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Broad Match just got dangerous

 2:19 pm on Jun 18, 2007 (gmt 0)

Recent log analysis for one of our clients revealed a very serious issue within their AdWords account that we assumed had been an error within the AdWords system.

We contacted Google, and it turned out the system is working as intended. In the following information, keywords have been changed so as to protect client confidentiality, but if you use broad match in your AdWords account/s, you want to read this.

When poring through the server logs, we noticed a lot of clicks for one single broad term. The problem was that we weren't bidding on it.

The term generated 3,500 impressions and 140 clicks for the broad matched term widget.

These were the keywords that we were bidding on:

widget advice
widget assistance
widget classes
widget guidance
widget questions
"widget advice"
"widget assistance"
"widget classes"
"widget guidance"
[widget advice]
[widget assistance]
[widget classes]
[widget guidance]
[widget guide]

Bidding on terms such as widget advice and widget assistance is not the same as bidding on the broad match widget. The company in question don't sell books, magazines, equipment, courses or any number of possible broad match variations.

When we sent this information to Google, they replied:

It is possible for two-word keywords to expand to one-word keywords if that one word is highly relevant. In my case, they said "widget" had a 4% CTR and therefor Google judged this to be highly relevant to its users. They also suggested I use the negative exact match -[widget]

This concerns me.

First of all, when does expanding a two-word keyword reduce it to one single word? Expanding means less?

Secondly, why have they now placed the onus on their advertisers to find negatives for broad matches that they're not even bidding on?

Thirdly, why are Google now deciding when to ignore certain words within your broad matches, and reduce them to single words?

Fourthly, why are Google doing this so silently? If we hadn't spotted this in our logs, we'd never have known.

This scares the bijeebies out of me.

Moral: It's never been so important to thoroughly analyse your web logs.

[edited by: skibum at 10:05 pm (utc) on June 18, 2007]
[edit reason] paraphrased email, widgetized keywords [/edit]



 9:50 pm on Jun 23, 2007 (gmt 0)

Yes I think it's a good idea to be conservative. That's why I like exact match negatives -- when you use them you know exactly what traffic you are excluding.


 3:43 pm on Jun 28, 2007 (gmt 0)

* use negative keywords to your advantage

* take advantage of the search query report (and your own logs) to mine for negatives

Yes, yes, yes. But should we have to be spending time looking for negatives in queries that under the rules (as we understood them) never should have triggered the ad?

Here's what gets me: Google has this AdWords Professional program to certify users and to help those users promote AdWords to the rest of the world. We're supposed to point to our AdWords Professional certification as a sign that we know all about AdWords. Our client asks us a question. We answer confidently, based on having run through Google's training materials, passed the test, and managed many campaigns over the past several years.

Then, Google undercuts us by changing the rules! The answer we give our client turns out to be wrong! (It was right a year ago, but Google changed their policies.) It makes us look bad.

And you can't just come on webmasterworld and say: oh, well don't use broad match. That's a cop out. Google is screwing with the people who are helping promote AdWords, and that's what upsets me.


 6:39 pm on Jun 28, 2007 (gmt 0)

Your points are well taken, beren - and as I've said the right people are already aware of this thread and will see your comments.

There are a few points that I'd like to add, however, in the interest of having a straightforward discussion on this subject:

* The fact that broad matches are 'expanded' is not at all new. I'd have to research the exact date, but I believe that broad match 'expansions' date back to the end of 2003.

* AdWords is pretty widely known to be a program that is constantly evolving - and 'expansions' are not an exception to this general rule. If an advertiser is not comfortable with using broad match given that their keywords will be 'expanded' - and that those 'expansions' will also evolve over time - then it seems to be a very reasonable thing to suggest that those advertisers at least explore phrase match or exact match - neither of which are expanded, and both of which offer substantial advertiser control. I can't really agree that to say this is a cop-out. It seems to be offering a real - and actionable - suggestion as to how advertisers can have the control they want, given that AdWords works the way that it does.

* The Help Center content on just about every topic evolves right along with the program, as things change - so it is good to check in the AdWords Help Center from time to time. The Help Center entry for broad match, for example, does reflect how broad match currently works, and that expansions will change over time.

What is broad match?

Excerpting from that page:

With broad match, the Google AdWords system automatically runs your ads on relevant variations of your keywords, even if these terms aren't in your keyword lists. Keyword variations can include synonyms, singular/plural forms, relevant variants of your keywords, and phrases containing your keywords.

For example, if you're currently running ads on the broad-matched keyword web hosting, your ads may show for the search queries web hosting company or webhost. The keyword variations that are allowed to trigger your ads will change over time, as the AdWords system continually monitors your keyword quality and performance factors. Your ads will only continue showing on the highest-performing and most relevant keyword variations.


