Google AdWords Close Variants – Not So Close?!?

So now that much of the hysteria has calmed down after the big Google AdWords changes rolled out this spring and early summer, I thought it was time to do a post about how the changes are impacting clients’ accounts. Today’s focus is with the keyword match types – specifically what AdWords calls “close variants”.

To review, before the changes, you basically had three choices for match type:

  • Broad – where if your term appeared in any way or any order in a search query your ad would display
  • Phrase – where if your target phrase appeared as part of a search query your ad would display
  • Exact – your ad would only display if the exact word or phrase you chose were the search query

Those were the good old days! Now, by default, Google AdWords assumes you would like them to include “close variants” to the phrase and exact match types. In the settings and help documents, Google claims that by adding this feature, you will get more traffic and therefore more clicks. In fact, when you go to opt out of this setting, you get an “Are You Sure?” warning like this:


At first blush, this warning might give you pause – will I really be losing out on that many impressions and clicks if I opt out of the “close variants”? Our experience with the so-called “close variants” enabled has been a lot of crappy search terms that are not relevant to our clients’ targets. We have also noticed that Google’s definition of what constitutes a “close variant” is actually pretty broad.

Another effect we noticed when the close variant option was enabled was search terms triggering ads from odd ad groups. Our practice is to create tightly focused ad groups for our clients’ campaigns to maximize quality score and to be able to serve ads that are most directly relevant to the searcher’s intent. The close variant terms have been displaying the wrong ad group’s ads – or at least not the most targeted ones on a regular basis.

After turning off the AdWords close variant keyword matching option for these accounts, the search queries are now triggering the desired ad groups and the amount of garbage impressions and clicks has decreased.

So we encourage you to take a look at the dimensions tab for your campaigns and see what is happening in your campaigns and ad groups. This “feature” seems to us like yet another way that Google can increase their bottom line, without bringing real value to its AdWords customers. The worst part is, with it being the default setting and that warning they display when you go to opt out – we wonder how many AdWords customers are paying for worthless traffic?

Bottom line – keep a close eye on your accounts and don’t assume that an enhancement offered by Google AdWords to their interface is automatically a good thing for advertisers!

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