Overture Weakens Advertiser Control With Match Driver

For years, Overture has automatically consolidated singular and plural versions of words, a nice feature saving advertisers from having to bid on both versions of a word individually. Now the company has moved this "Search Pluralization" feature to a new level called "Match Driver," which maps various word combinations to "primary terms."

Rather than being a nice feature, this change may be costing advertisers more money and certainly takes more control away from what they are bidding on. For example, imagine you previously were bidding on these two terms:

running shoes
shoes for running

Almost certainly, you were paying more to get a top position for the first term than the second. This is because the top search term is very popular, getting many queries per month, while the second term is more obscure and gets fewer.

Some savvy advertisers have made full use of these differences. Being a top bidder for the second term might not bring as much traffic as the first, but the conversion might be the same. This means the advertiser pays much less to obtain the same qualified traffic.

Overture's Match Driver is now closing this price differential loophole. Today, bid on "running shoes," and you'll automatically be bidding on "shoes for running." In addition, you'll pay the same high amount for both terms.

In some ways, Match Driver is similar to the default "broad match" setting with Google AdWords. With broad matching, your ad will appear for any query containing your targeted words. For instance, you could have your ad come up any time when someone searches for "running" and "shoe" together, which would get combinations like these:

running shoe
running shoes
shoes for running
shoe for running
shoes and running
running and shoes

Not everyone wants this option, of course. That's why Google also allows more precise matching. In contrast, Overture's new system doesn't allow this at all. In addition, it does not show you all the terms that have been "matched" to a primary search term.

Meanwhile, Overture's search term suggestion tool has been showing search terms where the order of words may be sometimes altered. For example, a search for "tony blair" currently shows that the second most-popular query containing those words is "blair picture tony." Almost certainly, most people using these words enter them as "tony blair pictures."

This problem seems to be clearing itself up. Some examples that I tried which looked strange last Friday seem to have corrected themselves. I'll be taking another look at this, as well as the Match Driver system, hopefully in the next newsletter. In the meantime, feel free to forward your reactions to it, pro and con. For what others are saying, try checking out some of the links below.

Overture FAQ: What Is Match Driver

More information on Match Driver from Overture.

Overture Match Driver Announcement
WebmasterWorld.com, Aug. 30, 2002

Match Driver - Is This a Joke or What
SearchEngineForums.com, Aug. 31, 2002

I-Search Digest, Issue 461: Match Driver
I-Search, Sept. 12, 2002

Overture Suggestion Tool Insanity!
SearchEngineForums.com, Sept. 13, 2002

That "tony blair" example comes from this thread, which covers other problems seen with with the search term suggestion tool. Some no longer work, apparently resolved.

Overture Overages?
ClickZ, Sept. 13, 2002

Everyone relies heavily on Overture's search term suggestion tool for an idea of what are popular terms. But can you trust the numbers? Do rank checking tools inflate the popularity of terms?