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The Beginner’s Guide to Making Your Brand Unmissable



The Beginner’s Guide to Making Your Brand Unmissable

Public relations has always been a critical factor in building a brand, and it is no different in today’s digital society. Times have simply moved from billboards and press comments outside office buildings to creative digital campaigns and quotes in key online publications.

The best part? Digital PR and SEO go together like peanut butter and jelly. Digital PR is not only beneficial to your website in its own right, but it can also seriously boost your SEO efforts and is the truest form of “white hat” link building. 

As someone who specializes in using digital PR for SEO, I am going to deep dive into digital PR and its many benefits, as well as give you some of my top tips on where to start and how to get the most success from your efforts.

But first, let’s look at what digital PR is and why it is important.

Digital PR is a promotional tactic used by marketing professionals and PR specialists. When done properly, it utilizes traditional public relations tactics in a digital space—most often to boost the awareness of a brand, company, or business.

The whole point of digital PR is to stay ahead of the curve and make your brand unmissable.

Just like any other form of marketing, digital PR should have its own strategy based on the individual requirements and goals of the brand or business. The strategy combines a number of techniques, such as promoting content, stories, or data, to deliver results that benefit the overall marketing strategy.

Why is digital PR important?

Digital PR has a huge number of benefits in addition to improving brand awareness, including boosting organic traffic, leads, and sales, as well as promoting social engagement.

Digital PR is often thought of as a form of link building. However, it is a beast of its own, and the two should not be confused. Digital PR should be done alongside SEO. Even Google’s own John Mueller said previously that it is often even more important than technical SEO.

Although digital PR is not an SEO tactic, it does complement our efforts as SEOs by improving the expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (E-A-T) of the brand and those behind it, as well as creating high-quality, super-authority backlinks. 

The fact is no matter what paid and organic marketing channels you focus on, digital PR should always be part of your marketing strategy, regardless of the size of your business.

What are the main goals for digital PR?

So if you’re new to digital PR, you’re probably wondering why you should invest your time and money into a digital PR strategy and what the point is exactly? Well, let’s break it down and look at some of the main reasons people want to utilize digital PR tactics for their business:

  • Brand coverage
  • Building awareness
  • Forming long-term relationships with journalists
  • Boosting SEO efforts

Bigger and better brand coverage

Media coverage for brands has always been one of the main goals for public relations, regardless of whether it is in a digital or traditional sense. 

A third-party endorsement for your business, especially from a highly authoritative media outlet, is the best possible advertisement for your company. Your brand and those behind it are presented as experts in the field. This builds instant trust with your audience and potential customers.

Building awareness and shaping brand image

If you’re the new kid on the block and your business is just getting started, create an online presence that lets your target audience know who you are, what you’re about, and your values. This gets your name in front of your target audience in the way you want to be viewed.

Doing so in a way that is newsworthy is best for making a lasting impression.

But it’s not just about making a name for yourself at the beginning of your business. Even established brands look for new and exciting ways to get in front of their ideal audience to maintain brand awareness and stop their competition from getting the edge. 

Forming long-term relationships with journalists

Unlike the days of traditional print media, a digital journalist never always reveals their source. That means mentioning your brand and often quoting the key experts at the forefront of your business. 

Now, pitching journalists regularly (daily in my case) is considered by many to be a long-winded, tedious process. However, this is simply the first step in building relationships with journalists—the value of which should never be underestimated. 

As someone who has been using digital PR to boost the SEO efforts for clients over the years, I have built ongoing relationships with hundreds of journalists. 

To date, I have a personal database of thousands of U.S.- and U.K.-based journalists for all major publications. That means, these days, I can contact journalists directly for campaigns and press releases I am running for my clients.

I also have a large number of journalists who come to me (or my clients) directly for quotes that require topic experts. Whenever they are writing an article relevant to my experience, they will reach out to me to see if I can provide a quote.

Email from a journalist about a feature

Initially, pitching journalists is definitely hard work. But in the long run, you can build ongoing, long-term relationships. It’s definitely worth it when journalists come to you and are continuously publishing your brand on high-authority websites.

Boosting SEO efforts

Although the main goal of public relations is always to build your brand, the secondary benefits digital PR lends to SEO are undeniable. 

