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Broad Match #101

It may seem counterintuitive that the product that has been around since Google AdWords' inception, more than two decades ago, will be the single most significant addition to your paid search program in 2022. That product is Broad Match.
It may seem counterintuitive that the product that has been around since Google AdWords' inception, more than two decades ago, will be the single most significant addition to your paid search program in 2022. That product is Broad Match.

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It can feel like we are always on high alert in the world of digital media, particularly in paid search, waiting for the next product announcement or new beta that will help us squeeze incremental performance out of our paid marketing budget.

Therefore, it may seem counterintuitive that the product that has been around since Google AdWords’ inception, more than two decades ago, will be the single most significant addition to your paid search program in 2022. That product is Broad Match.

What is the prize’s value?

Google’s internal research indicates that advertisers using broad match and smart bidding experience a 30% average conversion increase at a similar CPA. If your KPI is conversion value rather than conversions, for instance, the exact figure you hear will not deviate too much from this 30% mark, although the exact nature of the test may influence the quoted figure.

In order to provide our clients with the most effective solutions, it is our responsibility as an agency to carry out our own experiments that either confirm or disprove the claims made by our media partners. We have made significant investments in this capability at Brainlabs, and our “Hippocampus” database enables us to track the outcomes of all agency-wide tests.

Two significant findings emerged from our extensive recent testing of Broad Match.

  1. Google’s claims were supported by convincing evidence that we discovered. The median uplift we observed was +19%, which is not a figure to be laughed at even though it was just below the 30% mark.
  1. Perhaps even more intriguingly, our analysis demonstrated how much can be concealed behind an average. Not only did we observe a remarkable median uplift, but we also observed that broad match consistently delivered successful tests. Broad match emerged as the winning variant on 46 of the 54 tests we have documented. A success rate of 85 percent is almost unheard of in digital media testing given the wide range of external factors that can influence it.

But let’s step away from the finer points for a moment. You can’t afford to ignore that number, regardless of whether the increase is 19 percent or 30 percent, especially for a feature whose implementation requires almost no effort. The good news is that your budget doesn’t have to stretch as far as a 19% increase: Instead, you can use that added value to improve your CPA or ROAS goals by enabling broad match and maintaining your current investment.

Broad match is the only solution to paid advertising’s problems.

How did we arrive here?

It’s not hard to understand why broad match has earned a bad reputation over the years. In the past, the presence of a broad match in an account was a sure sign of a hands-off management style, which resulted in subpar results and ads served to users who were not even close to buying your product.

The rise of the broad match has been the story of steady and gradual technological advancement over time. Even though there is a lot of talk about it now, few people outside of Google’s engineering and leadership teams probably could have predicted how big a hit it would be more than three years ago.

In February 2021, there was a turning point if ever there was one. Google informed the industry in one of its most important announcements of the year:

The fact that the algorithm had fundamentally shifted away from syntactic matching to semantic matching was encapsulated in that small print. As a result of this change, broad match stopped being a firehose and became a really useful tool for accurately expanding your ad targeting.
The item upgrades haven’t halted there, and today, Google’s vision for wide match keeps on mirroring a gradual process of updates and execution improvements:

Using cutting-edge natural language recognition algorithms, continuously improving data quality and infrastructure, simplifying broad match management, updating the keyword prioritization process, and establishing a joint optimization process for creative, bidding, and keyword targeting. Of course, Google’s current approach to discussing broad matches with advertisers and agencies is anything but subtle.

One of the opportunities that consistently rank highly is the “upgrade your existing keywords to broad match” call to action, which can be found in the recommendations tab of Google accounts all over the world.

The steady stream of product modifications and enhancements will continue despite Google’s bolder communication strategy, with the possibility that many of them will go unnoticed for the most part.

When Is a Broad Match a Bad Match?

In paid search, auction-time bidding is table stakes, as you probably already know. However, this is especially true when the broad match is used. If you aren’t tailoring your bids in real-time with this Google Ads feature, a broad match will almost certainly result in you spending a lot of money on a lot of users who have very little interest in your product at the moment.

However, in the opposite direction of that logic, it is essential to recognize the value that some of those queries that appear to be more fragile bring to the table when combined with smart bidding. We can easily read a search query report, find a few questionable examples, and overreact as humans: We must exclude these queries because they will almost never convert for us!

However, as long as those users have a probability of conversion that is not zero, you are justified in serving an advertisement by setting an appropriate low bid. To be clear, we are not advocating completely hands-off handling of search query reports; you will still need to employ some human judgment. However, if you’re after performance, you should try to give the algorithm as much freedom to optimize as you can handle.

Focusing on the wrong metrics is another common error. After implementing broad match, your paid search account’s dynamics will change, but that’s okay because the numbers you care about will be moving in the right direction. If everything else is equal, switching to a broad match should typically result in the following changes to your campaign metrics:

It is true that some of these numbers are negative, and the less confident marketers in the room are already asking, “Why are my CTR and conversion rate going down?!?”It must be driving less qualified traffic through the broad match!”But the point is that you’ve added value and increased conversions with that additional traffic, and your CPA and ROAS haven’t changed because your bid strategy has paid less for clicks.

Lastly, being able to direct Google’s automation in the right direction is becoming increasingly important. Remember: An algorithm will optimize solely with the intention of achieving a conversion objective. Therefore, you should be prepared to see an increase in low-quality customers if you haven’t developed a conversion goal that is sophisticated enough to distinguish between your most valuable and least valuable customers.

That could mean MQLs that never turn into sales or one-time customers who never return for more purchases, depending on your business. This trade-off can be mitigated by sharing first-party conversion data with Google.

Conclusion

You have every right to be skeptical of broad matches as a mature, world-weary PPC marketer. Make an effort to overcome that, and keep in mind the steady advancements in machine learning.

Keep your attention on the goals of your marketing while you undergo that mental shift, and ideally, consider ways to advance these goals to better target your most valuable customers.
However, the most important thing is to act immediately—do not let the 19% increase pass you by. It would not be an exaggeration to say that broad match has reached the point where we would consider it an essential component of your search strategy. If it isn’t on your list, figure out how to bring it to the forefront and start testing right away.

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Harsha Vardan Hariprasad

Harsha Vardan Hariprasad

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