How Google’s Close Variant Changes Can Affect Your Medical PPC Campaigns

September 30, 2014
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News of an upcoming change in Google’s Adwords platform has the potential to confuse and alarm medical practice advertisers. Fortunately, the update to Google’s close variant keyword targeting will be, for the majority of Adwords users, a continuation of business as usual.Google Marketing Medical PPC Management

News of an upcoming change in Google’s Adwords platform has the potential to confuse and alarm medical practice advertisers. Fortunately, the update to Google’s close variant keyword targeting will be, for the majority of Adwords users, a continuation of business as usual.Google Marketing Medical PPC Management

What is the close variant change, and who should be affected?

By the end of September, you will no longer have the option to opt out of close variant matching for your exact match and phrase match keywords.

Since 2012, the default Adwords setting for search campaigns has been to include close variants of exact and phrase match keywords. Unless you consciously changed this setting to “do not include close variants” (see screenshot below), then your campaigns are likely already matching close variants of your exact and phrase match type keywords.

google adwords, medical digital marketing

Farewell exact Exact Match

If you had been previously opted out of close variant matching, your exact match keywords will begin to “expand” to potentially trigger ads for searches beyond the specific ones you may have been targeting. Advertisers will no longer be able to rely on exact match keywords to target very specific search queries, at least not without using negative keywords.

Here is a helpful Google-provided example of how close variants of exact match keywords work. Just to be redundant, if your search campaigns have been using default settings for the past 2 years, this close variant behavior for your exact match keywords is already taking place and is not a change.

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Exact Keyword Matching, Digital Marketing

If you had opted out of close variants, expect some changes

Users whose campaigns had been opted out of close variant matching up until now will likely see an increase in impressions, clicks, and spend for exact and phrase match keywords. If you had tight budgets and relied on the former definitions of exact and phrase match, you’ll want to keep a close eye on your campaigns over the coming days and months and adjust your budgets and negative keywords accordingly.

Watch your Search Query Reports (SQRs) and be prepared to add negative keywords to block your ads from showing for unwanted close variant search queries.

Though loss of tight targeting as an option is disappointing, one benefit for advertisers will be less time spent adding misspellings and plural keyword variations to campaigns.

Now that close variant matching is the standard, you will see your impressions and clicks go up as your ads appear in front of a wider range of people. Google says that using close variant matches generally results in 7% more clicks than exact and phrase matching.

If your practice’s budget is small or if there is not a lot of room for expanded costs while you reevaluate your campaigns, you will need to watch your reports closely. Dig into SQR (Search Query Report) reports to find new keyword opportunities, as well as places where negatives will save you clicks and expand your budget.

A Reminder: Keep Up with Negative Keywords

Negative keyword lists can be just as important as your targeted keyword lists. The close variant update may not affect the majority of Adwords users (exception for those previously opted out of close variants), but it is a helpful reminder that negative keyword research and application should be a priority for your search campaigns.

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Check SQRs regularly to identify search queries for which your selected keywords may be triggering your ads and receiving undesirable clicks. Make sure that you use negative keywords to prevent overlap between ad groups or campaigns for specific search queries. For example, if you have separate ad groups for “Plastic Surgeon” and “Plastic Surgery”, you would want to add negative exact matches of [plastic surgery] to the former and [plastic surgeon] and [plastic surgeons] to the latter.

Pay per click campaigns should never be “set it and forget it”, so even if you have been targeting close variants up until now, take this opportunity to refresh and update your negative keyword lists and application. Your bottom line will thank you.