Be Warned: Google Broad Match Keeps Getting Broad-Matchier

Nico Brooks

September 17, 2010

Be Warned: Google Broad Match Keeps Getting Broad-Matchier

AdWords “Related-To” Links and the Importance of Negative Keywords

We have come across a number of instances recently where Google is broad matching terms that are barely related to the keywords we are buying. In some cases, the commercial intent of the broad match term is a complete miss with what our intent is for a campaign. If you are buying Google AdWords you need to be aware of this shift and should implement the recommendations we make below. (If you need a primer on AdWords match types, read this article: How to Use Google AdWords Match Types.)

We found one case where Google was matching the keyword “remote access” to searches for “remote control”. The former is an IT term that is very relevant to one of our clients’ business, and heaps of the latter exist in every household. In another example, a user searching for “sewing machine service” was matched with our ad for the keyword “computer service”.

Another broad matching issue we’ve seen recently is the new “Related-to” feature of AdWords. This feature comes up with categories that are related to the category of the keyword you are buying, then broad matches those. Here is an example of the “Related-to” feature in action:

AdWords Related-to

So in this case Google is classifying Thomas Moser as Stickley furniture, then broad matching advertisers who are buying keywords that broad match to “stickley furniture” – that can get very broad indeed. Note that we’ve mostly seen “Related-to” ads appear next to brand-related searches.

Early on, AdWords broad matching stuck to fairly synonymous terms. “Hotel in Las Vegas” or “Hotel Los Vegas”, for example, would be matched to “Hotel Las Vegas”. Over time they have been gradually expanding their definition of broad matching

During my brief stint at Microsoft (in the Advertising Platform & Services division), one of the things we measured was the percentage of user searches for which we served ads. More ads, of course, meant more money, which meant more cupcakes for us (or other remuneration). Pretty safe guess that Google is looking at a similar metric, which explains the broadening of broad.

The safest thing to do to combat this is to stop using broad matching. Unfortunately, that is a bit of a baby/bathwater solution. While Google does make some questionable matching decisions, on the whole broad matching gives you access to a much larger pool of relevant searches.

We recommend two things:

  1. Use both broad and exact matching for keywords. This will give you the ability to see how broad match variations perform in comparison to the exact match term. If the quality score or conversion rate of the broad match terms is much lower than the exact match terms, it is likely that they are being poorly matched and you need to investigate (by following our second recommendation). One thing to note is that Google does sometimes get better at matching keywords over time. We’ve seen cases where broad match keywords start out performing poorly, but end up doing reasonably well after a few months.
  2. Check the “See search terms” report in the AdWords interface. This report shows you what actual search phrases are being matched to your keyword ad. If you see a match you don’t like, add it as a negative keyword. “See search terms” can be found under Campaigns > Keywords in AdWords. For more on negative keywords, see How to Use Google AdWords Match Types.

AdWords See Search Terms Report

These examples are another good reminder of why you can’t just set up an Adwords account and forget about it, and expect Google to spend your money wisely. Keeping an eye on the search terms being matched to your keywords will help you target the right customers, improve the click through rate of your ad groups, and optimize your bids for the best ROI (return-on-investment). And please let us know if we can help.