Google’s exact match type has evolved over the years, and as a result, you could be showing up more often for competitor terms.

Michael from wrote:

I’ve done PPC for over 20 years as a lawyer. One thing Google has always said is to write your website for the audience, don’t spam them. They also had a rule where you can’t bid on the names of competitors.

Well in the last few months they’ve changed their match types where they are showing my ad when people search potential competitor’s names.

This is terrible for so many reasons including:

1. It doesn’t provide the best result for their customers.

2. It violates their long-held policy.

3. It’s costing me money on spam.

I spend over $1 million a year on PPC with Google. To continue to do so, according to them, I have to agree to pay for fraudulent clicks.

The only solution is to continually add negative keywords after I pay for a bad click and/or to change the match types which will harm my efforts to get the clicks I want.

Noticed anything suspicious with your [exact match] keywords?

Google’s match types have changed over the years, and this has had a big impact on how advertisers run their campaigns.

Previously, Google offered only two match types: broad match and exact match (plus broad match modified).

With broad match, advertisers could target all search terms that related to their product or service, while with exact match they could target only terms that were exactly the same as the ones they had specified.

However, a few years ago Google introduced a new type of match called phrase match.

This allowed advertisers to target any search term that included the words they had specified – but not necessarily in that order.

Recently, however, Google has made some more changes to its match types.

Now, when someone enters a competitor’s name as a search term, their ad may be shown even if those words are not included in the advertiser’s keywords list.

Some of the biggest changes in Google Ads

  • Reduced visibility of search terms in the search terms report
  • Expansion of google ads exact match keywords to trigger ads based on close variant queries

Google has said:

Early tests show that advertisers using mostly exact match keywords see 3% more exact match clicks and conversions on average, with most coming from queries they aren’t reaching today.

While you may not have noticed before, advertisers like Michael have seen increasingly broad search terms match to even exact match keywords.

Why the Change?

This change has caused a lot of controversy among advertisers. On the one hand, it could be seen as a way for Google to make more money from its ads; on the other hand, it could be seen as a way for Google to provide better results for its users.

Advertisers who are unhappy with this change can try to combat it by adding negative keywords to their campaigns.

However, this can be time-consuming and may not always be successful.

But before advertisers jump ship…

Recall that:

Considering Google maintains a 92% market in the search engine market, they’re not afraid to lose potential customers as they change their policies or algorithms.

This change to their match types is just one example of how they’re not always looking out for the best interests of their advertisers.

Google’s push toward automation

Google’s recent push towards automation, such as through its smart campaigns and responsive search ads features, has caused a lot of controversy among advertisers.

On the one hand, these features offer a lot of benefits to advertisers – they can save time and (sometimes) money by automating the campaigns they create, and their ads will be more likely to be shown to people who are actually interested in what they have to offer.

On the other hand, some advertisers feel that Google is taking too much control away from them and that they are not able to properly customize their campaigns in order to get the best results.

Advertisers who are unhappy with Google’s automation features can try to combat them by creating their own custom scripts or using third-party tools.

However, this can be time-consuming and may not always be successful.

And who knows what Google will update or sunset next?

Keywords vs Ad Copy

In general, you can bid against your competitor’s brand name in Google Ads.

However, you cannot include registered trademarks of your competitor in your ad copy.

For example

I can add the keyword [oreo] in Google ads, but I can’t technically serve an ad that says:

Best Oreo Ice Cream | Buy 1, Get 1 50% Off

Have an Oreo Craving? Shop the best Oreo Ice Cream around.

That’s where Cookies & Cream comes in.

Note: Oreo® is a registered trademark and the use of this term is for educational (and fun) purposes only

When you match to competitors

What happens when you have [alex medawar law firm] in your account but in your search terms report, you find you paid for [tom smith law firm] and [jane doe law firm] at $100+ per click?

Yes, law keywords are that expensive.

10 clicks later and Alex’s law firm has wasted $1K to show up for Tom Smith’s law firm.

What exactly happens when you use their trademark?

Now, if you did include a trademarked term in your Google Ad (not keyword), then the trademark owner would submit a trademark complaint through Google.

Then, you wait on Google to do something about it.

Or, the trademark owner does what 1-800 Contacts did.

The 1-800 Contact Story

The Richmond Times reported in January that the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals issued a decision in favor of 1-800 contacts in their case against Google.

The recent court decision is impactful for businesses that want to stop Google Ads triggered by their trademarks and run by competitors.

Since 2004, 1-800 Contacts have pursued at least 13 competitors, having won no cases, but agreed to settle.

The settlements included an agreement that neither party will run google ads triggered by the other’s trademark, and each party will use negative keywords to actively combat matching to trademarks.

The court’s decision protects 1-800 Contacts from competitors bidding on its trademarked terms and sets a precedent for other companies looking to stop their competitors from using their trademarks in Google Ads.

As recently as June 2022, Warby Parker defeated 1-800 Contacts in their trademark lawsuit regarding search engine keywords.

Final Thoughts

Google is the dominant search engine in the world, and it’s not likely that anyone is going to be able to dethrone it anytime soon. This means that if you’re an advertiser, you need to be prepared to compete in Google Ads.

One way to combat Google’s automation is to be more disciplined about adding negative keywords. This will help ensure that your ads are not shown when people search for your competitor’s brand name.

Unfortunately, there is no perfect alternative to Google Ads.

If you’re unhappy with the way that Google is automating your campaigns, you may want to explore other advertising platforms if you can’t pursue legal action to the scale that 1-800 Contacts have. However, keep in mind that you’ll likely have to sacrifice some reach and scale if you do this.

Have you seen some ridiculous, exact-match variants in your Google Ads account?

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