Breaking News! Google Ads to Phase Out Modified Broad Match

November 2, 2023

Google announced today what is potentially a large change for certain paid search managers: the broad-match modified version of keywords will be going away. Read More Here.

Modified broad match will be sunset, with phrase match taking over. Here's what this means for advertisers and how queries match to keywords.

Google announced today what is potentially a large change for certain paid search managers: the broad match modified version of keywords will be going away.

This change will start rolling out from the start of February 2021 and will be implemented on the start of July 2021 according to Google.

What’s Happening to Broad Match Modified?

Phrase match will now expand to cover broad match modified instances. Google notes it will “continue to respect word order when it’s important to meaning.”

Advertisers will not have to take any specific action. Performance data will stay where it is, but the new matching behavior will start to take place.

Broad match modified keywords can continue to be added until July. At that point, it’s anticipated the full roll-out will be completed and no new ones will be added. Existing broad match modified keywords will continue to serve, but will be matched based on this update.

This is much like the transition from text ads to expanded text ads, where they could continue to serve, but advertiser ceased being able to create new ones.

Google notes this streamlining helps save account management time so brands are spending less time managing specific keywords.


See How Losing Broad Match Modified Will Impact Your Google Ads

How will the retirement of Broad Match Modified keywords affect your Google Ads performance? A former Googler shares his script for measuring the impact.

What Is the Broad Match Modified Keyword Match Type?

There are four types of match types: exact, phrase, broad, and negative.

Each is designed to help advertisers specify how closely a user’s query should match their chosen keyword before an ad is triggered.

Google has long maintained that about 15% of all searches done by users are unique enough that it would be impossible for advertisers to have an exact match keyword (where the keyword has to be an almost exact match to the search query).

This is why match types like phrase and broad exist: in order to show ads when the search query is related to the keyword, but maybe uses additional or slightly different words.

But while advertisers often enjoy the additional conversions they can get by giving Google some flexibility with match types, there are instances where advertisers want a hybrid keyword match type approach.

They want to specify certain words in the keyword that are critical to the business while being less strict about other words.

For example, with the keyword [hotels in Miami], a boutique hotel that only has a location in Miami probably will be pretty strict about wanting the word “Miami” to be part of the search.

But they might be okay with changing the word “hotel” to “lodging” because they could satisfy the needs of either user.

This advertiser could specify this preference by adding a plus symbol “+” in front of the critical words in a broad match keyword: [hotels in +Miami].

This modified version of a broad match keyword is called a broad match modified (BMM) keyword.

Taking the same example but considering an advertiser representing a global hotel chain with hundreds of locations, they may be more strict about wanting the word “hotels” to be preserved because they find that when their ads show for searches that include the word “motels,” their conversion rate is lower because their properties tend to be higher-end and more expensive.

They would have the BMM keyword [+hotels in Miami].

Full vs. Partial BMM

In gauging the impact of Google’s change on your accounts, it’s useful to understand there are two types of BMM keywords: full BMM and partial BMM.

The examples we gave above where only some words have a “+” in front of them are both examples of a partial BMM.

When Frederick worked at Google, it was his belief that this was what advertisers primarily wanted, as it gave them more control. It was similar to they got with exact match, with the added benefit of additional search volume afforded from some words being broad match.

But as it turned out, BMM was never really made into a distinct match type or given a proper interface to guide advertisers to using it as intended.

As a result of this second-rate treatment, it was used in an unexpected way.

Advertisers, always short on time and looking for a shortcut, simply started adding a plus in front of every word of every keyword.

And so, BMM effectively became full BMM for most advertisers.

Surprisingly, there are even people at Google who didn’t know that the [+] didn’t have to go in front of every word.

At Optmyzr, they analyzed a sample of 162 million keywords at the start of February 2021 and found that:

  • 89% of advertisers use broad match modified keywords.
  • 55% of advertisers who use broad match modified always put a plus in front of every term in their BMM queries, i.e. [+video +games +for +xbox].
  • 95% of all broad match modified keywords have a plus in front of every term of the keyword and are full BMM.
  • Only 5% of keywords are more selective in adding the [+] to words and are partial BMMs, like .

As you can see, the vast majority of BMM usage is full BMM.