We will discuss each of these and why they matter in more detail later, but the most obvious are links, links, and more links. 

But not just any links. Not a random link thrown into a guest post that no one will ever see or care about. I’m talking about links that actually get clicks, drive traffic to a piece of content or asset, encourage engagement and shares, and boost branded search. 

Pages with more backlinks often appear higher in search results. A page’s Google search traffic is strongly and positively correlated with the number of websites that link to it, according to our analysis of 1 billion pages:

Correlation between search traffic and referring domains

Plus, if you want to put the “expert” in expertise, authority, and trust, there’s nothing more effective than being quoted across high-authority websites as a go-to topic specialist.

What are the main benefits of digital PR?

OK, now we know the point of public relations. So let’s talk about what you’ll get out of it:

  • More sales and leads
  • Build authority with links from top-tier publications
  • Build links that competitors can’t replicate to get ahead of the competition
  • Gain trust as an industry expert
  • Earn links that drive referral traffic

More sales and leads

In all my years working with clients as an SEO, I found getting more qualified leads and sales is always on their list of KPIs—no matter what other goals they may have. 

The great thing about digital PR is that it gets your brand in front of the right people at the right time. A well-coordinated campaign can ensure your new product, a seasonal sale, or a special offer is seen by your ideal customers and promote a huge influx of highly relevant, qualified leads.


The key here is relevance. Most people get confused about niche or topic relevance and think of it in the same way as traditional link building. 

Building links for SEO on niche relevant sites can help improve topic relevance so Google has a better understanding of what your website is about. But in digital PR, relevance means getting your business, product, or service in front of a relevant audience. 

For example, if you have a B2B cybersecurity business, you don’t want any old mention on Cybersecurity Weekly. Rather, you want to be featured in content that CEOs and founders are likely to read, such as Harvard Business Review, Forbes, and Entrepreneur.

Build authority with links from top-tier publications

One of the major benefits of digital PR (certainly as an SEO) is building links to highly authoritative websites that you simply can’t achieve with other forms of link building.

Over the years, I have acquired a magnitude of links for clients across sites like Forbes, The New York Times, The Telegraph, BuzzFeed, and so on. 

These links can not only significantly improve the authority of your site within your given niche in the eyes of search engines, but they can also make your brand stand out from the competition. 

If someone searches for your company name, everyone expects the top result to be your website. But not everyone can follow that with positions #2, #3, and #4 as features on sites like those listed above.

Build links that competitors can’t replicate to get ahead of the competition

As mentioned above, the links acquired from digital PR are more difficult to replicate with traditional link building methods. Plus, features are always completely unique.

Sure, your competitors can also do some digital PR. But it is not guaranteed that the same sites will be working on relevant features to acquire links or that they will even be picked up by the journalists.

That means even if a major competitor is continuously checking your backlink profile to attempt to loot your backlinks, it’s not as simple as putting a guest post on the same website. 

Gain trust as an industry expert

Let’s face it. Anyone can tell you how fantastic they are. A well-written About page or a self-promoting YouTube video may gain you some trust as an authority in your industry. But an endorsement from an authoritative publication? Priceless.

Nothing speaks louder to a potential customer than a leading industry authority presenting you as an expert. This builds instant trust between you (seen as a specialist in your field) and people who are directly interested in what you have to offer.

As someone who has worked with niche sites for a long time, I’m often asked to comment on topics like flipping websites—such as this one recently published on

Expert commentary published on an authority site

If you regularly provide journalists with well-written and actionable quotes, chances are they will add you as a regular source.


Always share any articles your quotes are published in across social media, especially LinkedIn and Twitter. Journalists have KPIs on engagement and shares, and sources who make the effort on socials tend to get used again.

Earn links that drive referral traffic

With links acquired by traditional link building methods, the goal is to develop trust signals from authoritative, niche-relevant sites that will tell Google your website is an authority in the niche and give search engines a better understanding of your site’s content.

The thing is that those links don’t always tell your audience you are an authority and, often, have no real value to the user.

When you’re promoting yourself and your brand as an authority to your potential customers using digital PR methods, links will be used to direct the user to a highly relevant, engaging resource. 

