Keywords, keywords, keywords. A few short years ago, keywords were the glue that bound together SEO strategies and were the focus of every content campaign. Granted, this led to some ugly-looking keyword stuffed copy and naughty tactics being used by a few SEO professionals – instances that Google have been working hard to transition away from.
Google’s most recent tweak to AdWords now means that ‘close variant matching’ is automatically applied to all PPC (pay-per-click) campaigns. By universally including ‘close variants’ into all AdWords campaigns, Google aims to connect online searchers with the most relevant content – even if there is the odd typo, abbreviation or misspelled word within their search term. Their latest update is another milestone along their path towards providing the best user experience possible for their search engine users.
So, what’s changing?
Firstly, let’s take a look at ‘close variants.’ Close variant keyword matching means that other forms of your chosen keyword/ key phrase will be included. For example: misspellings, typos, abbreviations, acronyms and singular/plural versions. Google’s new update seeks to make it more effective for users to reach the best and most relevant content in the quickest possible way, and this now means taking human error into consideration in every search.
Why the change?
Google first announced the change within their official blog on 14th of August, and confirmed that the update would be in effect towards the end of September 2014. The consideration of close variants isn’t a new school of thought for Google. Since 2012, ad campaigns were set to include close variants by default; however, there was the option to deselect this:
In their official blog, Google explains again that their users’ search queries are increasing in length: the longer the term, the increased possibility of human error. So much so, that around 7% of all queries contain a misspelling. Google hopes that their new update will benefit users by connecting them with the content they are searching for, regardless of any errors or abbreviations.
The pros and cons of this change
We’ll get the cons out of the way first. Previously, the ability to exclude close variants gave advertisers greater control over the exact search terms that would trigger their ad campaigns. This was particularly useful for businesses whose services were particularly niche, or where a close variant would take on another meaning or even represent another brand with a similar name. This point is particularly relevant for Mercurytide!
So, if you are a PPC advertiser who likes to have full control over how your ad appears and the exact presentation and spelling of your key phrases – then sorry, this update won’t appeal to you.
The positives? The general consensus is that the majority of AdWords PPC customers will not be affected by this new change, though this hasn’t stopped moans, groans and general speculation. Straight from the horse’s mouth, Google states that by including close variants, the increased keyword coverage will result in campaigns benefitting from, “an average of 7% more exact and phrase match clicks with comparable click-through and conversion rates.” Suggesting that users will also benefit from ‘control with less complexity’ Google believes that this update will save time spent by advertisers considering abbreviated, misspelled or mistyped words.
Aside from Google’s own opinions, it’s important to consider the increased practicalities of this change. If an advertiser wishes to include any close variants within their campaigns this could mean a lot of legwork in order to set up a small campaign. Let’s say you have a website which provides online workout videos and you want your adverts to appear for search engine users who are looking for ‘cardiovascular workouts’. Just some of your close variants would be:
- Cardio workouts
- Cardio work outs
- Cardiovascular work outs
- Cardiovacsular workouts
…And so on. Including every possible keyword can be a pretty time consuming job if you want to ensure that you reach the searchers looking for your business, service or product. Particularly as searchers are continuing to use long-tail searches to find what they’re looking for, it would be even more problematic to bring all of these versions into account within one campaign. By taking into account other spellings or abbreviations of search terms, businesses may uncover profitable niches that they were previously unaware of.
Today’s Google user
At this stage, it’s important to point out that this change follows several other updates from Google which recognise the evolving behaviour of their users. Including close variants takes into consideration the huge numbers of searchers who are using mobile devices and the increasing adoption of voice search; instances where searches may be slightly more colloquial. Add to this Google’s milestone Hummingbird algorithm, which focuses on the intent of a search term rather than specific keywords or phrases, and it’s clear that Google is continuing to deplete the power of the keyword. That’s not to say that their existence is unimportant or obsolete, but rather that Google is moving the focus of online strategies away from the keyword-centric approach.
Case Study: Shopify
Shopify is an ecommerce software provider which reports to have experienced a huge increase in the effectiveness of their PPC campaigns by including close variants. In one given example, Shopify states that adding ‘online shopping’ into their ‘online shop’ key phrase resulted in a 100% increase in relevant clicks during their campaign. Google alludes to a number of other close variant success stories within their blog, so it will be interesting to see how other businesses fare once the change is fully implemented next month.
Despite the grumbles that go along with any update to Google’s existing set-up, users have no alternative but to wait and see what changes – if any – that they are impacted by this tweak. This modification is in line with Google’s other user-focused changes and updates which continue to recognise the evolving habits of their consumers.