase Keyword (BMM): +b2b +digital +agency
b2b agency in Reading specialising in digital

There are some nuances around this. In particular, both match types allow some flexibility for words with similar meanings. So for instance:

Search phrase Keyword (phrase): "b2b digital agency" Keyword (BMM): +b2b +digital +agency
b2b digital consultancy

Once the recently-announced change has been completed, the old BMM syntax (with the +keyword signs) will disappear. The old “phrase match” syntax remains, but with a very important difference:

The new phrase match is (more or less) the same as the old BMM (!)

 

So for example:

Search phrase Keyword (new phrase): "b2b digital agency"
b2b agency in Reading specialising in digital

There are some slight differences between old-style BMM and new-style phrase match. In particular Google says that the word order will be significant in deciding whether to match, in some cases. But the differences are quite minor. For more detail, see this Google help article.

So while this announcement has been reported as “Google is retiring Broad Match Modifier”, the truth is a bit more nuanced:

  • Google is retiring the old BMM syntax, with the +keyword signs.
  • There is a new-style phrase match, which behaves very similarly to the old-style BMM (with some subtle differences)
  • There will be no way to recreate the behaviour of the old-style phrase match.

It would be more accurate to say that phrase match is being retired, and BMM is being renamed!

When is this happening?

Google’s announcement says that the keyword behaviour “will begin to transition…starting mid-February [2021]”. The change will be applied to a list of 8 languages (including English) first, with other languages following along later.

So keep an eye for a further announcement or a Google Ads account alert to tell you that the change has gone into effect. It may still be a few weeks or even months before this behaviour switches over for your account.

Another key date is July 2021 – Google says that, by then, the change will have been rolled out globally, and it will then no longer be possible to create new keywords with the old-style BMM syntax.

What should B2B search marketers do about this change?

Bear in mind that this change mostly impacts phrase match. So your action plan depends on how heavily you use old-style phrase match in your Google Ads accounts.

Start by auditing your Google Ads accounts and see how important phrase match keywords are to you at the moment. You can do this in two ways:

  • Simply count how many phrase match keywords you have as a percentage of all of the active keywords in the account; or
  • Count the fraction of total account impressions, clicks and spend that is allocated to phrase match keywords.

The first approach is easier but may over- or under-state the importance of phrase match if, for example, you have a lot of phrase match keywords that have very low search volumes. The second approach is slightly more complex to do, but still only a few minutes’ work with a suitable spreadsheet, and will give you a more robust view.

Quick tip: there’s a convenient “Match Type” filter in Google Ads that makes it easy to separate out your phrase match keywords:

Keyword Search Phrase Match Screen Grab

Interestingly there is no BMM setting in this filter – BMM keywords are currently combined with broad match. If you want to filter for BMM, here’s a trick you can use:

Keyword search screen grab

Here are the steps I recommend:

  1. For your existing phrase match keywords: be aware that their matching behaviour is going to change significantly, and this may bring in bad matches that could harm the ROI of the associated campaigns. So as soon as Google’s change has been implemented, monitor these phrase match keywords closely and be ready to adjust bids, add negative keywords and perhaps even remove some keywords altogether.
  2. Existing BMM keywords won’t change their behaviour very much, but there are some nuanced differences. So you should still audit and monitor these keywords in case the small differences catch you out. In particular if you work with a lot of searches where the word order is significant to you, you may need to make some changes here.
  3. If you currently have a campaign with both phrase match and BMM keywords that are otherwise identical – for example if you bid on both “b2b agency” and +b2b +agency – then these are going to behave as exact duplicates. It would make sense to pause the BMM versions of these keywords as soon as you know the change has been implemented. (Duplicate keywords have no benefits and just cause headaches for account maintenance and performance analysis.)
  4. As soon as you know that the change has been implemented for your accounts, stop using the outgoing +keyword BMM syntax for any new keywords that you create. Use the “phrase match” syntax instead. (Although you CAN still continue to use the BMM syntax until July, it will be retired soon anyway, so why create a problem for the future?)
  5. Consider a planned account update to switch out your existing +keyword BMM keywords for phrase match. This isn’t essential: the old BMM syntax will continue to work indefinitely as a synonym for phrase match. But because it will soon become impossible to create keywords with the old BMM syntax, in the long term these keywords will become a headache for account maintenance. So a planned retirement of the +keyword syntax makes sense. Ideally, work to complete this before the July deadline.

If you are unlucky enough to currently make heavy use of phrase match, consider a more strategic review of your keyword strategy – it may be that you need to make more substantial changes to your keyword mix. 

What are the wider implications of this change for B2B search marketers?