For example, a story that goes viral about a groundbreaking study your company has conducted may contain a link that directs readers to the results. 

Flowchart showing proactive PR process

These links drive traffic, social shares, and engagement.

Is there any downside to digital PR?

Now, I’m a huge advocate of digital PR and how it can support SEO. But it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. So let’s take a look at some of the downsides:

  • Highly competitive
  • Ever-changing
  • Results not guaranteed

Highly competitive

Due to the nature of public relations, it is a highly competitive arena. Some of the more popular tactics—such as earned media, where you pitch journalists your thoughts as an industry expert—happen quickly. And there are thousands of other people waiting to jump on the opportunity.

Journalists can post their queries across different platforms in the afternoon and want all submissions by the end of the working day. That means you have to be hot off the blocks (as well as provide something high-quality and unique) to beat the competition. 


In the last six months alone, I have seen enormous changes within the digital PR space, especially as someone who specifically uses PR to boost SEO. 

Tactics that were highly successful before no longer work, and platforms that were once a goldmine of opportunities are over-saturated and offer results few and far between. 

Now, if you’re an SEO, you’re used to being on your toes. I mean, who knows what kind of curveball Google can throw at any time with a surprise algorithm update? 

But for those not used to working in such a fast-paced environment, such as a small-business owner, it can be difficult to stay on top of what the best plan of action is to actually get results.

Results are not guaranteed

Speaking of results, here’s the thing with digital PR: They’re never guaranteed! Mainly due to the two reasons above.

You can pitch 20 journalists and just not hit the nail on the head. Or you come up with a great campaign idea, conduct an in-depth study, and create assets around the results; then, a competitor releases something near-similar the day before publishing (yes, I’ve had that happen).

Also, if you don’t have the best strategy or it simply isn’t well executed, the likelihood is that you won’t get picked up by journalists or you won’t get the response from your target audience.

Five digital PR tactics that work best

So now that we’ve talked about what digital PR is, as well as the pros and cons, let’s take a look at some of my favorite digital PR tactics:

  1. Reactive PR (earned media)
  2. Data-driven proactive campaigns
  3. Press releases
  4. Creative campaigns
  5. Newsjacking

1. Reactive PR (earned media)

Reactive PR (also called earned media) is a method where a journalist will post a query for an article they are writing, requiring subject matter experts to give comments that they can use as an authority source.

Media request via email

This method works incredibly well for businesses of all sizes and helps to build E-A-T and high-authority links. 

Backlink report showing example placements from earned media

There are a few different platforms and methods used for reactive PR, depending on the kinds of sites you want to target (niches, geography, etc.). All you need to do is visit the website and register as a source, and queries will come directly to your inbox. 

Some of these include:

HAROHelp a Reporter Out is a popular platform for earned media. It’s a great option for beginners and mainly focuses on high-quality publications in the U.S. The one issue with HARO is, these days, it is incredibly saturated, so you have to be quick to get featured.

Email from HARO with daily opportunities

TerkelTerkel is a great alternative to HARO that provides queries for high-authority media outlets in both the U.S. and U.K. Again, it is a great option for beginners looking to do their own PR and, as a newer platform, is continuously expanding with opportunities.

Email from Terkel with open opportunities
Email from Terkel with open opportunities.

SourceBottle – If you’re a new business specifically looking for publications in Australia, SourceBottle is a great platform to get started with.

Email from SourceBottle with open opportunities
Email from SourceBottle with open opportunities.

Paid platforms – The above options are all free and a great starting place for beginners. However, these days, more experienced PR pros will stay away from these platforms when working on accounts for clients. They may opt for paid platforms instead. 

Some examples of paid platforms include Muck Rack, Prowly, JournoLink, and JustReachOut.

Email from JournoLink with new opportunities
Email from JournoLink with new opportunities.


When specifically using this tactic for SEO, don’t waste time pitching queries that are for sites you don’t want links from.

Use Ahrefs’ Site Explorer to vet publications before pitching. If you’re hoping for an SEO boost, you can quickly check the Domain Rating (DR) score and traffic of a site.

Plus, always look at its backlink profile to make sure nothing seems untoward. Avoid any site that has a backlink profile full of spam links or appears to be part of a public blog network (PBN).

