Broad Match Hell

One of the most confusing, frustrating, and costly aspects of pay-per-click advertising is the variety of keyword match types offered by the big three search engines.

What Google Adwords calls "broad match doesn't work exactly the same as MSN Adcenter's "broad match, and Yahoo doesn't have a broad match option at all.

As a result of this confusion, and because all three of the major players use their broadest possible matching system by default, many advertisers are losing money without even knowing about it.

Even if think you know what you're doing, it's still very easy to screw things up, especially with Adwords. That's because of the three major players, Google is the most aggressive about trying to get your keywords to match against "related searches.

In this article, I'll explain how the different matching options work at all of the major search engines, then give Adwords advertisers some concrete steps you can take to get control of the extreme situation at Google.

Matching Options: Who Does What

To help clarify the situation, I've compiled a table of the different matching options available at Google, MSN, and Yahoo.

Search Engine
Match Type


Exact Match
Will only match if the exact text is entered. A bid on [dog toys] would not be matched if the searcher types dog toy ?" singular and plural are not considered identical.


Exact Match
99% equivalent to Google's exact match, with exceptions. Words with apostrophes are combined into 1 variation at Google. MSN ignores "extraneous words like a, an, the, etc.


Standard Match
Similar to exact match, but Yahoo's Match Driver technology also includes singular, plural, common misspellings, and alternative spellings. Match Driver is used with all matching options, and you can't opt out.


Phrase Match
Will match any query that includes the exact phrase. A phrase match for "dog toys would matchbig dog toys, but not toys for
big dog.


Phrase Match
Equivalent to Google's phrase match.


Yahoo has no phrase match option. Seriously.


Broad Match
Will match any search query that includes all of the words. MSN does not combine singular/plural consistently, but they do some light synonym matching.


Advanced Match
Will match any search query that includes all of the words, plus singular, plural, spelling variations, and "synonyms.Dogmay be considered a synonym forpuppy, for example.


Broad Match
Like Yahoo Advanced Match, but Google's "expanded broad match system also matches "related queries. Dog toy could be matched up withpet toys,pet giftsor anything Google thinks is related.

google MSN

Negative Match
Negative matches are keywords that you don't want to appear in the query. This allows you to avoid advertising onfree television setwhen you do phrase or broad matches for "television set, by setting a negative match for ?" free.


Excluded Words
Similar to Google & MSN, but toy and toys are considered equivalent.


Embedded Match
Most advertisers have never even heard of this one, but it's extremely powerful. It's a special type of negative match, where you can exclude exact or phrase matches.


Automatic Match
Not an actual match type, but a feature Google rolled out this year, that extends their already aggressive expanded broad matching even further. Your ad for adidas tennis shoes could be triggered when someone searches forrunning shoes.

So, What's Wrong With Broad Matching?

If you've asked that question, you're ready to learn

The key to getting the best results out of your search advertising is how effectively your ad text, landing pages, and offer match a searcher's query. The less you know about what the searcher typed, the harder it is to deliver the right message and offer.

Advertising on queries where your ad doesn't make sense, or where your landing page and offer don't promise the searcher what they were looking for, is a waste of money.

Let's say you're selling dog toys. When someone searches for that exactly, you can show them an ad that's tested and tuned to get the best response, take them to a landing page that's tested and tuned to get the best response, and offer them your best (tested and tuned) selection of dog toys, to maximize your profitability.

If you aren't testing and tuning all of these things, that's a problem we'll tackle another day.

For now, let's assume that your dog toys ad, landing page, and offer are tested and tuned to get the maximum response from people who search fordog toys. Or if you aren't testing and tuning, at least designed to get the best response from that query.

Now, let's pretend that your dog toys ads are running on a broad match.

With MSN and Yahoo, you'll get a little bit of irrelevant traffic, at your expense of course. Searches fordog toy safetyorhow to get a dog to like new toywill trigger your ad. All those extra visitors are unlikely to convert into customers.

With Google, it gets even crazier. Your ad might trigger when someone searches forpet toy recallor other "related searches.

If you're running 100% broad match, chances are good that at least half of your traffic is irrelevant, useless, and unlikely to convert.

