Google announced last week that it was enforcing “close variant matching” to all exact and phrase match keywords. While this has been an option – and, to be sure, the default setting within AdWords Keyword Matching Options – for marketers since it was first introduced in 2012, starting in late September it will be the law of the land. Advertisers will no longer be able to opt out.
Close Variant Matching allows advertisers to show ads for queries that are considered “plurals, misspelling, or close variants” of their Exact and Phrase Match keywords. Close variations are defined as misspellings, singular and plural forms, acronyms, stemmings (such as floor and flooring), abbreviations, and accents. According to Google, many misspellings and abbreviations would be missed by advertisers given their low search volume. Thus, matching to close variants allows advertisers to increase quality traffic by showing ads for queries that reflect the intent of their current keyword set, even if they don’t match their keywords exactly.
This is undoubtedly true for some advertisers, particularly smaller, less sophisticated accounts, where the resources – whether people or tools – to help build out and manage large keyword sets just don’t exist. Google states that advertisers who have used it over the past two years have seen an average of 7% more exact and phrase match clicks with “comparable clickthrough and conversation rates.”
IgnitionOne’s own research skews a little differently, especially by vertical. By comparing the user’s query to the keyword it was matched to, we were able to determine whether or not that query fell into the close variant category, and then ultimately whether or not that ad click resulted in a conversion. Of course, this kind of transparency no longer exists either, as Google has since removed the query from the referrer – another wall in what is becoming an increasingly black box.
The retail industry fared the best, with CPA’s roughly 11% lower on close variant queries. However, advertisers outside of the retail vertical on average saw CPAs roughly 75% higher on close variant queries than they did on non-variants. Clearly, based on this data, the close variant traffic for non-retailers is likely to be significantly less efficient, but that does not necessarily mean that it’s bad traffic. That is up to the advertiser or their search partners to determine.
The primary concern is the lack of transparency. While advertisers can still use misspellings, et al, within their accounts, the ability to vet the specificity of the matching engine – and, therefore, the efficacy of this new change – went out the window when Google removed the typed query from the referrer.
THINGS YOU CAN DO
- Continue to add in misspellings, abbreviations and other “close variants” with their own bids. Google should match to them when appropriate and enforce their independent bids.
- If you suspect a negative impact on CPCs for some keywords, try pausing them and see if similar terms pick up that traffic.
- Utilize a portfolio approach to optimization and evaluate whether there are other paid search assets, or other advertising channels, that could use the capital more efficiently.
- Be aware that “close variant” traffic is likely to be less efficient, so evaluate whether or not their performance still falls within your efficiency tolerance.
IgnitionOne will continue working closely with our clients to understand the ramifications of this change and to ensure campaign results and metrics remain strong. If you have any questions, please reach out directly to your IgnitionOne contact or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also available for download is our recent report on Google Shopping .