For those that aren’t aware, In February 2021, Google Ads began the phase-out of broad match modifier (BMM) keywords – pushing the removal of these from accounts and expanding the targeting capabilities of phrase match to facilitate the losses.

Moving forward to July 2021, for any advertisers who were yet to remove or change the BMM keyword variations; both phrase and BMM keywords with the same text were now one of the same – eliciting the exact same behaviours throughout accounts. This simply means duplicate keywords were/are now within the account. 

Duplicate keywords in accounts are not ideal, unless additional targeting options, e.g., audiences, are completely different. If no difference is present then data is likely to be split across these keywords, and performance is likely to differ due to alternate stages of learning.

Throwing in a quick recommendation - if you have both a BMM & phrase-match variation of the same keyword (in the same ad-group or not!), and these are differentiated by audience, etc., we advise the removal of the BMM ‘duplicate’ keyword.

Fast-forwarding a final time to post-July 2021, any edits made to BMM keywords will cause advertisers to be prompted by Google to convert or remove them – depending on other keyword variations within your accounts. Alongside this, the

creation of BMM keywords will no longer be supported.

Now we’re all caught up, let’s get into the real exciting stuff! 

Updated Phrase match – so what’s the difference?

As phrase has now ‘picked up’ some behaviours of BMM keywords – making them much broader, the reach of phrase match keywords has expanded. Not quite to the level of BMM, however, the difference is quite substantial.

To illustrate this, Google has provided a diagram on the support page referring to this topic:

As we can see, the breadth of phrase-match targeting has drastically increased – with phrase match now including a wider variety of possible search-query matches. The primary takeaway from the above diagram is not just the change in targeting, but more specifically the ‘missing’ section for phrase match.

Is this going to impact our accounts you ask? In short, yes. To illustrate the potential outcomes of this change, we have delved into our own accounts to provide real-life examples of performance impacts.

Real-life examples from our accounts

Here’s where things get real – in terms of account impacts from keyword changes, advertisers have had some notion of what to expect from previous match-type rule changes through the years (2014, 2017, 2018, 2019). However, this change is nothing like previous, whereby we all expected previous changes would simply result in more traffic through keywords. For 2021’s change; accounts may have seen quite the opposite; with a small decrease in impression volume, and therefore potentially conversions.

For our accounts, we have seen plenty of mixed occurrences. For campaigns that historically ran predominantly using BMM’s and were particularly smaller in volume (<1000 impressions per month), we were seeing campaign status changes from “eligible” to “Limited by search volume”. On the other hand, we are also seeing phrase-match-only campaigns becoming limited by budget – so worth checking up on these!
This does not impact the serving of ads but means ads may not be showing on all search terms relevant to your chosen keywords. Google has provided recommendations on how to act against this, which we will touch on later alongside recommendations of our own.

For performance in general (revenue & lead numbers), we have seen both positive & negative impacts:

  • For one client we had noticed a reduction in both traffic & conversion volume
  • For another, we had seen less traffic, however a more refined account with greater impression shares & lead volume
  • And finally, we have also seen accounts with next to no change at all

What have we done to ‘fight’ against the change?

For campaigns “Limited by search volume”, we have tested a few options; including recommendations from Google and thoughts of our own.

In general, the simplest action is to add more keyword variations to accounts. Google has provided most accounts with keyword recommendations under their ‘recommendations’ tab, however, be very cautious with these as we have seen quite a few irrelevant ones! 

(For example, the recommendation to include “free legal advice” within one of our legal client’s paid services campaigns). Be cautious of what keywords you add, and never click “apply recommendation” without first reviewing everything. 

Aside from this, we recommend reviewing search query reports over the last few months to locate valuable search terms which are no longer matching existing keywords.

Using one of the examples above, if you are experiencing a reduction in both leads & traffic, you have a couple of options (yes, we have tested these ourselves!):

Roll-out of broad match keywords through accounts. Sounds crazy right! Many like us have always been conditioned to uphold maximum relevance within our ad accounts – ensuring either the use of single-keyword or themed-keyword ad-groups, with relevant copy & landing pages. Well, by recommendation of Google we took the plunge and updated a ‘generic’ campaign in one of our client’s accounts. Not only did we see fantastic results, but year on year performance for the client increased by over 50% when using automated bidding strategies in-line with client goals. To add to this, we recommend for any new or existing campaigns you assess your ad-copy against search terms. Broader keywords can often create some confusion if the search term is a bit ‘far-out’ from what the ad is ‘selling’. If necessary, create more ad groups and segregate them with negative keywords.

Second, utilising dynamic search ads (DSA’s) can provide some fantastic results, though we have seen that greater success is typically found when aligning DSA’s with specific custom audience segments. Everything but the audience definitions was automated by Google.

To summarise our findings, we noticed that the coupling of broad matches with strong automated bidding strategies produced greater results than the original campaigns, with DSA’s alongside custom audience segments following suit. Is this the way of the future? Focusing on algorithms & audiences as opposed to what people are searching for? 

Considering Google’s recommendations tab is full of advice linking to each of these – we expect so. The recommendations tab can be accessed only from within your Google Ads accounts. 

Come June 2022 expanded text ads will be removed and responsive search ads will take over; another layer of automation & algorithm-based decision-making throughout accounts. You’ll be sure to see our thoughts & feelings about this update too.

Takeaway Tips For 2022

Hopefully, this article has helped you to understand the importance of these changes and has started to get you thinking about both the changes that needed to be made, and what to expect as time goes on.
To summarise the above, we’ve added our top takeaway tips for 2022 below:

  • Check your campaign budgets for any phrase-match-only campaigns, as these may now be constrained with the increase in volume.
  • Review Google recommendations: the option “add new keywords” can give some great ideas, however, do not add them all for the sake of an increase in traffic. Remember, not all traffic is good traffic.
  • Think about testing DSA or broad match keywords for specific campaigns, though ensure to couple with relevant audiences and machine learning tools (bidding strategies) for optimal performance.
  • Deploy stricter negative keywords across phrase match keywords as these may now be a little broader than you initially planned for.
  • and finally, check your phrase-match keywords are serving ad-copy relevant to the new search terms which may come through - there is nothing worse than losing a potential customer at the first hurdle.

Getting your ad structure and settings right is absolutely vital, but only half the battle. To excel at paid search you must ensure you understand your audience and that you plan this understanding into your campaign structure across your marketing strategy. 

This is what we, at Reflect Digital, are masters of - so please don't hesitate to get in touch if you want to understand more about our paid media approach.

This blog was originally published via PPC Hero on Monday 31st January 2022.




Gary lives and breathes paid search. He spends his days at Reflect Digital supercharging clients’ PPC accounts and digital strategies, crushing cost per click while driving higher revenue and improved conversions.

Gary works across pay per click channels, but is particularly passionate about Google Shopping.

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