What To Do with Google’s Exact-Match Removal

AdWords savvy individuals are likely scratching their heads in confusion following Google’s recent decision to take away exact-match keyword targeting. Keyword research has never been easy. But soon it will be far more difficult than it has ever been before. As SEO professionals, the ability to control your search landscape is safe and infallible. Taking that away feels dangerous and undependable. Let’s face it, counting on predictabilities in search is what makes us so great at what we do.

Removing exact-match keywords kind of feels like we’re getting our legs taken out from under us. Nevertheless, at the end of this month Google will roll out close variant keyword matching. Nothing will change for those search marketers that always opted in to close variants, it’s been like that since 2012. However, search marketers who previously chose to de-select close variants will need to go back to the drawing board, as this is no longer an option.

In a nutshell, precision targeting will soon be impossible. So what’s next? We would like to sit here and complain, maybe even host a funeral for exact-match keywords, but the reality is that won’t help anyone. The time to prepare for this change is right now, before Google hits the switch.

Understanding How It Was

Before we commence our farewell party, let’s take a look at what close variants are and how you may or may not already be using them. Head to the campaign settings page, look at the campaign level and see if the “Do not include close variants” option under Exact and phrase matches is clicked. Including things like plurals, misspellings, and other close variants in your targeted keywords widens the net that you cast on search queries. On the surface level, this is a good thing. You’re essentially capturing searches for terms that you might not have known about or even considered in your keyword planning.

For example, if a teenage girl is looking to purchase a skateboard online, she may search in a number of different ways: “girls skateboard”, “girls skate board”, “girl skateboard”, “girl skateboarding”, etc. If your company sells skateboards for girls, opting in to close variants means that your product would show up for any variation of these searches. Again, this is a good thing, right? Not always.

Casting a larger net to capture search queries isn’t always the best course of action, particularly for a savvy search marketer. Most notably, it is impossible for you to determine which keyphrases the ad budget spent money on. With a constrained budget, you may be maxing out at noon on any given day when the queries implied a different search intent. What if the searcher was actually trying find a video of a girl skateboarding and had no intention of buying a skateboard? Your ads were displayed, your budget maxed out, and you were targeting the wrong buyer all along.

A search that varies drastically in meaning but has a similar spelling means muddying the waters on your ability to target accurately and, even worse, can lower your conversion rate drastically. In a couple of weeks there will no longer be a “pure” version of exact-match in AdWords. Search marketers will soon lose the ability to direct Google to spend their budgets on a specific keyword and only that specific keyword. Alas, close variants are coming and they are staying. We’d love to sit here crying over that spilled milk, but Google has little sympathy and our clients even less. It’s time to regroup and refocus your search marketing efforts to roll with the punches.

Making Close Variants Your Best Friend

Dear all of those search marketers who avoided close variants, it’s time to change your approach and realign your strategy. On one hand, this is an annoying, timely process that no one wants to get into. On the other hand, this is also an opportunity to fine-tune your keyword research, modify your search strategy, and perfect your overall approach to online marketing. No one has a choice in the matter. Google’s making the switch and if we want to keep bidding successfully on AdWords, we need to make some moves right away.

Negative and Ambiguous Keywords

The one big, monstrous, glaring change that needs to take place is emphasis on negative keywords. With close variants as the new default, search marketers must improve and expand upon their negative keyword lists. More specifically, exclude those close variants that aren’t performing well in addition to irrelevant keywords.

Furthermore, ambiguous keywords now need to be worked on. We suggest that you create two different ad groups for singular and plural versions of keywords. Of course, this only applies in situations where the singular and plural forms of the words are vastly different – from both a performance and user intent perspective. Since this is a timely process, focus only on your best performing ambiguous keywords.

Researching Keyword Details Reports and Improving On-Page Content

Heading back to the drawing board means refining your research on keyword details reports. This works in a number of ways. First, utilize Google Suggest. This will help you to uncover many keywords that you would have not considered previously. Take advantage of geo modified suggestions and other similar tools like SEMrush.

Next, look to Bing/Yahoo! referrals to determine keyword relevance and success. In addition, look at your Google Analytics and Google AdWords to determine which exact terms are sending traffic to your site and how well they are performing. Finally, pay attention to your on-page content to capitalize on the expanded keywords and larger audience. Now, long-tail keyword searches will be captured and traffic should flow accordingly.

Cleaning Up the Mess and Looking on the Brightside

Between mobile searches and Google Shopping ads, it’s clear that we’re moving towards a potentially “keywordless” search future. As such, bouncing back from the removal of exact-match keywords means cleaning up your old ad groups with a fine tooth comb, reconsidering every term that you bid on, and re-strategizing to ensure that you are prepared for the switch.

All complaints aside, Google is forcing us to do some good with these impending changes. Search marketers will now place a much heavier focus on conversion rates, they will be forced to improve ad copy and on-page content, and they will soon be able to discover profitable PPC areas. Once you can overcome the idea of relinquishing some keyword control, you can start to relish in the potential that close variants have to offer.

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