Google Ads to Phase Out Modified Broad Match in 2021

Big changes coming to Google Ads keyword match modifier in 2021

If you use Google Ads to advertise your private practice, take note.  The Google Ads broad match modifier is going away in July 2021, and this will affect many existing Google Ads campaigns.

In this article, we'll go through what these changes mean in practice and how you can ensure that your Google Ads performance is not affected by the change.

What are the 3 kinds of keyword match types in Google Ads?

The purpose of the matching options is to determine how closely the keywords selected for your ad should match the Google searches performed by your users.  There are 3 Google Ads keyword match types: broad match, exact match, and phrase match. The use of the broad match keywords allows for maximum reach, meaning that your ads can appear broadly within the same topic area, even if the search term itself isn't selected as a keyword.  It's a good strategy to get many ad impressions, but it's not very targeted, so your ads might appear for searches that are not relevant to your services (eg. if you use a broad keyword for "therapy", your ads may appear in searches for "horse therapy".  Not very useful if you're a family psychologist!)  The exact match is just the opposite, meaning that your ads will appear only for the exact phrases that you selected.  It's very targeted but quite restrictive, since you'll be missing out on many close variants of those keywords, and your ads will likely end up being underserved.  The phrase match is a compromise between the two - more targeted than broad match, but less restrictive than exact match, meaning that it also includes close variants.

Where does the broad match modifier come in?

Even when using the phrase match option, the results can end up being either too broad or too narrow. For this purpose, Google Ads introduced the broad match modifier in 2014.  Keywords can be denoted with a "+" at the end to signify that the specified keyword must be a part of the search query, whatever that query may be.  This is what is changing.  On February 4, 2021, Google announced that in the near future, phrase matching will cover broader search terms, and the broad match modifier will be phased out entirely by July 2021.

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How does this affect Google Ads accounts?

The change means that the broad match modifier will be phased out and at the same time the phrase matching will become more comprehensive.  Google announced that certain features of the broad match modifier will be enabled for phrase matching, and accordingly, some irrelevant search terms will no longer trigger ads. For example, with updated phrase matching, you can reach people who are looking for a relocation service from Calgary to Vancouver, but not vice versa from Vancouver to Calgary. On a practical level, the biggest change to phrase matching is that the word order of a search term no longer needs to exactly match the search word.  This means that the search phrase “moving service Calgary Vancouver” could also appear with the search term “Vancouver company moving service to Calgary”. With the old phrase match, this would not be possible, as the word “company” came in the middle of the search term.

What we think about the broad match modifier change

This is a sensible decision from Google, as the use of the phrase match and broad match modifier has been very similar. There were also illogicalities in the old rules that will be resolved with the new update. For example, the word order of phrase-matched keywords should be identical to the search term used, but there are no such restrictions in exact match. This is very illogical in terms of use, as the exact match should be narrower than the phrase match. In reality, the situation could even be the opposite precisely because of the limitation of word order.

How can you prepare for the broad match modifier change?

Your traffic volumes for the keywords under the broad match modifier and the phrase match may change. In particular, phrase match words may start to garner more traffic than before. It is therefore very important to review your Google Ads search term report regularly, starting right now, so you can catch any issues quickly.  As before, you can exclude irrelevant search terms with negative keywords.

Our recommendations

If you're worried about a drop in your ad coverage, Google suggests changing your bidding strategy to Smart Bidding.  We don't recommend automating your bids in Google, the same way that we don't recommend Google Express or Smart Ads.  The reasons are out of scope for this article, but we cover a related topic in our earlier post here. So what should you do? You won't be able to create broad match modifier keywords after July 2021.  We, therefore, recommend replacing any keywords affected with phrase match.  Also, make sure to actively review your Search Terms report and advertising metrics to ensure that you don't lose the visibility you need or that your budget doesn't run out.

If you get stuck...

If you're having difficulty adjusting to the broad match modifier changes or having a hard time finding time to manage your Google Ads in general, we're happy to offer expert Google Ads management here at Sparktribe. Our team is always ready to help with your campaigns or answer any questions you may have about your marketing. If you have any questions or are interested in learning more about our Google Ads management services feel free to contact us, or shoot us an email at

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