Google Exact Match Changes: Review Your Search Terms Reports

Google Ads, (AdWords) has become a mainstay of most advertising programs, and certainly of most digital advertising programs. Let’s face it, it’s pretty easy to light up a new campaign. But, it’s not so easy to do it well. Then, once running, there are a lot of actions to make a paid search program run well. Chief among these is the search query analysis using the Search Terms Report.

A little background for those unfamiliar with query data.

When you bid on keywords, Google will decide if a user really meant something close to the keyword on which you bid. It used to be that you could say “match only exact queries.” But that option is gone. You can say “exact”, but Google will decide “how exact” you really mean. So, your ads appear for queries that are different than the target keywords on which you bid.

This has always been true for broad (modified or standard) and phrase match bids. But the changes to how Google interprets exact match have moved it to a vague area.

The query report shows the queries for which Google has shown your ad. These may look nothing like your target keywords. The times that you can isolate your terms based on exact match are gone, not even close anymore. Use the Google Search Terms report (in the keyword area of the UI) to see the queries for which your ad was shown. This also shows you the target keyword, ad group, and campaign associated with the query.

How To Use The Search Terms Reports

Getting the Search Term Data

We find it best to pull the search terms data into a spreadsheet. You can download the reports in the Google Ads interface, or (as we do) connect to Google Ads via api and pull the data automatically.

Google Ads Search Term Report nav

If you have conversion data feeding back to Google Ads, be sure this is part of your data set.

Before you dive too deep

The first step is a quick review of the report. The purpose is to determine if Google Ads is showing your exact match keywords for a whole lot of non-exact queries. Ultimately, you should consider revamping the account campaigns to adjust for the changes in exact match. A review of this report will tell you if that change should happen sooner rather than later.

If there are many queries that are different from the exact keyword, you will spend a lot of time managing the changes based on the Search Term report. If this is the case, you may want to jump to restructuring your campaigns now; essentially pushing everything to number three below.
If you’re one of the fortunate people who have a lot of time, you should probably do #3 now anyway.

Using the Search Term Report

Reviewing the user queries should be a regular practice in managing your campaigns. The actions apply to all ad groups, and now, all match types.

There are three basic decisions to make when reviewing the Search Terms(query) report:
Add a query term as a negative match
Add a query term as a new target keyword to the ad group
Create a new ad group, or campaign structure

Negative match

If you add queries as negative keywords, look beyond the ad group that generated the query. It may be applicable to other ad groups or the broader campaigns. No sense restricting it in one ad group only to have Google Ads decide to show your ad from another campaign anyway.

Add the query term

There is a tendency for some campaign managers to throw everything from the Search Terms report that is relevant to the ad group into the keywords. This has a couple of issues.

First, it leads to keyword bloat. Having hundreds of keywords in an ad group dilutes it’s relevance to any one term. Be sure only keywords that are tightly aligned with the core message are in the ad group.

Second, Google has a “low search volume” designation that is applied to keywords that have few searches. The days of bidding on the hyper-long tail are gone; Google will simply not even create an auction for these keywords. Instead, Google uses its AI to decide if your ad should appear for the long search terms. Putting everything in an ad group simply clutters it with terms that never see the search results.

Create a new ad group or campaign

If you see a lot of search terms that truly deserve to be directly managed, pulled these from the report and develop new campaigns or ad groups just as if you were starting a new program. Build a solid campaign structure around these new terms, even if it is just one ad group.

The change to Google’s Exact match policy has taken some level of control away from search marketers. But, with proper use of the Search Term report, you can effectively create an “exact” match ad group by building out a strong negative match list.

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