Overview of CACM via Ahrefs' Site Explorer

The key to success with reactive PR is to write unique and actionable pitches for journalists. Give them something that your competitors won’t have an insight into and make sure it is well written. 

Journalists want to directly copy and paste, so make their job as easy as possible!

Recommended reading: How to Build Backlinks and Get Press Using HARO [Case Study] 

2. Data-driven proactive campaigns

Journalists love data. Fact.

Conducted some groundbreaking research? Got some fun and quirky statistics? Journalists love to feature that stuff. 

The idea with these campaigns is to come up with an idea around something newsworthy that you can gather comprehensive data on and then proactively approach journalists with the story.

I recently created a campaign for a client in the HR industry about lying on your CV for remote positions. We conducted a study in the U.K., and it turns out that over one-third of jobseekers were lying to get remote positions. 

We created an in-depth piece of content detailing the full results on the client’s website, along with a long-form infographic with the key data points. It was then picked up by hundreds of media outlets, including MSN and Yahoo: 

Campaign feature on Yahoo
Campaign feature on Yahoo.

3. Press releases

Just won an award? A new company merged? If you have a newsworthy story, a press release is a great way to get traction, create brand awareness, and amplify your position as an authority in your industry.

Here’s an example of a press release we distributed earlier this year about major keyword updates:

Press release example from Ahrefs

There is a formula for success when it comes to writing press releases, though. To get picked up, they need to be written and formatted correctly. To learn more about how to do it, you can read this great guide from our Rebecca Liew.

4. Creative campaigns

We’ve established that journalists love data, but that doesn’t mean all campaigns have to be data-led to pick up traction. 

Big brands are finding more and more success with creative campaigns that include bold visuals or creative stunts (think the digital version of a flash mob) to capture attention and go viral. 

A fantastic example is Taylor & Hart’s diamond Haribo ring campaign, created by creative PR agency Rise at Seven:

Taylor & Hart’s diamond Haribo ring campaign
Source: Rise at Seven.

This campaign tugged at the nation’s heartstrings, driving 8,500 people to its landing page and picking up almost 40 qualified leads… for a £25,000 ring!

5. Newsjacking

For this tactic to be successful, you have to be hot off the presses. 

Newsjacking is all about monitoring news stories as they break and jumping on them with comments and thought leadership pieces. It is an always-on technique that is used by PR professionals to put brands at the center of a trending topic.

Most people who do newsjacking successfully have teams of people monitoring the news daily for stories to jump on. For a beginner, an easy way to get started is to set up Google Alerts to notify you of specific topics. That way, you can be quick to respond with expert commentary.

Recommended reading: 9 Great Public Relations Tactics With Campaign Examples 

Final thoughts

Digital PR is one of the most effective ways of establishing your brand and those behind it as an authority in your space. Also, it works in tandem with SEO to boost your link building efforts.

Is it time to start using digital PR to make your brand unmissable?

As always, if you have any questions, feel free to ping me on Twitter.

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Google Dials Back AI Overviews In Search Results, Study Finds




Photo of a mobile device in mans hand with generative google AI Overview on the screen.

According to new research, Google’s AI-generated overviews have undergone significant adjustments since the initial rollout.

The study from SE Ranking analyzed 100,000 keywords and found Google has greatly reduced the frequency of AI overviews.

However, when they appear, they’re more detailed than they were previously.

The study digs into which topics and industries are more likely to get an AI overview. It also looks at how the AI snippets interact with other search features like featured snippets and ads.

Here’s an overview of the findings and what they mean for your SEO efforts.

Declining Frequency Of AI Overviews

In contrast to pre-rollout figures, 8% of the examined searches now trigger an AI Overview.

This represents a 52% drop compared to January levels.

Yevheniia Khromova, the study’s author, believes this means Google is taking a more measured approach, stating:

“The sharp decrease in AI Overview presence likely reflects Google’s efforts to boost the accuracy and trustworthiness of AI-generated answers.”

Longer AI Overviews

Although the frequency of AI overviews has decreased, the ones that do appear provide more detailed information.

The average length of the text has grown by nearly 25% to around 4,342 characters.

In another notable change, AI overviews now link to fewer sources on average – usually just four links after expanding the snippet.

