We all heard about the “close variant” changes Google rolled out for their exact match targeted keywords in AdWords toward the end of September this year. If you didn’t well, now you have! The bottom line is, Google removed or reduced (depending on how you look at it) their “true” exact match keyword targeting option.

Why would this matter? Well if you run a SEM account, you’re most likely using a mixed strategy of broad or broad match modified (BMM), phrase, and exact match targeted keywords. Here at 3Q Digital, we promote top-performing keywords from broad or phrase to exact match keywords. This is a standard practice to optimize performance and reduce spend per click and conversion types for these top-performing keywords.

In the past (prior to the changes), we could rest assure that our ads for exact match keywords were only trigged on Google SERPs (Search Engine Result Page) if the user queried that exact search term. Since Google rolled out the new keyword targeting changes, I noticed spend for campaigns that only contained exact match keywords increased week-over-week. Everyone assumed this would happen, but I was curious to see what specifically triggered our “exact” match targeted keywords now.

To dive in, I pulled a Search Query Report (located in the AdWords UI ‘Dimensions’ tab) with the timeframe of 9.22.14 – 10.12.14 for all “exact” match keywords that obtained one or more clicks. I discovered that for this particular client account, 31% (142 of 454) of the search queries were not actually exact matches (or reflective/identical) of the targeted keywords. Only about 70% of the traffic coming from “exact” match targeted keywords is still true exact match these days. The remaining 30% of the “exact” match targeted keyword traffic consists of close variants, like: misspellings, plural vs. singular, spacebar vs, no spacebar between words, and present vs past tense.

Why did Google do this? There are many reasons, I’m sure, like the increasing use of mobile and display advertising. But, the end goal for Google is to make AdWords more profitable. They’re a business that needs to make a profit, so can we blame them? Nope, but we can battle this unwanted spend for our top-performing keywords!

It’s a best practice to target negative keywords that are irrelevant for your business. This strategy can make any SEM account more cost-efficient for relevant traffic by blocking irrelevant keywords from triggering your ads. Let’s build on this process to create true exact match keyword targeting.

What you’ll need to do:

-Create a shared campaign negative keyword list in the AdWords UI

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-Make sure only campaigns that consist of just exact match targeted keywords are included in this new shared list

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-Pull a weekly search query report, make sure to include the keyword match type column, and filter either by “campaign” (for all campaigns that only consist of exact match keywords) or by keyword match type that only contain “exact” match types

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-Run a vlookup Excel formula for the new list of “exact” match searched queries against all active exact match targeted keywords in the account

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-Any remaining search queries that result with a “#N/A” from the vlookup will now be included as new exact match negative keywords to the new shared list (these will be the close variants)

-Continue to run this task weekly, if you eventually want to promote a new keyword to exact match. Google will prompt an error message if an active negative exact match version of the keyword already exists, in which case you will remove from the shared list

-You’re all set! This process will help maintain true exact match keyword targeting by preventing all other close variant searched queries to trigger your ads for exact match targeted keywords

Good luck and please feel free to provide any insight from your own case studies or data analysis. I would love to know what everyone else in our industry is seeing on their end!

1 Comment

  1. Erika McCarthy December 3rd, 2014

    Hi Nick,
    Good post. One tip, instead of using the VLOOKUP, add the “Added/ Excluded” column in your search term report and filter for “None.” This will show if if the keyword already exits in your account.

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Nick Avram
Nick Avram, who joined 3Q Digital in October of 2012, graduated from Michigan State University with a degree in Advertising while receiving a New Media Driver's License Certificate. He fell in love with paid search marketing after obtaining an internship at Performics, where he worked on campaigns for a Fortune 500 retail client. In his free time, Nick enjoys playing sports, watching movies, listening to music, snowboarding, and spending time with family and friends.