The Ebb and Flow of Broad Match in AdWords

The Ebb and Flow of Broad Match in AdWords

We get to take deep looks at a lot of AdWords accounts, and anecdotally I’ve observed the AdWords algorithms for broad match getting more accurate in the past months. Expanding negative keywords was often the very top priority when evaluating a neglected account, an action plan item proposed with an urgency of emergency. While negative keyword research remains worthwhile, Google’s made it bit more easy for novice advertisers using broad match to succeed despite themselves, or so it appears in my observation.

The AdWords Broad Match Algorithm Changes Over Time

To me, this is just the latest sea change of the broad match formula to report. There’s an ebb and flow to how broad match is applied. Historically, we observed in accounts we manage a widening of the application of broad match last winter, for instance. Broad match became a bit more risky then, and that in turn became an opportunity for a competitive advantage for smart AdWords advertisers, because developing a solid negative list via keyword research and diligently processing paid search traffic put one a leg above advertising competitors.

Broad Match and Semantic Relevance

A change like this is something that you probably wouldn’t notice if you didn’t see a variety of accounts. Why? Just how broad “broad match” is varies by account and by keyword. Google experiments with search queries around your broad match keywords and looks for patterns. Smart algorithms keep showing your ads with words semantically related to those proven to work, and drops showing your ads where they’re not working well. Google tracks how relevant one keyword is to another. Google tracks where your broad match expansion is doing well. It’s in their financial interest to show your ads mainly where you’re doing well, as well as making a more relevant experience for users of their search engine. So, the breadth of your broad match will settle to a level unique to your account and your keywords over time.

Anyone can peer a bit into Google’s opinions on how relevant one keyword is to another by putting keyword queries through Google’s keyword tool. When a researcher uses the descriptive words or phrases or existing keyword option in the keyword tool, by default results are organized by relevance to the terms or keyword entered.

By the way, while Google’s experimentation with broad match may cost you money if they show your ad in places not really related to your business, it won’t hurt your Quality Score. That’s a common myth: Many advertisers we talk to think that a bad click through rate (CTR) on broad match will hurt that keyword’s Quality Score, and negative keyword development will improve Quality Score by improving CTR. While CTR does matter a lot to keyword level Quality Score in AdWords, it’s exact match CTR that matters.

Where Broad Match Is At Now

So, what’s the latest in the ebb and flow of broad match? If it broadened and loosened up a bit last winter, then over summer the formula sharpened a bit. If I went into an account with no negative keyword filtering at all on search campaigns last year there was usually an incredible amount of waste. Since this summer, that’s less common. Unless there’s very specific product inventory concerns on a retail site where oft-searched brands, products or models aren’t in stock, or unless incredibly general words are set to broad match broad match has been sharper lately, especially on brand new accounts and fresh campaigns. Very general words like “roof” or “legal” or “wallpaper” will always attract a wide variety of broad match possibilities. An advertiser using words that general can waste a lot of money fast, and I suspect that will always be the case. However, more specific keywords such as “metal roofing quote” or “personal injury legal advice” or “thanksgiving computer wallpaper” seem much safer these days on broad match than a year ago.

Again, I should stress that these are observations based on patterns I see looking at dozens and dozens of accounts, and each account has its own situational concerns. What are you seeing? I’m interested in knowing if your experiences match my observations and urge you to post a comment with your take on the subject.

Traffic Optimization Remains Important

I should be explicit and say that optimization remains important regarding search query traffic. Negatives may still save you considerable money, especially if you’re trying to make very general keywords work for you. Also, the new AdWords interface makes monitoring traffic from phrase and broad match easier than ever, and Google now allows a deeper look into what search queries triggered what ads than ever before. Google hides less info behind those annoying Search Query Report words ““other unique queries”. Furthermore, traffic optimization via positive keyword development is more increasingly important. Breaking out what search queries from broad match are leading to conversions and bidding on them separately generally increases impression share while possibly decreasing your cost per click because you seem even more relevant for that specific search query.

Lastly, while negative keyword research may have decreased in importance in the past months, I should note that its counterpart on Google’s Content Network negative site placements are more important than ever. Results can be very uneven site to site on the Content Network, and fraud is much more common there than on search (and much easier to document when seeking a refund). Ongoing optimization of accounts remains a time-intensive but rewarding endeavor.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Rob Sieracki

Director of Paid Search


This Post Has 7 Comments

  1. Randy Cantrell

    FYI, your contact tab and your “get started now” links result in a 404 error. Would appear the “c” in contact.htm is case sensitive on your url. Don’t you hate it when that happens? Been there. Done that.

  2. Dan Perach

    thanks, I’ve also seen less “broad bloopers” lately

  3. Rob,

    Thank you for your article. Just one question.

    When you START to manage PPC accounts for clients,
    how many negative keywords do you use in your client’s
    PPC campaigns at the campaign level?

    I mean right of the bat, how many negative keywords
    do you use on average for both:

    a) NEW accounts you begin to work on for clients?

    b) OLD accounts you optimize for clients who already
    had their accounts running for months or years?


    Frederico Vila Verde

  4. David Jaeger

    Great insight. Thanks for the share Rob. I’ve seen some “PPC Guru’s” that say that broad match CTR affects Quality score… Kinda sad.

  5. John Susko


    Your post was both timely and very informative. As I am intensely focused for our upcoming membership site launch (T-Minus 2 days, and counting) your insight was most welcome.

    You simultaneously helped me relax and get energized as I wrap up my first-phase keyword selection. I also got a great deal of value from the video series you did with Glenn on negative keyword research. I am sure what I learned from the videos will save us a ton of money and anxiety.

    Thank you very much.

    John M. Susko, MBA, MCht, MNLP

    Director – WindFall Marketing
    Co-Founder –

  6. Searchengineman

    I think I heard an Audio of you with Glenn Livingston on PPC.
    Is it my imagination or is it getting more difficult in the PPC side of things. Higher click costs, More 6’s and 7’s Quality Score out the gate

    For newer accounts that is. I’m curious as to your opinion we handle over 200 account

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