Close variant matching

| 19 Aug, 2014

A couple of years ago, Google launched their ‘close variants’ setting option.

With this option enabled, Google could match closely related search queries to phrase and exact keywords – i.e. common misspellings and plurals/singulars.

Previously, [television] would only trigger an ad if the search query was ‘television’. Now, it could match to ‘television’, ‘televisions’ or ‘teelvision’.

It’s a great feature. We didn’t need to use broad match keywords to capture misspellings, which could match to a much wider range of search queries less likely to be relevant. We also didn’t need to add hundreds of exact match misspelled keywords to account, and we could funnel these search queries through fewer keywords. It made life a lot easier.

Also, it was easy to forget to add the plurals of every keyword. We’d be missing out on clicks for great search queries without realising it. The setting was on by default, and we saw a noticeable healthy impact on sales when it was launched. We paused plural keywords, deleted misspelling campaigns, and smiled at our tidier accounts. 

However, now Google are forcing this option to be on with no opt-out. We can foresee some advertisers not being happy about this. Even though we’re fans, we did notice a few foibles with it – mainly, that plurals and singulars don’t necessarily always have exactly the same user intent. Take for instance ‘car cover’. A user searching for that is most likely looking for car insurance. The plural ‘car covers’ though implies they’re looking for tarpaulin to put over their car.

Even keywords with seemingly similar intent perform differently. We saw a noticeable difference in performance for the keyword ‘ISA’. The singular implies that the user is looking to buy an ISA directly, whereas ‘ISAs’ implies a more price comparison approach.

It effected brand campaigns too - changing a word from a plural to a singular or vice versa can turn a brand term into a completely different search intent. Like for instance Beaches, Apple, Oracle, Phillips, Caterpillar, Sprite, Shell, Gap, etc.

The risk therefore is that advertisers effected by scenarios like this will be unwittingly getting a sharp increase in traffic for keywords that are less likely to convert - Google estimates up to 7%. To fix this will take extra account management time.

What can you do about this if you’re affected? Fortunately, negative keywords can still come to your aid. Negatives are always unaffected by close variations; they follow standard and traditional match type rules before expanded broads and close variation settings came in to make life complicated.


For example, if you have the keyword ‘golf’ in a campaign with ‘do not match close variations’ set, to avoid being matched to ‘golfs’ you can simply add ‘-golfs’ as a negative. This won’t block your keyword if ‘golf’ is in the search query; only if it contains ‘golfs’.

The effect of this change will likely materialise in October, our advice in the interim is to assess your campaigns and determine the potential impact that ‘close variations’ of keywords have on your user intent. If the impact is marked, rest assured that the tools to control this already exist, and with the right structure to your account the impact will be negligible.

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