B2B search marketing often relies on very nuanced use of keywords. If matching is too broad, it is very easy to bring in a lot of expensive clicks from irrelevant matches, and so destroy the ROI from a campaign. So any change to match types is naturally a concern and needs to be assessed carefully by search marketers.

But on the whole I think this is a sensible rationalisation of match types. At Sharp Ahead, we’ve rarely needed to use much phrase match in the Google Ads accounts that we manage for our clients. We find that in most cases, BMM gives a good balance between specificity and reach, and allows us to design campaigns that give great ROI. So the old-style phrase match isn’t much of a loss.

There are a few nuanced cases where we’ll need to change our approach. For instance the mixing of BMM and broad match keywords like this:

+b2b digital agency

…won’t work any more – the whole keyword has to be phrase match. But on the whole, the changes will be minor. We just have to get used to the new terminology! Just remember:

+Broad +Match +Modifier is dead.
Long live “Broad Match Modifier”!

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Google confirms timing for bringing page experience to Google Search

By Jennifer Esty  |  November 11, 2020

On Tuesday Google confirmed that page experience signals in ranking will roll out in May 2021.

The news follows the May 2020 announcement of a new set of standards for measuring “page experience”. That is, whether a particular web page delivers its content in a way that gives a positive experience for the user.

The new signals will combine Core Web Vitals with existing search signals, including: mobile-friendliness, safe-browsing, HTTPS-security, and intrusive interstitial guidelines.

What does this mean for you as a website owner?

If you have started already, you need to ensure that your site, and landing pages, meet the new standards or risk seeing your search engine results penalised for poor performance (and higher performing competitors given a boost).

Fortunately Google has put in place clear guidelines for how they will measure page experience. And they have provided a suite of tools to help site owners identify and fix issues.

Search Console: use the report for Core Web Vitals for an overview of how your site is doing and a details into any issues.

Page Speed Insights: get your CWV score and suggestions on where to make improvements (also helpful for ongoing testing as you make changes to your site)

For the full suite of Google tools, visit Google’s Tools to measure Core Web Vitals.

For more detailed information, check out our previous blog post on the announcement back in May.

If you’d like help understanding the impact of page experience on your B2B digital marketing strategy, or with any other aspect of B2B digital marketing, contact us today for a no-obligation consultation.

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Google is bringing a big dose of science to web user experience…and it matters to anyone with a website

By John Woods  |  June 9, 2020

Google has announced a new set of standards for measuring “page experience” – that is, whether a particular web page delivers its content in a way that gives a positive experience for the user. These new standards provide a specific, pass or fail benchmark for three aspects of page experience that Google’s research has identified as particularly impactful for users.

Many websites currently fail to meet these new standards. Google is allowing a period of time before enforcement, but site owners are now on notice: they will need to improve their websites to meet these new page experience benchmarks, or face penalties to their SEO rankings.

In this article I’ll give an overview of the new standards, discuss their implications for B2B digital marketers, and highlight some immediate next steps you should be taking to ensure you are not left behind as Google rolls out its implementation of these standards.

Introducing Core Web Vitals

Google is calling the new standards “Core Web Vitals”. You’ll start to see them appear in various Google tools and reports. For example, here’s how they show up in Google Search Console:

A tablet showing a core web vitals report

There are three separate measures in Core Web Vitals:

• Largest Contentful Paint (LCP): a measure of how long the page takes to display, when first loaded

• First Input Delay (FID): measures how quickly the page becomes interactive

• Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS): measures what Google calls “visual stability”, in other words how much the page elements flicker and move around during the initial loading process.

Each of these measures has its own specific benchmarks on a traffic light system. For example the LCP needs to be below 2.5s to score as “good”. Between 2.5s and 4.0s LCP means “needs improvement”. And LCP above 4.0s means “poor”.

I’ll drill into these three measurements in a future article. For now, it’s enough to say that they measure separate and largely independent aspects of user experience: so for example a page that scores very highly on LCP could still score badly on FID or CLS. So each measure will need individual attention.

Why Core Web Vitals matter

Page experience has been important for SEO for a long time. Google and other search engines naturally want to feature pages that will provide a positive experience for users. But to date the exact impact of page experience on SEO rankings has been hard to understand.

This is great news for all of us when we use the web: by providing an explicit incentive to avoid poor page experience, Google is helping to encourage higher standards for user experience across the web.

It is also good news for site owners: with Core Web Vitals, Google is making the impact of page experience on SEO much more transparent. A website owner can use the Core Web Vitals benchmarks as a reliable guide to whether their page experience is good enough to avoid SEO penalties, and can target specific improvements if they are needed.

