In the latest update of Google’s exact match variants rule, the engine is taking even more liberties as to what triggers an exact match keyword. Google states that words will only be added or varied if it does not change the meaning of the keyword. Now, obviously, whether the meaning changes or not, it does not fix the fact that exact match keywords as we know them are basically dead. However, we can still utilize exact match keywords effectively with the use of continued granular campaign structure and greater use of negative keywords.

I originally wrote a post over on Search Engine Journal back in 2014 when the first close variants rule rolled out. We saw a huge influx of bad and off base queries and bad algorithm updates that caused unwanted searches. Over time, it died down as Google scaled back the original thought of how close variants would ultimately change exact match search reports.

I do believe this current change is not too drastic and blurs the lines between each match types’ definition and how they work together. With that said, it doesn’t mean we can’t still have quality account structures that utilize match types to the maximum benefit possible while keeping out unwanted searches and variants.

Here are 3 ways to adjust your current campaigns that will help alleviate the subsequent changes to the keywords and search terms reports.

1) Single Match Type Ad Groups

This may sound or seem obvious, but more times than not, single match type strategies are not always followed depending on the original account set up or type. By having only exact match ad groups separated from our other match types, it will make it easier when looking at search term reports and filtering out bad “exact (close variant)” terms that may need to become a negative term in that ad group. We can then also negatively target specific filler words Google is deeming “relevant” to our current terms.

2) Smaller Ad Groups

This brings us to using smaller ad groups with fewer keywords. I regularly see ad groups with up to 20 exact terms. Sometimes closely related and other times wider variants or themes that could be broken out further. Either way, with having more opportunity to show variables of the term, having very tightly themed groups will be key to understanding performance from both an ad group level and keyword level. The basic rule of thumb is if the word could be an ad and/or landing page differentiator, it is worth creating a separate ad group. Here is an example of a current ad group and similar words that seem obvious for that group but could also be their own group.

New ad group structure

We now take the ad group from 6 keywords to 3 keywords, allowing for more control over the search queries and negatives.

3) More Negatives

With having match types segmented, we typically use negatives in our broad, mod-broad, or even phrase ad groups. With this new rule, more negatives in our exact groups will be a key differentiator from past strategies when negatives were only used for broader keywords and match types. Now, there is more reason to be looking at the exact search terms and creating negatives to narrow in on exact phrasings we want our keywords to show for.

I wrote a post a few months ago about the use of phrase negatives instead of broad negatives. I would suggest continuing to use phrase along with exact negatives in exact ad groups. Phrase will be used for the new “filler” words we don’t want and exact for the full variants that Google creates that no longer make sense.
Here are two examples based on theoretical searches that could arise based on how Google says it can now add, remove, or reorder exact terms.

Keyword variations

For the first term, in this theoretical search Google thought “For Sale” and “Sale” did not change the meaning of the term. Now, Google does state that if making a change does cause the meaning to be altered, it will not match the search with the keyword. Based on my experience and from what we saw in the original update, something like this could occur more than we’d like to admit or acknowledge, so keeping an eye out and using negatives will be key to slowing down the variants.

On the second keyword, Google added “for.” It again may or may not change the complete meaning of this term, so Google may or may not allow this through, but either way, it doesn’t fit what we would want this keyword to show for.


We only covered the top 3 ways to quickly and easily improve exact match results with the updates to close variants, so don’t forget that with any of these adjustments, be thinking about the path regarding keyword and search context, ad relevance, and the accounts advertised products or services and how each one relates to the other. This will lead to each of our keywords better fitting within the context of the ever-changing match type rules and drive better results with fewer optimizations.