Google recently announced an important change coming to Adwords in late September – the removal of the exact match option for search queries.

According to the Google Adwords blog:

... Whether it’s “kid scooters”, “kid’s scooter”, or “kids scooters”, people interested in buying a scooter for their child want to see the most relevant ads despite slight variations in their search query. That’s why starting in late September, we’re applying close variant keyword matching, an intuitive way to connect people with the businesses they’re searching for, to all exact and phrase match keywords.


What exactly is Google saying?

It’s important to look past the Google speak to understand what Google means and how it will affect our ability to create and manage efficient ad campaigns. Until now, advertisers had some control over when Google would serve their ads. In the Adwords dashboard, marketers had two options for matching keywords:

  • Exact Match: Telling Google to only show an ad when the search query exactly matched the keywords established in Adwords
  • Close Match: Allowing Google to include plurals, misspellings and other slight variances (what Google calls “close variants”)

Google is now officially stating that they will always include close matches (variants) to determine when and where to serve ads.

In my experience, Google has been doing this for some time.

For a long time now, Google has been subtly testing these close variance matches into all results - they just haven’t been very public about it.


In this search query report pulled straight from Adwords, you’ll see a data set labeled "Other search terms". Google states that search queries are included here if they have not been used by a significant amount of people, OR if they have not received any clicks within the last thirty days (from visitors who were not blocking their referral URLS).

Using some varied tracking technologies, I’ve found that this has included misspellings, plurals, etc (what Google calls close variants) for quite some time. A close look shows that serving ads to these terms performs pretty terribly.

This is why it’s a really big deal that Google is now officially forcing advertisers to use close variant matching.

As Google further exerts control in determining when it is “relevant” to show an ad, marketers will likely pay the price. This quote from Google really says it all:

"advertisers that opted into close variant matching back in 2012 saw their clicks go up 7% while their click-thru and conversion rates remained ABOUT THE SAME."

The perception seems to be that this is a change made in favor of Google’s profits rather than the user experience. It’s an easy way for them to generate more clicks on ads they serve. The likely result is that advertisers will spend more money on the same results they are currently seeing.

So, what happens now?

I’ve been dealing with this ever since Google began offering advertisers the ability to include close variant matches back in 2012. When I allow Google to match exact and phrase match keywords to misspellings, plural tenses, and other close variations on search term bits, I noticed an increase in the following:

  • Work load for the advertiser/marketer
  • Irrelevant ads served to searcher
  • Moderate performance from targeted ads
  • Additional maintenance required to ensure proper keyword bidding

Running an efficient ad campaign will be more challenging than before - but it's not impossible. This means that the advertiser will need to apply new techniques to discover the optimum keywords to bid on - through vigilant attention to search term reporting and obsessively granular negative keyword matching.

What about you? What have you experienced with close matching in Google Adwords?