Is Google Ads saying ‘Thank U, Next’ to Keyword Targeting?

Like America’s Sweetheart Ariana Grande, Google is having some relationship problems. It appears that Google’s long-term relationship with keyword targeting is on the rocks. Over the last few years, Google has been distancing itself from the traditional keyword targeting marketers have come to know and love.

New Brand, Who Dis?

This year Google made a very bold public announcement – Google AdWords is dropping “Words” and rebranding as Google Ads. This name change is a strong indication that Google just doesn’t see a future together with keywords.

The Writing on the Wall

Apparently, this has been a long time coming. Way back in 2011, Google AdWords introduced a new type of ad, Dynamic Search Ads. These ads use URLs from your website, rather than keywords, to target users and even create relevant ad copy based on site content. According to Google, this type of ad was designed to “fill in the gaps of keyword-based campaigns”.

The following year, it seemed like Google was starting to feel too tied down. They started making subtle changes to broaden keyword match types, like including plurals as variations of keywords. Then in 2014, match types were broadened even further to allow misspellings, stemmings (adding -ing), and abbreviations.

Yet the biggest change to keyword targeting came along this past year when Google kicked exact and phrase match to the curb to allow implied words, paraphrasing, similar intent, and other variants.

We’ve also been hearing rumblings from our Google reps hinting that keywords may be on the outs. Over the last six months or so they’ve been strongly encouraging us to utilize audiences and other targeting methods for our campaigns.

With keyword-less ad formats, diluted keyword match types, and audience targeting, Google and keyword targeting have been gradually drifting apart.

I Want to See Other People

They seemed to be made for each other so why does Google want to call it quits? Well, I ain’t sayin’ she’s a gold digger…but Google wants its revenue bigger.

About 15% of Google searches are totally unique and have never been searched before, which means keyword targeting is missing a good chunk of the market. Audience-based targeting would allow Google to expand its reach by utilizing other user behavior cues rather than being limited to search queries.

Also, Google needs to keep up with the competition. Other ad platforms, like Facebook, are leading the industry with audience-based targeting. These platforms are able to target users based on their web behavior and personal information on their profiles like interests, career, and marital status.

Moving away from keywords allows the platform to broaden its reach, stay competitive, and ultimately generate more revenue.

Plenty of Fish in the Sea

It’s looking like audience-based targeting is going to be Google’s new bae. As marketers are we ever going to find another targeting strategy as good as keywords?

Recently, Google has rolled out some new demographic targeting including parental status, marital status, education, and homeownership. They also offer “In-Market Audiences” which allow marketers to target users based on topics they’ve been actively researching or planning.

These methods are very helpful when it comes to increasing awareness and reach. But, when it comes to user intent keyword targeting can’t be beat.

Happily Ever After…?

Is this change for the better? On one hand, more targeting options and opportunities to reach more people sounds great. On the other, this seems like another example of Google taking the reins and losing more and more control is an unnerving prospect.

What do you think? Are you excited for the next chapter of targeting?

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