Google Keyword Update: Changes to Phrase Match and Eliminating BMM

KLIK Staff

February 12, 2021

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Changes, Recommendations, and Action Items with Google Match Type Updates

February 2021

Google announced phrase match and broad match modifier keywords (BMM) will begin to map to the same user searches. The announcement frames the move as an option for advertisers to gain “more control and better reach” by “bringing the best of broad match modifier into phrase match.” (1) The impact on traffic will vary based on an advertiser’s current build structure and match type usage.

Starting February 18th, these two match types will map to the same searches. Phrase match will fully replace BMM in July 2021, however, existing BMM keywords will continue to work under the new match type logic.

What is the Impact for Google Advertisers?

Google claims they have seen “phrase match and broad match modifier often serve the same use cases, and that you can reach more of the right customers through a combination of the two.” (1) Moving forward, “advertisers predominantly using phrase match are expected to see an incremental increase in clicks and conversions” while “advertisers predominantly using BMM are expected to see a slight decrease in clicks and conversions.” (2)

The thought is combining the two match types will expand the current mapping capacity of phrase match while maintaining the order of words, a trait that does not pertain to BMM (word order did not previously matter).

What does this mean?

Former Definitions:

Phrase Match: Moderate matching, mapping searches with similar meanings of keywords (i.e. landscaping service mapping to “lawn mowing”) while maintaining the keyword order

Broad Match Modifier: Google requires each term (or a close variant) to exist in the search query (i.e. best prices on sneakers would map to +best +sneakers)

New Definitions:

Phrase Match: Expanded matching, mapping to most searches that formerly fit into BMM, while excluding those where order of keywords changes the meaning

It’s important to note the update affects the mapping capacity of phrase match more than it impacts that of BMM

  • Existing phrase match KWs can expect to see an uptick in clicks and conversions post-update. “This is due to the additional queries to which these keywords will now be eligible to match.” (2)
  • Existing broad match modifier KWs can expect to see a slight decrease in clicks and conversions post-update. “The majority of this loss is from BMMs where the modifier was only applied to part of the keyword. In addition we are now considering word order when it’s important to the meaning of the keyword, so some matches that previously matched to BMM will be filtered out.” (2)

Other Algorithm Changes

Over the past year, Google claims they have “made updates to keywords that make it easier for you to balance reach, relevance, and performance.” (1)

  • Broad Match: The broad match algorithm has been updated to serve more relevant searches based on various signals – such as landing pages – when paired with Smart Bidding
  • Exact Match: Queries identical to exact match keywords could formerly map to other match types for a number of reasons including higher bid and quality score.Exact match keywords will now always be preferred to serve on identical queries as long as they are eligible. Ineligibility includes “being budget constrained, being marked ‘low search volume’, disapproved creatives, or other criteria.” (1)
  • Negative KWs: For many advertisers, phrase match negatives are a pivotal part of negative keyword strategy. According to Google, this update does not impact negative keywords. However, advertisers that had been negating exact match from BMM keywords can consider removing these lists – as mentioned above, exact KWs will now be preferred when eligible to serve the same query.

Is This a Good Thing?

The answer to this question largely depends on who’s asking. Impact will vary based on advertiser size, industry, and current account setup. Ultimately, this is a continuation of Google pulling back manual advertiser control in order to shift towards more automation and machine learning. Each advertiser should make sure to fully understand what’s changing in order to prepare and react to the updates:

Phrase Match and BMM Updates:

After the recent removal of a large portion of search term visibility, the migration to phrase match could mitigate the irrelevant searches advertisers are no longer able to see in-platform.

  • “At best, this may simplify data collection for advertisers as phrase and modified broad have been matching similarly since the advent of close variants,” Amy Bishop, owner of Cultivative, told Search Engine Land. (4)

Potential negative implications: While Google claims they can determine whether or not order matters to a keyword, the updates to mapping algorithms could cause Google to infer order matters in places advertisers do not intend – specifically those with prepositions (i.e. in, to, of). The wider reach of “close variant” queries has also led to some reduced control over mapping, i.e. “degree” queries mapping to “program” keywords.

  • “There are folks that will see negative implications because there are certain industries where word order completely changes the context of the query and this is going to be a painful change for them…Google promises to take this into account but it’s very clear with close variants that, while continually improving, contextual matching just isn’t perfect.” (4)

Broad and Exact Match Updates:

Given that broad match casts the widest net in terms of matching, this update should cut down on irrelevant searches. The exact match algorithm update should remove the need for campaign or ad group negatives exclusively used for proper mapping.

Potential negative implications: Searches containing queries not mentioned on landing pages or other signals could limit the ability to serve based on Google’s accuracy in determining relevant and irrelevant signals. Depending on the extent to which Google determines exact match keywords are ineligible (i.e. low search volume), misaligned match type mapping could still happen.

What to Expect and What to Do Next:

For all advertisers:

  • Monitor performance and spend shifts starting on February 18, 2021. We recommend all advertisers have a strong grasp of their historical data and forecast expected budgets so they can adapt to any changes in spend level and conversion rate resulting from the new changes.

If you are currently using BMM:

  • Expect a slight decrease in volume anticipated in the form of irrelevant searches
  • Keep a close eye on keywords with prepositions as Google will likely now determine the order matters with these keywords
  • Continue running BMM keywords – no updates are needed to match types or existing BMM keywords
  • Starting in July 2021, advertisers will no longer be able to build new BMM keywords. Moving forward, Google recommends building new keywords using phrase match ahead of July

If you are currently using Phrase Match:

  • Expect a large increase in volume and looser search term mapping
  • Monitor search terms and use negative keywords to remove irrelevant searches

If you are currently using Broad Match:

  • Expect a decrease in volume anticipated in the form of irrelevant searches not aligned with landing pages and other keywords
  • Update landing pages to add as many relevant signals to ensure the algorithm does not determine searches are irrelevant based on landing page signals

If you are currently using Exact Match:

  • Expect a possible increase in volume depending on current negative strategy to ensure proper mapping
  • Ensure your exact match keywords are eligible to serve prior to the algorithm update with strong quality score and ad rank

What Others Are Saying:

Search Engine Journal:

  • The core update is consolidation of keywords and management as Google can allegedly now determine intent for whether or not the order of keywords is important.

Search Engine Land:

  • Google now looks for additional signals to deliver more relevant searches including landing pages for broad match keywords.
  • “The change could, potentially, save advertisers time managing keywords, but there is sure to be a lot of time spent recalibrating campaigns. Traffic may fluctuate as these changes roll out, so advertisers should keep an eye on their performance metrics so they can make the necessary adjustments.”


  • The advancements that led to the removal of broad match modifier have strengthened other match types – specifically exact match.
  • The exact match algorithm is being updated to ensure the exact match keyword will serve on all search queries that are a direct match to the keyword.
  • “The flip side of this update is that if your ad rank is too low for that exact match keyword (read: bidding too low), you may not be eligible for an auction you would’ve been eligible for on a different match type.”
  • “Google doesn’t recommend taking any actions until April when there should be enough data to make informed decisions. If you delete BMM keywords or convert them to phrase match before April, it’ll likely result in a greater loss of volume versus if you wait.”

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