SKAGs vs Broad Match Modifier and Phrase Match Close Variants

How Google's latest Broad Match Modifier and Phrase Match Keyword Close Variants Update could affect Single Keyword Ad Groups (SKAGs).

Last month Google updated its broad match modifier and phrase match keywords that has many worried Single Keyword Ad Groups (SKAGs) will be rendered obsolete.

"In the coming weeks broad match modifier and phrase match keywords will also begin matching to words within the search query that share the same meaning as the keyword," Google writes.

The response by some in the wider PPC community on Twitter and online has been to once again hail the death of SKAGs.

But it's important to note that we've been here before. With every Google update since 2014, the death of SKAGs has been announced.

Let's take a step back and really dig into whether Google's latest close variants update for Broad Match Modifier and Phrase Match keywords will have any affect on Single Keyword Ad Group campaigns.

What change did Google make?

On July 31st, Google made the following announcement on its official blog post:

"To help you reach more consumers without the need for exhaustive keyword lists, we started allowing exact match keywords to match to close variants late last year...In the coming weeks, broad match modifier and phrase match keywords will also begin matching to words within the search query that share the same meaning as the keyword."

Google's latest change builds on an update Google made in September 2018 when it decided that close variants of keywords were enough to trigger an ad in exact match.

This was a radical shift for Google, since it meant that what mattered the most when people searched was not necessarily the actual words that were used, but the intent of the search query.

For example, if a user searched "organic coffee new york", the query "all-natural coffee new york" would also be enough to trigger that ad.

But whereas before, same-meaning close variants only applied to exact match keywords, now they have been extended to phrase match keywords and broad match modifier keywords as well.

Broad Match Modifier and Close Variants

Broad match modifier keywords used to match only to queries that were more or less a one-to-one match with a keyword.

Of course, this included misspellings, singular or plural versions of words, abbreviations and accents. But the keyword and the search term had to align.

Google's latest updates gets rid of this one-to-one match and instead makes it possible to have close variants of keywords trigger an ad.

How does this potentially affect SKAGs?

Under Broad Match Modifier, matched words can be in any order and are not required to be next to each other. This can make it quite difficult to use negative keywords to create a proper single keyword ad group in broad match modifier, because there are so many potential search terms to create negative keywords for.

Google gives the following example:

"Let’s say you’re a landscaper and use +lawn +mowing +service as your keyword. Previously, queries like “services to mow my lawn” or “lawn mowing and edging service” may have triggered your ads. Now, your ads can trigger when people search for things like “grass cutting and gardening services” or “rates for services that cut your grass,” Google writes.

Phrase Match and Close Variants

The same close variants update holds true for phrase match keywords.

Phrase match keywords show your ads when the query includes your keyword and close variants of the exact phrase of your keyword, with additional words before and after.

Whereas before, close variants only included misspellings, abbreviations and so forth, now queries that include the same meaning as the keyword phrase will also be included.

Google gave the following example:

How do Phrase Match, BMM close variants affect SKAGs?

The whole purpose of SKAGs is to create a one-to-one match between a user's search query and the keyword that triggers an ad.

SKAG advocates want their ad for the keyword 'running shoes' to only be shown when somebody searches for 'running shoes' and nothing else.

Google says that this approach causes advertisers to miss out on a ton of relevant traffic.

After all, somebody searching for 'shoes for running' is likely looking for the same exact thing as somebody searching for 'running shoes', or 'running sneakers' or anything else. So why not have your ad shown to people who also search for these terms that carry the same meaning as the keyword you bid on.

But advocates of the SKAG approach could care less about the extra traffic they miss out on.

First of all, because extra traffic does not necessarily mean it is quality traffic. And secondly, they will have a different SKAG to target that extra traffic.

Despite Google's efforts to automize Google Ads management and get marketers to use their machine learning algorithms, SKAGs are still the only way of ensuring that your ad will appear only to users that search for exactly what you want them to.

Why is this one-to-one match between a search query and keyword so important?

Because it allows advertisers to write better, more relevant ad copy that emphasizes that query. Users are much more likely to click on an ad if it is a mirror copy of what they searched for.

And moreover, once you are sure your ad is appearing only for the search term you want it to, it allows marketers to get more creative with their ad copy, since high-quality, hyper-focused ad copy is often the only way to optimize your ad and get more clicks.

If a user searches for 'cool iphone cases' you could write an ad with the headline 'Check out these cool iphone cases" and the SKAG method would ensure that your ad would only appear for the search term 'cool iphone cases.'

Google now says your ad for 'cool iphone cases' should also be shown to people who are searching for 'awesome iphone cases.' Because these searchers are both looking for the same thing: high-quality iphone cases. And therefore your ad is missing out on a lot of potential customers.

