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Google's change to close variant matching & what it means for you

by Peter Oxlade on September 02, 2014

From late September Google will be applying close variant matching to all exact and phrase match terms contained within an Adwords account.

Since Google first introduced the close variant matching option in 2012, all accounts had the option to opt in or out of this feature.

The premise of close variant matching is that, according to Google data, 7% of all Google searches contain a misspelling. Therefore any account opting into close variant matching could ensure adverts were shown if a potential customer searched for a term which they had misspelled even if this very same misspelled keyword was not included in the Adwords account.

Similarly close variant matching would allow for an ad to be matched to a search using a plural term in the search query even if the Adwords account only contained a singular version of the same search query. Also, if searchers used popular abbreviations of terms then an ad would be triggered if the fully spelled term was included in the Adwords account (and not the abbreviation).

So what does this mean to Adwords accounts which are currently opted out of close variant matching?

For more developed and closely controlled Adwords accounts it has often been the option of a paid search specialist to opt out of close variant matching and set up plurals, misspells and abbreviations of keywords in separate ad groups.

This more granular control can be very useful if you want to write bespoke ad creative to use the plural or abbreviated term in the ad (but not the misspelled term!).

Equally, there can be very different click through rates and conversion rates on a plural term compared to the singular term so different bid strategies have been applied to both versions.

On a number of accounts run in the past where the close variant matching has been tested adverts failed to appear in the paid search listings when searching for a plural term – often because the bid has had to be higher to compete for searches of this plural term.

Therefore the ability to control the campaign performance by adding in separate plural and singular terms (often in separate ad groups) is a benefit we will lose from late September.

There is an argument to say that the ability to show against multiple misspells is a benefit to having the close variant matching switched on but using a search query report to regularly add high volume misspelled terms into a separate ad group is often a more preferable option. Especially when there are some misspells which can have a completely different connotation to the term you want your ads to appear against.

For example if you are selling trainers and wanted to match and deep link customers to a Nike trainers landing page you could still get customers searching for ‘nice trainers’ matched to your search term of ‘Nike trainers’.  Or someone looking for a cannon cooker and searching for ‘buy cannon’ could be shown adverts for canon cameras instead.

Therefore using keywords with multiple or ambiguous meaning in your Adwords account could have a damaging effect on your campaign’s performance once the matching is turned on permanently.

How to retain control once close variant matching is switched on across all accounts

Whilst this change will have a minimal impact on those of you who have been running a well-optimised Adwords account with a large number of negative terms already included, there is one way you can retain control of which terms trigger specific ads.

Use of cross-negatives is especially useful if you want to keep your plural, singular and specific abbreviated terms separate.

As an example you can set up 2 separate ad groups with the same term in the ad group – eg ‘digital camera’ and a separate ad group with the abbreviation of ‘digital cam’. Then using negative terms against each ad group will ensure that the ad is only triggered by the exact search term a potential customer is using:

Search term used by customer  negative keyword in ad group

[digital camera]                digital camera ad group : “-cameras”; “-cam”

[digital cameras]              digital cameras ad group : “-camera”; “-cam”

[digital cam]                     digital cam ad group: “-camera”; “-cameras”

For all of the accounts at Unscrambled a very granular approach is used to keyword management, with small numbers of exact match and broad match modified keywords in separate ad groups to ensure we know exactly which ad will be triggered by which search query.

This strategy involves regular keyword ‘mining’ to add in new negative and positive keywords into the Adwords account to ensure ads are shown against only the most relevant search queries.


For the majority of Adwords accounts, this change will have a minimal impact on the traffic sent through to the websites but there is likely to be an increase in search impressions as ads are shown against more keyword variations. This could result in a drop in average click through rates and therefore a drop in keyword quality score.

However, simple health checks on your Adwords accounts and regular search query reporting will ensure that your ads are only appearing against the most relevant search terms.

Also, since the close variant matching option is automatically switched on for all new campaigns set up in Google, most accounts will already have this matching live and so will see no impact on their accounts at all.

At Unscrambled we specialise in consulting on paid search marketing offering bespoke paid search audits on existing Adwords accounts, so if there is any advice you need on this Google change or any other element of your current Adwords campaigns don’t hesitate to get in touch. 

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