New Google Phrase Match: What You Need to Know

Just like everything else in technology, keywords are constantly changing. Even if you are an SEO expert, the Google Ads phrase match has changed significantly. The current version of Google Phrase Match began in mid-February 2021, when it absorbed some of the functionality of broad match, or BMM, keywords. Google phrase match has a major impact on pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns and SEO. We will discuss everything advertisers need to know about the new Google phrase match in this article. 

google phrase match

Keyword Match Types

Match types are how close a user’s search query needs to be to an advertiser’s keyword in order to possibly trigger an ad. In the early days of Google Ads, there were only a few kinds of match type behavior: 

  • Exact Match: This means an ad appears only if the search query is the exact same as the keyword. 
  • Phrase Match: This means the ad will also show if there is an extra word before or after the keyword in the search query. 
  • Broad Match: This means the ad will show as long as all the keywords are part of the search query, no matter the word order. 

The most restrictive match type is exact match, and broad match is the loosest. Phrase match is somewhere in the middle. Ad platforms use match types to let advertisers choose their willingness to show ads for searches of changing degrees of similarity to their keywords. For example, instead of having to consider every possible search a user could perform if they are looking for what the advertiser sells, they can use looser match types, like broad and phrase, to still show their ads for similar search queries. 

Close Variants 

Once Google introduced close variants, however, match types became more difficult to understand. Close variants are basically a set of ways that Google is permitted to change your keyword. What might be one keyword in your ad group is actually probably hundreds of very similar keywords. You might not see them printed in your ad group, but they are all still working behind the scenes to serve your ads. 

No matter which match type you choose, close variants change what your keywords really are and give the advertising platform more leeway in how they match up keywords and searches. 

There are 11 close variants that Google uses: 

  • Misspelling 
  • Plural/singular 
  • Stemming
  • Abbreviation 
  • Accents
  • Word order with same meaning 
  • Function words
  • Implied Words 
  • Synonyms 
  • Paraphrase 
  • Same intent 

new google phrase match

New Google Phrase Match 

So, now you know what match types are and why they are complicated. But what is Google’s new phrase match? 

As of now, “Ads may show on searches that include the meaning of the keyword which can be implied, and user searches can be a more specific form of the meaning.” 

Basically, a shift has occurred and Google is placing emphasis less on the words in the keyword, but the definition of those keywords. 

Meaning has replaced keywords.

Think of it this way: the meaning of the keyword needs to be part of the query, but there can also be more text in the search. Word order is also no longer a factor. Google has gotten smart enough that it knows whether or not the word order matters. 

While this might sound like the original definition of broad match, broad match has also changed. It can now show ads for related searches, even if the meaning is different. 

Match Types in 2021

Now, let’s define the three keyword match types as they stand in 2021. 

  • Exact Match: Shows an ad when the search has the same meaning as the keyword. 
  • Phrase Match: Shows an ad when the search includes the same meaning as the keyword.
  • Broad Match: Shows an ad when a search solely relates to the keyword. 

google close variants

What Does Google Consider to Be the Same Meaning?

Google phrase match uses machine learning, or ML, to figure out things like when the order of the words in the search do or do not change the meaning. 

For example, it helps Google figure out if searches for “chocolate milk” and “milk chocolate” are the same. In this example, changing the order of the words does change the meaning of the phrase. When you use Google Ads’ phrase match, you accept that Google’s machine learning can make these decisions for you. 

There is a way that you can see if Google is getting it right. Simply build a table report in the reporting section of Google Ads and include rows for “search keyword,” “search term,” and “search term match type.” Google will show you both Phrase and Phrase (close variant) search terms. When you add a filter, you can see only the close variants and decide if you need to use negative keywords. 

You can also look at your exact match keywords, too. You can utilize advanced automations to analyze the difference between the keyword and search query, and automate the negative keywords when Google gets too far away from your intended meaning. 

Smart Bidding and Phrase Match 

You can also automate your bids if you are letting Google use phrase matching for you. When Google shows your ad for queries that might not be as related to your keyword, you don’t want to bid the same amount. When they are not as related, the ads might convert at a lower rate and you might need lower bids to perform at a good ratio for your ROAS or CPA. 

Negative Broad Match Rules

When we add keywords, we tell Google when to show searchers our ads. When Google uses close variants and offers advertisers choices for looser match types, it makes sense because it helps your ads reach more people who might be looking for your product or service. 

On the other hand, negative keywords serve a completely opposite purpose. Negative keywords are used to eliminate searches you don’t want your ads served to, perhaps because they are irrelevant or perform poorly. Negative keywords do not use close variants and expansions. They will only block ads from showing up when the exact words from the negative keyword are in the search. Word order also matters more for negative phrase match keywords. 

what is google phrase match

New Google Phrase Match

It all boils down to this: keywords are no longer just about words. Instead, they are about meanings. But, advertising platforms can still give advertisers a variety of match types so that they can tell Google how closely (or loosely) a query should match the keyword. Google phrase match is a very helpful match type for advertisers. 


  • What are keyword match types? 
  • What is the new Google phrase match? 
  • Do negative keywords use close variants? 
  • What are Google’s close variants?
  • Should I use phrase match?

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