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One of the most confusing, frustrating, and costly aspects of pay-per-click advertising is the variety of keyword match types offered by the big three search engines.

What Google Adwords calls "broad match doesn't work exactly the same as MSN Adcenter's "broad match, and Yahoo doesn't have a broad match option at all.

As a result of this confusion, and because all three of the major players use their broadest possible matching system by default, many advertisers are losing money without even knowing about it.

Even if think you know what you're doing, it's still very easy to screw things up, especially with Adwords. That's because of the three major players, Google is the most aggressive about trying to get your keywords to match against "related searches.

In this article, I'll explain how the different matching options work at all of the major search engines, then give Adwords advertisers some concrete steps you can take to get control of the extreme situation at Google.

Matching Options: Who Does What

To help clarify the situation, I've compiled a table of the different matching options available at Google, MSN, and Yahoo.

Search Engine
Match Type


Exact Match
Will only match if the exact text is entered. A bid on [dog toys] would not be matched if the searcher types dog toy ?" singular and plural are not considered identical.


Exact Match
99% equivalent to Google's exact match, with exceptions. Words with apostrophes are combined into 1 variation at Google. MSN ignores "extraneous words like a, an, the, etc.


Standard Match
Similar to exact match, but Yahoo's Match Driver technology also includes singular, plural, common misspellings, and alternative spellings. Match Driver is used with all matching options, and you can't opt out.


Phrase Match
Will match any query that includes the exact phrase. A phrase match for "dog toys would matchbig dog toys, but not toys for
big dog.


Phrase Match
Equivalent to Google's phrase match.


Yahoo has no phrase match option. Seriously.


Broad Match
Will match any search query that includes all of the words. MSN does not combine singular/plural consistently, but they do some light synonym matching.


Advanced Match
Will match any search query that includes all of the words, plus singular, plural, spelling variations, and "synonyms.Dogmay be considered a synonym forpuppy, for example.


Broad Match
Like Yahoo Advanced Match, but Google's "expanded broad match system also matches "related queries. Dog toy could be matched up withpet toys,pet giftsor anything Google thinks is related.

google MSN

Negative Match
Negative matches are keywords that you don't want to appear in the query. This allows you to avoid advertising onfree television setwhen you do phrase or broad matches for "television set, by setting a negative match for ?" free.


Excluded Words
Similar to Google & MSN, but toy and toys are considered equivalent.


Embedded Match
Most advertisers have never even heard of this one, but it's extremely powerful. It's a special type of negative match, where you can exclude exact or phrase matches.


Automatic Match
Not an actual match type, but a feature Google rolled out this year, that extends their already aggressive expanded broad matching even further. Your ad for adidas tennis shoes could be triggered when someone searches forrunning shoes.

So, What's Wrong With Broad Matching?

If you've asked that question, you're ready to learn

The key to getting the best results out of your search advertising is how effectively your ad text, landing pages, and offer match a searcher's query. The less you know about what the searcher typed, the harder it is to deliver the right message and offer.

Advertising on queries where your ad doesn't make sense, or where your landing page and offer don't promise the searcher what they were looking for, is a waste of money.

Let's say you're selling dog toys. When someone searches for that exactly, you can show them an ad that's tested and tuned to get the best response, take them to a landing page that's tested and tuned to get the best response, and offer them your best (tested and tuned) selection of dog toys, to maximize your profitability.

If you aren't testing and tuning all of these things, that's a problem we'll tackle another day.

For now, let's assume that your dog toys ad, landing page, and offer are tested and tuned to get the maximum response from people who search fordog toys. Or if you aren't testing and tuning, at least designed to get the best response from that query.

Now, let's pretend that your dog toys ads are running on a broad match.

With MSN and Yahoo, you'll get a little bit of irrelevant traffic, at your expense of course. Searches fordog toy safetyorhow to get a dog to like new toywill trigger your ad. All those extra visitors are unlikely to convert into customers.

With Google, it gets even crazier. Your ad might trigger when someone searches forpet toy recallor other "related searches.

If you're running 100% broad match, chances are good that at least half of your traffic is irrelevant, useless, and unlikely to convert.

Even if you're not doing quite that badly, your click through rate (CTR) at Google will suffer, and you're paying more per click than you should, for worse ad positions.

In short, if you're using 100% broad match at Google, you're in Broad Match Hell whether you know it or not.

How To Escape From This Hell

There are a few simple steps you can take to improve the situation.

One option is kill broad matching entirely, at least in the short term. This is up to you, but if your campaigns aren't delivering good ROI, it's not a bad idea as a first step, while you're implementing my other recommendations.

Mona Elesseily of Page Zero Media reported last year that simply converting all broad matches in an Adwords campaign to exact matches delivered big improvements in click through rate, cost per click, cost per conversion, and an overall increase in profitability.

Your mileage may vary, but you'd be amazed at how often this simple action improves things. Fortunately, you can take a less radical step at first, to find out what's going on.

My recommendations:

1. Organize your campaigns into tightly focused ad groups.

Many advertisers combine a lot of loosely related keywords into one big ad group, and this is a terrible idea.

The more closely the text of your ad and landing page match the keyword you bid on, and the actual search queries, the better you will do. Keep your dog toys ads and keywords in one ad group, put the dog leash ads in another.

Many advertisers go so far as to have a "one keyword per ad group rule. To me, this is a little extreme, and difficult to manage, but it's better than dumping all of your keywords into one ad group.

2. Separate your ad groups into broad, phrase, and exact matches.

Like focusing your ad groups, this is definitely a best practice.

By separating your different match types into their own ad groups, you can start to see which match types are actually driving the most traffic, and which are actually driving the best ROI and conversion performance.

3. Find outexactlywhat people are searching for before they click.

Adwords provides a "Search Query Performance report. If you do nothing else, you should be looking at this report, to find out what negative matches you need to add to your broad & phrase ad groups.

If you're using Google Analytics, there are a few different solutions you can try, to collect exact keyword data. I previously blogged about the method I use: http://www.googlegeni.us/2009/10/extracting-exact-keywords-searched-from.html.  I also included a step-by-step video on how to do it.

4. Use negative matches with your phrase match and broad match ads.

If you're going to run anything other than exact matching, you need to use negative matches effectively. Assuming you've done step #3 above, you have a pretty good system for collecting new negative matches as your campaigns run.

Google also offers a pretty good research tool, within their Adwords Keyword Tool (https://adwords.google.com/select/KeywordToolExternal) to suggest possible negative matches just select Negative from the match type menu as shown:


While you're waiting for data to collect in Google Analytics, you can use Google's tool to find the most obvious negative matches.

Heaven Can Wait?

Some day, maybe the major PPC search engines will provide a more complete set of matching options. For now, use these suggestions to cut the fat out of your Adwords campaigns, and enjoy your newfound profits.


Written by rcarroll

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