Even if you're not doing quite that badly, your click through rate (CTR) at Google will suffer, and you're paying more per click than you should, for worse ad positions.

In short, if you're using 100% broad match at Google, you're in Broad Match Hell whether you know it or not.

How To Escape From This Hell

There are a few simple steps you can take to improve the situation.

One option is kill broad matching entirely, at least in the short term. This is up to you, but if your campaigns aren't delivering good ROI, it's not a bad idea as a first step, while you're implementing my other recommendations.

Mona Elesseily of Page Zero Media reported last year that simply converting all broad matches in an Adwords campaign to exact matches delivered big improvements in click through rate, cost per click, cost per conversion, and an overall increase in profitability.

Your mileage may vary, but you'd be amazed at how often this simple action improves things. Fortunately, you can take a less radical step at first, to find out what's going on.

My recommendations:

1. Organize your campaigns into tightly focused ad groups.

Many advertisers combine a lot of loosely related keywords into one big ad group, and this is a terrible idea.

The more closely the text of your ad and landing page match the keyword you bid on, and the actual search queries, the better you will do. Keep your dog toys ads and keywords in one ad group, put the dog leash ads in another.

Many advertisers go so far as to have a "one keyword per ad group rule. To me, this is a little extreme, and difficult to manage, but it's better than dumping all of your keywords into one ad group.

2. Separate your ad groups into broad, phrase, and exact matches.

Like focusing your ad groups, this is definitely a best practice.

By separating your different match types into their own ad groups, you can start to see which match types are actually driving the most traffic, and which are actually driving the best ROI and conversion performance.

3. Find outexactlywhat people are searching for before they click.

Adwords provides a "Search Query Performance report. If you do nothing else, you should be looking at this report, to find out what negative matches you need to add to your broad & phrase ad groups.

If you're using Google Analytics, there are a few different solutions you can try, to collect exact keyword data. I previously blogged about the method I use:
.  I also included a step-by-step video on how to do it.

4. Use negative matches with your phrase match and broad match ads.

If you're going to run anything other than exact matching, you need to use negative matches effectively. Assuming you've done step #3 above, you have a pretty good system for collecting new negative matches as your campaigns run.

Google also offers a pretty good research tool, within their Adwords Keyword Tool (
) to suggest possible negative matches just select Negative from the match type menu as shown:


While you're waiting for data to collect in Google Analytics, you can use Google's tool to find the most obvious negative matches.

Heaven Can Wait?

Some day, maybe the major PPC search engines will provide a more complete set of matching options. For now, use these suggestions to cut the fat out of your Adwords campaigns, and enjoy your newfound profits.

Weekend Update: How PPC differs on the weekend

At 5 p.m. on Friday, the weekend kicks off and everyone's mindset shifts. The important question is, "are you adjusting your marketing model during that period?" Many companies keep their same ads, budget and targeting during the Friday through Sunday period, even though their consumers are in a very different mindset. 

Just as you want to split test different ads and offers during the week, it's important to evaluate whether a different marketing model returns the best ROI during the weekend.

One initial aspect to consider is your core audience. If you're targeting business to business (B2B) offers, then decision makers are less likely to be making vendor decisions during this period. As a result, you may want to scale back your offerings or test a slightly different variant by relying upon lead generation rather than direct sales through your landing pages.

On the other hand, if you're a travel company, you may want to ramp up your offers for consumers who may have that itch for adventure. Depending on the nature of your business, consumer behavior during the weekend may be entirely different than during weekdays.

To start, you can review the conversion and traffic performance of your campaigns during the week relative to the weekend. You may find, for example, that Fridays perform well while your ROI drops on Sundays. With search engine marketing, you can adjust your bids or display time for ads during down periods, which can provide you with additional budget for times when your campaigns are performing optimally.

Video Marketing: Smart Tips to Use Videos to Improve Conversion Rates

Scrolling through dozens of potential service providers, a customer visits your site and views a refreshing video that introduces exactly what your company offers.  After reading countless paragraphs of sales copy, white papers and testimonials, customers are particularly receptive to multi-media messages that provide a succinct, user-friendly presentation that helps to separate your brand from your competition.