However, 84% still include at least one domain from that query’s top 10 organic search results.

Niche Dynamics & Ranking Factors

The chances of getting an AI overview vary across different industries.

Searches related to relationships, food and beverages, and technology were most likely to trigger AI overviews.

Sensitive areas like healthcare, legal, and news had a low rate of showing AI summaries, less than 1%.

Longer search queries with ten words were more likely to generate an AI overview, with a 19% rate indicating that AI summaries are more useful for complex information needs.

Search terms with lower search volumes and lower cost-per-click were more likely to display AI summaries.

Other Characteristics Of AI Overviews

The research reveals that 45% of AI overviews appear alongside featured snippets, often sourced from the exact domains.

Around 87% of AI overviews now coexist with ads, compared to 73% previously, a statistic that could increase competition for advertising space.

What Does This Mean?

SE Ranking’s research on AI overviews has several implications:

  1. Reduced Risk Of Traffic Losses: Fewer searches trigger AI Overviews that directly answer queries, making organic listings less likely to be demoted or receive less traffic.
  2. Most Impacted Niches: AI overviews appear more in relationships, food, and technology niches. Publishers in these sectors should pay closer attention to Google’s AI overview strategy.
  3. Long-form & In-Depth Content Essential: As AI snippets become longer, companies may need to create more comprehensive content beyond what the overviews cover.

Looking Ahead

While the number of AI overviews has decreased recently, we can’t assume this trend will continue.

AI overviews will undoubtedly continue to transform over time.

It’s crucial to monitor developments closely, try different methods of dealing with them, and adjust game plans as needed.

Featured Image: DIA TV/Shutterstock

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10 Tips on How to Rock a Small PPC Budget




10 Tips on How to Rock a Small PPC Budget

Many advertisers have a tight budget for pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, making it challenging to maximize results.

One of the first questions that often looms large is, “How much should we spend?” It’s a pivotal question, one that sets the stage for the entire PPC strategy.

Read on for tips to get started or further optimize budgets for your PPC program to maximize every dollar spent.

1. Set Expectations For The Account

With a smaller budget, managing expectations for the size and scope of the account will allow you to keep focus.

A very common question is: How much should our company spend on PPC?

To start, you must balance your company’s PPC budget with the cost, volume, and competition of keyword searches in your industry.

You’ll also want to implement a well-balanced PPC strategy with display and video formats to engage consumers.

First, determine your daily budget. For example, if the monthly budget is $2,000, the daily budget would be set at $66 per day for the entire account.

The daily budget will also determine how many campaigns you can run at the same time in the account because that $66 will be divided up among all campaigns.

Be aware that Google Ads and Microsoft Ads may occasionally exceed the daily budget to maximize results. The overall monthly budget, however, should not exceed the Daily x Number of Days in the Month.

Now that we know our daily budget, we can focus on prioritizing our goals.

2. Prioritize Goals

Advertisers often have multiple goals per account. A limited budget will also limit the number of campaigns – and the number of goals – you should focus on.

Some common goals include:

  • Brand awareness.
  • Leads.
  • Sales.
  • Repeat sales.

In the example below, the advertiser uses a small budget to promote a scholarship program.

They are using a combination of leads (search campaign) and awareness (display campaign) to divide up a daily budget of $82.

Screenshot from author, May 2024

The next several features can help you laser-focus campaigns to allocate your budget to where you need it most.

Remember, these settings will restrict traffic to the campaign. If you aren’t getting enough traffic, loosen up/expand the settings.

3. Location Targeting

Location targeting is a core consideration in reaching the right audience and helps manage a small ad budget.

To maximize a limited budget, you should focus on only the essential target locations where your customers are located.

While that seems obvious, you should also consider how to refine that to direct the limited budget to core locations. For example:

  • You can refine location targeting by states, cities, ZIP codes, or even a radius around your business.
  • Choosing locations to target should be focused on results.
  • The smaller the geographic area, the less traffic you will get, so balance relevance with budget.
  • Consider adding negative locations where you do not do business to prevent irrelevant clicks that use up precious budget.

