Is Google’s Expansion of Close Variant Matching Working for Marketers?


Just when you think you’ve mastered keyword research and your PPC strategy, Google announces changes to the way exact match targeting works. Over the next few months, they’ll be expanding close variant keyword matching to ignore, add, and reorder searches. And this can have major implications on your AdWords account.

If you’re not familiar with close variant matching, it was introduced in 2012 to help searchers find what they’re really looking for, thus helping marketers bring in qualified traffic. Let’s take a look at some of the changes we can expect to see:

Function Words Will Soon be Ignored (Sometimes)

Exact matching will soon ignore function words that don’t have a large impact on the entire search. Function words include ones like:

  • For
  • The
  • But
  • A
  • In
  • To

But there are many scenarios where function words are critical to the entire search. For example, “flights to Los Angeles” will not be affected since the function word is important to the overall search. But searching “restaurants in Denver” will be affected by the close variant changes because the “in” word doesn’t affect the search.

Search Terms May be Reordered

Sometimes, the way we type searches doesn’t necessarily make sense when saying them outloud. Especially when it comes to the order of the words. Have you ever started typing a search only to think of words you want to add as you’re typing them? Here’s a good example: “Leather furniture black buy”. You knew you were searching for leather furniture, but realized you wanted to narrow it down by black couches, and you wanted to ensure Google knew you intend to buy it online. Soon, searching “buy black leather furniture” will use the exact same logic as the previous search.

However, similar to the function word rule, Google will allegedly recognize that some searches shouldn’t be ordered. For example, searching “Denver to Los Angeles” won’t be reordered to read “Los Angeles to Denver” because Google will identify that you’re seeking travel options specifically from one destination to another.

What Does this Mean For Advertisers and Marketers?

At the initial announcement of these updates, advertisers expressed their concerns. And we can understand why. Once the changes are in effect, you’ll probably see additional impressions and clicks in your AdWords account, but may not necessarily see more conversions. In fact, Google pointed out that early tests indicated 3% more exact match keyword clicks, but maintained conversion rates.

To us, it seems like we’re being promised that Google just instinctively knows that the query “staff meeting” probably doesn’t have the same intention as “meeting staff”. But how do we know for sure?

How to Prepare

  1. Ensure your daily budget has enough wiggle room that you won’t max out if you’re bringing in more exact match keyword traffic.
  2. Review your negative keywords. These changes to close variant matching may uncover some new search queries that don’t align with your business and should be added as new negative keywords.
  3. Make sure your website is optimized for conversions. Google may be able to control how many people click your ads and find your site, but you have full control over your website, content, and strategy.

Need an AdWords audit? We can take a look at your Adwords account and ensure these keyword changes will work in favor for your business. Get in touch today!

About Andrea Moxham

Creative, driven marketing and communications leader with a proven track record in strategy and implementation. Entrepreneurial spirit and experience with inbound marketing, social media, digital marketing, and public relations.