Understanding Close Variants from Exact Match

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by Ash Smith

October 2, 2019

If you’ve advertised with Google Ads before (formerly Google AdWords), we imagine you’re pretty comfortable with the different match types that are available. When you want to cast your net really wide and see what kind of searches are out there, using broad match (carefully!) is a good tactic. When you’ve found some good searches and want to test different variants, broad match modifier and phrase give you more control to lock down your best performers. But when it comes to maximum control over what triggers your ads – it was always thought that the aptly named ‘exact’ match would do the job – only showing your ads for the exact searches you wanted.

But with the rise of automation and machine learning, coupled with Google’s determination to drive more clicks for advertisers, the ‘exact’ match that we came to know has steadily been replaced by close variant matching, making exact – well – not as exact as you’d think. 

Close variants have been part of the Google Ads ecosystem since 2014, allowing your exact match keywords to trigger searches that were pluralised or misspelt. In 2017 this evolved again, with exact match ignoring word ordering and function words, blurring the lines with broad match modifier. In 2018, they reached their next stage of evolution focusing on search intent, allowing for implied words and paraphrases. In 2019, intent matching will be rolled out to phrase and modified broad match keywords as well.

So what does all this mean for your account?

In short, it could have a positive or negative impact on your account depending on the exact match keywords that you are bidding on, and how well Google have interpreted the match between a searcher’s intent and your keyword. With that said, you’ll need to keep a steady eye on the search queries coming in from your exact match ad groups. 

The two big areas where you’ll see an impact are around function words and word order. 

Function words are words that pull together words and phrases, and essentially don’t have much meaning on their own. These include words like ‘that’, ‘and’, ‘but’, ‘could,’ and ‘will’. With these close variants, these words could be added, removed or replaced, as long as Google determines that 
the intent is still the same

When it comes to word order; losing the ability to lock down specific search queries in exactly the same word order as your keyword sounds like a major loss of control over your exact match keywords, but the reality isn’t as scary as you’d think. When we make searches, they don’t always reflect the way we actually speak. Take for example ‘cheap maternity clothes’ vs ‘maternity clothes cheap’ – the former is how we’d speak, the latter however sounds strange out loud, but is not strange to search for. Google sees that these two searches have the same intent (which they do), and if you were bidding on ‘cheap maternity clothes’ you’d still appear for ‘maternity clothes cheap’. 

The one key benefit of having close variants for your exact match keywords is that you won’t need to create exhaustive lists of exact match keywords in order to save your ads from slipping through the cracks for potential searches. On the flip side, that means you’ll end up spending more on clicks for a range of different searches, so again, stay vigilant and keep an eye on your search query reports. 

To get a better idea of how exact match variants will impact your account, you should do the following:

  1. Take a look at your exact match keywords and ask yourself if the loss of function words or reordering words change their meaning. If it does, add those variations as exact match negatives to your campaigns.
  2. Keep a steady eye on your search query reports, particularly for close variants. You can use the filter in Google Ads to view your variant match search terms (go to the search term report, and add a filter as per the example)

As we continue to shift towards a more automated approach to PPC, so too are the tools that are at our disposal. PPC Samurai can help you to monitor your exact match ad groups and automatically filter out close variant triggered searches that haven’t converted well.  Sign up today and have your account running at its best.

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