Adwords Exact Match Changes Can Drain Your Profits & How to Opt Out – UPDATED

We originally created this article in response to Google’s April 2012 change to AdWords match settings. It seemed exact match would be more like exact-ish, running your ad with misspellings, plurals and close-enough-I’m-sure-that’s-what-you-meant variations.

At the time, the change was more of an annoyance; you could still turn it off. This week Google announced that using “close variant matching” wouldn’t just be the default setting they rolled out 2 years ago. It would be the only option.

Now people are angry, and rightfully so.

A change like this costs advertisers money that they weren’t willing to spend. Google is sliding the scale of exactiness to run your ad on search terms you aren’t bidding on. Search terms that you specified “run my ad only when it reads just like this.”

We’re updating our “opt-out” advice from the original article below, and our Dev Team is working on a new tool inside of SpyFu to help you keep control over which clicks earn your ad dollars. Google’s change is coming in late September. When it does, you should stand guard against the extra keyword matches you never asked for. We did the math on some real-campaign data, and this could cost you big hits to your budget or your performance (probably both).

A little background on how it brings you clicks you never really wanted:

(Original Article From April 2012)

Starting next month, Google plans to silently change the way your existing Adwords campaign works.  These are changes that, unchecked, could cost you a ton of money.  And what’s worse, is that you may never figure out why – because the cause of the decreased performance would be completely hidden from you.

Here’s what’s going to happen:

Google has made “improvements” to Exact match and Phrase match to make them fuzzy.  That means that when you advertise on a keyword, you’ll now be automatically advertising on misspellings, plurals, and any other form of the word.

Sounds kind of subtle, right?  No big deal, maybe it *is* an improvement.  No, it’s a pretty F*%king big deal that’s going to screw a lot of advertisers, and I’ll tell you why.

Here’s the *actual* example Google used explaining the change:

Adwords Exact Match Change 1

So, now [floor] = [flooring].  Therefore, [travertine floor] = [travertine flooring].  The problem is those two searches are *very* different.

  • “Travertine floor” is an informational search.  I expect to see pictures of travertine floors.  This is a lower conversion rate keyword.
  • “Travertine flooring” is a much more transactional search.  I expect to see places that I can buy travertine floor tiles.  You’ll see a higher conversion rate on this keyword

Google knows these are different types of searches.  Look at the side by side comparison of the organic results for those searches:

 Adwords Exact Match Change 2

Google gives me what I expect of the informational search: #1 result for “travertine floor”: a bunch of images, #2 result: Wikipedia.  For the more transactional “travertine flooring” I get a place I can buy travertine tiles.

Okay, so they’re different searches.  So, what? 

Here’s the big deal:  Google is taking away your ability to advertise on one and *not* the other – they’re doing it to your existing campaign, and they’re doing it without asking.

Google is taking away your ability to advertise on one and *not* the other – they’re doing it to your existing campaign, and they’re doing it without asking.

 Adwords Exact Match Change 3

Ever since the beginning of Adwords, when you’d buy “travertine flooring” you could be sure that you weren’t showing up on lesser performing variants.  Ten years of books and blogs and videos explaining the way Adwords works tell that story.  There are thousands of articles alone discussing whether or not it’s a good idea to buy misspellings, tools devoted to it.  It will take years for this “improvement” to become common knowledge.

Fortunately, there’s a way to opt out on a campaign-by-campaign basis and I’ll show you how later.  But, first I want to talk about this misspelling behavior.

Why Misspellings Matter — More Than You Might Expect

Google says:  “…your ad will be eligible to show when people search for close variants — yes, that includes misspellings — of your keywords.”

So, that means by default [travarteen flooring] = [travertine flooring].  There’s a whole body of knowledge discussing when and why it’s a good or bad idea to buy misspellings, but now it will all be done automatically, and by default you won’t even know you’re doing it.

I’d personally argue that people searching for the misspelled variant “travarteen flooring” result in smaller sized transactions because people who can’t spell tend to have less money to spend.  The “dumb people are poor” argument applies more to $10k flooring orders than ringtones.   But don’t take my word for it; the market speaks in advertisers betting their money in the SERPs:


So, anecdotally, only two advertisers feel betting on the misspelling is a good idea, vs. ten on the proper spelling.

So, if you do nothing with your existing campaign and you are currently buying [travertine flooring] as an exact match, next month you’ll start showing up on “travarteen floors”, “travertine floor” and pretty much anything else Google wants to call a stem, variation, misspelling, acronym, or whatever else they want.  Exact match, in the classic sense, will be dead by default.

Furthermore, you’d never know it because you’ll just see your list of keywords in your ad groups just like they’ve always been there.  The good news is that we at SpyFu will have your back.  We’ll keep tracking the misspellings and the stems and variations so you’ll see the stuff you’re showing up on that you don’t particularly mean to. So, that’s cool. That’s our mission after all — to keep your Adwords campaigns profitable.

But, there is a way to *opt out* of these changes. (UPDATE AUG 2014: Opting out is no longer available as of late September 2014)

I strongly suggest doing this to all your campaigns.  Here’s what you need to do:

Existing Campaigns

  1. Click the Campaigns tab. Select the campaign you’d like to change the matching options for.
  2. Click the Settings tab.
  3. Scroll to the “Advanced settings” section. Click the Keyword matching options link.
  4. In the “Exact and phrase match” section, select Do not include close variants.

New Campaigns

  1. Click the Campaigns tab.
  2. Click +New campaign.
  3. Scroll to the “Advanced settings” section. Click the Keyword matching options link.
  4. In the “Exact and phrase match” section, select Do not include close variants.


While we are putting together a tool to get you past these unwanted matches, it looks like setting some spelling variations to negative match might be your best short-term solution. We can help identify some mis-matches that might be siphoning off away some of your budget right now.

I thought I’d finish a few more examples of soon-to-be-unjustly-equivocated keywords.  Post your own examples in the comments.

[free credit report] = [freed credits reporting] = [freed creditor reports]

[high performance computer] = [high performance computing]  = [high preformense cpu]   (yes, cpu.  Google says acronyms work.)  Here’s another one: FML