The February 2021 Google Ads Update: What You Need to Know

A Guide to the Google Ads February 2021 Phrase Match Targeting Update

Last month, Google Ads made one of the biggest updates to keyword targeting that has happened in a long time. So what changes did Google Ads make, how can they impact your account, and what can you do to keep your budget protected? Watch our video below or read on for a look at what you need to know about the Google Ads February 2021 Update. 

Need to Know: Google Ads Match Types

This Google Ads update revolves entirely around match types. Before diving into the change that Google is making, let’s review the basic match types you can use in your paid search account.


Exact match keyword targets—often denoted by brackets—allows Google to show your ad for any search queries that exactly match your target keyword.



Phrase match targeting—often denoted by quotation marks—allow Google to show ads for any search query that contains or includes your keyword target.



Broad match keyword targets allow Google to show your ads for any search queries that even loosely relate to your keyword target.


A fourth match type that people will talk about is Broad Match Modified terms. Broad match modifiers are essentially just broad match keywords using a special notation to tell Google that there are certain keywords within that target that you don’t want them to take liberties with in terms of matching loosely-related or potentially-related content.


The February 2021 Google Ads Update

The big update that Google released in February of 2021 is changing the way that Phrase Match targeting works while getting rid of the Broad Match Modified option. This update now has phrase match targeting keywords acting and functioning as if they were broad match modified targets.

What Does This Mean for PPC Campaigns? 

Traditionally, phrase-match keywords would only show up for search queries that specifically contained or included those phrase-matched targets in the order they were present in that keyword target.

Now—because Google treats phrase match targeting like it’s broad match modified targeting—those keywords will show up for any search queries that contain those terms, regardless of the order that they show up in the search query.

This small change can have big implications for your account. In some cases, it might not be a problem. In other cases, word order can drastically change the quality of searches you show up for—or even the relevance of those searches. It is essential that you review all your phrase match targets and ensure that this update did not create any problems within your account.

The Impacts of Google Ads Update: An Example

Let’s take a look at an example of how this Google Ads update can create problems for an account. 

Imagine you had a moving business that helped people move from New York City to Boston. In this case, you may have a paid search campaign with a phrase match target “Moving company New York City to Boston.”

In the old way of using phrase match targets, you would only show up for search queries that contained the exact word order of your keyword target. Now, under this new update, your ad could be showing up for “Moving company Boston to New York City”

If that is not something your business does, you’re going to be in trouble when you start paying for ads for those keyword targets. To avoid wasting your budget, you can go through your entire portfolio and ensure that phrase match targets aren’t going to cause an issue when Google swaps around the word order.

Roll-Out of the Google Ads Phrase Match Targeting Update

The last part of the Google Ads February 2021 Update will hit your account in July of 2021. This month marks the end of the update roll-out, at which time Google will completely sunset your ability to use broad-match modified targets.

So make sure you do a couple of things to make sure your account is in order:

  • First, review all of your phrase match targets and make sure that word order is not going to be a problem. If it is going to be a problem, you might want to consider moving some of your keyword targets over to exact match.

  • The second thing you should be aware of is that you won’t be able to utilize any broad match modifiers as soon as July 2021 comes around, so make sure your account is all tightened up and don’t let Google go spending your money on things that are irrelevant for your business.

I hope this has been helpful, and remember to always be optimizing. If you need help managing your paid search campaigns, you can contact our experts here to see how we can help.

Jeff Cooper

Founder & President, Saltbox Solutions

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