Whatever the motives behind Google's recent removal of exact-match keyword targeting from AdWords, the resulting uncertainty makes keyword research that much more difficult. In today'st the implications of the change, and offers tips for the most effective research going forward.
For reference, here's a still of this week's whiteboard!
This week we a're chatting about keyword research and the challenge that's being presented with the loss of exact match bidding capabilities inside of Google's AdWords platform.
AdWords has sort of become a keyword research and opportunity tool of choice for SEO and, of course, PPC folks for a decade now. We've always had some optionality around how we choose keywords inside of AdWords.
Say I was selling groceries online. Maybe I'm selling Asian groceries online and, specifically, fish sauce, and I want to do some modifications to which terms and phrases I bid on. So I could use things like these brackets to say exact match only, bid on keywords that are precisely fish sauce, no modifiers, no changes, not fishes sauce, not fish sauces, not Vietnamese fish sauce. I just want the word fish sauce. Or I could go with a partial phrase match, meaning no modifications to this part of the phrase, but yes if it's Vietnamese fish sauce or fish sauce recipes, that's fine. Or I could go fish sauce broad match and then let Google sort of extrapolate out and add all sorts of things on there.
Now, as of September of 2014, Google AdWords is making a change to their policy. All campaigns and keywords that you employ inside campaigns must use close variance. Essentially, they're removing the exact match and saying, "Hey, we don't think this power tool is useful, and that control is going to be lost to folks."
There are two ways to look at this. One is Google took down their plaque on the wall that said "Do no evil" and put up a plaque that said "Be kind of evil when it makes us more money." That is one perspective.
As many folks have pointed out, including Larry Kim from WordStream, many, many campaigns, in fact a vast majority of campaigns that are integrated with WordStream he noted, don't even actually use exact match in this format. So maybe they're not losing all that much, and Google is just saying, "Hey, this is a very tight feature, and we're worried about how small businesses and people who are bidding might be employing it. Not all the users who are using it are power users. People are getting confused. So we're taking away that functionality."
My guess is the truth is probably somewhere in between. This will almost certainly lead to a considerable amount of more revenue for Google, because a lot more people will be bidding on terms and phrases that perhaps they should be bidding on and really want and perhaps they didn't intend to bid on and don't particularly want.
In any case, it loses some of that fine control. That's very frustrating for PPC folks, but it can also be frustrating for us SEO folks. Now, we honestly don't know. We don't have data. It'll be pretty interesting to see whether in September this changes.
If you go to Google's Keyword Planner today inside of AdWords -- which is free by the way, you just need to sign in with a Google account -- you can do a search term like "fish sauce" and it'll return a bunch of things. I did a search for fish sauce, and it returned for me things like fish sauce, average monthly searches 22,200, competition low. This is not competition for SEO, by the way. You can get that from something like Moz's Keyword Difficulty Score. This is competition in AdWords itself -- how many people are bidding, how aggressively they're bidding, that sort of thing.
Then, it suggests other things like Thai fish sauce, fish sauce substitute, vegan fish sauce -- I don't think that's going to work -- sauces for fish. Sauces for fish? Are you kidding me? I understand that technically has the words sauce and fish in it, but that has an entirely different meaning. It's sort of odd that they're showing that to me. Then, they give me the search volume for all these and this kind of thing.
What we don't know is whether these are exact, partial, phrase match, broad match. My guess is they're broad match, whether they include those close variance or don't include them, the number.
It's been kind of tough. It'll be very interesting to see if, when this shift happens in September, a lot of these numbers change dramatically, and we're seeing like oh, yeah, Google was showing me more specific exact data previously for these terms, and now they're showing broader numbers for each of these, or whether that's already the case today. I suspect it's actually already the case today, and it's been a while, a couple of years, since Google actually offered truer, closer to reality numbers around what these are.
I think these numbers probably include a lot of close variance and potentially even some broad case matches.
SEO the lost ability makes it a lot more difficult. The bidding situation in AdWords makes it a lot more difficult to determine keyword performance, and keyword performance is something that's critical to us.
That is pretty frustrating, because we often use AdWords data, PPC data to say, " this is a super valuable keyword. SEO team, let's go get this search term and try and rank for it organically, because when we rank for it in paid search, we get a lot of ROI from that." That's going to make it harder, absolutely.Possibly, it means more noise in these keyword research numbers. That noise could come from the inclusion of closer variance in the data. We will see how that happens. That potentially muddies the research and ranking process for us. It might be the case that this is already happening though.