AdWords: Exact Match Not Quite So Exact . . . Again
Close variants now include word reordering and function words in exact match type keywords.
Once upon a time, Google’s version of “exact” meant exact, until it didn’t. Maybe it’s like the way Starbucks’ “Grande” falls somewhere short of large, but it’s close enough for us.
If you missed Google’s announcement on March 17 about the expansion of close variants, here’s the second paragraph that reads, in part:
… over the coming months we’re expanding close variant matching to include additional rewording and reordering for exact match keywords.
If you’re not a PPC expert, exact match types are used for keywords that advertisers only want shown if a user’s search query matches it exactly. For example, if you bid on the exact match keyword [womens blue running shoes], then an ad impression will only be shown if the user’s query is “womens blue running shoes” exactly. Advertisers typically use this information to optimize for better conversion rates and/or costs.
That was, at least, the original intent of exact match.
Google, itself, used the phrase “close variants” to describe exact match, referring to the change in 2012 in which queries including plurals or misspellings of terms were made to trigger ads as exact matches. Hence, the exact match keyword [womens blue running shoe] could generate an ad impression for the search query “womens blue running shoes”.
While Google says early tests indicate advertisers could see up to 3 percent more exact match clicks on average while maintaining comparable click-through and conversion rates, some wonder if less valuable queries could end up getting exact match level bids and diminishing ROI.
Essentially, these are words that don’t have meaning on their own but bind words, phrases and sentences together. You don’t need to know grammar to know how the conjunctions “and” or “but” function in a sentence nor the prepositions “in” or “for”.
With this change, function words may be ignored, replaced or added:
Applied only when intent isn’t changed, word reordering is the second new application of close variant matching. Thus, someone searching for “black womens dress” could see an ad from the keyword phrase “womens dress black”:
Exceptions to the algorithm involving changed intent or meaning may look like the query “LAX to JFK flights.” Switching the subject and object or altering the preposition “to” to “from” would create ads distinctly opposite of the user’s search and are relatively straightforward for Google to recognize.
Shifting the burden of relevance
Before the update, AdWords had to locate a relevant keyword in an advertiser account before showing an ad. Now, AdWords only finds a keyword whose meaning is deemed similar enough and can be categorized exact match if close enough.
When mistakes occur, the advertiser will shoulder the burden for a low-quality click and must aggregate the appropriate negative keyword(s) to prevent the mistake from happening again.
So advertisers will need to review their search queries more often and run filters looking for “Exact (close variant).”
Manage the changes
The changes place a great deal of faith (and potential revenue) at the discretion of machines to determine how much a query can change before its intent does, which means that advertisers who rely on exact match will have to be vigilant about predicting outcomes when word order matters among these other tasks:
- Review existing exact match queries. If the loss or reordering of function word changes the meaning, add those variations as negatives in your campaigns.
- Mine Search Query Reports for close variants and be sure to add as negatives when appropriate.
The good news is that this development will make it easier for advertisers to generate more impressions without having to build out extensive exact match keyword lists. It’s also good news that phrase match keywords are not included in the update, so the match type can be used to force word order and the inclusion, exclusion, and matching of function words when precision is necessary.
Over the next few months, RLC Media will eye our accounts’ conversion metrics for exact match keywords and keyword updates to see if any trends change as a result of close variants.