Horseshoes, Hand Grenades…and Now Google Close Variant Matching

The Social Media Monthly


Originally published on The Social Media Monthly on January 25, 2015

There is an old saying that close is only good enough in horseshoes and hand grenades. Now, internet marketers can add a third item to that list – Google Close Variant Matching.

Beginning in September 2014, Google AdWords changed the way keywords are set to Phrase and Exact Match trigger ads. Essentially, your keywords with those match types also will trigger a match if there is a close misspelling, a plural where you had singular or vice versa, stemmings (words that share a root, such as dog, dogged and dogwood), acronyms and abbreviations for the keywords you specify.

The concept of Close Variant Matching itself isn’t new; it has been the default option in Google AdWords since 2012. But until now you could opt out of it. Now there is no opting out – you have it whether you want it or not.

The big question, of course, is whether this is a good or a bad thing. It’s easy for the cynics among us to believe that the sole purpose in making Close Variant Matching mandatory is to make more money for Google. After all, with Close Variant Matching in place there really is no such thing anymore as an exact match. The horseshoe doesn’t have to be on the stake – it just has to be close enough. Which means you’ll inevitably pay for keywords that don’t have anything to do with your business.

Sometimes it’s not so bad. If you are paying for the phrase “baby clothes” to reach people looking for an ensemble to wear to grandma’s house, and someone types in “baby cloths” of the kind used to wipe messy faces, there is a pretty good chance they might still be interested in what you’re selling. On the other hand, if you are using the keyword “hard drive” and someone types in “hardly driven,” the odds are they’re looking for a used car, not looking for computer components. But you’ll be paying for that “hit” anyway.

There is, however, another way to look at it. A quick scan through the comments section of the average online article or blog will confirm that many of your fellow citizens don’t type (or spell) very well. They may very well be searching for baby clothes when they type in “baby cloths.” Or “bbay clothess” for that matter. Without Close Variant Matching you might miss out on those opportunities.

If U R going after a younger audience, you will likely find CVM to be gr8t as well. Their frequent use of text and other abbreviations will give you a better chance of matching your keywords to the way they think. It’s the same with acronym heavy industries, such as technology and healthcare. If you purchase the phrase “Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act” you get HIPAA – the acronym those in the industry are most likely to use – without having to pay for a second keyword.

So, what can you do to maximize your value and minimize the downside risk? The best thing is to re-check your negative keyword list and run your Search Query Reports (SQRs) more often. For example, if you typically run them monthly, try doing it weekly for the next few months to see where they come out. Then expand your negatives where appropriate.

Also, be sure to evaluate your campaigns, immediately and then on a continuous basis. If you have been using both singular and plural exact match keywords, for example, you may want to consolidate them – since you will get both with one keyword in any case. The same goes for acronyms and their spelled-out versions and other obvious variants. Because one of your goals should be maximizing your Quality Score, you don’t want to split your click history among keywords that are delivering the same result.

While on the surface it may seem that mandatory Close Variant Matching will cost you more while delivering more waste, it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, it can help ensure you’re maximizing the value of the keywords you’re purchasing.

By carefully examining your reports and making frequent adjustments, you can ensure that close is just as good as right on – or better. Which you won’t get from horseshoes or hand grenades.

Mark Smith has worked in the digital marketing space since its inception. Before co-founding the digital agency True Interactive, he helped lead the first search engine marketing team at W.W. Grainger and served as director of internet marketing at retailer Cosmetique.

Do You Know Where All Your Sales Are Coming From?

Do You Know Where All Your Sales Are Coming From?

by Kurt Anagnostopolous, Co-Founder, True Interactive

Originally published on MarketingProfs on August 15, 2014

To understand the impact that digital marketing has made on our lives, imagine purchasing anything today without it.

No Internet to do online research or shopping. No smartphones to text friends or scan bar codes and QR codes in the store for more information and competitive pricing. No tablets to seek out user reviews or ask acquaintances for opinions via social media.

The fact is the digital world is inextricably intertwined with our lives. According to Google, 90% of media interactions today are screen-based. That number includes TVs, PCs, smartphones, and tablets. More significantly, Google also says that 67% of us start shopping on one device and continue on another.

Smart marketing dictates that you invest your money where it will do the most good. But how do you know where that is?

Historically, retailers have used the “last click” to measure their campaigns. Whether the purchase was made online at home or in a store, the last action the consumer took before making a purchase is the one given sole credit for the sale.

