Google AdWords Forcing Close Variant Matching

4 things you can do about it

The upcoming changes in AdWords keyword matching might feel intimidating. Learn how you can keep control of your paid search targeting

It’s no secret that paid search is one of the most powerful weapons in a marketer’s arsenal to connect with potential customers in the most relevant and precise way. But a recent change by Google has affected the search marketer’s ability to be precise in their targeting. While many in the business are up in arms over this decision, in truth it’s nothing to get overly worried or anxious about. And there are a few easy steps that you can take to help keep your grip on your search campaigns.

In a recent announcement, Google stated that as of September 2014, search advertisers will no longer be able to opt out of a feature connecting every keyword with close variations, even for the most restrictive match types. Close variant matching is nothing new; it was introduced in 2012, and Google sees it as a more intuitive and organic way to connect consumers and businesses. But removing the ability to opt out of this feature is new, and many advertisers see the move as a loss of control.

How Close Variants Work

When search managers buy clicks on keywords via paid search, they’re not only targeting the specific words or phrases they’ve selected, but also any search queries that Google considers relevant to their keywords. This “filter” to determine how tightly the keywords should match the actual search terms is called match type.

So let’s say you’re promoting hardwood floors, and you choose to buy AdWords for the keyword, “floor ideas.” Here are the search terms that will trigger your ads, with and without close variants.



As you can see, there’s no longer an option that allows an ad to be triggered only by the exact keyword selected by the consumer. It might increase simplicity (when you add a keyword to your campaign you always add multiple search terms) and expand your potential reach, but most of us would rather maintain control of our targeting.

The 4 Key “Fixes” for Search Managers

While Google may have changed the rules of the game for exact and phrase keyword match types, you can still take measures to control the natural traffic volume and quality fluctuations that may occur as a result. Here are our four key recommendations:

  1. Monitor impression volume spikes, as they may indicate certain keywords have been largely affected by this change.
  2. Prioritize exact and phrase match keywords in your analysis, since these are the keyword types that should be generating larger impression increments.
  3. Control CTR, Quality Score and CPC to make sure that these changes are not negatively affecting your performance in the medium term.
  4. Place further emphasis on negative keyword lists by closely monitoring your search term reports, and augmenting your keyword exclusion of the new irrelevant terms which may appear. This is key to controlling any drop in relevance that might occur.

If you’re already targeting common variations of your current keywords, it makes sense to keep them, as they could gain a small Quality Score boost when someone searches for their exact match.

Google’s forced application of close variant matching isn’t the seismic upheaval that some marketers are making it out to be. Even when it entails losing a bit of control in favor of augmented impression volume, further attention to your search campaigns can help maintain your grasp over relevance and performance.