Google – the ‘it’s complicated’ relationship

Aisling Quigley
By Aisling Quigley | 3 September 2014

To date in search land, Google has seemed to be that partner that every so often makes you wonder what you’re doing with them, yet you can’t live without. Why so I hear you ask? Basically, they’re just so powerful that when they make a change, search practitioners out there are completely at their mercy. Yet, we keep going back for more…

The latest move is in relation to the ‘close variants’ keyword matching option, which has left more than a few PPC practitioners out in blog-land feeling a little used and abused.

To date, PPC managers have had the options of utilising this matching setting which meant that you could choose whether exact or phrase match keywords would match with close misspellings or singular/pluralised search queries. The latest announcement meant that beginning in September, the option to use this will no longer be available and all campaigns will have this as the default setting. Now, it's not a mind-blowing new feature, it has been the default for quite some time - but what Google is doing is taking away the option for advertisers to opt out, therefore taking away freedom of choice.

The rationale behind this? According to Google, 7% of all search queries contain at least one spelling mistake, and that the longer a query becomes, the more likely an error becomes. In a statement they said ‘Even if what [the searcher] has typed isn’t perfect, people still want to connect with the business, products, and even services they’re trying to find.’

To me this latest move means both good and bad. For many, it will mean that advertisers won’t have to build lists of misspelled, abbreviated, or other variations of keywords to get the coverage they want. Instead, the focus should be on adding negative keywords using the correct match types to help funnel the correct channels and reduce cost. Close variants allow you to expand your reach by tapping into those long tail searches that you wouldn't otherwise have been able to get due to their low search volume. Many of which have already adopted this model. All good…

But I do understand that there are many out there which favour utilising precise match types, trying to include every possible variation, with 10 million keywords (probably 1 million with 9 million variations), giving more control at the expense of dramatically increased campaign management complexity. With this school of thought, one of the biggest complaints about the news is that the plural version of a keyword may sometimes do better or worse than the singular version of a keyword by a large margin. But again these could still use a clever negative keyword strategy to prevent those variations you don’t want to see.

So while this change does take some control away from advertisers, it's not the end of the world. I believe it is instead time for us to focus on SEM strategy and not repetitive, time-consuming keyword expansion tasks or the hundreds of negative petitions, tweets and blog posts which cover many conspiracy theories where bloggers have even asked the question, in capital letters, ‘WHY. Seriously. WHY?’.

Although something tells me that this is more of a stand against that partner, taking away control and telling us what to do rather than the loss of an option which the majority of us already used as a default. Watch this space…

Aisling Quigley

Search analyst

Maxus Melbourne

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