The Hidden Dangers Behind Broad Match Modifier Keywords Being Deprecated

Caution sign

by Shaun Bond

February 15, 2021

There is never a dull moment when it comes to Google and paid search, and it looks like this year will be no different. As Google prepares to mothball the BMM match type, get on the front foot of this change with our guide on how to prepare and overcome potential hidden dangers you might face as it rolls out.

In this article, we give you an overview of the change and what this means for you and your business. We highlight the 3 major issues this change creates and then step you through how you can overcome these, either manually in the Google Ads Interface, or by leveraging our automation in PPC Samurai. Finally, we have the key FAQ’s provided by Google on this update. 

Quick links to each section:

What’s Changing And What That Means For You

What’s Changing?

From Feb 18, 2021 Google will start matching Broad Match Modifier traffic to Phrase match keywords, and from July, you will no longer be able to add new BMM keywords.

What Does This Mean For You?

Phrase match and existing BMM keywords will start matching search terms based on the same algorithm, so there is no need to migrate your existing BMM keywords to phrase match.

What Google Tell Us:

  • Advertisers predominantly using phrase match are expected to see an incremental increase in clicks and conversions. This is due to the additional queries to which these keywords will now be eligible to match. For example, “holidays in zambia” as phrase keyword will now begin to match to “holiday spots in zambia”, which was previously only eligible for BMM.

  • Advertisers predominantly using BMM are expected to see a slight decrease in clicks and conversions. The majority of this loss is from BMMs where the modifier was only applied to part of the keyword, e.g. tennis +shoes. These will now be treated the same as fully modified BMMs (+tennis +shoes) or phrase keywords (“tennis shoes”). In addition, word order is now considered when it’s important to the meaning of the keyword, so some matches that previously matched to BMM will be filtered out:
Google Ads Deprecated BMM

Source: Google

However… The nature, complexity and secret sauce that makes up AI (let’s face it, the machines have already taken over) means that nobody truly knows what the full impact on accounts will be. Google expect traffic to increase on phrase match and decrease on BMM keywords, but we believe it’s unlikely that phrase match traffic will EXACTLY replace BMM traffic. If this turns out to be true, it’s quite possible that you will see a drop in impressions for various search terms that used to match against BMM but don’t match (or match occasionally) due to the new matching algorithm. It’s also possible that the new algorithm might match against traffic that would not have matched either phrase or BMM keywords previously due to the expanded intent matching.

The Opportunity

Be the proactive paid search marketer you know you are! Formulate a plan on how you will communicate these changes to your clients, and what you are doing for them to protect their performance. Clients love to know that you are the authority and are in their corner, so there is a real and tangible opportunity here for you to cement that perception in their minds.

Three Dangers We Can See With This Change

#1 – Decreased traffic on search terms

Unless you are specifically checking traffic trends on individual search terms (individually or aggregated), you won’t know if traffic stops or drops dramatically on specific terms. If the drop happens to be associated with a search term that previously converted for you or was a term that used to bring consistent traffic, you may well experience unexplained drops in account performance.

#2 – Less reach from BMM keywords

If you currently use a lot of BMM keywords in your account, the expected drop in overall reach might impact your account performance as fewer searches will be triggering your ads.

#3 – New search terms

The expansion of intent matching will potentially tap into new search terms that you have not seen in your account before. It’s therefore important to be aware of any brand new terms that are popping up in your search term report, particularly if they have reasonable impression volume (we wouldn’t recommend checking every single search term for relevance unless you are in a high CPC niche, as the return for effort would be quite low).

The Two Ways To Overcome These Dangers

Manually using the Google Ads Interface

PPC Samurai’s Automated Workflows

How To Overcome These Dangers Manually Using Google Ads Interface

#1 – Decreased traffic on search terms

Create a list of search terms that have converted well for you in the past, then go to your search terms report and filter for “Search Term Equals [search term]”. Change the time period to some reasonable period (for example, last 90 days) and the data point display to Daily.  On the graph, set the first metric to Impressions and the second metric to None.  Now you are ready to check for impression levels that look like they have dropped below normal levels.  A great indicator might be to look for impression levels that are hitting new lows recently when compared to the lows of the past 90 days:

Google Ads Deprecated BMM

We would suggest running this manual check monthly over the period Feb-August 2021. If you find a Search Term that has seen a drop like this that cannot be explained through normal checks (someone might have added a negative keyword, paused a live keyword or changed the bid strategy for example), then it could well be related to the new matching algorithm. The easiest way to diagnose why this search is not triggering is to run the Ad Preview tool using that search term on various devices and the location that’s being targeted in that campaign. This should pinpoint the reason that the search term is not firing for you, allowing you to resolve the issue from there.

#2 – Less reach from BMM keywords

Check your ad groups for suspicious drops in impression volume.  The easiest way to check for this is to choose a lookback period of Last 30 Days plus the Compare Previous Time Period in the date range selector.  Once selected, expand the Impressions column and sort the Change % column so your largest drops are sorted to the top:

Google Ads Deprecated BMM

Next, click into an ad group that has a concerning drop, go to the Search Terms Report, expand the Impressions column and sort the Change column (not the Change % this time). You should see the largest impression drops rise to the top of that report, and now you can test these search terms in the Ad Preview Tool to troubleshoot why they are no longer firing.

