Google’s exact match close variants expand again: Now include same meaning variations

September 6, 2018

google-adwords-green-outline-ad3-2017-1920-800x450 Theme Builder LayoutGoogle’s exact match keyword targeting used to mean one thing: the keyword had to match exactly whatever query the searcher used. Then close variants came into the mix, and that definition has steadily morphed over the past few years. First including plurals, misspellings and other similar variants came in 2014 and then different word order and function words took hold in 2017.

Now phase three is here.

On Thursday, Google announced another change to what are considered close variants of an exact match keyword to include variations that share the same meaning as the keyword, including implied words and paraphrases. The exact words are no longer the sole trigger for your ads to show on exact match keywords.

The key, says Google, is that the meaning and intent of the query match the keyword.

What does this look like in practice?

Google offers the example of the exact match keyword [yosemite camping]. With this change, [yosemite camping] will now match to queries such as “yosemite campground” and “campsites in yosemite.”google-ads-exact-match-close-variants-same-meaning-800x337 Theme Builder LayoutIf Google’s system understands the intent of the query is different than the keyword, it will not match it.

In this case, [yosemite camping] would not match to queries such as “yosemite hotel” or “motels in yosemite,” says Google, because the intent of a searcher looking for hotels and similar lodging is different than that of someone looking for places to camp.

Why this change?

There are a couple of things going on. One, this is part of the continuum we’ve seen over the past several years of an increasing reliance on machine learning to understand how queries align with keyword intent.

Two, Google’s internal data shows that some 15 percent of daily searches are new. Expanding the realm of exact match keywords, the thinking goes, gives advertisers more opportunities to show their ads for those kinds of queries without having to build out exhaustive lists. Machine learning can help fill in these gaps.

This is also largely aimed at advertisers that aren’t doing a lot of keyword prospecting with broad match or broad match modified. And, of course, more clicks means more revenue for Google.

Another way to look at it is flipping the campaign set up and management process on it’s head a bit. Advertisers will spend less time creating exhaustive keyword lists up front and more time mining search term reports for new and negative keywords once the campaign gains traction. This isn’t a new trend, but we are coming closer to the peak.

It begs the question how much longer Google will hold on to the exact match moniker when it’s becoming looser than phrase match (the words must be present in the same order as the query) and broad match modified (the words must be present but can be rearranged).

This change to close variants does not apply to broad, broad match modifier or phrase match keywords. For example, a search for “cheap camping in yosemite” will not show on the query “cheap campsites in yosemite.” So perhaps phrase match is the new exact match.

Broad match is still the loosest match type. Taking the first example above, with broad match, the keyword “yosemite camping” may show on “yosemite hotel.” But with this latest change, exact match becomes much more of a query prospecting tool.


According to Google, the early test showed that advertisers that were using primarily exact match keywords saw, on average, 3 percent more clicks and conversions on those keywords. Most of that lift came from queries they weren’t currently reaching.

Google cited Utah-based company Extra Space Storage, which has a national presence, and UK-based as beta testers of the change this summer. Steph Christiansen, a paid acquisition senior analyst at Extra Space Storage, said of the test results, “We were very satisfied with the quality of matches during the pilot. We’re always looking for ways to increase volume, and this new matching behavior should help us gain additional reach via highly relevant new matches.”

Actions to take

The change will roll out for English keywords through October. It will then roll out to other languages over the following months.

As with the past changes to close variants, advertisers will want to pay close attention to search term reports for their exact match keywords before and after the roll out to add negatives or new keywords.

Advertisers using scripts to tighten the reigns on exact match will likely need to make updates.

Google says it will continue to prefer the actual exact match — the identical keywords — used in the query over any paraphrases or same meaning keywords currently in campaigns.

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