Optimising for Close Variants

Avoiding the High Cost of Premium Keywords on Adwords

Close Variants in Google Search Results

If you use Google Search (GS) a lot and have really paid attention to the results you get each time you make a search, you will have noticed some big changes recently. Unless you are a little fanatical about Google Search Results (GSR) you might not have noticed subtle and even some very obvious changes because you are so focused on the result you want. That’s what I call a ‘user’ search. Close variants are essentially synonyms or other terms that are close in meaning to another word or phrase. If you search for ‘pet beds’ for example, you might notice you are now getting results that include ‘dog beds’ in the title of the result. Google also knows if you are making a typo and accidentally searched for “pet bds”. There is a whole world of misspellings and GSR to look at.

Background to Close Variants

Hummingbird was the name of the algorithm change that I think is one of the more significant changes to GS. That was way back in 2013 but the effects took some time to become noticeable, or it actually took Google a lot longer to show it was actually doing what Hummingbird claimed. While many have been focused on Penguin and Panda updates, Hummingbird has brought about dramatic changes to GS, and therefore, everything that has to do with SEO and Adwords (ADS). Hummingbird was and is all about synonyms and context. And that’s very important because we are humans not machines. Hummingbird changed GS from giving GSR like a machine to giving more human-like results. In summary, Google appeared to become a whole lot smarter as the change really started to kick in from 2015 onwards.

The Rise of Close Variants

Close variants started creeping into search reports from the end of 2015 and became prevalent over 2016. It was only recently in 2017 that Google officially announced that close variants can and will be associated with all match-types. In other words, an exact-match is no longer an exact-match.

Importance of Close Variants for Ecommerce

I just did categorise SEO and ADS in the same group because the essential principles are the same. You can pay your way through more with ADS but if you have good onsite optimisation, you’ll get better results in ADS – and that is something I have tested to be sure of. You can never believe everything Google and ADS tell you either because nothing is certain all the time. By comparing a couple of competitor websites and monitoring ADS display results, my research showed that the website with the best SEO gets the #1 place at the top of GSR more than 65% of the time with the site that has poor onsite SEO getting second place even with extra on cash on top of top of page max CPC bid settings. So QS does work but involves more than just the way you write ads and choose your keywords – the keywords you have chosen need to match the landing page as well. This could mean you might have to create a number of landing pages for each tight keywords group. I am sure that Google is determined to keep us so busy on GDS so we don’t focus on other ways to market – let’s face it they make billions of dollars per year.

Close variants are extremely important for ecommerce website owners on a tight budget with ADS. Even with exact-match settings, you will still be paying for clicks on not-so-exactly matching keywords. The example of ‘pet beds’ is the perfect example.

Now, there are always two sides to a story. Anywhere that can cost is normally a place that can be used to save too. I will never claim that any strategy is a must for everyone because every industry and every website is different. However, if you have the time and the energy, optimising for close variants is one way to reduce ADS cost while getting around your competitors at the same time.

Tighter Ad Groups

Google has been pushing us to have tighter ad groups for some time. ADS is also pushing us to add many keywords into each group. I warn advertisers to be wary of these suggestions as many them are simply not correct for the context. An example of how ADS gets suggestions wrong is easy. Let’s say I am advertising for ‘bicycle motors’, ADS will give keywords suggestions including ‘bicycle with motor’ – something I definitely don’t want to advertise for, and may need to include in my negative keywords.

Tighter grouping of your keywords makes sense because that means you are being more specific. It also means you need to make a whole bunch of different ADS for different keywords, and so on – the work is never ending.

The Close Variant Strategy

Using close variants instead of the keywords you really want to is one way to reduce the cost of ADS. I am not saying this strategy and the work that is required suits all but if when I am working with a very tight budget, it is definitely something I spend the time to take a look into – especially when the main keywords are priced high and will simply blow the budget in a matter of clicks.

The strategy of using close variants takes advantage of the fact that Google will give GSR and Google Ad Results (GAR) including terminology closely associated to the keyword (or words) used to search. This can include misspellings for example. Unfortunately, some misspellings even have a high suggest bid rate. Nevertheless, it is possible to work with tight ad groups, negative keywords and modified matching options to have our ADS shown for the high-cost keyword while only bidding on the lower cost variants.

In some cases, we have no choice but to bid for the premium keyword to get the Impressions and Clicks (and Conversions) we are after. However, if you are on a very tight budget, the Close Variant Strategy may be for you.

Like everything else with ADS and GS, it’s easy to turn into a fulltime job. You can give RD a shout if you need some help.

Posted in Adwords.