Strategic placement of well designed videos is an effective way of improving the conversion funnel on your site, as well as providing an outlet for syndicating your message to popular sites such as You Tube which frequently appear prominently in the natural search results.

Virtually Meet Your Customers

A major study from Sell Point ( revealed that product tours can improve conversion rates by up to 35% relative to static web sites, even for major, well-known brands. (If you are having trouble with the link above, you can also view the attached PDF.) 

As a business professional, you understand the importance of personal contact and video provides an element of direct communication with your site visitors that images and text cannot offer. Proper visual demonstrations of your company create an immediate connection with the customer, establishing an element of trust that can improve conversion rates and encourage brand loyalty.

When designing videos for your site, it's best to bring your brand to life: showcase the people involved in your business and speak directly to the visitor by welcoming them to your site. Providing the right combination of information, friendly presentation and enthusiasm can encourage customers to do business with your company from the very first click.

Using Blogs to Create an Online Brand Personality

Growing businesses may find it challenging to continually provide on-going brand messaging regarding new products and services. Successful, fast moving companies often make adjustments on a daily basis to keep one step ahead of the competitive, and a well-written blog can breathe life into the direction that your company is headed. Blogs are the ultimate real-time brand messaging medium, allowing you to provide a comprehensive social media strategy utilizing your in-house blog, Twitter and Facebook to keep in touch with your loyal customers and potential clients.

Quality Content and Customer Communications

Traditionally, companies have relied upon occasional newsletters and events to make announcements to their customers.  Since every single industry is highly competitive today, it's important not only to stay ahead of your competition but to ensure that message is widely heard. Addressing customer requests and ideas on your blog is a great way to build a community - when customers feel linked to your brand; they are likely to remain loyal to your company as well as making recommendations to their friends.

Each element of your blog, from the design, type-face and the writing style is important. Blog posts not only allow you to target long-tail keywords in natural search, but also provide a written identity for your brand. If you're a consulting firm, establishing authority and a professional voice can help improve the reputation of your business, while a party planner may want to bring a tone of enthusiasm and excitement to each announcement. Crafting informative posts that your customers will want to read can help keep you in touch with your clients in an age of shifting loyalties.

Linking Analytics Goals with Adwords

One of the primary advantages of utilizing Google's advertising services is that you can track converion outcomes at a granular level. By integrating your Adwords account with your analytics profile, you'll be able to determine not only which keywords and campaigns converted but how effectively they performed overall. While conversion outcomes can be binary, the data on consumer interaction includes time spent on site, how many pages a visitor viewed, as well as insights into their navigation path.

Linking your Analytics Goals with Adwords can ensure that you understand the full breadth of conversion outcomes including purchases, subscriptions and leads.

To link you Analytics goals with conversion tracking in Adwords, you have to edit the Data Sharing settings in Google analytics. Once you've updated these settings, you can then update the Conversion Tracking Page to Link your Analytics goals. Make sure that your conversion goals are structured properly in analytics so you can see the full set of conversion options that you need to track. By linking your goals with your search marketing account, you'll be able to better understand how your campaigns are performing relative to your goals.

The insights provided by Google Analytics can help you structure future campaigns for improved performance, including better split-testing of campaigns according to different demographics and consumer segments. In business, data is power and utilizing Google Analytics goals to benchmark your search campaigns provides you with important insights into business outcomes.

Local Maps Optimization: Factors for Local Rankings

Today, many service-related services produce an automated map on Google which shows searchers the closest area providers. In addition to targeting natural search listings and pay per click ads, local maps listings can be an effective source of generating quality leads for your business.

To optimization methods for improving your local maps listing are similar to the factors that determine general search rankings, although there are several elements of your campaign which require unique optimization.

The factors included in your local maps ranking include whether you have claimed your local listing (through the Local Business Center), the number of local reviews for your service as well as the relevance of your service description (and company name) to the search in question. It can be difficult to precisely target exact search queries, although you can improve your chances of ranking well by updating your service listing, adding images and videos as well as encouraging your customers to place reviews through Google Maps, Citysearch and related local sites. Claiming and updating your local listing on these related sites can also help to improve the local relevance of your site.

