During a discussion with some of my SEM colleagues, we got onto the topic of keyword match types and how there seems to be some change in the way that Google’s Adwords system evaluates the quality score of some keywords in correlation to the match type. One SEM specialist pointed out that there seemed to be some ‘oddness’ happening with exact matches and bids. In his opinion, his exact matches should have had higher quality scores than his broad match modified keywords and by relevancy standards, have a lower CPC (cost per click); however this was not the case.
The match type of a keyword plays a part in determining when ads are displayed for users searching related terms and how much it will cost an advertiser when users click the ad (and of course, how much money Google makes). We search marketers want to get the most bang-for-the-buck so we watch conversion rates, impressions and CPC closely when evaluating keywords – new and old.
Adwords Keyword Match Types
For those unfamiliar with match types the traditional definition of the match types are:
- Broad Match – With this match type, any term(s) or phrase that matches the keyword target may generate the ad.
- Phrase Match – Denoted by (” “) surrounding the keyword when viewed in spreadsheets or in the interface, this match type may generated ads for any combination of the words used in the keyword phrase.
- Exact Match – The most specific method of keyword targeting in Adwords, exact match is used to generate ads for term(s) and phrases that are used exactly as they appear in your campaign.
Note*: We know that negative keywords are a type of match but for this post we are referring to types that generate ads. So don’t get your panties in a wad.
Towards the middle of 2011, around April, Google released the fourth match type: Broad Match Modifer. With this match type (which many say replaces [or should for that matter] broad match) users are able to gain the benefit of broad match’s wide berth while also incorporating some measure of control of the terms that need to be present for the keyword to be relevant. As Jeremy Decker puts it in the post 6 Ways to Ensure Your Adwords Campaign Fails, using broad match is great way to waste your or your clients’ time and money.
That isn’t to say that broad match isn’t useful in some situations, but generally there are usually better ways to make use of the spend – unless you’re looking to meet spending expectations or you’re Nike.
I digress. In the conversation about Adwords, my colleague cited that for many of his terms that used exact match his CPC was often 20-45% higher than those comparable ad groups using broad match modifiers. In some cases, the quality score were either the same. In a few however, he stated that the quality score for the exact match was lower than the broad match modified keyword. In reviewing my own Adwords campaigns I was able to confirm his findings much to my own dismay.
Adwords Broad Match Modifiers
So, what is a broad match modifier, really? Broad match modifiers are denoted by using a “+” in front of a given set of keywords. Say you have a phrase match that is okay but can be interpreted in more than a few ways.
Furthermore, the phrase match type may limit the number of variations for which the ads will be triggered; but going with broad matches will either 1) cause the inner campaign drama (the wonderful error message: ‘There is another keyword triggering ads for this keyword’) or 2) the broad match you’d use is too broad. Well, here you can use the “+” to tell Google Adwords to show your ads when any query is done that uses all of the terms in the keyword phrase, in any order, with any number of words in between.
From Google’s examples it is easy to see why the use of broad match modifiers is a great alternative to broad AND phrase matches. But going back to the original issue: is Google favoring broad match modified over exact match?
According to a July 2012 article in Search Engine Journal, Why Is Google Penalizing My Exact Match Keywords?, Mike Boudet experienced this same phenomenon when setting up a campaign with expert strategy – one that I typically follow as well, by breaking down the campaign by the type of delivery system (computer, mobile, tablets) along with match type. What he noticed was that exact match quality scores were almost 1.25 – 2 points lower than the broad match modified keywords.
This means that for a lower CPC, an broad match modified targeted campaign will receive more impressions and clicks than the traditionally favored exact matches.
Is this an attempt to help advertisers reach a broader audience or simply Google favoring a wider target to increase their bottom line? Is it of more value to Google to process more clicks for lower return than charge higher rates on relevant keyword terms? Personally, my fear is that users will suffer because the primary system used in Adwords, the quality score, is being influence by capitalistic principles of a single entity than by data.
This view is echoed by many in search marketing but in the end what can anyone do?
When it comes down to it, all that we can conclude is that the marketing plan at Google has changed, and not for the better. The old principles of ‘we fight (focus) on the users’ is slowly being replaced with revenue driven models that don’t always reflect the best results for users.
A prime example is Google+ and this broad match modifier update. Google+ is great for marketers and has a number of outstanding features but isn’t pulling much of the audience it’s release was meant to garner. I’m sure with Facebook releasing ads in the timeline, this may change, but as of right now Facebook still reigns with 845 million active users versus 100 million active users of Google+ (according to Yahoo and a 2012 corporate letter from Larry Page).
Google takes the cake for actually being profitable, of course. Aside from the Facebook public release ‘debacle’, Facebook hasn’t done as well with the advertising angle as Google has with Adwords; and there is the crutch. There is no viable alternative for advertisers and their clients when it comes to delivering quality ads to users where they live.
Sure, there are opportunities in banner advertising, affiliate markets, and direct marketing but nothing has the collective market share (38.5% – 40.8%*) and ‘brand loyalty’ like Google.
So, for now, we can honestly say that broad match modified (hence forth I shall call you… BMM) is the new exact match. That leaves the question, what does this mean for phrase match and what does one do with exact match?
*According to Computer World and eMarketer.