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Early Numbers Show Little Movement in Close Variant Share of Google Exact Match Traffic

Two months ago, Google announced that significant changes were coming to the definition of exact match close variants which drive text ad traffic. The update promised to unleash matches which would be deemed exact based on implied words, paraphrasing, and queries with the same intent as the keyword. The phrasing of these iterations seemed to indicate that no firm limits to what might be deemed a close variant would exist at all.

The announcement noted that changes would be rolled out for English language queries through the end of October. Now that we’re firmly into the month of thanks and turkeys, I looked at how traffic from close variants has shifted over the last three months and found evidence that not much has changed thus far.

Close Variant Share of Traffic Roughly the Same as Pre-Update

To assess changes like this, I like to look at exact (close variant) share of all traffic that might be deemed exact match (either close variant or true exact matches) based on Google’s match type column in search terms reports. This column is assigned based on the relationship between the query searched for and the keyword triggered and does not rely on the match type that each keyword is set to. As such, an exact match can still occur for a keyword set to broad match.

This isn’t the only way to quantify how much traffic comes from close variants but is a reasonable way of understanding how much traffic an advertiser might expect to get from close variants if all keywords were set to exact match and how that changes over time.

Looking at this traffic share for the last three months for a sample of Merkle advertisers, we find very little movement since the update started rolling out in September.

Close Variant Share of Google Exact Match Clicks

There’s even a bit of a decline in close variant click share, though the shift is small enough to be considered noise.

One important note is that is we can’t account for the effects of our campaign management on these figures. Our analysts are regularly checking search query reports for poor matches and adding keyword negatives to weed out bad traffic, so any new queries accounting for meaningful traffic that don’t align with our assessment of relevance are certainly being expunged.

Additionally, any single keyword or advertiser might see more meaningful changes in close variant queries than the ecosystem as a whole.

Still, close variant expansions in the past have led to an increase in the amount of traffic coming from close variants for our advertisers, and we’d expect to see the latest change increase share at some point.

As I wrote in my initial reaction to the latest update, the last change to close variants took a while to really show up in the numbers, so it’s not altogether surprising that there hasn’t been a sweeping shift just yet.

We’ll obviously keep an eye on how these figures move in the coming weeks and months, especially with the busy holiday shopping season bearing down upon us. Are you seeing a particular type of close variant invading your search query reports? Shout it out in the comments and we’ll try our best to account for it in future iterations of this analysis.

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