One on-site aspect that you can update to improve local targeting is by adding your address and local phone number to your contact and About Us pages. Additionally, you can create pages on your site about the specific local offering that can improve the relevance of your site for local search phrases. Investing in local SEO can generate targeted, high quality leads for your small business.

Test Before You Build

Here's a simple tip that could easily save you 12 months of work:

Setting up an effective SEO campaign in a competitive market can be a long drawn out and expensive process. Worse yet, if you are focused on the wrong keywords, you might need to start over again after you find out that your site is not producing the results you want.

An easy way to avoid needing to start over is to test the value of keywords before you heavily commit to your SEO strategy. Buying pay-per-click ads (PPC) from search engines like Google (AdWords), Yahoo (Search Marketing), and Microsoft (adCenter) allow you to see what keywords have the ability to drive traffic to your site.

Learning The Hard Way

When I was new to the search game a client of mine told me that he wanted to rank for a list of fairly broad keywords. We were slowly moving up the search rankings, but he was not seeing much return. SEO is an investment game and it takes time and capital to build momentum. He had a rather low budget though, so it was taking months to see little response.

I could tell that things were not working out as well as either of us planned, and suggested we shift his budget over to AdWords to see what keywords are most valuable for his business. It turns out that the keywords he told me he wanted to rank for had very little value to his business. If I bid more than 15 cents a click for any of them we lost money. But there was a line of products he sold that had some related keywords which people converted on at a great rate. We could afford to pay $2 a click for some of these keywords and still make profit.

In late 2004 we adjusted his SEO strategy to match what worked well on the pay per click ads. When the economic downturn happened in 2008 and 2009 many competing businesses went out of business. Had we not used AdWords to test his keyword strategy his business would have likely went under as well. But he still ranks at the top of the search results because his SEO strategy was focused on what keywords worked well for his website.

Test a Variety of Keywords

Not every keyword you try will be profitable. But if you try a variety of keywords tightly related to your business you are far more likely to succeed than if you only bid on 1 keyword. Most businesses should test at least 5 to 10 different keywords, while retail oriented businesses should test a much larger set of keywords, driving traffic to the most relevant page whenever possible.

Track Conversions

All the major PPC ad networks have built in conversion tracking tools which show you what keywords and ad groups convert well. You can also pass the conversion value through to these tools to know exactly how much business came from each ad campaign and each keyword.

A point to note: the above slide from Google's internal study is actually from 2005.  As of June 2009, the percentage of people visiting a search engine first has skyrocketd to 82%. In the above groups I also used obtuse campaign names to prevent you from knowing what site this data is associated with, but note that

  • the highest volume keywords (listed as "core") were associated with most of the transactions, but they also had relatively high conversion costs (since they were the most obvious keywords to target)
  • the keywords that we bid much less on (listed as "cheap") still were not very "cheap" once you factor in the cost per conversion (the traffic was available at a discount rate only because the keywords were worth less)
  • the longtail keywords (listed as "individual") did not create a ton of sales volume, but they were cheaper clicks and they tended to have a fairly high conversion rate when compared against the core industry keywords (using a keyword list generator like the above and mapping keywords out against URLs helps pick up a lot of this under-priced traffic)
  • the ad group with ad copy catering toward big spenders (listed as "custom quote") on the surface looks more expensive per conversion, but...
  • the average order size of these customers (not shown) was much larger than the average order size of other customers, yielding far greater profit per conversion
  • some additional orders were taken over the phone (so the cost is even less than what was shown)

If tracking conversions is hard, you can place a link to a coupon (or some other free offer) on your landing page and view a click on that coupon page as a proxy for conversion and user intent. Some more sophisticated strategies involve setting up different 1(800) phone numbers based on the marketing channel or keyword.

Where to Start Testing With Pay Per Click Ads

For most businesses the best way to start pay per click advertising is to test your ideas on Google AdWords and then carry the best results over to Yahoo! and Microsoft.  There are a lot of smaller ad networks that sell traffic as well, but most of them have low traffic quality, so they don't help you save money and they do not offer representative market feedback. For most advertisers the smaller ad networks are a complete waste of time.

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