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Optimizing SEM with Google's Close Variants

Google's Close Variants - Two Similar Flowers side by sideOver the last two decades, Search Engine Marketing (SEM) has continually grown faster than traditional advertising. Today, it is a staple for most businesses utilizing digital marketing to identify and attract new customers to their website, products and services.

A large part of the SEM process includes keywords to help link the needs of potential customers with a business's offerings. While these keywords can be both specific and broad, they must also feature variations to ensure searches cover not just "Dentist near me" but also "Dentists near me" or "Dentist in Richmond" and even a simple typo like "dentis nearby."

We call these "close variants." A close variant is like an existing keyword but not identical. Google takes in your keywords, then captures a wide range of search terms with slight variations that could mean the same thing; the algorithm anticipates the many diverse ways people today search for things online. However, certain variations could negatively impact your SEM campaigns. Likewise, if Google is filling in additional keywords, a practice known as "phrase matching," pairing additional words to the front or back of your keywords could force you to spend more money and eat up your overall budget. For these reasons, it is essential to understand which close variants we want to capitalize on versus which will harm your efforts in the long run.

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The Types of Variants We Seek

There are several distinct types of close variants that SEM specialists will look to pair up in a campaign, such as:

  • Singular or plural variations of the keyword. Ex. If someone searches "pediatric dentist" they will also see results that match "pediatric dentists."
  • Misspellings. If you have ever misspelled a Google search, you still receive the exact results you are looking for. That is because Google understands typos and can put two-and-two together to help you identify the keyword results of your request.
  • Variations of a verb. When people search "baking a cake" vs. "bake a cake," Google will provide the same results.
  • Common abbreviations, such as searching HR and human resources.
  • Words that can be spelled together or separately (ex. Crawlspace and crawl space)
  • Close matches, like HVAC technician and AC repair, will likely fall under the same or similar keyword searches.

Benefits & Downsides

Although Google can accept and deliver on numerous keyword variations, helping you and your digital marketing agency avoid an exhaustive list of keywords to hit, this feature can also come with some downsides. Close variants that are too similar with subtle context differences, can be read as identical to your keywords by Google, making your efforts moot. Additionally, Google often adds a close variant in other match types such as “phrase match” or “exact match”, which is counter the purpose of these types of settings where you are looking for a very specific type of search. This can make your campaign unpredictable and cause unnecessary spending on experimentation where you were only looking for a particular search phrase (not Google’s guess).

Close variants, as outlined above, where Google elaborates on plurals or abbreviations, are incredibly helpful. On the other hand, close variants that put your keywords in an entirely different search category or even put you in an informational search, where the user’s main goal is to get an answer to a specific question and be done with their search, can be detrimental to your success (especially if you’re hoping to convert a user into a lead/customer).

For example, take the keyword "HVAC repair" for an HVAC repair company. With Google's phrase match, this keyword may wind up in a search for "how to repair your HVAC," now categorizing an HVAC repair company among the DIY at-home HVAC fix crowd. Not only will this quickly use up the budget, but it will likely not convert the user into a customer as their intent is for a DIY fix, not to utilize a HVAC company.

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Optimizing Close Variants with Us

Google’s algorithm will do its best to try to understand the various misspellings or variations of the original keyword at hand, but Google is also attempting to understand the user's intent. Because the search engine makes informed guesses based on the keyword content you provide, it tries to find similarities but that doesn’t make those guesses correct. Search Engine technology continues to evolve and grow over time, but this still requires a human touch to determine which keyword variants are actually relevant for your campaign.

While we, as a marketing agency, do not control keyword variants, we also cannot opt out when it comes to advertising on Google. As an agency, we always consider the target user intent with close variants. By monitoring search terms regularly, we bridge the gap on these terms. Here are the steps we take to mitigate issues with close variants:

  1. Keep a close eye on variants that are occurring to prevent spending on things we know are not for you.
  2. Manage a healthy negative keyword list to help prevent specific close variants from appearing.
  3. Have enough keywords that accumulate sufficient volume to be effective (the less success the campaign has, the more these close variants appear).
  4. Have a strong understanding of user behavior in a category. We have seen unpredictable matching from Google's close variants using industry lingo instead of typical consumer behavior.

These steps aid us in effectively managing our client's ad campaigns while also targeting and attracting the exact audience we aim for. In turn, this results in ideal advertisements to increase impressions and help you grow your brand visibility over time.

Ready to tackle your next SEM campaign? Reach out to us today.
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