AdWords Close Variant Change – Strive for more Revenue?

Google has recently introduced a quite startling change to the way that it treats “close variants” in AdWords search terms.

Keyword Matching – A Little Background

In case you’re not aware, you have a number of match options when setting up keywords for which you’d like your AdWords adverts to appear:

  • Broad Match – This will show your advert A LOT. It pretty much displays your advert if any of the words in your keyword match any of the searchers words, or synonyms, misspellings, etc.

So, for example, you could choose a keyword such as “computer hardware repair”, but suddenly find yourself appearing for “computer services”, “machine hardware diagnostics”, “computer malware removal”, and many others.

After wasting lots of money on irrelevant clicks to your site, you may eventually be able to improve the click quality by adding lots of negative keywords. However, generally it is not a good idea to use broad match. This is also (of course!) why Google makes this the default – extra revenue!

  • Broad Match Modifiers – This is a more recent addition to AdWords, which allows you to add modifiers to the standard broad match type, using terms such as “computer hardware +repair”, such that the advert will now only show if the term “repair” or a close variant is part of the search term.

Broad match modifiers can be useful if you’re trying to maximize advert display. You will almost certainly still get poor quality clicks, but not as many. So, you won’t waste so much money as you improve your negative keyword list.

  • Exact Match – This is perhaps the most useful of the keyword matching types. Your advert will only show for searches that match your exact term or close variations. Words before, after, or in between will prevent your advert from showing. Your adverts tend to appear for more relevant searches, your click through rate (CTR) improves, and the quality of the visitors is better.

The only drawback to this approach is the extra time necessary to enter as many variations as possible of pertinent search terms.

  • Phrase Match – An alternative, useful keyword matching type, is phrase match, where your adverts will appear if people search for your exact phrase, even if there are additional words before or after the search. Your advert will also show for close variants.

Close Variants

We’ve used the term “close variants” a number of times in the explanation of keyword matching types. Google is in the process of expanding close variant matching, so adverts will appear more often. In particular, Google will start to ignore function words (e.g. the, in, to, for, but) and word order.

It is, as yet, unclear exactly how this change will affect the way that adverts show. However, advertisers are already concerned about the impact.

For example, You want to rank for “Flights from Denver to New York”, but now also rank for “Flights to Denver from New York”. Google says this won’t happen and this simple example should be easy to spot, but how many other search terms will be affected that won’t be caught?

You’ve only got to look at the following example to understand the importance of word order:

  1. ONLY I hit him in the eye yesterday. (No one else did.)
  2. I ONLY hit him in the eye yesterday. (Did not slap him.)
  3. I hit ONLY him in the eye yesterday. (I did not hit others.)
  4. I hit him ONLY in the eye yesterday. (I did not hit outside the eye.)
  5. I hit him in ONLY the eye yesterday. (Not other organs.)
  6. I hit him in the ONLY eye yesterday. (He doesn’t have another eye..)
  7. I hit him in the eye ONLY yesterday. (Not today.)
  8. I hit him in the eye yesterday ONLY. (Did not wait for today.)

Devised by Ernest Brennecke (Colombia University) this shows how the placement of the word only can create eight different meanings of the sentence. Is Google really smart enough to be able to identify and understand this? Unlikely.

Generally, advertisers are resigned to yet another change, though some advertisers are furious that they’re losing just a little more control over their AdWords campaign. On the whole, this appears to be one more Google strategy to generate more advertising revenue by showing adverts for less relevant searches and probably driving up bids on exact match terms.