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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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Your landing page subdomain: a conversion optimisation opportunity?

By Jennifer Esty  |  August 1, 2018

Every letter counts in a paid search ad. With only 140 characters of copy to play with in the main part of the ad – 80 characters for the body of the ad, and two 30-charcter headlines – it’s a constant challenge to craft an ad which achieves its marketing objectives within such tight copy limits.

So, we are always on the lookout for ways to squeeze a bit more meaning into a search ad. One component of the ad which is usually overlooked is the landing page subdomain.

Although the landing page subdomain is invisible in many types of advertising, it WILL normally be visible in a search ad – Google shows the landing page subdomain as part of the ad copy. And it will often also be visible in the user’s browser after they have clicked.

It’s a subtle feature, and many users will not notice it, but some will. Choosing an appropriate subdomain helps to build user confidence and will increase conversions. Conversely, choosing a subdomain that is confusing or distracting will undermine user trust and harm conversions.

A Subdomain Case Study

Recently we set up a new subdomain for one of our clients, YPO, the UK’s largest public sector buying organisation, in order to test a new set of marketing landing pages.

For technical and analytical reasons which I won’t go into in this post, setting up a new subdomain was the best way to ensure we could get good, clean results from our test.

The test itself was unrelated to the search ads in anyway so the only difference that users could see in the ads was the display URLs—and the only difference in the display URLs was the subdomains.

In this case our original subdomain was the generic ‘info’ and the new domain for the test was ‘catalogue’ – which we chose as an alternative simply because receiving a free YPO catalogue was the call to action for the campaign.

The test campaign, however, resulted in an unintended but extremely interesting outcome: changing the subdomain for the lead generation campaign resulted in a significant increase in the click through rate from our paid search campaigns.

And by significant, we mean very significant. The new subdomain had a 51% higher relative CTR on a like-for-like basis.

Now I would love to say we intended to achieve this impressive conversion improvement—but actually we were testing something entirely different at the time.

However, we’re now reviewing our use of subdomains across campaigns and looking at them not simply as part of the technical set up, but as a conversion optimisation opportunity.

Maybe you should too?

Deck chairs by the sea
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Preparing for the Summer Holidays

By Jennifer Esty  |  June 30, 2017

Despite the weather outside, summer is nearly here, and you may be looking forward to a break abroad, or even taking your chances here in the UK (with umbrellas and cagoules at the ready).  But who is looking after your digital marketing while you’re away?

If you have an agency helping you out, you might not be too worried. However, if you’re looking after it on your own, or with a small team – some of whom are also on holiday – there are a few things you can do to make sure all the hard work of the past few months isn’t compromised by a week or two away…

Using AdWords?

If you have Google AdWords campaigns running, download the Google AdWords app (not AdWords Express). This handy app gives you top-line campaign information including:

  • Stats
  • Bids and budgets
  • Real-time alerts and notifications
  • Call a Google expert
  • Act on suggestions to improve your campaigns

Schedule Your Content

Not all of your potential customers will be on holiday, so don’t let your content go stale while you are away. You can schedule content for Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and other social media platforms.

There are loads of tools you can use, including HootSuite, Sprout Social and TweetDeck.

Also, make sure you’re promoting an appropriate CTA—don’t offer a free trial sign up if there aren’t enough staff around to actually set up the free trials!

Using Facebook

With Facebook Pages Manager you can view and respond to comments and private messages from your phone (as well as see Page Insights), and Facebook Adverts Manager allows you to edit your ads and budgets, get notifications of when ads are finishing and keep an eye on your spending.

(I’ve yet to find a good app for managing LinkedIn advertising, please get in touch if you find one!)

Still Send Emails

Most email platforms will allow you to send emails scheduled for a specific time. Marketing automation platforms also allow you set up automatic email sends based on user behaviour. So you don’t need to stop your lead nurturing over the holiday period whilst you’re at that barbecue or lying on the beach…

Think About Your Website

As with email, most content management systems (CMS) have an option to schedule content. Nothing screams ‘I’ve gone on holiday and don’t care about you right now’ like outdated seasonal content on your site.

If your website CMS doesn’t have a schedule function, consider putting your best performing content on the homepage whilst you’re away, or at least don’t leave up information about an out-of-date event during your break.

Budgets

Use the budgeting functionality on your paid media platforms to ensure you don’t overspend while you’re away. If your business is seasonal, have a quick look at last year’s performance; and if it’s not, a quick look at last month’s, to determine your maximum exposure.

The main platforms all have daily budgets as part of standard set up, but AdWords and Bing also offer decent monthly budgeting functionality for those longer holidays.

Analytics

Google also offers a Google Analytics app which is reasonably good for basic monitoring and will allow you to at least get a high-level view of your activity, especially useful for answering ‘quick’ questions from your MD whilst you’re away.

Again, keep in mind seasonality and remember many sensible people like you will also be on holiday so volume (though hopefully not performance) may dip.

Finally… Check with Your Sales Team

Make sure there is a plan in place to deal with inbound leads. If you have a small sales team who are also on holiday, make sure someone will be monitoring the group email address and the phone won’t be going unanswered.

If unfortunate scheduling means there will be days when no one can manage calls from prospects, or customers for that matter, consider enlisting the help of a call handling agency to get you through the holiday season.

A Guide to Improving Your B2B Digital Marketing in Your Lunch Hour
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Improve Your B2B Digital Marketing in Your Lunch Hour

By Jennifer Esty  |  March 14, 2016

Make this Monday’s lunch hour count.

Download our guide and take some simple, practical steps towards improving your digital marketing in your lunch hour.

Includes tips on Google My Business, paid search, competitor research, LinkedIn and mobile that anyone can implement.

Got your sandwich? Start reading.

A microscope and notepad next to laptop
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What Google SERPs changes mean for your B2B company

By Jennifer Esty  |  February 27, 2016

The past few days have been busy ones for #serps, with digital marketers and search experts reviewing what is arguably the biggest change to Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs) in years.

First, just in case you’ve been too busy to get into the details, a quick summary of the changes:

  • Up to 4 ads will now display at the top of Google search result pages
  • No more text ads on the right-hand column (note that other ad types are unaffected, for example product listings)
  • Up to 3 ads will now be displayed at the bottom of pages
  • The changes only affect desktop and tablet, mobile remains unaffected (for now)

So how these SERPs changes impact your paid ad campaigns?

The truth is no one knows for certain yet (except Google, who most certainly tested these changes to ensure commercial advantage).

A few things we do know:

For organisations bidding on highly competitive keywords, CPC (cost per click) is bound to go up.

That said, one of the reasons Google rolled this out was poor click through rates on right-hand text ads, so it’s likely if your ads were displaying over there, your campaign probably wasn’t optimal anyway.

But if you were previously happy to coast along on the right hand side with fewer click throughs but reasonable conversion, it is now imperative that you review and refine your paid search strategy, and quickly—just because it worked last week doesn’t mean it’s been working this week.

Another impact is that the changes might mean organic results for your keywords are pushed further down with a fourth paid ad appearing above any organic results.

That said, according to a Google spokesperson quoted in The SEM Post, this will only affect a small number of “highly commercial queries”. So for B2B companies with extended and complex sales cycles, this may have very little real impact—if only in the very short term.

So while the critical points for success will remain the same (high quality content, positive user experience, a focus on quality scores, and close monitoring of conversion rates), marketers ignore the changes at their own peril.

If there was ever a time to analyse and improve your paid search strategy, now is it.

Finally, keep an eye on more changes to come as something will no doubt replace the right-hand text only ads.