But there is some bad news for site owners: the Core Web Vitals benchmarks are pretty demanding! It is likely that many websites will need to make significant technical changes to meet the new benchmarks and avoid SEO penalties. This is especially true for niche B2B websites which have often been designed and implemented with relatively little concern for page experience.

Although Google haven’t said so explicitly, I predict that page experience will become a much more significant ranking factor for SEO as Google rolls out these standards. So B2B marketers who pay attention to Core Web Vitals and who take action to ensure their websites meet the new benchmarks will be rewarded with higher levels of organic search traffic. And those who do not take action are likely to see their organic traffic decline.

Google’s announcements so far only relate Core Web Vitals to organic search. But I would not be surprised to see Core Web Vitals quickly becoming a factor in quality score for paid search (PPC/SEM). Google Ads already has a component of quality score for “landing page experience”, so it would be entirely logical for Google to take Core Web Vitals into account in the future. If that happens, Core Web Vitals scores will have a direct bearing on PPC costs: because a higher quality score reduces the amount paid for each click, and vice versa.

There’s time, but the clock is ticking

Google acknowledges that website owners will need time to improve their page experience. Their announcement says that the new measures will not be incorporated into SEO rankings until 2021 at the earliest, and that there will be a minimum of 6 months’ notice of the specific date.

Google has introduced similar policies in the past designed to encourage improvements in user experience. In particular, Google encouraged site owners to move from non-secure http: to secure https: connections, and pushed for mobile-friendly page design. Both of these were introduced gently with a small SEO impact at first, increasing over time. I predict we will see the same with Core Web Vitals: a small penalty for sites that don’t meet the benchmarks at first,  but rising to a much more substantial penalty over time – to the point where, like https and mobile-friendliness, it will become inconceivable to attempt any meaningful SEO strategy on a site that does not meet the Core Web Vitals benchmarks.

What to do now – find out where you stand

You can see how your web pages score against the Core Web Vitals benchmarks right away. Check your website with Google’s free Pagespeed Insights tool. You’ll see your current scores highlighted with a blue icon, like this example:

A breakdown of site performance on a tablet

Some things to consider when using this tool:

• Each page will have its own scores. You should check more than one page: important pages like the homepage and the “contact us” page, for example, and any pages that you have built specifically to bring in organic traffic.

• Pagespeed Insights ranks mobile and desktop versions of your page separately. Make sure to look at both. Many B2B sites are built primarily for desktop, a great set of Core Web Vitals on desktop won’t help you much if you fail every measure on mobile.

• The report shows both “Field Data” and “Lab Data” – concentrate on Field Data if it is available. If your page has small numbers of visitors (like many niche B2B pages) there may not be enough data for the “Field Data” report to show. In that case you can use the “Lab Data” report as a backup.

What to do next – plan to pass the benchmarks

You may be lucky enough to find that all of your important pages already pass the Core Web Vitals benchmarks. If so, congratulations! You should still remain vigilant, especially if you plan any technical or design changes to your pages, but it’s unlikely you will need to do any major work.

But it is much more likely you will find that your pages fail at least some of the benchmarks. This is especially true for B2B websites, where page performance and user experience are typically not given high priority in the design and implementation stages. In that case you’ll need to plan and budget for technical or design changes, or brace yourself for an eventual SEO penalty and consequent loss of organic traffic – and perhaps other negative implications too.

For some B2B website implementations it may be impractical to meet the Core Web Vitals benchmarks even with very large amounts of work. If your site is one of those, it may be time to consider a redesign or a complete replatform – with compliance with Core Web Vitals benchmarks an explicit goal for the project.

If you’d like help understanding the impact of Core Web Vitals on your B2B digital marketing strategy, or with any other aspect of B2B digital marketing, contact us today for a no-obligation consultation.

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Using Google Optimize to implement a COVID-19 notice in a sticky header

By John Woods  |  May 7, 2020

There is no “business as usual” at the moment. Even if your business is operating normally, you can’t assume that your clients, prospects and other stakeholders will realise that. So it’s important to proactively communicate how your business is responding to COVID-19. A simple, but effective way to do this on your website is with a site-wide sticky header – like the one we are using on the Sharp Ahead website.

We like this approach because it is conspicuous and clear while being minimally disruptive of the user experience. It has essentially no impact on the rest of the page, just taking up a few vertical pixels and pushing the normal content a little further down.

If you are lucky, your website’s content management system may already have support for a sticky header. But if it doesn’t, Google have provided a simple way to implement a COVID-19 notice using Google Optimize. This can be done with the free version of Google Optimize, so there’s no technology cost, and the steps are simple enough that you should be able to implement this in an hour or so.

