Horseshoes, Hand Grenades…
and Now Google Close Variant Matching

Mark Smith


There is an old saying that close is only good enough in horseshoes and hand grenades. Now, internet marketers can add a third item to that list – Google Close Variant Matching.

Beginning in September 2014, Google AdWords changed the way keywords are set to Phrase and Exact Match trigger ads. Essentially, your keywords with those match types also will trigger a match if there is a close misspelling, a plural where you had singular or vice versa, stemmings (words that share a root, such as dog, dogged and dogwood), acronyms and abbreviations for the keywords you specify.


The concept of Close Variant Matching itself isn’t new; it has been the default option in Google AdWords since 2012. But until now you could opt out of it. Now there is no opting out – you have it whether you want it or not.

The big question, of course, is whether this is a good or a bad thing. It’s easy for the cynics among us to believe that the sole purpose in making Close Variant Matching mandatory is to make more money for Google. After all, with Close Variant Matching in place there really is no such thing anymore as an exact match. The horseshoe doesn’t have to be on the stake – it just has to be close enough. Which means you’ll inevitably pay for keywords that don’t have anything to do with your business.

Sometimes it’s not so bad. If you are paying for the phrase “baby clothes” to reach people looking for an ensemble to wear to grandma’s house, and someone types in “baby cloths” of the kind used to wipe messy faces, there is a pretty good chance they might still be interested in what you’re selling. On the other hand, if you are using the keyword “hard drive” and someone types in “hardly driven,” the odds are they’re looking for a used car, not looking for computer components. But you’ll be paying for that “hit” anyway.

There is, however, another way to look at it. A quick scan through the comments section of the average online article or blog will confirm that many of your fellow citizens don’t type (or spell) very well. They may very well be searching for baby clothes when they type in “baby cloths.” Or “bbay clothess” for that matter. Without Close Variant Matching you might miss out on those opportunities.

If U R going after a younger audience, you will likely find CVM to be gr8t as well. Their frequent use of text and other abbreviations will give you a better chance of matching your keywords to the way they think. It’s the same with acronym heavy industries, such as technology and healthcare. If you purchase the phrase “Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act” you get HIPAA – the acronym those in the industry are most likely to use – without having to pay for a second keyword.

So, what can you do to maximize your value and minimize the downside risk? The best thing is to re-check your negative keyword list and run your Search Query Reports (SQRs) more often. For example, if you typically run them monthly, try doing it weekly for the next few months to see where they come out. Then expand your negatives where appropriate.

Also, be sure to evaluate your campaigns, immediately and then on a continuous basis. If you have been using both singular and plural exact match keywords, for example, you may want to consolidate them – since you will get both with one keyword in any case. The same goes for acronyms and their spelled-out versions and other obvious variants. Because one of your goals should be maximizing your Quality Score, you don’t want to split your click history among keywords that are delivering the same result.

While on the surface it may seem that mandatory Close Variant Matching will cost you more while delivering more waste, it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, it can help ensure you’re maximizing the value of the keywords you’re purchasing.

By carefully examining your reports and making frequent adjustments, you can ensure that close is just as good as right on – or better. Which you won’t get from horseshoes or hand grenades.

Mark Smith has worked in the digital marketing space since its inception. Before co-founding the digital agency KeywordFirst, he helped lead the first search engine marketing team at W.W. Grainger and served as director of internet marketing at retailer Cosmetique.