Again, let me assure everyone who has posted to this thread that the right folks have seen your comments.



 7:32 pm on Jun 28, 2007 (gmt 0)

I have seen this system determine that, for the broad matched term "new york widgets", that "new york" can be ignored and the ad can be displayed for location specific searches involving.

You think that is bad? ROFL, you haven't seen nothing yet.
I once had "widget blog" reduced to "blog" generating millions of impressions and lots and logs of clicks in just hours.

If it has been reduced (or expanded, whatever) to just "widget" that would have been half bad, but "blog" -- any blog.

And after that, an Adwords rep tells you with a straight face (as far as the voice lets you guess) that everything is as it should be.

Still, we are all forgetting how good we have it these days. All this is better than having to contact one tiny publisher after another asking them to display your ads and trying to explain to them in the process that 10 visitors a month is not worth $300 no matter how great they think their site is and that they need to get real.


 6:13 am on Jun 29, 2007 (gmt 0)

For example, if you're currently running ads on the broad-matched keyword web hosting, your ads may show for the search queries web hosting company or webhost. The keyword variations that are allowed to trigger your ads will change over time, as the AdWords system continually monitors your keyword quality and performance factors. Your ads will only continue showing on the highest-performing and most relevant keyword variations.

This makes everything sound like you should be able to safely use broad match and have your ads show only on relevant, related keywords.

Should it provide more examples like those mentioned in this thread?

If you advertise on your own trademark terms, Google may determine that your ads may also be "relevant" when people search for the trademark names of other companies you compete with so you should include the names of your competitors if you do not want your ads to show when consumers search for your competitors brands?

If you advertise on new york vacation homes, your ad may show when people search for other locations outside of New York so you should put other locations like New Jersey in as negative keywords so your ads do not show where you don't have vacation homes available?

As was noted earlier, it causes major headaches especially on TM terms when legal docs fly and clients freak out. It makes AdWords "pros" look really dumb when clients find the ads showing for keywords they never approved and would never have expected their ads to be triggered for and can result in countless wasted hours trying to figure out what ad/keyword is causing the problem.

While the documentation is not misleading, does it not seem a bit incomplete when telling advertisers what they may expect?

Bringing back the old broad match as an option would be an excellent solution to this issue.


 11:29 am on Jun 29, 2007 (gmt 0)

>Skibum wrote: Bringing back the old broad match as an option would be an excellent solution to this issue.

That indeed whould be an excellent solution. Broad Match as it is right now/by now is just absurd. It only makes sence for Googles revenue. For most advertisers ist just brings unqualified traffic!

And yes - I do use Negatives... thousands!


 2:20 pm on Jun 29, 2007 (gmt 0)

I'm just blown away by this ... Just ran a Search Query report on a particular ad group with a Max CPC of $.52 and I see that it contains clicks for a phase that is listed in a .12 ad group.

The four word phrase brand name blue widgets is in the .52 ad group. The two word phrase blue widgets is in a different ad group with a max cpc of .12.

Instead of showing the .12 blue widgets ad the .52 brand name blue widgets ad is displayed for the query blue widgets.


 4:33 pm on Jun 29, 2007 (gmt 0)

A lot of us old hands, such as eWhisper and skibum, have been complaining about expanded broadmatch for years. While the advice AWA gives above is useful, it doesn't solve the problem.


 3:14 am on Jul 1, 2007 (gmt 0)

I'm just blown away by this ... Just ran a Search Query report on a particular ad group with a Max CPC of $.52 and I see that it contains clicks for a phase that is listed in a .12 ad group.

We are seeing more and more of this and pretty soon will have to completely rebuild some client accounts because of it. Some of these are becoming a larger and larger patchwork of negatives slapped in here and there to try to keep the campaigns from getting out of control.

It seems like if a daily budget for one campaign is hit, the algo goes scrounging through all the other campaigns that have not yet hit the daily budget and starts showing ads that are lets say, somewhat related from our POV but relevant only as judged by the AdWords algo.

The best way to deal with this, IMHO is just to recognize what is happening and adapt. Lots of advertisers are very lazy when writing their ads and in many ways most companies treat search advertising more like contextual. Their ads are related to the keyword search but not spot on. Throw in liberal broad match and there are lots of untargeted ads showing on untargeted keywords. Layer automated bid management systems on top of this that people think will take care of their search campaigns and put advertisers focus on bid management instead of creating ads that connect with consumers and your opportunity increases even more.

That provides a HUGE opportunity to rev up your campaign, get the ad text and keyword targeting spot on, get really high CTRs and crush the competition.

So, recognize what is happening, take some time to think it through, map out your campaign and the relationships between keywords, improve your creative, and steal the show (and sales revenue) while other advertisers large and small are asleep at the wheel while the landscape evolves.