Here’s a walkthrough of the steps needed to implement a COVID-19 sticky header, using Google Optimize:

1) If you already have Google Optimize set up and working on your website, you can skip ahead to step 5. Otherwise, start by signing up for a Google Optimize account at https://marketingplatform.google.com/intl/en_uk/about/optimize/.


2) Follow the prompts in Google Optimize to create a new account, and a new container within that account. You will end up with a container ID that will look something like OPT-ABCDEFG.

3) Advance warning, this is the only tricky part – proceed with coffee. You will need to install the Google Optimize snippet in your website, and it needs to be added to every page. Ideally it should be included in the HTML <HEAD> section of the page, but that isn’t essential for this particular usage. You may need help from your web developers to do this. If you have Google Tag Manager, you can use that to install Google Optimize much more easily. (If you don’t have Google Tag Manager – why not? It’s a key productivity tool for digital marketing teams!)

4) For the next bit, it is much easier to work within the Chrome browser. So switch your browser if need be, and then install the Chrome extension for Google Optimize (https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/google-optimize/bhdplaindhdkiflmbfbciehdccfhegci).

5) In your Google Optimize container, select “Create an experience”. Give your experience a name, provide the URL of your homepage and choose Google’s built-in “COVID-19 banner” experience type:

 

Screen grab implementing COVID-19 banner in sticky header via Google Optimize

6) If everything is set up correctly, you’ll see a preview of your homepage with Google’s default banner in place, like this:

Screen grab changing header text via Google Optimize

7) That default banner is a good start but most likely you will want to change the content and appearance somewhat. Use the on-screen editor controls to change the banner’s text and colours to get it the way you want it. The Optimize editor is powerful but takes a bit of getting used to. The live preview at least means you can see the impact of your changes right away.  You might need a bit of trial and error – if you get lost, you can always shut down the editor screen without saving and start again! Here’s an example of how to change the background colour of the bar to “COVID-19 Red”:

Screen grab setting header properties

8) Once you have the banner reading and looking exactly how you want it, hit the Save button in the top right of the editor screen and then click Done:

Screen Grab of Google Optimize Covid-19 Banner

9) If all is well, you’ll see the Optimize details screen with your banner experience showing as “Draft. Some setup steps must still be completed.”:

Screen grab implementing COVID-19 banner in sticky header via Google Optimize

10) You can leave most of these settings unchanged. In the “Measurement” section, click on the “Link to Analytics” button and follow the prompts to set up that connection.

11) You should now see the status change to “Draft. Ready to start.”:

Google Optimize Screen Grab

12) Hit the “Start” button to put your banner live!

Google Optimize does a pretty good job of laying out and sizing the banner for various devices, but it’s a good idea to test the end result on both a computer and a phone to make sure you are happy with it.

When things change

Google Optimize doesn’t allow an Experience to be edited after it has been put live. So if you need to change your banner, log back into Google Optimize and make a copy of the Experience. Make your edits to the copy, then stop the original banner and start the new copy.

Speak to an expert

If you are concerned about the impact of COVID-19 on your paid media strategies, or on any other aspect of your B2B digital marketing, speak to an expert at Sharp Ahead today. We offer a free 30-minute remote consultation.

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HTTPS encryption – time to act or face damage to your brand

By John Woods  |  February 23, 2018

Does your website use HTTPS yet?

HTTPS is not just about security: it is also essential for many modern browser features.

For several years, Google has been gently encouraging websites to move to secure HTTPS. Google has offered a gentle nudge with the carrot of somewhat-improved search rankings.

But the carrot hasn’t worked very well. In our most recent research, a whopping 87% of our sample of B2B companies were still using non-secure HTTP for their websites.

So Google has reached for the stick. If your website is not using HTTPS by July 2018, visitors using Google’s Chrome browser will see a “not secure” warning:

Treatment of HTTP Pages

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Google Chrome is by far the most popular web browser at the moment, with about 65% market share on desktop and about 50% on mobile (see http://gs.statcounter.com/browser-market-share/). So if you don’t move your website to HTTPS by July 2018, more than half of your visitors will see a “not secure” warning on every page.

A security warning isn’t the end of the world, but at best it is distracting for web visitors. It’s an ongoing blot on your website’s user experience which will result in lost conversions and drip-drip damage to your brand.

So it’s time to act: get a plan in place to switch your website to HTTPS before July 2018.

Don’t say we didn’t warn you!

For advice about switching a website to https – or  replacing your outdated B2B website with a new one with https built in! – contact Sharp Ahead today.