If the reporting reveals targeted locations where campaigns are ineffective, consider removing targeting to those areas. You can also try a location bid modifier to reduce ad serving in those areas.

managing ppc budget by location interactionScreenshot by author from Google Ads, May 2024

4. Ad Scheduling

Ad scheduling also helps to control budget by only running ads on certain days and at certain hours of the day.

With a smaller budget, it can help to limit ads to serve only during hours of business operation. You can choose to expand that a bit to accommodate time zones and for searchers doing research outside of business hours.

If you sell online, you are always open, but review reporting for hourly results over time to determine if there are hours of the day with a negative return on investment (ROI).

Limit running PPC ads if the reporting reveals hours of the day when campaigns are ineffective.

Manage a small ppc budget by hour of dayScreenshot by author from Google Ads, May 2024

5. Set Negative Keywords

A well-planned negative keyword list is a golden tactic for controlling budgets.

The purpose is to prevent your ad from showing on keyword searches and websites that are not a good match for your business.

  • Generate negative keywords proactively by brainstorming keyword concepts that may trigger ads erroneously.
  • Review query reports to find irrelevant searches that have already led to clicks.
  • Create lists and apply to the campaign.
  • Repeat on a regular basis because ad trends are always evolving!

6. Smart Bidding

Smart Bidding is a game-changer for efficient ad campaigns. Powered by Google AI, it automatically adjusts bids to serve ads to the right audience within budget.

The AI optimizes the bid for each auction, ideally maximizing conversions while staying within your budget constraints.

Smart bidding strategies available include:

  • Maximize Conversions: Automatically adjust bids to generate as many conversions as possible for the budget.
  • Target Return on Ad Spend (ROAS): This method predicts the value of potential conversions and adjusts bids in real time to maximize return.
  • Target Cost Per Action (CPA): Advertisers set a target cost-per-action (CPA), and Google optimizes bids to get the most conversions within budget and the desired cost per action.

7. Try Display Only Campaigns

display ads for small ppc budgetsScreenshot by author from Google Ads, May 2024

For branding and awareness, a display campaign can expand your reach to a wider audience affordably.

Audience targeting is an art in itself, so review the best options for your budget, including topics, placements, demographics, and more.

Remarketing to your website visitors is a smart targeting strategy to include in your display campaigns to re-engage your audience based on their behavior on your website.

Let your ad performance reporting by placements, audiences, and more guide your optimizations toward the best fit for your business.

audience targeting options for small ppc budgetScreenshot by Lisa Raehsler from Google Ads, May 2024

8. Performance Max Campaigns

Performance Max (PMax) campaigns are available in Google Ads and Microsoft Ads.

In short, automation is used to maximize conversion results by serving ads across channels and with automated ad formats.

This campaign type can be useful for limited budgets in that it uses AI to create assets, select channels, and audiences in a single campaign rather than you dividing the budget among multiple campaign types.

Since the success of the PMax campaign depends on the use of conversion data, that data will need to be available and reliable.

9. Target Less Competitive Keywords

Some keywords can have very high cost-per-click (CPC) in a competitive market. Research keywords to compete effectively on a smaller budget.

Use your analytics account to discover organic searches leading to your website, Google autocomplete, and tools like Google Keyword Planner in the Google Ads account to compare and get estimates.

In this example, a keyword such as “business accounting software” potentially has a lower CPC but also lower volume.

Ideally, you would test both keywords to see how they perform in a live campaign scenario.

comparing keywords for small ppc budgetsScreenshot by author from Google Ads, May 2024

10. Manage Costly Keywords

High volume and competitive keywords can get expensive and put a real dent in the budget.

In addition to the tip above, if the keyword is a high volume/high cost, consider restructuring these keywords into their own campaign to monitor and possibly set more restrictive targeting and budget.

Levers that can impact costs on this include experimenting with match types and any of the tips in this article. Explore the opportunity to write more relevant ad copy to these costly keywords to improve quality.

Every Click Counts

As you navigate these strategies, you will see that managing a PPC account with a limited budget isn’t just about monetary constraints.

Rocking your small PPC budgets involves strategic campaign management, data-driven decisions, and ongoing optimizations.

In the dynamic landscape of paid search advertising, every click counts, and with the right approach, every click can translate into meaningful results.

