Are Close Variant Keywords Wasting Your Budget?

A Brief History of Ads & Exact Match Keywords

Many years ago, ‘exact match’ keyword targetting was exactly that – exact match targetting. A user’s query had to match your specified keyword exactly as you had written it.

As time went on, Google and Microsoft Advertising (Bing) introduced ‘close variants’. On Google specifically, their inception in 2014 covered instances of misspellings and plural vs singular usage. In 2017, this evolved to include different word orders and function words.

Today, Google and Microsoft Advertising also includes variations of words plus words that it believes share the same meaning within its close variant exact match keywords. The search engines are both delivering ads based on their comprehension of a user’s intent behind their query. 

Google & Its Close Variant Evolution

Target KeywordPre-20122014
[payroll job uk]payroll job ukpayroll job uk
payroll jobs uk
payroll jbos uk
2017Today
payroll job uk
payroll jobs uk
payroll jbos uk
payroll jobs in the uk
uk payroll job
payroll job uk
payroll jobs uk
payroll jbos uk
payroll jobs in the uk
uk payroll job
uk payroll career
payroll vacancies uk

Google’s guidelines state:

Same search intent: For example, if your exact match keyword is [images royalty free] ads may also show on searches for ‘free copyright images’.”

Understanding user intent behind queries is the norm for search engines. It’s necessary in order to comprehend the nuances of language, particularly present when using voice search. However, they don’t always get it right. This brings about a problem when you’re placing your budget and your trust with them.

Our Experience with Close Variants Not Working as they Should

Across multiple accounts in multiple industries, we have seen instances of search engines (Google and Bing) misinterpreting or being too generous with their comprehension of intent. For instance:

‘Company’ + Services

In this example, this business provides company car insurance services (a specialist insurance service), they would obviously not want their ads to be displayed amongst generic insurance providers. However, at present, Microsoft Advertising/Bing will swap the set keyword ‘company’ with any car insurance company name. It cannot comprehend the change in meaning when ‘company’ is at the start of a query like this vs the end (company car insurance vs car insurance company’)

In exact match instances, it even removes the ‘company’ part completely, as it interprets it as removing [brand], but still showing for the core service.

‘Services’ Vs ‘Software’

This next company provides Managed IT services in the UK and have targeted ads at the keyword ‘it managed services’. What we can see is that the ad has shown for ‘autotask’ – a company name. This is a company that provides IT software, in the US. Someone looking for software would likely be intending to manage something in-house, whereas ‘services’ implies someone is looking for something outsourced:

Why You Should Care

If not managed properly, gaps in Google and Bing’s intent knowledge can impact your ad campaigns in the following ways:

Wasted budget

The obvious downside is that your budget could be wasted on terms that you had no intention of targetting. You don’t want to be spending money on irrelevant keywords.

Bad user experience  

If search engines misinterpret a user’s query and your ads are showing for irrelevant search terms, your landing pages will be less relevant to your users, increasing bounce rate and impacting your Quality Score.   

Additional time needed for management

It can be a very time-consuming task to consistently maintain and manage the quality of the traffic coming in via your ads. This is time you likely don’t have, and in turn can impact the rest of your day-to-day.

How to Manage Close Variant Keywords

Unfortunately, you can’t change Google or Bing’s comprehension of intent. The more they learn, the more likely it is that they’ll improve in years to come. But for now, it’s about keeping an eye on the search engine’s slip ups:

Monitoring and adding negative keywords Recommended

By frequently monitoring search query reports, you can keep on top of any irrelevant keywords coming through, adding them to your negative keyword lists. This in turn means less wasted budget and higher relevance ads being served to your target audience.

Running Custom Scripts- Not Recommended

If you have a very large account, custom scripts are an option for managing badly performing close variant keywords. There are a number of scripts available, for instance:

– Script 1 – Automatically adding high cost, 0 converting close variant keywords to your negative keyword list

– Script 2 – Using complex rules, automatically add very different close variant words to your negative keyword list

However, custom scripts are not a solution we would recommend, as with no manual process in place, there may be missed opportunities and valuable keywords accidently added to negative keyword lists.

At the minimum, further rules should be put in place within scripts to minimise the actions they can take, for instance capping them at a certain budget.

Let us manage it for you!

We understand it can be difficult to put time aside to consistently keep on top of your ad campaigns. Fortunately, our PPC experts are here to help. We use advanced methodologies to reduce risk and make the most out of your budget. We can manage your campaigns effectively, monitoring your search query reports for irrelevant searches, reducing wasted spend and most importantly, increasing your conversions.

Get in touch today

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