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Because My Crystal Ball Is Broken And Other Reasons To Bring Broad Match Back In 2015


If you’ve walked past a group of experienced search engine marketers discussing the industry in the last 15 years, you’ve surely heard something like this:

“When I took over the account, everything was broad match. A million dollars a year and all broad matched! It was so awful!”

For many years, broad match — or at least too much of it — has been considered cringe-worthy. It’s been the first mark of an un-optimized SEM account since match types were first introduced.

That’s why you can find thousands of articles and best practice guides that tout using exact, phrase and modified broad match to drive major performance improvements.

Too Many Accounts With Too Many “Best Practices”

Years and years of this focus on tight match types has led to a new problem: I now audit many more accounts that are struggling because of no broad match than ones that have too much of it.

The move to more exact matching, often without a holistic strategic compass (because its the supposed optimized way to do things), has put more advertisers head-to-head on each user query.

Ten years ago, there may have been 10 advertisers on broad match “online mba program.” The one or two advanced advertisers that used exact match [online mba program] would get an edge on the queries that were exactly matched to that keyword. Now, it’s more like eight out of 10 accounts competing on the exact match keyword, and that exact-match edge isn’t worth anything any more.

To simplify our discussion of match types, let’s throw out the concept of Quality Score and Ad Rank (though it is certainly a factor in real auctions). Without considering Quality Score, and with so much exact match, the only way to get top positions is to bid more. More exact matching is driving up CPCs on many keywords.

Changes In The Marketplace

In addition, Google’s move just one year ago to include close variants in exact matching has added to the premium costs associated with exact match. We talked about the eight advertisers that are all competing for that [online mba program] search. That is compounded now that the advertisers using the [online mba programs] keyword are part of that auction, too.

Prior to close variants, even in a very competitive auction with lots of exact match advertisers, you were still competing with a smaller subset of competitors. Factor in that each competitor would have a different approach to device, geography and time of day, and it’s easy to see how you could find pockets of traffic (certain devices, geos and times) when your bid got you high positions, even if it wasn’t  particularly competitive all of the time.

Now, the chance of winning within those “pockets” is smaller; close variants dramatically increased the number of advertisers eligible for each exact match auction.

Why Broad Match Could Be Key To The Performance Improvements You Need

I’ve spent many of my 16 years in this industry wrinkling my nose at broad match. Lately though, I love it! Match type choice should be a strategy, not a dogma.

If you aren’t using broad match, I encourage you to consider it in 2015. If you are using broad match in the right accounts, in the right way, you don’t need any convincing — the performance speaks for itself.

However, your boss, colleagues, clients and friends may be asking you why-oh-why you could support such a terrible match type. Here are five reasons you can fire back with:

1. My Crystal Ball Is Broken

Somewhere between 10 percent and 20 percent of  Google queries on a given day have never been seen before. Some of these are just momentary cultural memes due to news items and don’t align with advertiser intent (There are no paid ads on “target troll” at the time I am writing this). More common are just the individual and weird ways that the wacky world of individual people search for things.

To validate that the point above is applicable for paid search, I pulled search term (query) reporting from our MCC for the last year on a sub-set of accounts that I knew had very balanced match types. I looked at queries that only had one conversion and only had one impression — one-of-a-kind searches. The result?

30 percent of conversions in the last year came from queries that had only one single impression.

If you don’t have any broad match, you can only capture the portion of that 30 percent of conversions that you already predicted with your crystal ball.

2. I’m Following Google’s Lead

Over the last couple of years, Google has released new campaign types such as DSA (dynamic search ads) and Shopping campaigns that inherently skirt match types. Other changes, like close variants, pull back on the level of control an advertiser can have with match types.

The industry is always speculating that these moves mean the end of keywords altogether. When you are Google, and you have a huge batch of good direct-response-intent inventory (weird but good one-off searches) and nobody to buy (because everything is exact-matched), changing the rules is the best way to serve company profits, consumer desires and advertiser interests.

Google is like the parent who told us to be careful crossing the street. We are the child who responded by never leaving the house. Adding more broad match to your account in 2015 is… finally leaving the house and being careful crossing the street.

Shopping campaigns, DSA and close variants have improved performance and provided opportunities to grow profit for many advertisers. Would these campaign types even have been necessary if the industry hadn’t been overusing exact match?

3. I’m Focused On Mobile

Wait, you are focused on mobile, right? In terms of broad match, it’s particularly voice search to focus on.

The number of words per keyword has been declining for a decade or so; in 2015, voice search is driving a shift to longer queries again. If the long tail was dead, it’s coming back to life. Long live zombie long tail!

It’s not just mobile, either. Windows 10, just released, brings voice search to the forefront on desktop, too. We don’t know if this will change the way everybody searches, but there are undoubtedly missed opportunities to be had if you don’t have strong broad match keyword representation to capture those long tail, free-form voice search queries that will never make it to an auto-suggest or keyword tool.

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4. I Don’t Like Wasting Money

Broad match keywords are less expensive. We talked about the factors that are driving exact match CPCs up, and that is precisely why broad match CPCs are so affordable. With broad match, you open yourself up to more auctions and the pockets of available traffic at your target costs open up, as well.

5. I Am Into Growth (Maybe I’m Even A Growth Hacker!) 

When you have good broad match coverage, you discover all kinds of new keywords that convert, and you can use those findings to drive your account expansions and consistently grow.

I once took over an e-commerce SEM account of a women’s dress retailer. All this client sells is dresses. All keywords were exact or modified broad match and almost all keywords contained the word “dress” or “dresses.”

We opened up true broad match and discovered that there was a whole world of non-dress-containing keywords that converted. For instance, when an event implicitly was one you’d wear a dress to, people didn’t explicitly say “dress” — e.g., “outfit for a ball” or “what to wear to a wedding.”

Most accounts have similar keyword “seeds” or types that only emerge when you use broad matching. You can take the surprises you find and add them back into the account and consistently expand your converting keyword set.

Have The Naysayers Convinced?

If you have convinced the naysayers that broad match is needed to account for surprises, regional differences, efficiency, device changes, cultural changes, growth and the economics of the marketplace… congratulations!

One quick caveat: If you expand your use of broad match, make sure you are prepared to check your search term reporting (queries) quickly and frequently.

Some query reporting now comes through within hours, and most is there the next day (unlike the old 48-hour delay), so you no longer have to pay a “delay cost” before you can see what you may need to cut. The ability to get those negative keywords needs in “much closer” to real time is another reason why 2015 is the year you should be bringing broad match back.

 

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