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Impact of Google Close Variant Matching Starting to Surface

It's been nearly two months since Google rolled out the release of mandatory close variant matching for all exact and phrase match keywords, much to the concern of RKG and others in paid search. Taking a look at the overall impact of this change, we are starting to see slight shifts in the makeup of Google traffic.

Traffic Levels by Keyword Match Type

Nearly all advertisers at RKG chose to opt out of close variant matching when it was still optional. With exact and phrase match keywords now eligible to show for a wider variety of queries, it seems logical to assume that accounts which have keywords using broad match keywords alongside phrase and/or exact match terms might see a greater share of traffic coming from phrase and exact and a corresponding decrease in broad match traffic. Looking at weekly data since mid-July, we're beginning to see just such a shift in keyword match type traffic share:


As you can see, exact and phrase match traffic share have edged up about 2-3 points and 1 point respectively over the last three weeks after almost no movement during the ten weeks prior. This lines up with Google's late-September timeline for the roll out of close variants to everyone. But has this impacted value? Let's take a look:

Exact and Phrase SPC Not Suffering

Analysis prior to the mandatory transition showed that many of the close variants Google would now be matching to exact match keywords did not perform at the same sales per click (SPC) as true exact match (analysis based on query closeness to keyword, not keyword match type): rkg-near-exact-match-sales-per-click As such, the addition of this lower SPC traffic may have led to a decrease in overall sales per click for exact match keywords. Thus far, however, we have seen little movement in phrase or exact match SPC relative to broad match, and certainly no decrease: GoogleMatchTypeSPC However, it remains to be seen if the shifts in traffic share between match types will become more pronounced in the weeks to come, which could make for a greater impact on SPC by match type.

Still Not Quite Nothing to Worry About

While these overall views make it seem as if the update is nothing to worry about, this might not be true on a client by client or even a keyword by keyword basis. Advertisers who have head-heavy accounts fueled by keywords with only minor variations in spelling but huge differences in SPC still need to look to use negatives to corral traffic to the correct terms. Another concern is that brand keywords can now match to queries which do not show the same brand intent as the exact match spelling, and negatives will likewise have to be added to ensure the integrity of the traffic being matched to these terms. As with most updates, it's important to have a smart analyst digging in to uncover possibly unforeseen consequences for each account.

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