AdWords Close Variant Setting Applies to All in September

Starting in September, the “close variant” setting in AdWords will be rolled into “exact” and “phrase match” keywords. What that means for advertisers is slightly less control.

From Google’s announcement:

Starting in late September, we’re applying close variant keyword matching to all exact and phrase match keywords. Because close variant matching was already the default setting for campaigns, most of you won’t see a change in your keyword matching behavior. For advertisers that opted out, the option to disable close variants will be removed in September. Your exact and phrase match keywords will then begin matching to close keyword variations, allowing you to reach more of your potential customers with the right ad while aiming to lower cost per click and improve clickthrough rate.

We talked about the AdWords close variant setting back in June, and the benefits it has to campaigns. While Google seems to be shrugging off the change, many advertisers have a different take.

Over at the RKG blog, they discussed research that showed performance for close variants can perform differently, and say the issue lies in what advertisers would pay for close variant:

Although we want to capture most of the close variant traffic that would fall under ‘near exact’ and ‘near phrase’, we want to pay the appropriate amount for it, and this change will only make that more difficult and less transparent, particularly in light of Google ceasing to pass queries via referrer this April.

Larry Kim of WordStream posted an article on Search Engine Watch that agreed with Google: most accounts won’t notice a difference. “At WordStream, we estimate that only 3 percent of advertisers who had opted out and were using exact and phrase match will be affected,” he said.

However, if you are affected by the change, there are still options, and we agree with what Kim said in his post:

  • An advertiser could still use negative exact and/or negative phrase match keywords to knock out variations that you don’t want to see.
  • Additionally, it’s important to note that if there was indeed a noticeable difference between the performance of a plural vs. singular version of a keyword, the Google Bid Management features would certainly pick up on that difference and would adjust bids automatically, such that you would receive fewer or none of the undesired search query.

In addition, Google points out in its announcement that AdWords prefers to trigger ads using keywords identical to search queries, “so you can still use misspelled, abbreviated, and other close variations of your keywords. If you find that performance varies significantly between close variants, you can add the better performing ones as separate keywords and adjust their bids accordingly.”

Here at Group Twenty Seven, we get a little cranky each time Google takes an option away from us, but have to say that we are OK with this change, as we often and mostly use close variants.

Within our current client accounts, there is only a small percentage of clients that we have opted out of close variants, and within those accounts, that doesn’t include all live campaigns. We agree with others like Larry Kim that we can manage appropriately.