 8:35 am on Jul 5, 2007 (gmt 0)


I would recommend having a close look at your ad text to see if you can make it as specific as possible. If you can, then the CTR on the general "widgets" phrase might not be so high, and Google wouldn't show it so often.




 4:17 pm on Jul 6, 2007 (gmt 0)

It was my understanding that Google has been constantly evolving to provide the end user with the best possible experience and it seems like the evolution of broad match is beginning to get away from this. Broad match not only is dangerous for advertisers now, but also in my opinion is providing the end users with worse results. Here is an example we recently came across through a Search Query Report.

The broad match keyword "brand + Laptop" was triggered by the search query "pink laptop backpack."

In this case the end user is seeing a much worse ad on completely unrelated content due to the power of broad match. How does this improve the overall user experience?

I have actually read a lot about other bad examples on broad match and found a pretty good analysis here as well:

[edited by: ThreeMikes at 4:42 pm (utc) on July 6, 2007]

[edited by: eWhisper at 7:08 pm (utc) on July 15, 2007]
[edit reason] Please don't link to blogs. See TOS. [/edit]


 9:01 am on Jul 8, 2007 (gmt 0)

....and you find your ad is showing on the one word query words, but you don't want that to happen. Just wrap the query you don't want to show on with square brackets and add to your adgroup as a negative as follows:


That advice is holding up, profit on that campaign is amazing so far for July.

Owe you a beer, Groovy Dave!


 1:14 pm on Jul 8, 2007 (gmt 0)

AdWords Newbie here. Why do you have to watch your web logs? Doesn't AdWords give you a report showing the money spent and clicks made for each keyword phrase they matched? It sounds some of you are saying you have to dig through your logs to pull that information out, so that is why I'm asking.


 3:11 pm on Jul 8, 2007 (gmt 0)

Doesn't AdWords give you a report showing the money spent and clicks made for each keyword phrase they matched?

Yes, there is a report showing each keyword phrase that matched. But it doesn't show the actual search terms used.

For example, you do a broad match for "blue widgets". All the report is going to tell you is that you spent so many dollars for n clicks that matched "blue widgets".

It won't tell you to 10 people searched for "I want to buy blue widgets", and 20 people searched for "purple widget sets".


 3:19 pm on Jul 8, 2007 (gmt 0)

Ouch. Thanks.


 4:24 pm on Jul 13, 2007 (gmt 0)

The broad match is triggering ads for products we don't sell. We've been advertising for the "Brand Model 123" and Google triggers this ad when someone searches for "Brand Model 456". There were no keywords that could overlap. This is a serious compromise in user experience and the quality advertisers expect of Adwords. With several hundred thousand keywords under our management, exact match is not a viable option.


 6:03 pm on Jul 13, 2007 (gmt 0)

Skibum, great post!

One of the things we have noticed is that we buy a pretty focused phrase and gives a highly traffic broad term.

An example would be if we were buying the phrase "expensive steak dinner" and they serve our ad for people who search for "hungry". Not 100% off topic, but not targeted, nor does it convert. What is worse is that it seems like the price would remain the same for either phrase, since "hungry" is actually showing for the "expensive steak dinner".

It makes tracking even that much more important.

I would be a big fan of brining back the original broad match, like eWhisper suggested, and maybe call your current one "wide match" or something and trigger it with {}.


 6:33 am on Jul 16, 2007 (gmt 0)

Hello gang, this is my first post.

This topic would seem to explain a lot of strange things going on in my AdWords account. Possibly. I have identical keywords in different campaigns, but the campaigns are separated into 2 country groups, and ads are showing from the wrong ad groups. AdWords have not been able to explain this. Does anyone know what I mean & could this be caused by broadmatch keywords?

Groovy Dave, can you explain why in your example, you would need to exact match a single negative keyword? I thought that a negative keyword by itself (a single word) would mean any phrase containing that word would not trigger an ad. I can understand that if it was a phrase you would want to use phrase match or exact match, so as not to exclude that word for other relevant phrases.

I can see that any extra work I put into negative keywords is going to be useful. It's just occurred to me that I needed to remove some broadmatched negative keyword phrases because they would be stopping some single broadmatched keywords from working. Does that make sense? If so, that could also explain some of the strange things going on, like certain keywords not triggering ads even with very high bids and very relevant ads.

This is quite exciting.


 3:59 pm on Jul 19, 2007 (gmt 0)

I've only just spotted this thread, but thought a few real world examples might entertain and shock in equal measures.

As an experiment, I tried broad match keywords for one ad group were: buy gifts uk

These keywords were matching to searches like:

americans in uk
buy runescape items
aikido uk
calculators for sale
cheap number plates
japanese restaurant brighton
paperweights for sale
yorkshire souvenirs

No wonder so many people are complaining about conversion rates being on the slide.

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