The recent news of Google automatically opting all KWs into close variants is the latest AdWords change that will touch the majority of advertisers. So what are we are really looking at, what issues does it present, and how do we solve them?

google close variant

What it means to lose the option to opt out of close variants

In the past, Google offered the ability to either opt in or out of close variant matching. We are talking about misspellings, synonyms, and plural/singular variants.

close variants opt in

You can’t add this campaign-level setting anymore.

Take, for example, the KW [apple]; with close variant turned on, we will see the KW matched to queries like “apples” and “applees.” Now that close variant is turned on automatically, and we can’t opt out.  Everyone is used to having broad and phrase match KWs mapping to a number of unique queries, but now even exact match KWs are going to have multiple queries rolled into them.

google match types

Exact match used to be defined as KW = Query, but now we have close variants in the definition.

This has consequences for all advertisers, as we can no longer give a specific creative and bid per query. If there is a different value per click between something like [Cheap Shirts] and [Cheap Shirt], you would want to have two different bids to reflect those two values. Hypothetically, you might orient the [cheap shirts] messaging more toward large purchases, or perhaps you would use a promotion that captures some small nuance of consumer behavior. At the very least you would probably want to customize the ads to show query in the headline of the ad. When multiple queries are rolled up to the same exact match KW, we can no longer make those distinctions.

The worst-case scenario affects advertisers with a number of closely related exact match KWs with a range of different bids.  If you have 2 exact KWs with respective returns of 2 and 6, you will end up with one KW with an aggregated ROAS around 4.  What is going to be the correct bid for that KW? Any bid you put on that query will be incorrect for those auctions.

When the switch happens, you’ll see a number of different queries moving mainly toward the highest bid, and CPCs will inflate—this is obviously good for Google. On a macro level, I expect that auctions will become more competitive in the short term, but I do expect a new equilibrium to emerge as marketers start adjusting bids and optimizing account structure.  Since exact match KWs will now aggregate multiple queries, the main question is: how do we avoid incorrect bids?

One solution and one big unknown

Here’s a tedious and imperfect solution to controlling your bids: you can still use ad group negatives to funnel queries. Of course, if you have a long, exhaustive list of exact KWs, adding these negatives will be a manual and error-prone process.

And here’s the unknown: we still don’t know how exactly Google is going to be matching query to KW. For the query “Cheap shirt,” will it be more likely to match to the KW [cheap shirt] even if [cheap shirts] has a higher CPC? The ad rank of the two KWs will compete against each other. For now, the winner is unclear.

Keep on monitoring those search query reports! If you see the distributions of your queries changing, you are probably going to have to optimize your account structure. 

On the highest level, I resent any controls being taken away from us. But maybe that’s the cynical view. Maybe this will just simplfy KW lists and make management easier. We’re still waiting for proof of those terrible Enhanced Campaigns ramifications, after all.

What are your impressions of this change?


  1. Dan Perach August 14th, 2014

    My first reaction is that Google is losing its vision, jeez, exact match is exact in its definition. This move is akin to highway robbery, maybe not evil, but smelling illegal. Hey that rhymed ;) ok, now how to implement a workaround… If you are already using campaign level alpha beta, its as simple as creating a new negative list from queries triggered from your broad kws and applying this negative list to your exact match campaigns; it won’t be 100% clean, but 95% should suffice, just as the smart phone only workaround works for me. That being said, its more work, and should not be necessary in order to overcome unfair business practices. Google is getting greedy indeed.

  2. David Lip August 18th, 2014

    What I find irritating is the lack of close variant matching for negative keywords. You have “bicycle” as a negative but they won’t negative match to “bicycles”. Yet, if you advertise for “bicycle”, you’ll get a click for “bike”. I advertised for “rackmount …”, never for “rack …”, yet I was getting clicks for “lipstick rack”, “sheep shearing rack”, etc. I have thousands of negatives including “boobs” because that is synonymous with “rack” in the loose vernacular (as in “she’s got a nice rack” as suggested by a female Googler). Typically can find a new negative permutation only after somebody has clicked an ad and I’m charged. Can’t have “rack” as a negative because “rack mount” is an acceptable spelling for “rackmount”.

  3. Allen K September 24th, 2014

    I’ve read that only 3% of accounts were using it. Considering Google turned it on by default in 2012 and hid the option to turn it off for anyone who didn’t have “All features” turn on. Can we assume that only 3% have a decent account manager then :-)

    For everyone saying how much easier it is, I can only assume you aren’t counting maintain constantly growing negatives.

    It’s been a pain. Having to negate every other brand & model of cars because the wisdom decided that Ford & VW or even 4WD were sufficiently synonymous … after all cars. right?

    Or you the problems of mispellings when they become a new word. Have you noticed how Glass and Class match each other?

    Or numbers sequences that match to others. 123 maybe they want 321 or 121?
    Or TLA’s same problem.

    And stemmings that do not make sense in all cases “speaker service” expands to “speaker servicing” (ie repair) “speaker bureau” shows for “speaking desk”.

    Just some of the ones I’ve found since they’ve taken away control. This just another of Google’s equivalent to “Windows ME” or “New Coke” moments and there have a been a few in the last year.

    I hope Bing doesn’t copy all of these Adwords changes, so we have a platform where expert experience can make a difference.

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Jay Stampfl
-Jay Stampfl, who joined 3Q Digital in January 2013, originally started working in performance display in 2007 with adBrite. In 2010, he continued his digital marketing career with the French-owned search agency eSearchVision, where he managed some of the most recognizable brands in America. Jay has a background in Evolutionary Biology research and received a degree in Biological Anthropology from UC Berkeley.