The reality, however, is that often many clicks on many different devices contribute to a sale. Attributing a sale to the last click is like saying the waiter is responsible for the quality of the food in a five-star restaurant.

Here are three reasons why you need to be able to accurately attribute the sale to all the marketing efforts that contributed to it.

  1. Every transaction today is faster

We live in an “instant oatmeal, microwave popcorn” world. During the past 30 years, consumer expectations for speed have become increasingly greater. In particular, Millennials are unaccustomed to waiting for anything. They want instant gratification and demand nothing less.

That expectation is fueled by the fact that they have the world in their pockets. According to Nielsen’s 2014 Digital Consumer Report, nearly two-thirds of Americans now own a smartphone. As a result, shopping can occur anywhere, anytime at the speed of a mobile browser.

If you can fulfill those customers’ desires, that’s great. That’s not so great if you can’t because, with a few clicks on their smartphones, they can purchase that same item from a competitor while they stand in your store.

You need to understand what motivates customers to come to your store or e-commerce site—and what it takes to keep them there. You can’t do that without being able to accurately attribute your marketing efforts.

  1. Every market is larger

Thanks to the Internet, remaining a local-only business is largely a choice. Today, your customers can come from anywhere around the globe.

The number of mobile phone subscriptions worldwide is approaching 7 billion, according to research by McKinsey & Company. To put that into perspective, that is roughly equivalent to the total world population in 2014. In addition, nearly 3 billion people have Internet access.

To tap into this huge potential market, you need to put forth some marketing efforts so the first generation of customers can find you. You can then use the information you glean from your successes to increase your efforts in the areas that work to find successive generations.

If you can’t attribute your success to all the marketing vehicles that contributed to your sales, you’ll be firing arrows into the darkness as you attempt to refine and focus your program. You may get lucky and hit some targets. The question is: Are you willing to risk your global market on luck?

  1. Every store is more than a store

Up until the last decade, the basis of a retail transaction in a store was simple: Customers walk in, see an item they’d like to purchase, hand over payment, and walk out with the item. If they didn’t see something they wanted or it wasn’t available in their preferred size, color, or configuration, they would walk out empty-handed.

High-touch service stores might have called to see whether another store in the area had the item and sent the customer there. Most stores, though, let the customer walk out—because customers accepted this treatment as the norm.

Internet shopping began to change that model.

It opened up a larger world of inventory. If the item wasn’t in the store, the customer could check online, and, if it was available, have the item delivered. Then came “order online, pick up at the store,” which offered the convenience of online shopping without having to pay for shipping—or wait to obtain the item.

Of course, there were often glitches in these systems because there was a virtual Great Wall dividing online and offline sales. In most cases, retailers had their online inventory and their brick-and-mortar inventory, which were contained in two separate inventory management systems and run by managers with individual P&L responsibilities. As a result, there was little incentive for online and offline to work together.

None of that means anything to consumers.

They don’t care about your P&L; they see ABC Retailer as a single entity, a brand. To deliver the experience your customers expect, you had better see the situation the same way.

If customers see an item they want in the store and it’s not available in their size, color, etc., they expect someone in the store to check inventory system-wide to find it—and then have it shipped to their preferred store or to their homes.

Customers don’t care how much time or hassle it will take to move that item or how much doing so costs. They want it when and where they want it. If you’re not willing to make that effort, they’ll pull out their smartphone and find a retailer who will.

* * *

Retailers are no longer in control of the selling process. Customers have the information, and the customer experience will determine who gets the sale.

Retailers can’t afford to burn time and money guessing how to reach their customers. They need to act quickly and precisely. The companies that can do so are the ones that will win.

To Win the “Quality Score” Game, You Must First Understand the Rules

To Win the “Quality Score” Game, You Must First Understand the Rules

by Kurt Anagnostopolous, Co-Founder, True Interactive

Originally published on CommProBIZ on July 23, 2014

Here are the 5 most important factors of Quality Score – and 3 ways to influence them

Key Takeaways:

  • Any Paid Search campaign requires regular attention to succeed
  • Raising Google Quality Score is one path to a successful Paid Search campaign
  • 5 important factors that determine Quality Score, and 3 good ways to influence those factors

In any sort of competition, whether it’s a professional athletic event, the high school debate club or “game night” with the neighbors, knowing and understanding the rules is critical to winning. The rules influence your approach to that competition by telling you what you can and cannot do. But a thorough understanding of the rules also informs your strategy, because rules provide guidance on how to make better decisions – if you’re savvy enough to pay attention.

