Close Variants: Major Impact on Paid Ad Performance

Improving Paid Ad Performance: The Impact of Close Variant Search Terms

As managers of paid media, one burning question unites us all: How can we enhance paid ad performance? A recent study conducted by our team revealed a concerning trend – close variant search terms are underperforming, yet they account for over half of the average budget on Google and Microsoft Ads.

“Close variants help you connect with people who are looking for your business, despite slight variations in the way they search.” – Google Ads Support

While the concept of close variants seems promising, the execution raises some critical questions. To delve deeper into this issue, we analyzed over 4.5 million clicks and 400,000 conversions to understand the impact of close variants on budgets and account performance.

True Match Vs. Close Variants: Performance Comparison

To grasp close variant performance, we must differentiate between true match and close variants.

What Is a True Match?

  • Exact match keyword: Search term matches the keyword exactly.
  • Phrase match keyword: Search term must contain the keyword in the same word order.
  • Broad match keyword: Search term must contain every individual word in the keyword, regardless of word order.

What Is a Close Variant?

Close variants are ‘fuzzy matched’ search terms that align with the keywords you bid on. While some close variants are highly relevant, others prove to be costly or wasteful. Notably, both Google and Microsoft Ads incorporate close variants automatically, with no opt-out option.

How Do Close Variants Compare to True Match? In our analysis, close variants performed poorly on both Google and Microsoft Ads, with Google showing the worst performance in terms of CPA and ROAS.

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Leveraging Close Variants for Improved Performance

While you can’t opt-out of close variants, there are strategies to manage their impact effectively and enhance performance. Here are three steps to consider:

Step 1: Diagnose Your CV Problem

Use our simple spreadsheet tool to analyze the health of your close variants. Identify any underperforming variants and take action to optimize them.

Step 2: Suggested Campaign Structures for Easier CV Management

Implement specific campaign structures to isolate close variants and manage them effectively based on performance and relevance.

Step 3: Ongoing Actions to Tame Close Variants

Regularly review and optimize close variants by adding high-performing ones as keywords and excluding poor-performing ones as negatives.

The Proof: Data Analysis and Insights

Our in-depth study of close variant performance across Google and Microsoft Ads revealed compelling insights. Despite the prevalence of close variants, their performance lags significantly behind true match search terms, indicating a crucial area for optimization.

TL;DR: Close variant search terms, while consuming a substantial portion of ad budgets, often perform significantly worse than true match keywords. Effectively managing their impact can drive substantial improvements in account ROI.

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