Search Marketing

Google’s Close Variant Keyword Matching, Paid Search & You

August 21, 2014

Did you know that 7 percent of Google searches contain a misspelling? Based on this insight, Google has announced that it will apply close variant keyword matching – which aims to help people find what they are looking for, despite spelling inaccuracies – to all exact and phrase match keywords starting next month.

Google first introduced close variant matching in 2012 to compensate for “close variants” of users’ intended queries, including misspellings, singular/plural forms, stemmings, accents and abbreviations. With this matching behavior, 1) users began to see more ads that were relevant for their intended search queries; and 2) it was no longer necessary for advertisers to build exhaustive lists of close variant exact/phrase keywords to capture search intent, since Google did the work for them.

To date, Google has allowed advertisers to opt-out from close variant matching in their campaigns settings tab and maintain the previous matching behavior. As of today, 75 percent of advertisers are opted-in to close variant matching.

Immediate Implications for Advertisers

So, what’s changing? Beginning in late September, Google will apply close variant matching to campaigns of advertisers that previously opted out of the feature. All exact and phrase match keywords will then begin to match for close keyword variations by default.

Many advertisers won’t see any change in their keyword matching behavior; however, advertisers that previously opted out should expect the following:

  • Slight increase (normalization) in CPCs for keywords that are close variations, since more advertisers will begin to serve ads on these keywords.
  • Google will still match the most relevant term in the account before close variant matching kicks in. Therefore, you may still add misspellings as exact match terms into your accounts.
  • Matching behavior for other match types will stay the same. This will create slight overlapping matching behavior between exact match and the other match types.

Future Implications for Advertisers

Google’s organic search systems have already been detecting and compensating for misspellings and close variants with the aim of serving the same search results for the same search intents. This change is a congruent and permanent approach to extend this behavior to paid search.

Yet there are some cases in which the close variant of a keyword may reflect very different user intent. For example, “glass” vs. “glasses” might be considered as close variant, but might indicate a building material, rather than a tool to correct vision.

With this change in all exact and phrase matching behavior, advertisers should focus on more specific negative keyword strategy to eliminate unwanted traffic from close variants. Moreover, advertisers who that previously got ahead of the curve by adding close variants to paid search accounts will face a more level playing field.