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Google Ads Match Type Updates Feb 2021

By Danny Kemp, Senior Director, Search Engine Marketing


Google announced on 2/4/21 changes to paid search keyword match types starting mid-February.

The broad match modifier type is being removed and phrase match will now function how broad match modifier previously did.  Current Broad Match Modified keywords will continue to serve, with slightly different matching, but from July 2021 advertisers will no longer be able to create new broad keywords with modifiers (+) in the string.


Phrase match keywords previously matched (closely) to queries that contained all of the words in the keyword, and usually in the same order as the keyword.

Broad modifier match keywords previously matched to queries that contained 1 or more of the words in the keyword that was designated with a + sign, plus another word in the keyword was at least tangentially relevant to the users search (intent). 


Google’s stated purpose to make it easier for advertisers to reach customers based on search query intent, made possible by Google’s improved understanding of search intent.  Google says that advertisers can now reach the searches wanted by just using phrase match without worrying about the searches they don’t want.  Google’s understanding of user intent and its relevance to an advertisers’ keywords and ads can easily be questioned when viewing the search term reporting that shows what searches generated ad clicks, and any company investing in paid search should review and act on that reporting often.


Phrase match keywords previously served an important middle ground between broad match and exact match, and while it’s still a middle ground, it’s moved more toward broad match where the queries matched to the keywords have greater variance.  That greater variance allows Google to increase ad impressions for advertisers who previously limited their match type usage to just phrase and exact, and it limits advertisers’ control over what queries their keywords are matched to when only using phrase and exact match types.

The change may save advertisers time in keyword building, management, and bid optimization processes.  That may also be offset, at least initially, as adjustments are made to recalibrate campaigns.  As impressions shift from broad modifier keyword to phrase match keywords, phrase match keywords’ clicks and spend will increase, but CPA and conversion rate are likely to deviate from recent baselines so advertisers will need to adjust bids and/or automated bidding strategies.

Match Types Moving Forward

  • Exact match: for precision
  • Broad match: for reach
  • Phrase match: in Google’s words, to combine the best of both
  • Broad Match Modifier (retired 2021)



Negative keywords, which block ad impressions if they’re included in a query, are more important than ever with this change to ensure that the users’ intent is relevant to the promoted product or service.  USIM’s commitment to proactive and focused negative keyword research and implementation will help ensure that users’ intent is relevant to our clients’ promoted products services.  This is especially  crucial since Google increased the amount of queries hidden under it’s ‘Other Search Terms’ reporting line item in September of 2020 -    

We’ll also be closely monitoring spend and performance at campaign and keyword match type levels.  Keywords bids that were typically higher for phrase match keywords than broad or broad modifier match will likely need to be reduced, dependent on performance. 

We’re reviewing user search queries recently matched to broad modifier keywords for potential new phrase match keywords as needed.  And we’ll be reviewing top phrase match queries before and after this change for potential new exact match keywords.

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