But a properly run campaign with SKAGs will target that extra traffic with its own Single Keyword Ad Group. Because if it is high quality traffic and a strong keyword, then it deserves its own ad copy targeting that specific keyword.

The bottom line is that it's in Google's interest to show your ad to as many people as possible. Google gets money for the clicks.

But what matters to advertisers are not clicks, but conversions. Clicks on your ads with no conversions is just throwing money away at Google.

Do Broad Match Modifier and Phrase Match close variants make SKAGs obsolete?

Fortunately, it appears that like the close variants exact match update Google initiated in September, the changes to Broad Match Modifier and Phrase Match will have little affect on SKAGs.

In a recent post on searchengineland, Frederick Vallaeyes writes "while control has been reduced, SKAGs still help indicate advertiser preferences and hence can still boost QS and reduce PPC costs."

This is due to Google's selection preferences, which still favor an exact match keyword over a close variant of a user's search.

"An advertiser who wants to show a specific ad for a specific query can still put that query as an exact match keyword in a SKAG and know that it is as likely as before to trigger the intended ad and deliver the associated quality score benefits," Vallaeyes writes.

How does Google prioritize keywords?

Google wrote in its official blog post on the topic of how it prioritizes keywords the following: "If a query currently matches to an exact, phrase or broad match modifier keyword that exists in your account, we'll prevent that query from matching to a different phrase or broad match modifier keyword that's now eligible for the same auction as a result of this update."

For example, the query lawn mowing service near me will continue matching to the phrase match keyword 'lawn moving service' even though the keyword in your account 'grass cutting service' could also now match to that query because it has the same meaning.

In other words, the keywords that are closest to the query take precedence over the other eligible keywords that have the same meaning.

This means that if a user searches for 'grass cutting service', the keyword that gets triggered will still be 'grass cutting service', even if you have a keyword 'lawn mowing service' in your account which is also eligible because it has the same meaning.

Even if you add new keywords to your account that may match more closely to queries than your existing keywords, the previous matching preferences will take precedence over the close-meaning matching.

As Search Engine Land explains in a post:

"If the phrase match keyword “lawn mowing service” is matching the query grass cutting service near me in your account and then you add two keywords, “grass cutting service” and +grass +cutting. They all have the same meaning, but the new keywords are closer word matches to the query than the original keyword. They will prevent “lawn mowing service” from triggering on related grass cutting queries. However, the two new keywords will compete against each other on Ad Rank to determine which triggers the ad."

Another example is if you add a BMM or phrase match to an account. For example, if you have an exact match [lawn mowing services] which is matching to the query grass cutting service because of it is a close variant of lawn mowing services, even if you add a phrase match "lawn moving service", the exact match will still take precedence, because the previous matching preferences will supersede the new same-meaning matching for phrase match and BMM.

How to manage SKAGs following Google's close variants update

There are three things to keep in mind in order to better manage your SKAGs given the changes that Google is making to phrase match, BMM and exact match.

1. Keep match types in the same Ad Groups

If you keep different match type variations of the same keyword in different ad groups, then they will end up competing with each other.

To avoid this, you want to keep all your match type variations in the same ad group. As explained in the scenario above, Google will prefer the exact match keyword over the same-meaning variants for keywords, regardless of whether they are close variants for phrase match or BMM.

2. Do not pause your keywords

As SearchEngineLand put it: "If you pause a keyword in your account, it becomes invisible to the auction system and won't be included in the keyword selection process...This means the other same-meaning keywords in your account could now trigger on the queries the paused keywords had matched to.

3. Avoid limited budgets

Google says that it will do the best to match keywords to existing traffic, but in the case of limited budgets it may be forced to use other queries because the budget is constrained.

What software helps with SKAGs?

The biggest change to SKAGs that Google's close variants changes have brought about is the increased importance of negative keywords. Whereas before, advertisers only had to worry about managing negative keywords for broad, modified broad and phrase match, now it equally applies to exact match keywords in SKAGs.

The basics of SKAGs still apply. You can still control which ad will appear for a particular search term by adding that search term as an exact match keyword and creating a single keyword ad group for it.

The only difference now, is that you cannot control additional close variants of that search term which the ad might appear for, without creating huge lists of negative keywords.

Given these changes, it's especially important to have an effective negative keyword management tool, that can ensure that your ad will appear only for the search query you want it to.

While Google's latest changes broaden the amount of search queries your ads are eligable to be shown for, SKAGS still remain the only effective way to narrow the scope down, so that your ad is shown only to people searching what you want them to search for.

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