The Variant matching option is a vampire, set to drain the money from your budget and benefit Google and no one else. With all apologies to Billy Corgan and the Smashing Pumpkins, one of the keyword matching “improvements” introduced over the last few months has caused me to channel my 90s grunge based angry inner-child.
Various matching options (Broad, Phrase & Exact) have always allowed for advertisers to control the quality and quantity of the traffic they purchased. Broad match keywords only require that part of the user’s search query match to your keyword. Phrase match keywords, indicated by quotation marks, require a search to contain the given keyword in order at some point in the search. Exact match keywords, denoted with square brackets, requires the search to be exactly the same as the keyword.
A few months back they introduced a new option to phrase and exact match keywords that is known as close variants. Based on Google’s official documentation regarding this option written prior to its release, “phrase and exact match keywords will match close variants, including misspellings, singular/plural forms, stemmings, accents and abbreviations.” In reality this attempts to turn phrase and exact match keywords into glorified broad keywords in an effort to leave no money on the table at the end of the day. The detail Google is hoping people will gloss over is the concept of close variants. Our concern with the documentation is that beyond the basics there is no further clarification on what constitutes a close variant. Basically it is up to Google to determine this. Google’s loosely defined rules are a concern to us because they are focused on making themselves money which means spending yours. Close variants reduce the control of advertisers in regards to the quality of traffic they are receiving from AdWords.
Google says that they believe “these changes will be broadly beneficial for users and advertisers”. From what we have seen, the best case scenario is that account performances remain within historical ranges (i.e. no substantial improvement credited to close variants). The worst case scenario is Google picks up close variant traffic that isn’t actually good for you and it leads to an increase in Conversion costs.
For AdWords advertisers this new feature was automatically added to all accounts and you have to opt out if you don’t wish to be affected by it. The good news is that it’s not too difficult to turn off this option although you need to know where to look because it is hidden pretty well. To get to this area, you need to go to the Settings tab for the campaign(s) that you want to opt out of this setting for. After doing this, you need to scroll to the bottom of the page and open up plus box for Keyword Matching Options which will open the following prompt.
To opt out of the settings, choose the “do not include close variants” option, ignore the last resort guilt trip, click save and get your phrase and exact matches back.