Adwords Switching Over To Close Variant Matching

Photoxpress_1228230There’s a major shakeup coming to Google’s pay-per-click (PPC) marketing platform. Starting in September, all Adwords accounts will use close variant matching for all phrase and exact match keywords.

Google made the announcement on its Adwords blog earlier this month, citing the fact that approximately 7% of all Google searches contain misspellings. By including misspellings in user searchers, advertisers will receive more clicks to their ads. But there are both advantages and disadvantages to forcing close variant matching on advertisers.

Adwords Match Types

Before we dive into the topics of close variant matching, let’s first go over the basic keyword match types from which Adwords advertisers can choose.

Google allows Adwords advertisers to set up their keywords with one of the four following match types:

  1. Broad – shows ad for keywords, relevant variations, synonyms, plurals, misspellings, stemmings, similar searches, and other variants.
  2. Phrase – shows ad for keywords and close variations thereof.
  3. Exact – only shows ad for searches made using the exact keyword.
  4. Negative – prevents a particular keyword from triggering an advertiser’s ad.

Bidding on broad match keywords typically yields more traffic and subsequently more sales, but it doesn’t come without a cost. Broad match often triggers ads for irreverent keywords, which in turn lowers the advertiser’s click-through (CTR) and return-on-investment (ROI).

If a startup company is launching a premium streaming music service, for instance, and bids on the broad match keyword “streaming music,” his or her ad may show for keywords like “free streaming music” or “how to stream music.” Granted, these searches may still yield sales/conversions, but it will almost certainly be fewer conversions than keywords like “buy streaming music service” or “paid streaming music service.”

Google Introduced Close Variant Matching In 2012

Google originally rolled out close variant matching in 2012. Up until now, however, advertisers were given the option to turn it off under their campaign settings. When it unveiled close variant matching back then, Google cited the same statistic that 7% of all searches contain a misspelling.

So, what exactly is close variant matching? It’s basically a modifier added to phrase and exact match keywords that includes plurals, misspellings, and other close variants. So even if you bid on the exact match keyword “online streaming music,” your ad may trigger for dozens of variations.

Close Variant Matching: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Marketers are split regarding the use of close match variants in Adwords. Some view it as a great way to boost their traffic, while others say it’s nothing more than an attempt by Google to earn more revenue through its Adwords program. Forcing advertisers to use close variants will inevitably result in more clicks, which means more money for Google.

Exact match targeting was an invaluable asset for small businesses and entrepreneurs, as it allowed them to compete directly with big brands. These small-scale advertisers could bid on laser-targeted exact match keywords for a higher ROI, while large companies would bid on broad and phrase match keywords for more traffic. The main advantage of using exact match targeting was that it allowed advertisers to focus on very narrow keywords and phrases, without the possibility of their ads being displayed for irrelevant keywords.

Google published a few success stories of close variant matching on its blog, including one from the e-commerce CMS Shopify.

We’re passionate about achieving high efficiency, high impact, and high relevance with our customers. Having our keywords match to close variations allows us to do exactly that. Additional matches like ‘online shopping’ to the keyword ‘online shop’ resulted in a 100% increase in relevant clicks across exact and phrase match keywords–with cost per click remaining steady. What’s more, we’ve gained valuable time savings since manually adding misspelled keywords to our campaigns is now unnecessary,” said Shopify in regards to the new close variant matching.

If you currently use close variant matching in your Adwords campaigns, nothing will happen to your account. If you have this feature turned off, however, starting in September all of your keywords will now include misspellings, plurals, and close variants.

Of course, it’s still too early to determine how this will impact the Adwords landscape as a whole. Advertisers will likely report different results from the changes, but the fact is that most won’t notice any change. Only a small percentage of advertisers chose to opt out of the close variant matching, and those are the only ones who will be affected.

Did You Know? Fast Facts About Google Adwords:

  • It was originally launched in 2000 as a cost-per-impression (CPM) online advertising platform.
  • Adwords accounts for approximately 96% of Google’s annual revenue.
  • Based on Google’s own “conservative estimates,” business owners earn an average of $2 for every $1 spent on Adwords advertising (source).
  • Google’s Display Network (formerly known as the Content Network) reaches over 80% of Internet users worldwide.
  • The world’s largest online retailer, Amazon, spent over $55 million in Adwords advertising in 2011.