Closing the gap on relevant search: Close keyword variants and what they mean to you

By Mariana Saraceni | 05 Aug 2014

Google announced this morning they will be enforcing the close variant feature at the end of September.  While the news suggests advertisers will have more control over their campaigns, the reality is we actually lose control and potentially see some budget wastage as a result.

What are close keyword variants? Introduced but not enforced in 2012, Google defines it as "keywords that include misspellings, singular and plural forms, acronyms, stemming (such as floor and flooring), abbreviations, and accents". So a practical easy example would be if you have the word dress on exact match (meaning you only want to match to that exact keyword) you will now also match to dresses, dressing, dressing, etc.

Why is this happening? The official blog post says that "People aren't perfect spellers or typists. In fact, at least 7% of Google searches contain a misspelling" - which is why we have a misspelling ad group - but most importantly, Google wants to make sure that you don't miss out on showing your ad when you might be relevant to a user's query.

We're guessing you're thinking that this doesn't sound like a big deal or you might be wondering what does this actually mean for you before deciding if you should be concerned or not. Let's see…

The Good: To Google's point, a lot of time is spent adding hundreds if not thousands of keywords so we can make sure that our ads appear for all those queries whilst paying the cheapest possible CPC. This will indeed save valuable time for mammoth accounts so instead of adding many new keywords and cross match negatives, you will now have to concentrate on adding more negatives and, in theory, just a few more keywords from those BMM terms.

The Bad: This feels like we will never again have an actual exact match. If you want to pay to appear on one keyword alone, you will have to go through an obstacle course and add negatives everyday with words that, although might sound and read quite similar to your desired term, are not actually the relevant. At the same time, we will see competition increase here. So you can expect your CTR to decrease and your CPCs and costs to increase at least whilst you're adding all the negatives you want and even then, you need to wait for your competitors to do the same.

The Ugly: Whilst having something harmless like the word 'dress' matching to 'dresses', and just needing to negative match 'dressing', seems quite straight forward, as Google explained, "People aren't perfect spellers or typists" it is actually quite terrifying! Especially when you are an international brand with many accounts in various languages (does anyone know how Google will roll this out internationally?). One of our Senior Account Managers gave me a prime example of how things could get ugly for insurance clients. Let's say we want to bid on the term 'life insurance' on exact match but that the close variant will morph this to 'living insurance' - the results will bring up one that is exactly my product and the other one that is potentially for home insurance. As for international repercussions, each language is completely different and to those where a single letter can change the gender or meaning of a word, this will mean more work on negatives than ever before.

The Fix? There's no simple solution to this but we would strongly recommend that Google releases some sort of glossary or even a search capability where we can see where one word might evolve to another. This will mean that we can add any outrageous change from the get go rather than waiting for an SQR to show it to us.

What is Greenlight doing about this? We're proactively getting each of our accounts ready by the end of September so we can give them the best chance of success. Over the next six weeks our Paid Media Managers will be working with each of their teams to create strategies and implement them in time for the change, making sure that we fully understand every action and reaction by working closely with our Google vertical teams and our agency rep. Stay tuned, and we might have some information on the international side of things. We need to think on a language by language basis and have a separate strategy per country/account.

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