Session Based Broad Match in the WSJ

Did you ever notice that every time you have first hand knowledge of anything written about in the press it’s clear that the largely or completely misrepresent the facts or misunderstand the issue? Today the venerable Wall Street Journal wrote an article about session-based broad match and manage to entirely miss what should be the core point of the article. Session-based broad match is an AdWords ‘feature’ that considers the past search queries of any users when deciding which ads to serve for them. So if someone does a search for ‘rental palace in Monaco’ and then does a search for ‘cheap dog toothbrush’ Google may decide to show an add your ran against the keyword ‘luxury Monaco rentals’ in reply to their toothbrush query. The theory, which is reasonable, is that Google knows that user was very recently interested in those rentals. Why not show them the ad a few minutes later? That’s still relevant.

Missing The Point

In The Journal article they find advertisers who are not happy about paying for clicks unrelated to the users current query. They also find folks (like PPC RockStar himself David Szetela) who don’t mind and have had good experiences with the feature. They then ramble on and back and forth about if what Google is doing is cool or uncool. The 500lb gorilla never makes an appearance. Why isn’t ‘Session-based Broad Match’ a user controlled option? The article doesn’t even introduce the idea that the ‘solution’ to the grand question of ‘is it good’ or ‘should people pay for it’ is ‘let them decide’. Perhaps in the Murdock tradition the WSJ now operates with the goal of only exploiting problems and not wasting any breadth (or ink) on solving them.

Make It An Option

At minimum Session-Based Broad Match should be an opt-in campaign-level feature. Or better yet there should be an option to bid differently for session-based impressions. The problem isn’t the feature. The problem is that as an AdWords advertiser you don’t get to choose whether or not you use it. Google decides to show your ad and bill you for the click in a way most people didn’t intend, don’t understand, and may have valid opinions or business reasons to want or not want. Bundling session-based broad match without offering any control reduces advertiser control and transparency – session based clicks are reported as such in one report but are generally hard to detect so many don’t know when they’ve happened. In my experience the vast majority of advertisers are surprised when they first hear this ‘feature’ even exists. Few know they they’re paying for it, most likely in very small amounts but on a regular basis. That’s no way to treat your customers. AdWords added many great and complex features this past year, and extended advertiser control with things like Modified Broad Match. They have the resources and capability to make Session-Based Broad Match an option. And they should.

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