Google Ads Deprecated BMM

#3 – New search terms

Checking search terms that are brand new to the account is easy but is also a very powerful technique!  Make sure you have “All Enabled Campaigns” selected, then go to the Search Term report and change your time period to “Last 30 Days”.  You should be seeing all search terms for all enabled campaigns at this stage.  Then change your “Compare” time period to equal the start date of your account. We find the easiest way to do this is to delete the last digit of the year in the starting date, which prompts Google to give an error showing the true starting date.  Change that Compare starting date to equal the date shown in the error and Apply.

Google Ads Deprecated BMM

Next, add a filter so you are only seeing searches that have an Impression Change of >100%:

Google Ads Deprecated BMM

What you are now looking at is a list of search terms that are BRAND NEW in the account!  If you have a lot of results, sort by the Change column and scan down the searches to make sure they are relevant for this account.  Doing this every month will ensure that you stay on top of brand new searches, meaning you can easily block inappropriate intent matches that are being triggered from the new algorithm.

How To Overcome These Dangers Using PPC Samurai’s Automated Workflows

Did that sound like a lot of work?  We think so too.  Not all heroes wear capes…but, we have built three scans for you that are now available in your template library and can be applied to your clients.  You can thank us later – go and check your account metrics first!

#1 – Decreased traffic on search terms

The first workflow identifies when a search term with good conversion history hits a new low in impressions, or stops firing altogether. It’s called:

“SOP / Advanced / Optimizations / Run Weekly / We found converting search terms that appear to have hit a new low in impressions received last week. Jump into the Ad Preview tool in Google Ads to check if there are any underlying issues that can be fixed”.

This workflow automatically aggregates metrics at the campaign level for each search term, to ensure intent matching across different keywords is catered for. We would recommend running this scan Sunday weekly. The purpose of this workflow is to find searches that should be tested in the ad preview tool to make sure they are eligible to trigger. Running it on Sunday will also make it easier to perform other checks should you wish to do so, such as weekly graphing of impression share on parent keywords etc. You may even want to add these searches as new keywords (exact match ideally) to allow you to monitor impression share on them.

PPC Samurai Workflow

#2 – Less reach from BMM keywords

The second workflow looks for ad groups that have experienced a drop in impressions, then it will dig into the search term report to look for searches with large impression drops. This should give you an easy hit list to run through the Ad Preview tool to check for problems. This one is called:

“SOP / Advanced / Optimizations / Run Weekly / We found adgroups (and search terms) that appear to have hit a new low in impressions received last week. Jump into the Ad Preview tool in Google Ads to check if there are any underlying issues that can be fixed.”

We recommend running this one weekly.

PPC Samurai Workflow

#3 – New search terms

The final workflow will spot brand new search terms and bring them to your attention so you can check that they make sense, and allows you to add negatives to block unwanted searches from triggering your ads in the future. It’s called:

“SOP / Advanced / Optimizations / Run Weekly / We found search terms that have not been seen in your account before. If they are inappropriate for the account, add them as negatives to block them in future.”

We recommend running this one weekly.

PPC Samurai Workflow

Some Useful FAQ’s direct from Google:

What will happen if I have the same keyword in phrase match and BMM?

You may notice some traffic shift from BMM to phrase match keywords. Because both keywords will have the same matching behavior once the change is fully rolled out, some queries that previously matched to BMM will become eligible to match to your phrase keyword. For this reason, we recommend paying close attention to your budgets to ensure the campaigns containing the phrase keywords are able to absorb the additional traffic.

Once the change has fully rolled out, you may optionally use the “Remove redundant keywords” recommendation in your account to clean up duplicate phrase/BMM keywords in the same ad group.

If I convert my BMM keywords to phrase match (or any other match type), will I lose the keywords’ history?

Keep in mind: Your existing BMM keywords will continue to work and there are no performance benefits to converting your BMM keywords. If you do decide to convert a BMM keyword to another match type, it’s as if the keyword was deleted and then a new keyword was created. That means that the historical stats associated with the keyword will not carry over to the new keyword. These stats will continue to exist in your account at the ad group, campaign, and account level, they just won’t be associated with the converted keyword.

How will the change affect my automated bidding strategy whether using Google Smart Bidding or 3P tools? Should I expect to reset my targets?

Smart Bidding will automatically optimize to and set bids on new traffic based on your performance goals.

  • If you are using Target CPA or Target ROAS: Ensure budgets are uncapped so that Smart Bidding can automatically drive more traffic at your ROI goal. Targets don’t need to be adjusted if your performance goals are the same
    • Note: Spend may increase as the strategy drives more volume at your target CPA or ROAS. If you want to optimize within a daily budget instead, you can use Maximize conversions or Maximize conversion value.
  • If you are using Maximize conversions or Maximize conversion value: We will continue to optimize within your daily budgets. If you are using a Max* and want to drive more volume as a result of this update, you may increase your budgets to do so.

and of course…

If you have any questions about any of the above or how the change could affect your accounts in other ways, please feel free to reach out – we’re a friendly bunch –

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