Starting on February 18th, Google will be changing phrase match behavior by making it a lot more similar to broad match modified. At the same time, broad match modified will be completely phased out as it will start acting as an evolved version of phrase keywords. This change will be fully rolled out by mid-summer this year, with English language along with seven other languages the first to receive this update. All other languages will follow suit in Q2.

So What’s Actually Changing?

Google is making phrase match work as a combination of phrase and BMM match types while still honoring the word order in phrase keywords. Here’s how it looks in the example below:
Match Type Change Explanation Chart

Here’s another example provided by Google in their announcement. Pay attention to the first table with broad match modified (BMM). It shows which type of searches you will be missing out on if you won’t take any action to update your keyword set. Remember, all broad match modified keywords will start behaving like an updated phrase keyword in the second table.
Broad match modifier queries that will no longer work
Phrase match queries that will match after update

Important to note that all keywords that were using partial BMM, such as +red tennis +shoes, will still become full phrase keywords. In our example, it will become “red tennis shoes”. It’s easy to see that advertisers with high BMM or partial BMM search volume might see a decline in impressions because, in those cases, these new phrase keywords will be matching to fewer searches.

Another factor to take into account is keyword duplication or overlap. With BMM essentially behaving as a phrase keyword, there can be cases where an identical BMM and phrase keyword are matching to the same search. It means that budgets between campaigns or ad groups can shift, so it’s something to keep an eye on after February 18th.

Quick Timeline:
  • February 18th: Google is starting to roll out phrase match and BMM changes to English, German, Spanish, French, Dutch, Italian, Portuguese and Russian languages. We can expect that some accounts will be updated later than others.
  • April to July: Rollout starts for the rest of languages globally.
  • July: Once the new behavior has been rolled out globally, BMM keywords won’t be available for creation. Old ones will still serve with an updated phrase behavior.

What Impact You Can Expect?

Let’s try to review 2 scenarios to determine the potential impact.

  • Scenario A: 60% of search impressions are coming from the current version of phrase match type keywords
  • Scenario B: 60% of search impressions are coming from broad match modified keywords.
Scenario A: Phrase Match Type Account

Potentially sees an increase in volume due to an increase in match rate with more searches. Phrase match will expand to cover additional broad match modifier traffic, ultimately driving more impressions.

For example, “holidays in colorado” as a phrase keyword will now begin to match to “holiday spots in colorado”, which was previously only eligible for BMM.

Often it will depend if most keywords contain just 1-2 words or if the account is structured around long-tail keywords. Short phrase keywords were already acting similar to BMM, but it might trigger even more searches now. Google is promising to honor the word order in all phrase keywords when it’s important to its meaning. Longer-tail keywords might see additional volume, but considering that they are usually already limited due to length, there might be less impact due to this change.

Scenario B: Broad Match Modified Account

Likely to see a decline in volume due to changes to strict word order. Partial BMM keywords will be treated as phrase keywords.

For example keyword +trips +to new york will work as a phrase match type “trips to new york” losing the volume from that partial broad match. It will lead to a potential decline in impressions for these keywords.

Broad match campaigns with smart bidding will become increasingly important for maintaining search volume. Google included a note about smart bidding updates for broad match type keywords in the same announcement in another clear indicator that they’re moving toward AI-based targeting as the predominant method for search. Moving forward, broad match will use more signals to determine the most relevant search by looking at the landing page and other keywords in the ad group.

Don’t forget that there is no need to change existing BMM keyword match types to phrase match as they will automatically behave as phrase keywords. Converting all BMM to phrase match will dislocate historical data for these keywords, so it’s definitely something to keep in mind when considering an account restructure or clean-up.

How To Prepare For The Phrase Match Change?

At Metric Theory, we’ve begun client preparations coinciding with Google’s announcement last week. Here are few main steps we recommend taking to successfully prepare Google Ads accounts for BMM and phrase match transition:
Phrase match change Metric Theory implementation timeline

Preparation phase:

  1. Review the account and check your current keyword set to identify phrase and BMM keywords with significant volume and priority. This will help to predict initial impact before the actual change.
  2. Review historical search query reports. Even with reduced visibility of search terms in Google, you should be able to identify patterns of queries that could potentially be missing as exact or phrase keywords. We recommend gradually adding them to the account after February 18th. Compare your search query reports on a recurring basis to make sure you’re still able to trigger your most important searches.
  3. Label duplicate keywords between phrase and BMM. With BMM keywords transitioning to phrase behavior, there can be considerable overlap. This can cause some budgets to shift to different campaigns. We don’t recommend pausing overlapping keywords immediately, instead, you should be looking at performance trends and eventually keep just one of the keywords live.
  4. Adjustments & monitoring:

  5. Between February 18th and April, closely monitor your keyword report. Look at weekly and monthly trends to look for keywords with declining impression and traffic volume. Adding new keywords that you’ve already prepared will be valuable.
  6. If volume decline is still an issue, consider launching broad keyword campaigns paired with smart bidding strategies. It will allow you to expand your targeting to more searches while still reaching your set business goals.

Why is Google making this change?

To better understand why these changes are happening, we should review what match type adjustments has Google done in a past. Below are most notable changes:

  • September 2014: Google expands exact and phrase match type by including close variants. This change removed a need for separate plural or misspelled keywords. Previously, Google allowed advertisers to select an option if they didn’t want to include close variants.
  • March 2017: Exact match becomes even less exact. Google now includes different word order for exact keywords and function words such as “for”, “in”, ”to” etc. while maintaining the original meaning.
  • September 2018: Again, this change impacts exact match keywords, making it not really an exact match anymore. Google can now trigger different searches for an exact match keyword if it has the same intent, implied words or it’s just simply paraphrased. It’s all about the intent!
  • July 2019: Both phrase and BMM receive an update and can now match to searches that have a similar meaning to the original keyword.
  • February 2021: BMM updated to act more like phrase match before eventually being sunsetted, and broad match keywords will pull on more signals beyond the keyword to match to relevant searches.

As you can see, Google is regularly making changes to its match type structure. On one hand, it improves account structure and generates more search volume for advertisers while still, in most cases, maintaining search relevancy. On the other hand, search ads are becoming looser and a very tightly knit account structure is becoming a thing of the past. All this begs the question, will one day Google leave us just with broad match type keywords paired with smart bidding algorithms? Will even keywords be retired? This idea doesn’t sound that crazy anymore.