The Death of Exact Match: The Impact of Close Variant Matching on All Exact and Phrase Keywords

In late September, Google rolled out a change that altered the fabric of Search Marketing strategy forever, as they promised to do in their blogpost.  In Google’s words, the inclusion of close variants on exact and phrase match keywords promised to help cover mispellings and plurals that users may not be including in their account structure; however, most experienced SEM folks already include ad groups or use broad matching to cover these variants and appreciated the option to opt out of close variants.  The primary reasoning being control.

For more information on exactly what this change entailed, Search Engine Land did a great job explaining the implication of including close variants as well as some analysis on what impact we might have expected  after the change was implemented.  As we wrote about in our post on the importance of structure and naming conventions, we strongly recommend breaking out Match Types by Campaign and implementing negatives as Benjamin suggests.  Having already had this structure helped us significantly manage the inclusion of close variants across the majority of our keywords.  At the same time, we are seeing a trend, as he also suggested would happen, in our Branded terms that are troublesome.

The Impact of Close Variants on Brand Terms

Impact of Close Variant Matching on BrandofCloseVariantMatchingonBrand” title=”” />

Above is an image of our top branded term for a given client.  For anonymity let’s pretend this term is [home depot].  On September 18th we saw a large downward trend on impressions and clicks on this term that was well outside of the norm.  Given that this keyword has a very high quality score, maxed out CPC and is isolated into it’s own tight ad group, we were confused.  A search query report and quick look at our data made it very clear that in the Misspellings ad group the exact match term [homes depot] was taking all of the traffic for queries of [home depot].   We also noticed that the total impression volume of both keywords was actually lower than the historical daily combined total prior to the change:

Impact of Close Variant Matching on Brand MisspellingsofCloseVariantMatchingonBrand_Misspellings” title=”” />

At the end of the day an advertiser can use CPCs, negatives or pausing to work through this issue; however, it does remove the ease with which we were able to manage highly sensitive keywords and creates a good amount of extra work for brands who may have highly irrelevant terms that are similar to their brand name.

In closing I’d like to bid a farewell to my friend, the exact match keyword.  We enjoyed the clarity and control you brought to our work.  You will be missed.



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