Partial BMM seems more indicative of advertisers simply forgetting to add a [+] before every word rather than intentional usage.

SOURCE: by Frederick Vallaeys

What Advertisers Should Expect

The big question is always what will happen to volume and relevance, since those lead to more or less conversions down the line.

The expected impact is well summed up by David Wihl from the Google API team in his post for the Google Ads API blog:

  • Advertisers predominantly using phrase match are expected to see an incremental increase in clicks and conversions.
  • This is due to the additional queries to which these keywords will now be eligible to match. For example, [holidays in Zambia] as a phrase keyword will now begin to match to [holiday spots in Zambia], which was previously only eligible for BMM.
  • Advertisers predominantly using BMM are expected to see a slight decrease in clicks and conversions.
  • The majority of this loss is from BMMs where the modifier was only applied to part of the keyword, e.g., [tennis +shoes].
  • 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.

I like to add the partial vs full BMM component to it so for me, here’s how it should work out:

  • Phrase match will gain some traffic because extra words may be put in between the phrase.
  • Full BMMs will lose some traffic because word order will have to be preserved in some cases.
  • Partial BMMs will lose more traffic because without the ability to selectively [+] words, partial BMMs will no longer work; they will become more like full BMMs which are more restrictive.

About changes to phrase match and broad match modifier

Starting in February 2021, phrase match will begin to incorporate behaviors of broad match modifier (BMM) to simplify keywords and make it easier to reach relevant customers. With this change, both phrase and broad match modifier keywords will have the same matching behavior, and may show ads on searches that include the meaning of your keyword. This also means that the new matching behavior will consider word order when relevant to the meaning. For example, the phrase match keyword “moving services NYC to Boston.” will continue to cover searches like “affordable moving services NYC to Boston.” It will also cover searches that traditionally only matched under broad match modifier, such as “NYC corporate moving services to Boston.” Phrase match won’t show ads for searches where the direction is reversed (for example, people looking to move from “Boston to New York City”).

In July 2021, the creation of BMM keywords will no longer be available, but the same matching functionality will be available through phrase match. Existing BMM keywords will continue to serve using the new behavior. For more information on this change, read the official announcement post about the new behavior.

This change will become available to advertisers in the following languages first: English, German, Spanish, French, Italian, Dutch, Portuguese, and Russian. For all other Google Ads languages, the new matching behavior will roll out later this year.

You won’t need to take any specific action for your phrase match or BMM keywords in order to see these changes. If you have further questions about the steps you can take, review the list of FAQs below.

Keep in mind: The changes to phrase match and BMM will not impact negative keyword match types. Learn more about negative keywords.

What's Happening with Broad Match Modifier?

BMM keywords will continue to work using the new phrase matching behavior.

  • During the transition, you will still be able to create BMM keywords using the BMM notation (+keyword). BMM keywords will behave the same as the updated phrase match using the quotation marks (“keyword”).Therefore, it’s recommended to only create phrase match keywords going forward.
  • Broad match modifiers will no longer operate on a word within the keyword. If you use a keyword such as +moving services, the operator will now apply to both words, similar to +moving +services or “moving services”.
  • In July 2021, you’ll no longer be able to create new broad match modifier keywords. However, your existing BMM keywords will continue to serve using the new matching behavior.
  • You will still be able to edit your keyword bids and URL, however, if you try to edit the keyword text the keyword match type will be updated to phrase match.

Since your BMM keywords will continue to work using the new phrase matching behavior, you will be able to keep all of your performance history and will not need to take any immediate action. Since phrase and BMM keywords will behave the same, you may find it easier to start using phrase match.

Keep in mind: Your existing BMM keywords will continue to work and there are no performance benefits to converting your BMM keywords. If you choose to convert your BMM keywords to phrase match, the BMM keywords’ performance statistics will not carry over to the new phrase instances of the keywords.

What can I expect to see with my phrase and BMM traffic?

For your phrase keywords, it’s possible you might see an increase in traffic volumes. It is recommended that you closely monitor your search terms report and account performance.

For your BMM keywords, especially those using modifiers on some words but not all (for example +moving services), it’s possible you might see a decrease in traffic volumes.

