Paid Search Tips: Keyword Close Variants

Changes Coming to Paid Search and How People Find You

Keyword Match Types and Why Broad Match Should Go Away  

For Google AdWords and Microsoft Advertising pay-per-click (PPC) advertisers, the use of broad match and broad match modifiers have gradually declined over recent years. That’s a good thing. Broad match typically results in a lot of impressions and clicks, but not necessarily from people who were looking for the advertiser’s products or services. For many advertisers, broad match is simply too loose in its interpretation of the intended search. The introduction of broad match with modifiers (using a + symbol between keywords) was supposed to be the next best solution that would help to target the desired audience with more relevant searches. The modifier approach helped, but with mixed results depending on the advertiser and what they were selling. Over time, more vigilant paid search managers went to only using phrase match and exact match keywords, significantly reducing impressions and clicks. The cost-per-click (CPC) is typically more expensive, but delivers more relevant visitor engagement. In addition to lead conversions, engagement KPIs may also include an increase in the average time on site and/or pages viewed per visit.

Google AdWords Update on the Use of Broad Match with Modifiers

On February 4, 2021, Google announced it’s phasing out support for broad match modifier. Starting in mid-February, “both phrase match and broad match modifier keywords will begin to transition to this new matching behavior. In July, once the new behavior has been rolled out globally, you’ll no longer be able to create new broad match modifier keywords.” Source: Google Ads Help.

They suggest advertisers start using Broad Match with Smart Bidding which was rolled out in November, 2020.

Q. Is this just another attempt to save Broad Match and all of its flaws? Does Smart Bidding = more spending or better results? Only time will tell.

The Introduction of Close Variant Keywords in Paid Advertising

To deliver more clicks to advertisers beyond the more confined phrase match and exact match results, Google began using what is now known as close variants. It began toward the end of 2015 but wasn’t officially recognized until 2017. This was essentially an advanced version of its broad search with modifiers algorithm by accepting the use of queries that it deemed to have a similar meaning (i.e., variants).

Microsoft Advertising (i.e., Bing & Yahoo) soon followed. The results were significantly better, but not always perfect. As an example, a phrase match campaign keyword such as “deck chairs for sale” may show your ad in a search results page for “patio furniture stores”.

According to Google: “Close variants can include misspellings, singular and plural forms, acronyms, stem words (such as floor and flooring), abbreviations, accents, and variants of your keyword terms that have the same meaning.” You can more about it at Google Search Term Reports. The key word here, no pun intended, is variants. It’s like using a thesaurus for finding alternatives.

Note: I suspect that Google’s discontinued support of broad match with modifiers has a lot to do with its success in using close variants, though they don’t specifically state that in their article.

For many advertisers, the search engine’s acceptance of a close variant may be perfectly fine – so long as it gets results. For some phrase match purists, however, they are more skeptical and want to know specifically what keyword phrases they are paying for. Fortunately, there is a way to do that – and it can provide some helpful insight toward improving both your paid search and SEO efforts.

Knowing What People Actually Searched For

In Google AdWords and Microsoft Advertising portals, there is a “Keyword Report” that can be created by date range showing the keyword phrases entered in their search engine that contributed to an impression and paid click. This report can also be exported to a comma-delimited (csv) or Excel file. This is much different than a report called “Search Terms”. A search terms report provides the actual words used in the search engine and the keyword phrase in a campaign that it considered to be its close variant. By running the search terms report, advertisers can determine whether or not they need to revise some the keyword phrases being used – or modify their negative keyword lists to keep those that aren’t helpful from being used.


It’s easy to get blinders on when we are entrenched in the use of commonly used business phrases and industry acronyms. Discovering what people are actually searching for is the key to learning more about the customer and how they perceive your company, products or services. The use of close variants and search term reports by the search engines provide us with an opportunity to listen, learn and get better. Contact Vesteras about your paid search campaigns and how we may be able to help improve your PPC results.

Guy Hanford
Vesteras LLC

Additional Reading on Paid Search

Improving PPC Campaigns With Ad Scheduling And Bid Strategies
Paid Search Negative Keywords Help To Target Your Audience

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