Secret Truth Series #8 – Don’t Overuse Broad Match

Match types are deceptively simple controls. They’re relatively easy to understand, and almost everyone takes advantage of their basic capabilities. But the difference between using match types and mastering match types is enormous. Match types can be used like a machete – to clear large areas while making sure that nothing is missed, or they can be used like a scalpel – to target very specific queries while leaving adjacent queries undisturbed. The best paid search managers use them as both.

Match Types Decide Who’s In Control

The great simplification of a keyword-biased view of paid search is the suggestion that adding keywords to your account determines the people who will see your ads and be attracted to your landing page or website. Keywords determine who might see your ads, but match types decide who will see them. Keywords without match types are indescriminate. Keywords without match types give the search engines free rein to show your ads, and attract clicks, from just about anyone they want to. This is because by default keywords are set on broad match. Broad match means that you want the search engine to match your keyword to any related search query. Deciding what is ‘related’ is the job of the search engine, and from a pure semantic and contextual point of view, they do a remarkable job of it. But for broad really is broad. Most keywords have a massive range of related search queries. And without suggesting malice, the engines have a vested interest in making that range as wide as possible. As advertisers, we have exactly the opposite goal. We want to show our ads, and pay for clicks, from the narrowest possible range of related queries – just wide enough to include the folks who actually want what we’re offering. If nobody else saw our ads it would be fine with us. Therein lies the rub. Broad match keywords are huge nets designed to catch everything in their targeted areas – the good, the bad, and the ugly. So they’ll usually deliver some great visitors mixed in with a lot of not-great visitors. The non-broad match types, by contrast, create focus. When used properly, they exclude the unrelated and inappropriate. The bottom line is this: broad match puts the engine in control. Phrase and exact match take control back.

Three Rules of Broad Match

Broad match keywords serve an important purpose, and you should use them. But I’d suggest three rules:

  1. Use broad match keywords as much as you have to, and no more.
  2. Use any specific broad match keyword only as long as you have to and no longer.
  3. While using any broad match keyword, try to continually drive down its volume (and probably its cost)

Broad match keywords exist because as a starting point it’s hard to know which search queries people use to express a specific intent. Without this knowledge you have no way of directing search ads towards those people. Broad match keywords give you a way of advertising to them. The cost is imprecision and therefore waste. Sometimes the good will outweigh the bad, othertimes it won’t. But in either case, the use of broad match should be a starting point and nothing more. Once you see the search queries that broad match attracts, it’s time to start query-mining:

  • Add negative keywords
  • Add new phrase and exact match keywords
  • Adjust bids on all three match types to reflect their relative importance and returns

Every step along the way, you catch less queries by accident and more queries on purpose.

The Match Type Keyword Trap

Some time ago I wrote a lot about match type and a strategy for using multiple match types together for the same keywords. The benefits are extensive:

  • You stop paying for bad queries
  • You catch a higher percentage of the good queries
  • You can pay (bid) appropriately for both the good ones (with high exact match bids) and the bad ones (with lower broad match bids.
  • Your new keywords will raise impression share
  • Your new keywords will increase impression and click volume
  • Your new keywords should earn better quality scores (long story that, we’ll get to it in an upcoming post) which drives position up, cost down, and therefore profits higher.

Alternatively, you can just leave those broad matches alone and hope the people doing unrelated queries just stop searching…

Measuring Progress

measureThe proper use of match types is so important that all paid search managers should measure use and progress over time. Keep track of the percentage of revenue coming from broad match in each of your campaigns. If it’s over 50%, chances are you have a lot of work to do. The right number varies by business but around 30% is probably a good general target. In Acquisio you can use Best Practices to warn you when a campaign has over a specified percentage of broad match revenue. You can also see cost, revenue, and clicks by match type using the Match Type analysis report in Acquisio Analyst.


Broad match is a powerful tool, but like many others needs to be used wisely and not over-used. For too long in PPC the assumption was that keywords should be on broad match unless it was perfectly clear or proven that they or versions of them should be promoted or duplicated to the more specific match types. It’s time to start turning that thinking around, and require keywords to prove that they should be on broad match instead. What Do You Think?

Final Cover ImageThis blog post is part of a series extending and amplifying the ideas in our free ebook ’21 Secret Truths of High-Resolution PPC’. What they’re saying: “Everything you know about AdWords is the basics Google wanted you to know. Just enough to get you hooked. But what if there was fundamental secrets that they neglected to share? Would you want to know them? Now you can! 21 Secrets Truths is what you must read, no, act on, before your competitors do.” – Bryan Eisenberg Conversion Expert and New York Times Best-Selling Author ’. Download Your Copy Today.

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