The same can be said for winning the battle in Paid Search. Only there it’s a bit more difficult because the rules are constantly changing – and you’re not allowed to see the “rulebook,” i.e., Google’s paid search algorithms.

Still, what separates the winners from the losers is that the winners understand that to get optimal results from Paid Search you must build fundamentally sound campaigns, monitor your progress at every opportunity and then keep making adjustments as you learn to drive your results higher.

In the case of Paid Search you’re not trying to score runs, points or touchdowns. You’re not trying to reach the end of the game first (because there is no end). You’re trying to drive leads and/or revenue while maximizing your return. One way to maximize your return is to improve your Quality Score.

What is Quality Score? ( It’s the algorithm Google uses to estimate how relevant your ads, keywords and landing pages are to someone seeing them after a search. A higher Quality Score means Google’s systems consider your ads, keywords and landing pages relevant and useful to each searcher’s particular topic.

The higher your ad scores, the higher your ad ranks in every search auction. And the more likely clicks will become sales. That’s why it’s important to do everything you can to drive your Quality Score higher.

As with any game, there are certain strategies you can follow to increase your chances of winning. The first is to improve your click through rate (CTR). Since CTR is the one aspect influenced by users, Google gives it the most weight.

Here are four things you can do to build and adjust your campaigns to improve your CTR:

  • Keyword Negatives – Continually add new negatives to eliminate unwanted queries. Run your Search Query Reports weekly to identify opportunities and reach beyond eliminating bad clicks. Look to eliminate irrelevant high-impression terms that can drive down CTR.
  • Match Type Breakout— Breakout keywords by match types and separate match types by campaign or ad group. This will further group not only like terms, but like match types and increase CTR on better performing Exact match groups. In addition, shy away from Broad match and focus on Broad Match Modifiers to improve CTR.
  • Sitelinks – Add Sitelinks to all campaigns and use ad group Sitelinks, when possible, to deliver more relevant Sitelinks. Traditional Sitelinks may increase CTR by 15%, and Enhanced Sitelinks may increase CTR by 20%.
  • Targeting – Eliminate poor performing targets for greater CTR by using all the targeting options available, including GEO targeting, ad scheduling and bid modifiers.

The second strategy to improve your Quality Scores is by increasing ad relevancy. Having both closely-related relevant ad copy and using the actual keyword within the ad copy will have a positive effect on your score.

Next is keyword relevancy within the campaign structure. Google’s system looks for keyword relevancy across ad groups. When keywords within an ad group are closely related, Quality Scores go up.

Then there’s the relevancy of your landing pages. The more relevant your landing pages are, the better your Quality Scores. Because Google will crawl landing pages to determine how relevant they are to each keyword, selecting the most relevant, most granular landing pages and linking your ads to them is imperative. When possible, regularly adjust content on landing pages and/or create specific paid-search landing pages that align with keywords to improve your Quality Score.

The final strategy is to build a high-quality history. The length of time a keyword has been active in an account impacts Quality Score. More important than duration, however, is how the keyword has performed during that time period.

Set up every campaign the right way every time and manage each and every campaign on a regular basis. Change what isn’t working to what does work. That’s the only way to build the account history Google seeks to reward with high Quality Scores. This is where discipline comes into play; if you can’t execute a campaign the right way, then maybe that campaign shouldn’t launch, because it will hurt your quality history in the long run.

In any competitive endeavor, knowing and understanding the rules better than your competition – and executing against them – can give you a huge advantage. So it is with Paid Search.

Dedication to SEM best practices will always lead to higher Quality Scores. By creating a logical campaign structure, crafting tight ad groups with similar-themed keyword clusters, developing granular ad copy using keyword themes within copy and, most importantly, continually testing and tweaking your campaigns, you can secure victory for your organization.

Quality Score Techniques

This webinar from Google and True Interactive originally aired February 27, 2014. If you seek better performance from PPC, Quality Score is the way. Google uses Quality Score to estimate how relevant your ads, keywords and landing pages are to those viewing the ads. Higher Quality Scores mean:

  • Lower cost per click (CPC)
  • Higher ad position
  • More successful campaigns

In this 30 minute webinar, learn from Google Business Development Manager Jesse Eisman and True Interactive co-founder and paid search expert Kurt Anagnostopoulos:

  • How Quality Score affects you
  • How Google calculates Quality Score
  • How to check your Quality Score
  • How to improve your Quality Score to drive more business