More resources: 

Featured Image: bluefish_ds/Shutterstock

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What Are They Really Costing You?




What Are They Really Costing You?

This post was sponsored by Adpulse. The opinions expressed in this article are the sponsor’s own.

As managers of paid media, one question drives us all: “How do I improve paid ad performance?”. 

Given that our study found close variant search terms perform poorly, yet more than half of the average budget on Google & Microsoft Ads is being spent on them, managing their impact effectively could well be one of your largest optimization levers toward driving significant improvements in ROI. 

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

Promising idea…but what about the execution?

We analyzed over 4.5 million clicks and 400,000 conversions to answer this question: With the rise in close variants (intent matching) search terms, what impact are they having on budgets and account performance? Spoiler alert, the impact is substantial. 

True Match Vs. Close Variants: How Do They Perform?

To understand close variant (CV) performance, we must first define the difference between a true match and a close variant. 


What Is a True Match? 

We still remember the good-old-days where keyword match types gave you control over the search terms they triggered, so for this study we used the literal match types to define ‘close variant’ vs ‘true match’. 

  • Exact match keyword => search term matches the keyword exactly. 
  • Phrase match keyword => search term must contain the keyword (same word order).
  • Broad match keyword => search term must contain every individual word in the keyword, but the word order does not matter (the way modified broad match keywords used to work).   


What Is a Close Variant? 

If you’re not familiar with close variants (intent matching) search terms, think of them as search terms that are ‘fuzzy matched’ to the keywords you are actually bidding on. 

Some of these close variants are highly relevant and represent a real opportunity to expand your keywords in a positive way. 

Some are close-ish, but the conversions are expensive. 

And (no shocks here) some are truly wasteful. 

….Both Google and Microsoft Ads do this, and you can’t opt-out.

To give an example: if you were a music therapist, you might bid on the phrase match keyword “music therapist”. An example of a true match search term would be ‘music therapist near me’ because it contains the keyword in its true form (phrase match in this case) and a CV might be ‘music and art therapy’.

How Do Close Variants Compare to True Match?

Short answer… poorly, on both Google and Microsoft Ads. Interestingly however, Google showed the worst performance on both metrics assessed, CPA and ROAS. 

Image created by Adpulse, May 2024

1718772963 395 What Are They Really Costing You

Image created by Adpulse, May 2024

Want to see the data – jump to it here…

CVs have been embraced by both platforms with (as earlier stated), on average more than half of your budget being spent on CV variant matches. That’s a lot of expansion to reach searches you’re not directly bidding for, so it’s clearly a major driver of performance in your account and, therefore, deserving of your attention. 

We anticipated a difference in metrics between CVs and true match search terms, since the true match search terms directly align with the keywords you’re bidding on, derived from your intimate knowledge of the business offering. 

True match conversions should therefore be the low-hanging fruit, leaving the rest for the platforms to find via CVs. Depending on the cost and ROI, this isn’t inherently bad, but logically we would assume CVs would perform worse than true matches, which is exactly what we observed. 

How Can You Limit Wastage on Close Variants?

You can’t opt out of them, however, if your goal is to manage their impact on performance, you can use these three steps to move the needle in the right direction. And of course, if you’re relying on CVs to boost volume, you’ll need to take more of a ‘quality-screening’ rather than a hard-line ‘everything-must-go’ approach to your CV clean out!


Step 1: Diagnose Your CV Problem 

We’re a helpful bunch at Adpulse so while we were scoping our in-app solution, we built a simple spreadsheet that you can use to diagnose how healthy your CVs are. Just make a copy, paste in your keyword and search term data then run the analysis for yourself. Then you can start to clean up any wayward CVs identified. Of course, by virtue of technology, it’s both faster and more advanced in the Adpulse Close Variant Manager 😉.


Step 2: Suggested Campaign Structures for Easier CV Management  

Brand Campaigns

If you don’t want competitors or general searches being matched to your brand keywords, this strategy will solve for that. 

Set up one ad group with your exact brand keyword/s, and another ad group with phrase brand keyword/s, then employ the negative keyword strategies in Step 3 below. You might be surprised at how many CVs have nothing to do with your brand, and identifying variants (and adding negative keywords) becomes easy with this structure.

