Google Announces Close Variant Expansion for Phrase Match and Broad Match Modifiers


Google recently rolled out an update to expand the query mapping of Phrase Match and Broad Match Modifier (BMM) keywords. Because this update is a definitive change to the most fundamental targeting criteria in search — the keyword — its details and impacts warrant close inspection.

If we zoom out a few years, it’s clear this update is simply the latest tweak in an ongoing evolution to match types that began back in 2012 when Google first announced the concept of “close variants” on Exact Match keywords. Here is a quick timeline:

  • Pre-2012 – Exact Match meant precise query mapping only.
  • 2012 – “Close Variants” introduced so Exact Match keywords can map to user queries with plurals, misspellings, and abbreviations. Advertisers can opt out of this feature.
  • 2014 – Opt out is removed, making the inclusion of close variants required on Exact Match.
  • 2017 – Close variants’ definition expands so Exact Match keywords can map to word order variations and “function words” can be added, replaced, or removed.
  • 2018 – Close variants’ definition expands again so Exact Match keywords can map to synonyms or “same meaning” words.
  • Now – All of the above applies to Phrase Match and Broad Match Modifier keywords.

Along with many other updates Google has made in recent years, this one is likely intended to lower barriers-to-entry for novice advertisers. However, it may create some additional complexities for more advanced search professionals. A business owner trying to set up search ads themselves — or an entry-level analyst — might be shocked by the breadth of variations consumers will use to search for a specific product or service. Google is attempting to solve for this knowledge gap by interpreting the intent behind targeted keywords. On the other hand, seasoned pros know how to mine queries and expand keyword lists based on actual performance, and often create some competitive differentiation by doing so. For those in the latter camp, there are some important details in the fine print here:

Mature accounts with extensive keyword lists will find great comfort in this key point: “If a query currently matches to an exact, phrase, or broad match modifier keyword that exists in your account, we’ll prevent that query from matching to a different phrase or broad match modifier keyword that’s now eligible for the same auction as a result of this update.”

Translation: Your carefully constructed campaigns with thousands of keywords mapping to tailored ad copy will not suddenly turn to mush.

Resolution POV

There are three essential takeaways for search practitioners:

  1. Search Query Analysis remains one of the most critical optimization activities in your accounts. Monitoring what is matching to your keywords and adding new positive and negative (directional and blocking) keywords has always been extremely important. Its importance is perhaps even greater now that new queries may be appearing in your accounts.
  2. Consider adding campaign-level negatives for irrelevant tokens to ensure these don’t immediately map to another ad group as a close variant. Even consider account-level negatives, depending on the structure you’ve set up.
  3. Be careful about pausing keywords to prevent serving; whether due to underperformance or for temporary reasons. Pausing a keyword makes it invisible in the auction, so the same queries may map to another keyword in another ad group if the proper negatives are not in place.


With Google’s recent rolled update to expand the query mapping of Phrase Match and Broad Match Modifier (BMM) keywords, we strongly encourage you to read the full update from Google, linked at the top and again here.

For those looking to dive deeper with various examples, there is an extensive rundown available here.