Most search marketers were disappointed when Google announced that they would be forcing close variant keyword matching on all AdWords accounts without the option of disabling it. Few were surprised when Bing followed suit in announcing that they would also be automatically enabling close variant keyword matching, although Bing kept the option of opting out of close variants if advertisers wanted to.

The move towards close variant keyword matching has formally signalled the end of true exact match keyword bidding, where an advertiser could choose to bid on only one keyword string. As it has now been one month since close variants keyword matching has been mandatory on Google, it’s important to understand why Google made the change and what the impact of this change has been.

Mobile search queries partly responsible for roll out of close variant matching

Some cited the reason for Google to enforce close variant keyword matching is to grow the number of keywords that advertisers are bidding on and so inflate cost per clicks (CPCs), thereby increasing their ad revenue. While this is an inevitable outcome of close variant matching, Google stated that they made the change to make it easier for advertisers to connect with consumers who are searching for keywords closely related to the keywords the advertiser wants to appear against. With the rise of mobile search, we are seeing more diversity in the keyword strings that people are typing in, owing to an increase in misspelling and the use of abbreviations from users on mobile devices. Mobile Search has been changing the Search query landscape for some time and mobile search is a big part of the reason why Google and Bing have moved to close variant matching.

What is close variant keyword matching?

With close variant keyword matching enabled, search ads are triggered against the use of misspelling, singular and plural forms, stemming, accents and abbreviations. The chart below demonstrates how close variants work with traditional match types:

How close variants keyword matching change will impact your campaigns

With ‘traditional’ phrase match and ‘traditional’ exact match now completely phased out on Google, advertisers are forced to buy keyword variations which are closely related. There is no way out of this within AdWords unless extensive negative keyword lists are created and that is a time consuming exercise even when scripts are used.

Advertisers will see higher search volumes and more competition for keyword searches

According to research from Google, advertisers using close keyword variations will receive – on average – 7% more clicks than when close variant keyword matching was disabled. By making close variant matching standard, Google and Bing have grown the number of search queries that advertisers are bidding against. So advertisers can expect to see higher search volumes and more competition as competitors are also forced to bid on closely related keywords.

As a result of close variants keyword matching, there will inevitably be more advertisers eligible to appear against more queries, the result being that advertisers will likely see an increase in CPCs.

Negative keywords are more important now than ever

Now that close variants keyword matching is enforced on Google and enabled by default on Bing, the use of negative keywords has become more important as negative keywords are the only way to ensure that an ad does not show for certain search queries considered by Google and Bing as close variants. It’s more important than ever that Search teams regularly check Search Query Reports to monitor the actual search queries which users have typed in before they were shown an ad, so they can add any irrelevant searches as negative keywords.

Goodbye exact match, welcome close variant matching

Love it or hate it, close variant keyword matching is here to stay and Search Marketers need to ensure that their campaigns are set up in a way to maintain as much control over what keywords they are bidding on as possible.