Not Exactly a Match: The Evolution & Impact of Match Types


Google defines “exact” as: precise or not approximated in any way, and “broad” as: covering a large number and wide scope of subjects or areas. However, over the past few years, Google has redefined what these terms mean to search advertisers when it comes to match types.

Marketers were fascinated by the introduction of Broad Match Modified in 2010; it meant brands were no longer restricted by the confines of previous targeting:

  • Exact – targeting so precise that did not capture the thousands of unique queries
  • Phrase – targeting that barely offered a buffer for surrounding queries
  • Broad – targeting that acted as an open net

Broad Match Modified offered a better solution: flexible keyword targeting still focused on primary business objectives.

Four years later, Google recognized that even with pliable targeting and variations it was still difficult for marketers to reach the searcher at scale, and so it launched Close Variants, which captured queries that were similar in wording and order to the bid-upon keyword.

Fast forward another four years to today. Google recognized there were still shortcomings between how consumers search and how targeting functioned. In response, it shifted the definition of “exact” from precise to approximate with an expansion to Close Variants, that seeks to deliver results based on searcher intent.

How it Works

Historically, Exact targeting only delivered a marketer’s ad if a consumer’s search query matched to the exact order and terms the advertiser bid on. This Exact Close Variants update utilizes machine learning to decipher searcher intent and deliver results that share the same meaning and include implied words or relevant paraphrases. For example, bidding on [camping yosemite] can show for “camping in Yosemite”, “camping sites” or “site camping”.

This adds to the existing list of variants that are allowed within Exact Match:


  • Misspellings
  • Singular or plural forms
  • Stemmings (for example, floor and flooring)
  • Abbreviations
  • Accents
  • Reordered words with the same meaning (for example, [shoes men’s] and [men’s shoes])
  • Addition or removal of function words. Function words are prepositions (like in or to), conjunctions (like for or but), articles (like a or the) and other words that don’t impact the intent of a search. For example, [shoes for men] is a close variant of [men shoes] with the function word “for” removed.


  • Implied words (for example, if your exact match keyword is [daydream vr headset], your ads may show on searches for “daydream headset” since “vr” is implied)
  • Synonyms and paraphrases (for example, if your exact match keyword is [bathing suits], ads may also show on searches for “swimming suits”)
  • Same search intent (for example, if your exact match keyword is [images royalty free], ads may also show on searches for “free copyright images”)

Resolution POV

In a world of automation and data-first solutions, Exact Close Variants shows Google’s dedication to improving campaign management for advertisers. This update disrupts how advertisers should think about “exact” by enabling them to focus more broadly on business growth instead of keyword building.

As Google rolls out the update, the impact on Exact match terms is expected to help advertisers:

  1. Reach more searchers
  2. Insert their brand into more competitive spaces
  3. Remove repetition from campaign management

Though there may be an adjustment period at the onset, this change provides an opportunity for search management teams to better align their efforts with strategic business objectives by:

  • Perform search query reports (SQRs) regularly to identify the close variants ads show against
  • Apply match type negatives to improve the accuracy of keyword matching
  • Capitalize on machine learning to drive business results

Finally, while Google only recognized a 3% increase in Impressions and Clicks in initial testing, this update will relinquish the control teams have on how each ad dollar is spent.


While the definition of “exact” has changed for search advertisers, Google’s stated goal of “be seen by customers at the very moment that they’re searching on Google for the things you offer” remains the same. With advanced targeting capabilities and solutions, this update enables advertisers to shift time spent on keyword builds to monitoring, expansion and strategic planning, ultimately helping search management teams work smarter, not harder.