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Google Ads ‘Remove Redundant Keywords’ Recommendation Is Changing

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The dust is starting to settle on the latest hubbub around this new Google Ads update; the first of the year. On the 4th January 2023, Google Ads announced (to those that already have ‘Remove Redundant Keywords’ applied to accounts) that they will be changing the rules. So what has happened, and what do you need to do?

What has Google Ads changed to the 'Remove Redundant Keywords' recommendation?

Before 19th January 2023, those that have auto-applied ‘Remove Redundant Keywords’ in Google Ads would have redundant keywords (defined by Google) removed from the same ad groups, destination, bidding strategy and match type. 

From the 19th January 2023, Google Ads can now include keywords across different keyword match types. 

As an example for how this would work, if your ad group has the phrase match keyword “women’s hats” and broad match keyword ladies hats, we will recommend that you remove the phrase match keyword since the broad match keyword ladies hats covers all Searches from “women’s hats”. Source: Google Ads, 2023

In other words, Google will remove all your Exact and Phrase Match keywords in favour of a Broad Match; something which you will continually see as a recommendation to apply in Google Ads. 

How have advertisers reacted?

I think it’s safe to say that advertisers have not reacted favourably to this update. Author Amy Bishop posted a tweet with all the hubbub from advertiser reactions via Twitter.

Mike Ryan posted his thoughts on LinkedIn.

And the legend Ginny Marvin was very quick to respond with her points to try to calm everything down in this thread. 

Despite this, we were just 4 days into the new year and advertisers have already started hating some of the decisions that Google Ads is making.

Why should you care?

What’s dangerous about this one is that Google Ads are changing the rules for an existing Auto-Apply recommendation. Advertisers believe that because the rules have changed so significantly for this recommendation, it should have been a completely new option for you to opt-in. How can we trust that any of the Auto-Applied recommendations we have in place today will do what they say they do tomorrow?

Why are Google Ads making this change now?

I think we will see a real acceleration of changes from Google Ads this year in what it deems “best practice”. 

We’ll continue to see a big focus on Smart Bidding + Broad Match as being the killer combination for advertisers and performance. Anyone else doing otherwise (e.g. using Exact and/or Phrase alongside Broad Match) is just duplicating efforts and making their performance less effective to achieving their objectives. Whilst this is probably true for small advertisers with limited experience optimising Google Ads campaigns, this ignores those more experienced advertisers who have found the right formula for modern search campaigns (usually a combination of both Exact and Broad/Phrase Match keywords). 

We posted a while ago about the possibility that Google could kill keywords all together. Whilst I don’t think this will happen, our predictions from years ago do seem to be coming true; Google is pushing advertisers to using Broad Match alongside its Smart Bidding solutions in an effort to deliver better performance. We wrote this about Exact Match Close Variant changes back in 2017 which is echoed in this update…

For me, I think this latest announcement is a hint into what the future holds for Google. We are relying less on granular keyword structures to capture specific search terms, and more on broader match type rules of engagement (alongside Smart Bidding) to do this for us. Could this update be another nail in the coffin for keyword targeting as we know them in Paid Search? Source: PPC hubbub, 2017

What do you need to do?

With the right setup, Broad Match definitely does work wonders for accounts. But, it has to be done correctly and it cannot just wholeheartedly replace your current Exact and Phrase match keyword strategy. There needs to be more considerations taken into account. Naive advertisers may take Google’s word for it and let it auto-apply changes that can ultimately be damaging in the wrong hands. It sets a dangerous precedent, and not one experienced advertisers are easily going to accept on this occasion. I suspect most will have already opted-out from this recommendation. 

For now, the advice given by Search Engine Land is probably your best route. To add to this:

  1. Revise the Auto-Apply recommendations you currently have in place. 
  2. If you are unsure, it’s better to opt-out of ‘Remove Redundant Keywords’ all together until you have the right setup and have done your due diligence. 
  3. Longer term, you need to make sure your account structure is fit for the future. Even though best practices now state you need to consolidate and simplify campaign setups, people are searching with more specificity than ever. To stay ahead, the only way you can win is to relinquish much of the controls we once had to a modern search approach. This includes a combination of Smart Bidding, appropriate match type targeting grouped into landing page theme, creative excellence, 1st party data strategy, attribution & more. 

Final thoughts

Broad Match is already the default keyword match type assigned when you upload keywords in Google Ads. In Google’s opinion, this helps you reach a wider audience network whilst removing the need for an extensive keyword list. In the near term, I wouldn’t be surprised if we only get Exact and Broad Match keywords as an option for targeting. Perhaps this update is to set up advertisers for a bigger one later this year. Eventually, I can see a world where Broad Match is the only option. Our role will be to add negatives and to understand how we can surface insights through advanced data analysis & use of 3rd party tech to influence the machine’s decision making. I don’t think most in the industry are there yet, but I see it on the horizon. 

To increase Broad Match usage, Google Ads needs to work on increasing Smart Bidding adoption (including better alignment with 3rd party technologies such as Adobe, Marin, Skai etc.). This is a key component to making Broad Match work for all. 

It would also need to work out where Performance Max sits alongside Search campaigns in the long term. Currently, Performance Max respects Search campaigns and is seen as complimentary to them. Rules of engagement will need to be more clearly defined for this new world. 

Many more hoops for Google to work through yet, but we are well and truly on the path towards an acceleration of changes in 2023. 

Dan Roberts
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