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Google Ads is Moving Away From Keyword Targeting – Here’s What it Means

Google Ads is moving away from keyword targeting. There has been some speculation on this matter ever since Google removed ‘words’ from the title of the platform during its latest rebrand earlier in the year.”

Google Adwords rebranding

So how is Google actually implementing this change? And what are the reasons behind this decision when keywords are already such a huge part within any given PPC strategy?

The first question is slightly easier to answer – it appears Google have adopted two main strategies in their attempt to shift the platform away from keywords. The first tactic is to slowly break down the distinction between keyword ad types. ‘Exact match’ hasn’t exactly been living up to its name for some time now. Its meaning was first broadened in 2014 as singular, plural and misspellings were added.

Exact match keyword broadening

The format was then edited further last year as word order change and function words were allowed. In October of this year, the meaning was then stretched even further. Exact match keywords can now be triggered by searches that match the intent of keywords.

The second tactic is the development of non-keyword dependant ad formats. First introduced in October 2011, dynamic ads were one of their first formats where advertisers could serve search ads without keywords. Google determines whether an advert should show based on the content on the advertiser’s website or the searcher’s previous website visits.

Non-keyword dependant ad formats

Later that year in November 2011, came the launch of Google Shopping. Google Shopping ads were introduced to determine if an ad would show based on product feed for an advertisers website as opposed to keywords.

Seven years on, these ad types are much more sophisticated. Consumers now expect a level of personalisation to their ads. Personalised ads are likely to take on a much larger role with SalesForce reporting that 62% of consumers expect companies to send personalised offers based on items they’ve already purchased.

By gradually introducing these keyword-less products and by diluting match types further, Google has slowly started to phase out the use of keywords.

Why is Google making this shift?

Well, there are several reasons for this. Firstly the number of searches that Google receives per year has been levelling out. In order to drive additional ad revenue, they must do one of two things.

1 – Either Google increases the current cost of advertising


2 – Google starts to show ads for searches where people are not currently advertising.

Keyword-less ads fit perfectly into the second category and are likely to be an avenue Google will pursue. These types of ads allow Google to find additional searchers that advertisers are not currently appearing for but are still highly relevant. This generates additional revenue that keywords were previously missing out on.

Another good reason to come away from keywords is that quality, in-depth keyword research can take up hours of valuable time. There really is no set time frame for tackling this task. Keyword lists can require constant management to ensure that you’re still targeting relevant terms to capture the right audience at the right time.

Yet Google recently revealed that 15% of Google searches are completely unique and have never been searched for before. So no matter how many hours you dedicate to carefully crafting the perfect keyword list, you’re still missing out on a large chunk of searches.

Is Google ads moving away from keywords

The final reason Google will want to make this change is in order to compete with the likes of Amazon and Facebook, who are currently leading the way in terms of audience-based targeting placements. As both platforms are able to target audiences through the account information that they have access to. So in order to keep up with their competition, Google had to make a change.

Does this change represent the death of keywords?

No, I think that would be a little too drastic. However, many observers do anticipate that 2019 will see keywords lose the crown as the undisputed king of search as audience-targeting gains an equal level of importance on the Google Ads platform.

Therefore, the key to success in Google Ads moving forward will be based on spending more time focusing on the creation and optimisation of your customer segments. Drilling down into them even further, so your ad messaging can be as relevant and personalised as possible.

Get in touch with our expert Paid Media team to get a helping hand with your paid campaigns. Or tweet us @honcho_search with your thoughts on Google Ads phasing out keywords!

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