By Dave Bolthouse

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I just returned from a conference with Google executives and engineers in New York. A number of changes they announced will now require us to retool all of our clients’ advertising accounts, and it will also impact search rankings. All of this is requiring us to for the first time add a nominal advertising management fee to client accounts.

In regard to advertising, Google has been testing a number of Adwords conceptual changes, without telling anyone, resulting in our clients’ ads being broadcast to a wider, less exact, audience. The biggest change they secretly made was to do away with the previous definition and selection of “Exact Match” keywords. Exact match used to mean just that. Now, keywords set up previously as exact match are far less than exact. The new definition of “exact match” is basically that the “concept matches,” so as it stands now, they are now pulling in your ads for a lot of keywords that aren’t as effective for you. So, if we had bid on the exact match (troubled teen school) they previously only showed your ads for anyone searching with those exact words in that exact combination, and no other words added to the beginning, the end, or in the middle. Now, they can match any word or phrase that is similar in concept, like “troubled teen military schools” or “alternative schools for troubled teens” or “schools for teens who are troubled”.

When asked why they made this change, their answer is that Google is moving all of its resources toward matching up concepts and searcher intent versus exact words used. They are preparing for voice and machine search in the future, which also has to deal with multiple languages and misspellings. They want all ads to be accessible to anyone who may voice a search request in a sentence, like “Please list all troubled teen schools that are near me”.

The fact that they made this move away from the old definition of exact words: without telling anyone is worrisome, but we have no choice now but to revamp all campaigns for all clients to find ways to narrow down the keywords in longer search phrases, specifically by adding more negative (blocking) keywords to prevent some searches (most accounts already have nearly 1,000 negative keywords, but that will now likely increase to several times that). The fear with negative keywords is that any one word can basically block many phrases and wrongly choosing one can cause all of your ads to be blocked. Even negative keywords are no longer exact, so a blocked word like “men” can also block its close variant “boy,” or blocking “Catholic” or “Protestant” can also block “Christian”.

What’s worse, any changes will now take up to 3 weeks before their artificial intelligence (AI) will have enough data to learn from them and appropriately set up final bids, position and reach. So, as we test new tactics, ads, keywords, and demographics, instead of the results from those begin actionable within a few days, we now have to wait significantly longer. Any major change will cause the account to go into a “learning” mode that can take up to 3 weeks. Our typical mode of “Test fast, change fast” is now slowed to a crawl.

Moreover, Google is becoming much more demanding in regard to requiring all of our clients to prove and have full documentation on their website if they claim anything in the ad or even on the landing page (currently the home page). Several ads we have recently created for various client accounts have been disapproved as a result. They never say exactly why the ad was disapproved, just that it “Failed to meet Google guidelines.” For most of our clients, Google now requires a number of proofs of the claims made in the ads, like effectiveness of the program through independent studies of results, nonprofit status, exact corporation name, charitable license, business license, competitive pricing claims, exact financial terms, etc. right on the home page. These added elements will also cause a number of issues for organic rankings, so for most of our clients, we are opting instead to create specific landing pages for Google ads, which will allow us to get around some of these requirements. It means we have to create a specific landing pages for each ad that we test, and the resulting traffic won’t give us the second benefit of boosting search engine rankings, since the traffic isn’t being directed to the home page. That will impact some rankings.

It is all a major retooling event, to ads, keywords, websites and leading to the need to create many landing pages. So, we will behind the scenes be busy working on these changes and a number of others in regard to their impact on search engine optimization over the next several weeks. We typically go through a couple of minor retooling efforts each year as the search engines change, but the changes announced to us in New York last week are quite significant. Don’t fear, however, since we are making all of the needed changes and hope to get it all up and running along smoothly again by the end of the year.

Since Google Adwords is becoming far more complex than when we started out many years ago, and since the expertise and ongoing training required for managing search advertising are far more costly today, we have no choice but to begin charging our clients an extra fee to manage the search advertising side of their account. Any client that is involved in search ads will as of the first of 2019 be required to pay an added nominal fee of $500/mo. for our team to manage this. The small fee will support an expertly trained person on our staff who will manage this work on your behalf to complement and fit in with our other marketing, website ranking, and publicity efforts.