Overture Shifting To Default Broad Match

Within the next few weeks, Overture will make a major switch to matching terms on a broad basis, rather than the traditional exact match default it has followed since the company's launch.

The change will make it easier for advertisers to gain more traffic, as they'll no longer have to think of each exact term they want to target. This makes tapping into the "tail" of search queries, the relatively low-volume searches that happen, easier to target.

The change will likely increase Overture's revenues, as well. Not only will advertisers probably to target more terms, but they'll also likely pay more as previously low cost terms get rolled into the same bid price as more expensive terms.

Overture had no comment on whether the change would generate more money. Spokesperson Gaude Paez stressed that the move is primarily being made to respond to advertiser demands to gain more traffic through less work.

Unlike Overture, Google has offered default broad matching from when it started its own pay-per-click AdWords program. Now, Overture's system will become more Google-like in terms of targeting, though Google's system will still offer more advertiser control.

In particular, Google's keyword matching options allow exact, phrase and broad matching to be individually selected. Overture's new system will simply allow a choice between exact and broad matching. However, like Google, advertisers will have the option to use "negative" (Google's term) or "excluded" (Overture's term) words to ensure their ads don't show up if particular word also appears in a query.

Overture advertisers were to be informed today about the change. An exact date for it hasn't been announced, but Overture says it will happen in the next few weeks.

When the change happens, all new ads will automatically have broad matching -- what Overture confusingly calls "advanced match" -- enabled. Advertisers can choose to deselect this option on an ad-by-ad basis and fall back to Overture's traditional exact matching, or what it will continue to call "standard match." Advanced match will completely replace the broad and phrase match type option Overture introduced last year.

Existing ads in the Europe and Australia markets will automatically have broad matching enabled, Overture said. Advertisers will have to manually move these back to standard match, if that's what they prefer. Overture says all advertisers will be notified well ahead of time that the change will happen. In other markets, including the US, existing ads will remain using standard match, if that's what was previously selected.

What's The Search Tail?

Earlier, I'd mentioned the move will help Overture advertisers better tap into the "tail" of queries, in the way Google advertisers have long been able to do. But what does this mean, to those new to the term? The illustration below may help:

0409-tail-big

It shows the top queries on Overture's network that contained the word "shoes" in July 2004, as reported by Overture's Search Term Suggestion Tool. The most popular query was "shoes" itself, happening a reported 650,000 times on the sites Overture serves.

The next most popular queries containing the word "shoes" in them come next, and you can see how the search volume quickly drops off. Those who only target the term "shoes" are missing out on the long "tail" that follows behind the primary word of "shoes." Broad matching -- at Overture and Google -- gets advertisers into these additional terms more easily.

To really understand the potential in the search tail, look at the chart below. Instead of showing only the top 25 terms related to "shoes," it goes out to the top 100 terms:

0409-tail-long

As you can see, exact matching only the word "shoes" can miss a lot of potential traffic. Nor is it bad traffic, simply because the volume is lower. Anecdotally, many advertisers report that more specific queries often bring more qualified buyers.

Up Close With Matching

At the moment, bidding on a term at Overture defaults to "standard match," where your ad will only appear for the exact term that someone has entered, with a few exceptions.

For example, if you bid on "running shoes," then your listing would only come up if someone searched on those exact words or if they searched for a singular version (running shoe). Some misspellings and slight variations rolled up through the Match Driver feature are also included. (Overture's tutorial on match types explains even more).

Since August 2003, Overture has also offered "phrase" and "broad" matching. They have worked as follows:

  • In phrase match, "running shoes" would match any search that contains those exact words, in that exact order -- such as "discount running shoes" or "nike running shoes."
  • In broad match, "running shoes" would match any search that contains those words, regardless of order -- such as "discount running shoes" or "good shoes for running races" or "reviews of popular running shoes."

In the upcoming change, the phrase and broad match options are going away. Instead, advanced match will take their place and be enabled for any new bid. That means if you bid on the words running shoes and do NOT actively disable advanced match, you'll be bidding on terms such as these and more:

  • running shoes
  • discount running shoes
  • nike running shoes
  • reviews of popular running shoes
  • shoes for running races
  • best shoes for running marathons

Other terms may also be included. The main point to understand is that if any of the words you've selected appear in someone's query, then your ad will likely appear even if other words are also in the query.

In addition, Overture says your ad may appear for some synonyms. At the moment, it's unclear how extensive this may be -- or even whether you'll be able to easily spot these. But the idea is that even though you bid on "running shoes," your ad might show up for "marathon shoes" or "running sneakers" if Overture has determined there's a strong correlation between certain words. FYI, these are examples I've completely made up. What terms will match to which synonyms and how is something I'll try to explore more in a future article, when Overture has more details.

Excluding Terms

As mentioned, if you stay with advanced match, you'll be able to exclude terms you don't want to appear in a query -- just as can currently be done if you use phrase or broad match. Why do this? Let's say you only sell high-priced running shoes. You don't want anyone searching for "cheap running shoes" or "discount running shoes" to come to your site, since they may not convert. You could exclude those words from your entire account or on a ad-by-ad basis.

