Why Broad Match is Costing You Money

President-elect Barack Obama recently announced the appointment of Nancy Killefer to the newly-created post of Chief Performance Officer. Her role, in Obama’s words, is to "scour this budget line by line, eliminating what we don’t need or what doesn’t work, and improving the things that do."

In honor of this appointment, I’d like to appoint YOU as Chief Performance Officer of your own business. Even if you haven’t borrowed $1.2 trillion to fund your AdWords account, "eliminating what doesn’t work" is still sound advice.

Carefully Monitor Your Broad Match Keywords

Broad match keywords are the ones where you don’t wrap any punctuation around the word in your AdWords dashboard. 

For example, if you have a party supply store, your prospect might be looking for ideas or supplies for a birthday party. So you bid on the keyword 

kids party ideas

Theoretically, Google now knows which actual searches are relevant to that keyword. Hopefully, that keyword triggers an impression of your ad for searches like

party ideas for kids
children’s party ideas
kid birthday party ideas
kid birthday theme ideas

and so on.

Trouble is, Google isn’t always that smart. Your ad may be showing for keywords like

halloween party
bachelorette party
kids party supply rental

And double trouble is, you probably aren’t keeping an eye on things.

This is like being a shareholder in, say, Lehman Brothers, and trusting the CEO and board to manage the company in a responsible manner. As a lot of unhappy people recently discovered, the entities who want you to give them control over your money don’t always have your best interests at heart. If you aren’t watching your broad match keywords like a whistleblower, you are abdicating much of your responsibility as an AdWords advertiser.

As Dan and Elan Perach point out in their January 7, 2009 blog post about AdWords broad match bloopers, Google often shows your ads for searches that aren’t meaningfully related to your actual keyword. Here are a couple of examples:

Keyword "shop designer" triggered the ad being shown for the search term "coffee shop names"

Keyword "advertising company" triggered the ad being shown for the search term "business for sale"

So what’s an advertiser to do?

1. Turn off "automatic keyword matching" in your advanced campaign settings

For some weird reason, I can’t find this feature in my "normal" AdWords interface. However, it does appear in the new beta interface (stuff in AdWords sometimes reminds me of the 9th floor in the Twilight Zone episode "The After Hours" – click the arrow below to get into the mood):


Make sure this box is UNchecked (if you can find it).

Shane Keller, PPC manager at GCFLearnFree.org, reported the following results:

I ran Keyword Matching for two weeks, and then turned it off and went back to manually monitoring and adjusting my keywords. Here are the results for the two weeks of no Keyword Matching compared to the previous two weeks of Keyword Matching:

Clicks -8.9%
Impressions -23.5%
CTR +19.66%
Conv. Rate +8.1%
Total Conversion +7.8%
As you can see, the campaign did better with Keyword Matching turned off.

2. Run the search query report frequently

The Search Query Report shows you the actual search terms that triggered your keywords. Run it frequently and based on the data, take steps 3 and 4 (below).

3. Add good queries as phrase and exact match keywords

Suppose you see a few searches for "Obama kids party theme" that got triggered by your keyword "kids party themes". If you have a bunch of Obama paper plates, napkins, and noisemakers you can sell, you probably want to add that keyword to your list as a phrase and exact match.

In the screenshot below, a whole bunch of people searched for what is uric acid – which I did not include in my keyword list. These searches were triggered because Google thought they were relevant to a keyword I was bidding on, uric acid.

Brief commercial sem-interruption: One of the 28+ Look Over My Shoulder (LOMS) AdWords Success Videos shows you exactly how to generate and interpret the Search Query report.

4. Add lots of negative keywords

Go through the Search Query Report with a fine-toothed comb (that’s a metaphor – an actual comb may damage your monitor screen or tear your paper) and find all the keywords whose presence in a search phrase means that your ad/landing page/offer/existence simply isn’t relevant to that search.

If you don’t sell Obama party paraphernalia, then add "Obama" as a negative keyword. Without stretching the brain cells too much, you may also want to negate "Sarah Palin" and "Joe the Plumber" and all the other pop culture figures whose images you can’t deliver on a balloon.

In the screenshot below, the word patients appears in several keyword searches. I never bid on any keyword phrase with patients in it, so Google is deciding on its own to show my ads for those searches. As you can see, none of these searches has lead to a conversion. The sample size isn’t very large – not a ton of impressions and clicks – but it’s something I’d keep a close eye on.

 You may be wondering what the keyword gout more:for_patients means. After all, that’s not something your Aunt Tilly is likely to type into Google after Uncle Waldo grabs his big toe and starts yelling. When you see the more: element in a keyword report, it refers to a refined search. For certain keywords, Google provides a list of refinements at the top of the organic listings. Here’s the more:for_patients link cited in the report:

No Keyword Left Behind

As the world’s attention focuses on the political transition in Washington, and the new administration’s push toward line-by-line budget accountability during this economic turmoil, my wish for you is the time, focus, knowledge and courage to rationalize your own keyword strategy without needing a crisis to get you going.

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BONUS BOP QUOTES (for reading this far):

I was going to thrash them within an inch of their lives, but I didn’t have a tape measure.
– Groucho Marx

With every mistake we must surely be learning.
– George Harrison, "While My Guitar Gently Weeps"

It’s clearly a budget. It’s got a lot of numbers in it.
– George W. Bush

A billion here, a billion there — sooner or later it adds up to real money.
– Senator Everett Dirksen

I have long contended that, however many zillion dollars the federal government costs us, we get it all back and more in the form of quality entertainment.
– Dave Barry


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3 Comments. Leave a comment or send a Trackback.
  1. #1 • George Levy said on January 13 2009:

    Thanks for the post Howie. I had a broad match horror story with a vendor who was handling our CPC campaigns at one point. One of our event speakers is Larry Bossidy who has published a book called “Execution” – they did a broad match on the word Execution and we wound up paying $7 each click for the search “Iraq Beheading”! It wasn’t until I ran Search Query reports that I was able to see where our budget was really going!

  2. #2 • Moe Muise said on January 13 2009:

    Excellent post, as usual, Howie. Here’s my horror story:

    I was running a survey campaign on Adwords and getting good CTRs and conversions. I decided to expand the campaign by bidding on keywords in a niche that is indirectly related to my niche (i.e. it’s related in theme, but the keywords are completely different).

    To see what the competition was doing, I did some searches in the new niche. And my ad was already showing! Google had unilaterally decided to show my ad for keywords that were only *thematically* related to those in my campaign.

    Broad match has truly become a minefield…


  3. #3 • Dan Perach said on January 15 2009:

    Thanks for the link to our Broad Keywords Bloopers post Howie. I also enjoyed your post here, and am happy to post your subscriber’s broad bloopers to my post as well.

    Your insights and humor, ie. twilight zone music, is classic.