Earlier on in the month Google announced a change to Google AdWords which made it just that little bit harder to control. Online marketing is a space stuffed full of variables, so when any slight level of control begins to erode I think it’s time to take notice.

Managed properly, Google AdWords should represent the most controllable piece of website traffic you can get.  Just think about it. Buying clicks on very specific search phrases, presenting ads you have written, and placing these visitors exactly where you want them on your website. Three beautiful levels of control. Unfortunately, those starting out with Google AdWords usually fail at the first hurdle — purchasing clicks for specific search terms they are interested in. By default Google lets you fill your advertising account with keywords you bid on at a “broad match” level. You can find out more on the different match types here. Basically, the default setting allows Google to show your ad for terms which are similar to the term you want. So if you pick the keyword “dress shoes”, your ad could be shown for “womens high heels” when you may not stock a single pair.

Thankfully there was a match type that allowed you to define exactly the search term you wanted. Called “exact match”, it let you list the search terms in square brackets, and by doing so Google was supposed to show your ad for just what you wrote down.

Unfortunately, it is the definition of exact match bidding that Google changed last week.

I think it’s easier to understand the rationale of the change if you imagine a place where nobody clicks on any Google ads. Some would think it nice to just see the organic results now top and centre without any advertising cluttering up their screen. That would be until a few months later when they head off to find something and find nothing showing. Google would not be Google without the revenue it derives from people clicking. This is one of the reasons why your ability to deliver advertising that is clicked on — a lot — will be rewarded by Google with high quality scores and therefore lower click costs: a fact that surprised most people in our last Google AdWords training class.

With this in mind, you can see that exact-match bid terms are exactly what Google doesn’t want cluttering up your account, as it could possibly limit the opportunity to generate valid clicks from very closely matched terms — hence the drive to make exact a little less exact than it was before. The table below is taken directly from their release — it shows you some benign examples of how this could pan out with “function” words either added or removed.

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Or in this case where they reorder words to make it even easier to present your ads to the right people.

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So what does this all mean.

Well firstly, there’s the option of fighting the change with the all powerful “negative keyword” option. This allows you to upload a list of terms you do not want your ads to be displayed for to ensure your version of “exact” stays “exact”.

Or secondly, you can roll with the punches and let Google take your exact-match terms on a journey of discovery to see what you have been missing out on. Then you can check out your “search term reports” in AdWords to see if the multibillion dollar internet giant has helped you make some money whilst also helping them add a few more dollars to their bottom line. You may be pleasantly surprised at what you see.