An updated look at Alpha-Beta in a world of close variants

Google has recently updated exact match close variants; now implied words, paraphrase words and same-intent keywords are allowed to match to exact match keywords as close variants.

This change gives advertisers less control over their exact match keywords and gives Google more control to appropriately match search query intent to similar keywords.

For advertisers using (or planning to use) the Alpha-Beta structure for their accounts, there are a few considerations to be aware of with this update to exact match close variants.

Background on Alpha-Beta

The Alpha Beta structure breaks keywords into two different campaigns – Alpha and Beta. Alpha campaigns contain exact match keywords that are strong-performing search queries. Top-performing search queries can be determined by a few different metrics (conversions, impressions, clicks, etc.) depending on your business targets and goals. These Alpha keywords are placed into single keyword ad groups, which allows for keywords with hyper-targeted landing pages and ad copy. Single keyword ad groups allow the landing page and ad copy to be as relevant to a user’s search as possible, increasing the likelihood that a user will click on the ad. CPCs are typically lower with this structure as well because of the relevancy of the ad copy and landing page to a user’s search intent.

Beta campaigns contain broad match modifier (BMM) keywords; these give advertisers more control than broad match keywords and are more inclusive than phrase match keywords. These Beta campaigns allow advertisers to mine for additional top-performing keywords. In order to continually identify top-performing search queries to promote to Alpha, you need to monitor Beta search queries on a recurring basis. It is also important to mine search query reports to eliminate poor-performing search queries that are not driving conversions or are irrelevant to your business.

Once the Alpha-Beta campaign structure is established, ensure that exact match traffic is funneled to your Alpha campaigns, not Beta campaigns, by adding all Alpha keywords as exact match negatives to your Beta campaigns.

This campaign structure allows advertisers to maintain control of: the search queries that appear on the SERP, the message delivered to consumers, treatment of top performers, and easy negation of underperforming or irrelevant queries.

Close variant changes

Google has made a few changes to exact match close variant targeting over the past few years. You might remember the change in March 2017 that allowed for exact match keywords to show for typos, plurals, and other close variants as long the meaning was similar. (Many advertisers experienced little impact from this change.) The most recent change, which occurred in late September, allowed for implied words, paraphrase words, and same-intent keywords to match to our exact match keywords as close variants, with the help of Google’s algorithm. Google’s stance was that the changes were released to be more inclusive of the constantly changing consumer search behavior; they’ve said that roughly 15% of searches seen every day are new.

Impact on Alpha-Beta structure

This change in close variant matching has impacted the way the Alpha-Beta structure is managed. There are two impacts that are important to consider: increases in spend on exact match keywords and poor exact match close variant matching.

As Google starts to consider additional variants for exact match, I would expect to see traffic start to increase to Alpha campaigns. With no corresponding budget increases, Alpha campaigns could hit some restrictions, so be sure to keep an eye on campaign budgets in the upcoming months.

It is now increasingly important to monitor close variant matching. The easiest way to monitor matching is to download a search query report and filter match type for exact match (close variant). You can also look into exact match keywords that are seeing significant increases in spend or traffic. If you experience that exact match variants are poorly matching, the solution is to add ad group negatives to control the funneling of these search queries. Note: Google’s algorithm might match search queries as exact match close variants even though that search query is built out as an exact match keyword. This is another circumstance where we would want to add ad group negatives to filter traffic to the most appropriate keywords.

There could also be instances where Google is matching top performing search queries to your exact match keywords as close variants. If the intent of these search queries is significantly different from the keyword that it is matching to, breaking out those search queries as keywords will allow for more control of traffic and messaging. For example, you would not want to break out sweater and sweaters into different single keyword ad groups because the intent is the same, so you can deliver the same ad copy messaging and the same landing page. You would want to break out and add an ad group negative for “b2b internal payment,” which was an exact match variant for “b2b international payment” (hmmm). These keywords have a very different intent and should never be grouped together.

In the new world of close variants, the Alpha-Beta structure still allows advertisers to maintain more control over search queries, landing pages, and messaging. But the latest update does impact some of the control over search queries matching to exact match keywords, making it more important to review search query reports regularly.

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