To avoid losing traffic volume, consider taking the following actions:

  • Add additional relevant phrase match keywords
  • Add broad match keywords paired with a Smart Bidding strategy
  • Explore “Add keywords” recommendations to recover traffic volume
  • Compare your BMM keywords’ performance over time to see which search queries show decreased traffic, and add new phrase match keywords where there are decreases

How can I prepare for this change?

While no action is required, you should monitor your performance and update bids, budgets, and targeting as needed to adjust for any performance changes. Also note that changing BMM keywords to phrase match prior to the rollout could result in a loss of traffic volume. See the official announcement post for the full list of recommendations.

When will this change take place for my language?

In February 2021, the new matching behavior will begin to roll out for both phrase and BMM keywords in English, German, Spanish, French, Italian, Dutch, Portuguese, and Russian.

The updated phrase match will go into effect for all remaining languages by July 2021. In the meantime, phrase and broad match modified keywords in these languages will continue to use the old definitions:

  • Phrase match: Matches user searches with the keyword phrase (or close variations of the phrase) with additional words before or after. Close variations include terms with the same meaning.
  • Broad match modifier: Matches user searches with all the keyword terms designated with a + sign (or close variations of those terms) in any order. Close variations include terms with the same meaning. Additional words may appear before, after, or between the terms.

Will this impact my keyword Quality Score?

This change does not impact Quality Score. Learn more about Quality Score.

If I have both BMM and phrase keywords in my account, which will be preferred in the Auction?

There is no difference in treatment between phrase and BMM keywords. Typically the keyword with the highest Ad Rank would be preferred for triggering an ad, however there are exceptions to the preferences. Learn more about similar keywords in a Google Ads account.

What happens to my BMM keywords that use modifiers on some words but not others?

Broad match modifiers will no longer operate on a word within the keyword. If you use a keyword such as +moving services, the operator will now apply to both words, similar to +moving +services or “moving services”. To help offset the decrease in traffic, the following actions are recommended:

  • Use a full broad match (for example, moving services), especially if you’re using Smart Bidding
  • Add additional user searches through the search terms report
  • Explore “Add Keywords” recommendations and Keyword Planner to recover traffic volume

How can I convert my BMM keywords to phrase match?

Keep in mind: Your existing BMM keywords will continue to work and there are no performance benefits to converting your BMM keywords. If you choose to convert your BMM keywords to phrase match, the BMM keywords’ performance statistics will not carry over to the new phrase instances of the keywords.

Once the rollout is complete in April 2021, you may wish to convert your BMM keywords to phrase match. Additional tools will be launched to more easily convert BMM keywords throughout the year. To help you remove duplicate BMM and phrase keywords, Google will start to surface recommendations to help remove redundant BMM keywords in the same ad group where the keyword is already present as phrase match.


What Advertisers Can Do

As always, advertisers must monitor their search terms reports.

Yes, I know that Google recently restricted that data but there are still some insights there to help monitor the impact.

With the script in this post, you can get a report about your keyword match type breakdown, including full vs partial BMM.

Use that in combination with the predicted impact by match type shown above to gauge how important this change may be to your accounts.

Match Type report with BMM

The script also calculates how many keywords will be duplicates once BMM has been fully absorbed into phrase match.

It does this by looking for keywords with the same text that exist in both BMM and phrase match inside the same campaign.

Duplicate keyword count after phrase and BMM merge

For account hygiene, it is recommended to remove the BMM keyword.

The sooner you remove duplicates, the sooner you will get metrics to accrue towards the keyword that will not be retired later this year.

Finally, the script checks what percentage of clicks are coming from campaigns using Smart Bidding.

It is recommended that advertisers leverage the power of auction-time bidding so that Google can avoid overspending on related but possibly lower quality queries that may start to garner traffic.

The argument for Smart Bidding is similar to one I made related to close variant matches in section one of this earlier post here on SEJ.

Preparing for Broad Match Modified Retiring: A Script

Copy and paste the full code of the script you can find here on GitHub into a new script in your Google Ads account.

If you want the MCC version of the code, you can find that here.

In either case, find the line that refers to a spreadsheet URL and enter the URL of your own copy of this template spreadsheet.

More Resources:

SOURCE: by Frederick Vallaeys

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