By doing this, you can still enjoy the advantage of showing up for any search that uses the words "running" and "shoes" in the query but automatically be excluded from searches if the words "discount" or "cheap" also appear.

Overture said that it will also automatically make some exclusions on your behalf. For instance, if you were to bid on "tom cruise," Overture says they wouldn't match things like "cruise trips with tom jones" because they know the words "tom cruise" should normally be very close together.

Tiered Display Continues

One of the silly things with broad and phrase matching at Overture was that if you used it, your ad potentially would appear behind standard match ads, even if you were willing to pay more. Only after all standard match bids were shown would phrase and broad match ads display. Overture has a nice chart that illustrates this, so I won't repeat it here. The result was that for any crucial term, you still had to use standard matching or risk being buried under your competitors.

The new system will work the same way -- any standard match listings will come first, then advanced match listings come next. The crucial difference is that since advanced match is enabled on new bids by default, there are likely going to be many more people using it.

This means that over time, it may be that using standard match will be less crucial to stay at the top, because all your competitors will be using advanced match. Much more likely, Overture will simply eliminate the silly tier structure over time, as advertisers get used to broad matching.

Higher Bids Likely

In the old system, you could pay a different price for standard match, phrase match and broad match. Now, it's one price for all, regardless of the match option you choose.

For example, let's say you were willing to pay $0.71 per click for the word "shoes," which would make you the top listing for that word. With advanced match enabled, that becomes what you're willing to bid for any query that uses the word "shoes" in it.

Here's a comparison of how it looks for a tiny sampling of such queries. The standard match price shown is how much the top bidder was paying on Overture in the US, when this was written today:

Term Standard Advanced Difference
shoes $0.71 $0.71 $0.00
running shoes $0.96 $0.71 -$0.25
discount running shoes $0.40 $0.71 $0.31
nike running shoes $0.47 $0.71 $0.24
reviews of popular running shoes $0.10 $0.71 $0.61
shoes for running races $0.10 $0.71 $0.61
best shoes for running marathons $0.10 $0.71 $0.61

As you can see, moving to advanced match will cause you to be willing to pay a lot more for some terms than you might otherwise do. Of course, this doesn't mean you'll actually pay that much.

For example, if there are no other bids at all for something like "reviews of popular running shoes," then even though you're willing to pay $0.71 per click, you should only be charged the $0.10 minimum click price. Indeed, that was the case when I wrote this. However, the default advanced match setting means a lot of terms not currently bid upon will now have competition. Overall, this is likely to raise prices for those who have found niches that their competitors may have overlooked.

Increased Traffic Likely

It's also to keep volume in mind. Yes, advanced match will put you out in front of a huge range of possible combinations. However, not all of those combinations will receive the same amount of traffic. For example, consider this chart:

Term Volume
shoes 650,359
running shoes 54,730
nike running shoes 4,938
discount running shoes 2,635
reviews of popular running shoes 0
shoes for running races 0
best shoes for running marathons 0

Using the Overture Search Term Suggestion Tool, this shows how many searches each term was estimated to have generated on the Overture network in July 2004. The terms noted as 0 may actually have happened a few times, but they are so few as not to be counted.

While traffic will vary by term, there's no doubt that going to advanced match will increase traffic for many people by exposing them to terms they never considered before. In addition, both Yahoo and MSN are now to carry advanced matches, something that was not done with the soon to be defunct phrase and broad matches. That will also increase traffic.

More traffic also means more money spent. To help, Overture said it plans to introduce new money management features to let people smooth the amount of money they want to spend over the course of a day, month or other time period.

Latest Move Toward Pay Per Lead, Not Per Term

Overall, the ability to more easily target tail terms will be an advantage to advertisers. It's likely to cost them more money, but this is something that's been inevitable.

As I've talked about before, paid listings have been moving away from a "pay per term" model to instead a "pay per lead" one. In other words, how much is a particular lead worth to you, not a particular keyword that the lead typed in?

The search engines want to get paid for the lead, the full value it represents to advertiser, which is often more than the particular term valued at because "tail blindness" -- focusing only on popular terms -- leads to less competition among advertisers for tail terms.

We saw a big move this way when Overture brought in auto-bidding in 2002 (see Overture Says Forget CPC, What's Your ROI?) and its Match Driver feature rolled up similar terms that same year (for SEW members, see Overture Weakens Advertiser Control With Match Driver). At the end of last year, Google's expanded broad matching was another step in this direction. The forthcoming Overture change is further shift forward.

As long as you understand what you can afford to pay, you'll be able to survive the changes. And you do have the option to stick with standard match, trading off your time for perhaps less cost, in some cases. As for the search engines, making life easier for advertisers is great -- as long as they also provide as much control and transparency as possible to advertisers who want this.

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