Broad Match: Desperately Seeking Cinderella

Remember Prince Charming’s desperate search for the owner of his lone glass slipper? Fortunately, the kingdom held a finite number of maidens, or the prince might never have found his one true love, Cinderella.

Search engine marketers (SEMs) aren’t so fortunate. The Web is home to millions of searchers.

To complicate matters, there are thousands of SEMs competing to appeal to these consumers — to show them an ad, entice a click, and convert them into a sale. They are like competing princes, shoving and jostling each other in line as they try to find their “Cinderellas.”

To increase their chances, many SEMs deploy a “broad match” keyword strategy. Applied across an entire keyword portfolio, broad match casts the widest possible net, looking for anyone who might be remotely interested in the product they’re marketing.

The SEM is basically telling the search engine, “Here’s the type of customer I want. If you find someone similar, feel free to send them my way.”

Unfortunately, solely utilizing broad match can return the equivalent of a long line of ugly stepsisters — and channel the real Cinderellas to other marketers-in-waiting. Consider these three main problems with broad match:

1. “Similar” is in the Eye of the Beholder

An advertiser’s definition of “similar” may be quite different from the search engine’s.

Let’s consider another footwear example: You bid on “Nike tennis shoes” using broad match. A search engine might decide that a consumer who searches for [Reebok tennis shoes” is “similar enough” and serve your ad.

If your ad gets clicked on, you’ll have to pay for the visitor. But what if you don’t sell Reebok shoes at all? Once the visitor figures this out and moves on, you will still have to “foot” the bill for the visit.

2. It’s Tough to be Both Broad and Relevant

A broad match keyword will match with many different queries. As a result, by definition, advertisers lose the ability to deploy ad copy and landing pages that are highly relevant to the searcher’s actual query. This can unnecessarily depress click-through and conversion rates.

3. Advertisers Pay a Premium for Cinderellas

Given that broad match is a sort of “grab bag,” sometimes advertisers get who they want and sometimes — most of the time, unfortunately — they don’t.

Ideally, marketers want to pay more for stronger prospects and pay less for weaker ones. But with broad match, that’s not possible: SEMs can only have one bid associated with a broad match keyword.

Marketers who depend solely on broad match end up underpaying for strong prospects and overpaying for poor ones (especially when compared to competitors who heavily employ phrase and exact match campaigns as well). The end result? Broad match advertisers meet a lot of ugly stepsisters but very few (if any) Cinderellas.

How Broad Match Can Be Used To Improve Search Campaigns

But broad match can be effectively deployed to solve one of SEMs’ toughest problems: keyword identification. Discovering a valuable keyword is a lot like finding your one true love — it takes a lot of searching and a lot of hard work.

  • Identify high value “exact match” and “phrase match” keywords. Broad match will uncover valuable keywords that should become their own “exact match” and “phrase match” keywords, and then be excluded from the broad match search. These exact match keywords can then be properly bid upon, and highly relevant ads and landing pages can be assigned to these keywords to drive click-through and conversion.
  • Aggressively manage “negatives.” In the same way that exact match keywords are discovered, poor performing keywords will sink to the bottom. In the example above, it’s unlikely that Reebok searchers would deliver a high conversion rate if the online retailer doesn’t carry that brand, so “Reebok” would be excluded from the broad match. Other unproductive keywords can also be identified and added as “negatives” to the broad match, which greatly increases the strategy’s overall usefulness.
  • Prune broad match keywords. If you have a broad match keyword that hasn’t produced a conversion in a long time, and has a large and continually growing “negative” list, you should kill it. When the expense of the actual cost-per-click spent on visitors is added to the time spent managing the keyword’s associated negative list, the cost of keeping it on may simply outweigh the benefit.

The Moral of This Story

Search marketers can’t rely alone on a Prince Charming-style broad match strategy. In order to drive ROI, SEMs should use broad match in conjunction with exact match and phrase match. But — relative to solely employing a broad match strategy — building out a keyword portfolio with many exact and phrase match keywords can be a highly complex endeavor.

The more keywords you have, the tougher it is to create tightly themed ad groups; the tougher it is to write highly relevant ad copy for each keyword group; and the tougher it is to ensure that the user arrives on a relevant landing page.

Technology solutions are emerging that can both decrease the complexity associated with large keyword portfolios and increase the relevance of ads and landing pages associated with each keyword. These types of solutions will help SEMs decrease their dependence on the “broad match only” strategy, and will allow SEMs to find a lot more “Cinderellas” with their paid search campaigns.

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