Close Variant Matching: How to Know When “Close Enough” Is Good Enough

Close Variant Matching Spotlights

Horseshoes ClusterAbout 18 months ago, Google AdWords made a significant change in how keywords trigger ads. If you use Phrase and Exact Match ads, AdWords also now automatically uses Close Variant Matching. Previously, this was the default but you could – and many did – opt out of it. Now, that’s not possible.

What does this change mean and why should you care? We cover that in some detail in “Horseshoes, Hand Grenades…and Now Google Close Variant Matching,” which was originally published on The Social Media Monthly (February 2, 2015.)

The Social Media MonthlyBut the short answer is this change means your costs could rise and control over your keywords could drop – if you don’t actively manage your campaigns. For example, if you use “hard drive” in an ad group, it could be shown to people who search for “hardly driven” used cars. That’s not exactly an ideal prospect for you.

However, Close Variant Matching can be extremely beneficial to you by pulling in “hits” from people who misspell, mistype or fall victim to dreaded “autocorrect” errors. Close Variant Matching also accommodates abbreviations and acronyms, so you can gain exposure for some terms without having to pay for another keyword.

We explained this in the Google AdWords Workshop: How Consistent Evaluation & Consolidated Keywords Yield Greater Exposure with Your Prospects. You can review the presentation from that workshop below.

In many cases, “Close enough” might be good enough. That’s your call. Once you understand how Close Variant Matching works and how you can regain control over your Google AdWords campaigns, you’ll be in a better position to make the right decision for your business.

Nuts & Bolts: Close Variant Matching

Analytics Close Variant Matching Nuts & Bolts

horseshoe and handgrenadeEach month, we plan to post an installment to our blog that delves into the nitty gritty of paid search.

For our inaugural “Nuts & Bolts” post, I’d like to share our Google AdWords Workshop from earlier this year. Following my recent 3-part series of posts focused on analytics, I feel this topic follows theme. Managing issues such as Close Variant Matching is an excellent reason to plunge into web analytics, gain a better understanding of them and then apply them to sharpen the strategy and execution of your paid search campaigns.

Google Close Variant – A Match Made in Heaven?

Analytics Close Variant Matching

Puzzle_Piece_KWFLast post, we discussed how Google’s matchmaking algorithm Close Variant Matching (CVM) brings search terms and paid ads together at auction as applied to the Phrase Match and Exact Match categories. Recent changes to Google’s ad-serving policy have the digital marketing world asking – Is obligatory CVM a match made in heaven? Or will it end in heartbreak for paid search managers?

Before dissecting pros and cons of Google’s new policies, let’s examine how to capitalize on the latest shift in paid search. Here are a few key takeaways:

  1. Rethink your campaign structure – Is your campaign poised to profit from Close Variant Matching? If not, it’s time for a change. Start by measuring your campaign results and optimizing for CVM’s inclusion of atypical spellings and abbreviations. An aside – Think Google Quality Score when building campaigns, too.
  2. Check your work – and often – Running Search Query Reports (SQRs) frequently can help you stay abreast of performance. The new norm of paid search management is closer monitoring.
  3. Boost your top performers – Find your best key terms and re-add them as “Exact Match” keywords. This will boost traffic on your hottest terms.
  4. Yank irrelevant traffic – Adding negative keywords will sift out irrelevant phrases, minimizing spend for ill-fitting keywords and stimulating your paid search program.

What’s the Verdict?
Now for the debate: Does Google’s mandatory matchmaking policy help or hurt paid search marketers? While not all AdWord auctions are the pairing marketers would hope, the verdict may differ between campaigns.

Most simply won’t notice the change. Why is that? Well, CVM has been around since 2012 and was always the default selection in AdWords. Most marketers had no reason to avoid Close Variant Matching, since it pulled in even more potential eyes to view their content.

The pros? Close Variant Matching could lift campaigns honed on Gen Y searchers, whose abbreviations and SMS acronyms already are the stuff of legend. They are less likely to complete a word or phrase in a search bar versus older citizens of the Web.

Another factor – the speed of communication and commonality of analytics-backed search suggestions are so commonplace, many don’t take the time (or *gasp* may not know how) to spell the names of specialized products correctly. Rather than leaving these queries in ad-serving oblivion, Google’s latest stance on bidding for keywords ensures compatible searches are served relevant ads.

There is a downside to the change as well. With less control comes a greater potential for error. Sometimes a match may ring true to Google, but not represent a qualified lead for your business. The only way to mitigate the impact of this possibility is to monitor closely your paid search campaigns for leaky keyword results.

To dig a little deeper into Close Variant Matching and its implications for your paid search program, be sure to read our last post and check out our in-depth article in Social Media Monthly.

Matchmaker, Matchmaker – How Close Variant Matching Ends in Paid Search Bliss

Analytics Close Variant Matching

Pair_Aces_KWFAs February passes (along with another Valentine’s Day) and Spring approaches (when thoughts “turn to fancy” as the old saying goes), take a moment to consider the big business of matchmaking. Not the trifling $2-billion industry of online dating. No, let’s talk about a really big matchmaking industry, one that’s at least 15 times larger – paid search.

And in the business of paid search, the predominant matchmaker is Google, of course. The most popular search engine in the world by nearly 3 times its nearest rival, Google arguably is the most successful matchmaker of all times – That is, when it comes to bringing keywords and searches together.

But as many of us know, there’s more to a successful relationship than connecting similar parties. So, when it comes to matching buyers and sellers, Google’s algorithms take into account nuances of semantics to connect search queries and keywords at an AdWords Auction.

Here’s a primer covering the options Google offers marketers pursuing paid search campaigns:

  • The shotgun approach, Broad Match includes misspellings, abbreviations, stems, and related terms. It covers the gamut of potential customer searches.
  • If you select Phrase Match, only searches containing your specific phrase will show. No one will see your “gluten-free recipes” ad when searching “free recipes”.
  • If you’ve honed your keywords to perfection, Exact Match is your best bet. Use it when no other words will do.
  • Google lets you “subtract” keywords, too. Among other things, Negative Match can save you from advertising wedding rings to those seeking show times for “The Wedding Ringer”.

Introduced in 2012 and applying only to the Phrase Match and Exact Match categories, Google’s Close Variant Matching actually simplifies your paid search campaigns. Using fewer keywords, Close Variant Matching can rope in more search terms. By including errant, misspelled results into your campaign, impressions can increase 7% or more.

A good analogy for Close Variant Matching is autocorrect. By guessing sender intent, your cell phone makes hasty messages appear legible (and bad spellers, intelligent). In the same way, Google Close Variant Matching improves paid search results by guessing searcher intent.

The downside, you ask? Some might argue the algorithm also shares autocorrect’s downfall: lack of user control. While digital marketers could previously opt out of Close Variant Matching, Google made it mandatory last fall.

For a better play-by-play analysis, read our recently published article in Social Media Monthly. While you’re at it, watch for our next post tackling pros and cons of Google’s decision – Is Google really the matchmaker it claims to be?