For all of us, 2020 was a year of change, disorder, and frustration. Even in Google Ads, the pandemic changed what we search for, where we search, and how we search online – and every PPC expert had to adjust to the new normal on and off the SERP. Entering 2021, we were all hoping to get back some control in our lives and our Paid Search campaigns. Unfortunately, Google didn’t share our plans.

Broad Modified Keyword Changes

Yesterday, Google announced that it’ll be reducing the number of keyword match types from 4 to 3, by eliminating Broad Match Modified keywords. Instead, phrase match keywords will now serve ads to more traffic. Confused? Same. Let’s break that down –

What Are Keyword Match Types?

Google manages over 3.5 Billion searches everyday. Not even the most dedicated PPC manager could possibly prepare for every potential search term coming from Google. For that reason, Google introduced 4 different match types to help advertisers reach different kinds of search terms with their keywords while controlling what traffic they buy. There are, erm, were:

  • Exact Match Keywords: will only serve an ad when a user searches for that exact search term, or close variant. This is the simplest case – the exact match keyword for [Chicago apartments] shows an ad when someone searches for the term Chicago apartments. These exact match keywords are denoted within brackets in Google Ads.
  • Phrase Match Keywords: traditionally would only serve an ad when a user searches for a term containing that keyword phrase in that word order. This allows for your keywords to reach some additional traffic – the phrase match keyword “Chicago apartments” might show an ad when someone searches for the term Luxury Chicago Apartments. These phrase match keywords are denoted within quotations in Google Ads.
  • Broad Modified Match Keywords: are used to serve an ad when a user searches for a term containing that specific words within a keyword, although not necessarily in that order. This allows for your keywords to be much more flexible in the traffic they reached, while still maintaining control of the quality of the searches you pay for. For instance, the broad modified match keyword +Chicago +Apartments would show an ad anytime those 2 words appeared in a search, even if they were not in that order or had words in between, such as for the searches Luxury Apartments Chicago or Apartments Boystown Chicago. These broad modified match keywords could be created using the + annotation before the word you required to be in the search term.
  • Broad Keywords: are the widest reaching keywords. They don’t rely on semantics like the other match types and will show whenever a users’ search term is contextually related to the keyword. For example, the broad match keyword Chicago Apartments could serve an ad to someone looking for Chicago rentals. Broad match keywords have no special annotation in Google Ads.

What is Google Ads Changing with Phrase and Broad Modified Match Keywords?

Google’s announcement means the end of Broad Modified Match keywords. With their departure, phrase match keywords will pick up some – but not all – of the traffic previously covered by broad modified match. Moving forward, phrase match keywords will serve an ad whenever each word of your keyword is in the search term. Phrase match keywords will no longer respect the order of the words within your keyword phrase unless it “is important to the meaning” of the search.

Google illustrates how this change might impact an advertisers’ reach on the phrase match keyword “moving services NYC to Boston” and the broad modified +moving +services +NYC +to +Boston here:

new google ad keyword match types

In this example, the search term NYC corporate moving services to Boston were previously only served by the broad modified keyword. Moving forward, that traffic would now be included in the reach of the phrase match keyword, even though it does not contain the exact phrase in the search term. Some traffic, such as moving services Boston to NYC will no longer be served by either keyword, since the word order of the search “Boston to NYC” is important to the meaning of the search term.

With this change, phrase match keywords will reach even more searches than they have in the past, particularly if they include additional keywords within their phrase or in another order. However, some of traffic that was reached by broad modified will no longer serve.

When is Google Making These Changes to Phrase and Broad Modified Match Keywords?

Google is rolling out these updates in a few steps, starting this month:

  • Starting February 18, 2021: Both Phrase and Modified Broad Match keywords will begin to serve using the updated match type logic. All currently active keywords will continue to serve traffic. English and Spanish keywords are expected to be updated in the first wave, with some additional languages following in the coming months. Google anticipates this rollout to be complete in all languages in April 2021.

During this period, Google recommends that advertisers create new keywords using Phrase Match rather than Broad Modified Match .

  • In July 2021: Google will no longer allow advertisers to create new Broad Modified keywords. However, existing broad modified match keywords will continue to serve using the updated logic for the foreseeable future.

How will this Change Impact my Google Ads Account Performance?

Most advertisers will notice a change in clicks and conversions. The impact of that change will depend on where most of your traffic comes from:

If most of the traffic in your account comes from phrase match keywords:

  • Expect to see an increase in ad impressions, clicks, cost, and potentially conversions.
  • Keep an eye on your ad costs, particularly if you were not spending your campaigns daily budget previously. An increased reach on your keywords can be great, but that traffic comes at a new cost.
  • Review your search terms after this change – Be diligent reviewing this new traffic with adding new negative keywords to exclude irrelevant search terms.

If most of the traffic in your account comes from broad modified match keywords:

  • Expect to see a decrease in ad impressions, clicks, cost, and potentially conversions.
  • Review your search terms before this change – you may find some converting search terms in your reports that are worth adding as new keywords to ensure you continue to show for them after Google’s changes.

Additionally, all advertisers should review their keywords. Keep close attention to these potential issues:

  • The word order in their phrase keywords may not always be considered. For some advertisers, phrase match was their preferred keyword match type because it was the only match type that always respected word order. For most As Julie Bacchini of Neptune Moon noted, if you sell milk chocolate, the word order of your keywords matters and you may not want to risk Google serving your phrase match keywords on the search term “Chocolate Milk.” Be proactive about adding negative keywords you may now show for. Better safe than sorry!
  • Look for Broad Modified Keywords that don’t have the + modifier before every word. Previously, only the words within a keyword that had the + modifier were required to be in your search terms. However, this change converts all those keywords to the “new phrase match” keyword which do require each word to be in that search term, which will reduce your campaign’s reach. For example, the keyword +Chicago apartments only required the word Chicago to appear in your search terms, but not the word apartments. In this change, your keyword would only show to searches with both words Chicago and apartments
  • Avoid new duplicate keywords or keywords that are too similar. It’s possible that some of your keywords may now show to the same search terms. For example, you may have previously had the keywords “Chicago Apartments” and +Chicago +Apartments in your account. In Google’s new rules, these keywords are effectively duplicate keywords and compete against one another to serve your ads. Here, Google prefers the keyoword with the highest Ad Rank, which can result in you paying more per click on your keywords!

What isn’t Google Changing?

That might be an existential question. But in case it’s not, Google’s recent announcement confirmed:

  • Current Broad Modified Match Keywords will continue to serve indefinitely. Advertisers will NOT have to migrate their current Broad Modified keywords to Phrase Match.
  • Negative keyword match types are not impacted.
  • This change will not impact a keywords quality score directly.
  • Microsoft Advertising’s (Bing Ads) keyword match types will remain unchanged, for the time being. Although it is likely they will follow Google’s lead here in a few months.


This change marks the fifth time that Google has changed the way that its match types work. And yet every time, it’s surprising how significantly this can impact your Google Ads account.  Given these major changes, it may be worth reevaluating your PPC strategy if you haven’t done so in a while. Keep an eye on performance in February as these changes roll out!