Don’t forget to add your phrase match brand negatives to non-brand campaigns (we love negative lists for this).

Non-Brand Campaigns with Larger Budgets

We suggest a campaign structure with one ad group per match type:

Example Ad Groups:

    • General Plumbers – Exact
    • General Plumbers – Phrase
    • General Plumbers – Broad
    • Emergency Plumbers – Exact
    • Emergency Plumbers – Phrase
    • Emergency Plumbers – Broad

This allows you to more easily identify variants so you can eliminate them quickly. This also allows you to find new keyword themes based on good quality CVs, and add them easily to the campaign. 

Non-Brand Campaigns with Smaller Budgets

Smaller budgets mean the upside of having more data per ad group outweighs the upside of making it easier to trim unwanted CVs, so go for a simpler theme-based ad group structure:

Example Ad Groups:

    • General Plumbers
    • Emergency Plumbers


Step 3: Ongoing Actions to Tame Close Variants

Adding great CVs as keywords and poor CVs as negatives on a regular basis is the only way to control their impact.

For exact match ad groups we suggest adding mainly root negative keywords. For example, if you were bidding on [buy mens walking shoes] and a CV appeared for ‘mens joggers’, you could add the single word “joggers” as a phrase/broad match negative keyword, which would prevent all future searches that contain joggers. If you added mens joggers as a negative keyword, other searches that contain the word joggers would still be eligible to trigger. 

In ad groups that contain phrase or broad match keywords you shouldn’t use root negatives unless you’re REALLY sure that the root negative should never appear in any search term. You’ll probably find that you use the whole search term added as an exact match negative much more often than using root negs.

The Proof: What (and Why) We Analyzed

We know CVs are part of the conversations marketers frequently have, and by virtue of the number of conversations we have with agencies each week, we’ve witnessed the increase of CV driven frustration amongst marketers. 

Internally we reached a tipping point and decided to data dive to see if it just felt like a large problem, or if it actually IS a large enough problem that we should devote resources to solving it in-app. First stop…data. 

Our study of CV performance started with thousands of Google and Microsoft Ads accounts, using last 30-day data to May 2024, filtered to exclude:

  • Shopping or DSA campaigns/Ad Groups.
  • Accounts with less than 10 conversions.
  • Accounts with a conversion rate above 50%.
  • For ROAS comparisons, any accounts with a ROAS below 200% or above 2500%.

Search terms in the study are therefore from keyword-based search campaigns where those accounts appear to have a reliable conversion tracking setup and have enough conversion data to be individually meaningful.

The cleaned data set comprised over 4.5 million clicks and 400,000 conversions (over 30 days) across Google and Microsoft Ads; a large enough data set to answer questions about CV performance with confidence.

Interestingly, each platform appears to have a different driver for their lower CV performance. 

CPA Results:

Google Ads was able to maintain its conversion rate, but it chased more expensive clicks to achieve it…in fact, clicks at almost double the average CPC of true match! Result: their CPA of CVs worked out roughly double the CPA of true match.                 

Microsoft Ads only saw slightly poorer CPA performance within CVs; their conversion rate was much lower compared to true match, but their saving grace was that they had significantly lower CPCs, and you can afford to have a lower conversion rate if your click costs are also lower. End outcome? Microsoft Ads CPA on CVs was only slightly more expensive when compared to their CPA on true matches; a pleasant surprise 🙂.

What Are They Really Costing You

Image created by Adpulse, May 2024

ROAS Results:

Both platforms showed a similar story; CVs delivered roughly half the ROAS of their true match cousins, with Microsoft Ads again being stronger overall. 


1718772963 395 What Are They Really Costing You

Image created by Adpulse, May 2024

Underlying Data:

For the data nerds amongst us (at Adpulse we self-identify here !) 

1718772963 88 What Are They Really Costing You

Image created by Adpulse, May 2024


Close variant search terms consume, on average, more than half an advertiser’s budget whilst in most cases, performing significantly worse than search terms that actually match the keywords. How much worse? Read above for details ^. Enough that managing their impact effectively could well be one of your largest optimization levers toward driving significant improvements in account ROI. 

Image Credits

Featured Image: Image by Adpulse. Used with permission.

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