Close-variant matching will no longer be optional from September!

by Joel Coppersmith on Tuesday 2 September 2014

What does this mean for your AdWords activity?


What’s changing?

On 12th of August Google announced that after introducing the option in April of 2013, it will no longer be possible to opt out of its close variant matching option for Exact and Phrase match keywords. The implementation of this policy will begin from late September (although no specific date has been announced) and will be staggered across accounts. 

What is close-variant matching?

Close-variant for Exact and Phrase match keywords means that in addition to showing ads for the specific keyword that is being bought, Google will also match to close variants such as stemmings, plurals and misspellings.
For instance, if you are advertising on the keyword: [buy plasma TV]; you will now show for these queries:

buying plasma TV (stemming)
buy plasma TVs (plural)
buy plasa TV (misspelling)
This marks a significant change in the level of control that advertisers have over the keywords they are buying. As with all such updates, there are both positives and negatives and the full impact is unlikely to be understood until the changes have been live for some time.

What will this mean for your campaigns?


Keyword lists no longer need to account for every possible variation of a keyword in order to capture available traffic. This obviously means shorter lists that are easier to compile and manage. Relevant variants (such as misspellings) that rarely showed previously due to limited search volume now also have a better chance of triggering ads.

Less time spent managing keywords means more time can be spent on identifying and testing other opportunities, such as new targeting options, copy testing and other factors more likely to generate lasting performance improvements. 

Impression and traffic volumes could increase in campaigns that are currently opted out – leading to more opportunities to generate revenue.


Impression and traffic volumes could increase in campaigns that are currently opted out – we won’t know by how much until it starts happening, making budget management more difficult for the next few months


Competition levels may increase as more advertisers start matching against terms that they previously avoided. CPCs, CTRs and Quality Score may fluctuate and like-for-like comparisons versus previous months may no longer be valid.


Google will be responsible for matching keywords based on what it believes are close-variants. This may occasionally result in ads showing for some unexpected or less relevant queries, particularly where one word may have multiple meanings.


Existing lists of negative keywords will need to be reviewed to ensure that traffic is being channeled in an optimal fashion. This does mean slightly more work and it should but be built into any regular week-to-week optimization checklist.

How much difference will this really make to your campaigns?

Some of your campaigns will already use close-variant and many of your competitor’s campaigns will too. So there may be little obvious impact on results. We wouldn’t expect sudden spikes in traffic or cost. The accretion of previously untargeted clicks and the need to adjust bids to remain competitive - particularly on mobile – may mean that daily spends begin to creep up faster than previously.

Why has Google decided to make this change?

Google has highlighted three main reasons for this change in policy:


  1. The vast majority of AdWords users already opt-in to close-variant
  2. The use of close-variant provides additional traffic with comparable CTRs, CPCs and conversion rates.
  3. The change reduces the complexity of building and managing keyword lists.


By ensuring that more searches will trigger ads - particularly searches that contain abbreviations or misspells such as are common with the smaller keyboards on mobile devices - Google will likely be driving an increased proportion of paid traffic compared to organic following the full roll out in September.