Google Adwords: The Better You Get The Worse It Gets

By Tad Miller | Jul 15, 2008
More Articles by Tad

I’ve been a pretty vocal opponent of Google AdWords Expanded Broad Matching Technology since Google released the Search Query Report revealing how “Expansive” Broad Matching really is.

Broad Match – This is the default (keyword) option. If you include general keyword or keyword phrases-such as tennis shoes-in your keyword list, your ads may appear when users search for tennis and shoes, in any order, and possibly along with other terms. For example, your ad may appear for the queries buy tennis shoes and tennis sneakers but not tennis players. Your ads may also appear on relevant variations of your keyword phrases and plurals, as well as some related keywords and phrases via our expanded keyword matching technology.

The biggest problem with Expanded Broad Match is Synonyms. Websters defines a synonym as:

one of two or more words or expressions of the same language that have the same or nearly the same meaning in some or all senses

Google’s definition of a synonym is much more EXPANSIVE than Websters. How do I know this? They told me.

I have an automaker client that has had massive problems with Google using Expanded Broad Match on their brand name and matching it with a competitor, in this case matching to Mitsubishi. A simple addition of a negative keyword for the word Mitsubishi would normally remedy the problem. The problem is that AdWords is getting very creative with synonyms and has been matching my clients brand to typos of the word Mitsubishi. Add one negative typo and AdWords comes up with three more to broad match to. To date we have added over 500 negative keywords for typos of the word Mitsubishi. We have added them at both the adgroup level and the Campaign level to no avail.

The problem appears to be that there is no such thing as Expanded Broad Match when it comes to negative keywords or at least on the negative keyword “Mitsubishi”. The last I heard 25% of the search queries Google gets each day it has never seen before, I’m starting to think that half of those new queries are typos of the word Mitsubishi.

So that’s my problem and its an expensive one. Google actually gave me an explanation of how Expanded Broad Match technology works, that isn’t published in the AdWords Help Center or anywhere else that I can find. So in the spirit of “helping AdWords Advertisers” here it is:

Terms are deemed relevant based on system-wide data using a highly complex and robust learning system based on historical data. The expanded match feature was designed to provide the best quality expansions based on analysis done on keyword trends and user behavior. By analyzing the click-through rates of expansions, Google is able to approximate relationship between the user query and the keyword term to find the matches most appropriate to the user and their interests. The end result is that the system will only retain the highest-performing expansions and will discard the lower-performing and irrelevant expansions. Thus, expansions occur because Google determined, based on user behavior and trends, that there is a high appropriateness with the two terms. Additionally, expansions will not occur in instances for which Google has determined that there is a low appropriateness. Please note that this system is self-regulating…

…Expanded matching is a ‘smart’ feature. It constantly analyzes global traffic trends and tries out new variations of your keywords. It retains only the highest-performing new keywords and discards everything else…

…Expanded match relies on the closeness of association of two words, based on user behavior. The clickthrough rates of expanded matches are used, not to determine the relevance of the ad, but the appropriateness of the expansion. If many users click on the ad, the query rewrite score is increased, making it easier for expanded match ads to serve on that expansion. If few people click on an expanded match, the score is decreased. The system is self-regulating. If a poor match is made by observing a pattern in user behavior, users not clicking on the ads that appear will quickly turn that poor match off.

Internal changes (the amount of bids placed on the keyword and the quality scores of the keyword) and external changes in environment (how a user responds to ads with each search query, changes in query volumes) can both cause variations in the number and types of expansions on the keyword. For example, if the keyword ‘Brand X’ has developed a very high Quality Score, our system will determine, based on different factors, that Google may want to show on more expansions such as permutations of ‘Mitsubishi’ given the appropriateness of users response to these queries…

So the better your Quality Score, the more Adwords will try to expand the number of Broad Match keywords it serves your ads for. I also suspect the larger the Campaign Budget and Max CPC the more expansive the ad serving is.

My favorite line of the explanation is that Click Through Rate is a measure of appropriateness of the expansion and not relevance. If I were to look at that sentence like Expanded Broad Match would, appropriateness and relevance would be synonyms.

The hypocrisy of all of this is that Google preaches relevance above all else. Google’s Quality Score is a measure of relevance and punishes advertisers for not being relevant. Quality Score automatically punishes advertisers who advertise on other brands trademarked keywords, with a lower Quality Score and higher minimum bid. They are very picky from a legal standpoint about Conquesting someone else’s trademarked terms, but at the same time they consider them to be synonyms and will broad match them as synonyms.

We have numerous examples of really bad broad matching:

Click through rate does not equal relevance and utilizing user behavior to score “appropriateness” doesn’t benefit advertisers or the searcher experience. It benefits Google’s revenues and nothing else. Expanded Broad Match should be a keyword matching option just like exact match, phrase match and broad match, and trademarked terms should never be considered synonyms.

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  • Tad Miller

    As a follow up to this post. It’s my belief that the infamous 1-2 punch is the engine that finds “appropriate” expanded broad matches, and that once an advertiser has a high enough click through rate on that expanded broad match, Adwords then starts expanding that same broad match to EVERY advertiser broad matching on the same keyword.

    So in theory, if your competitor for a keyword has a high click through rate on his expanded broad match, its only a matter of time until Google starts using that same keyword expansion to show your ads.

    So if your competition isn’t running a smart Campaign with only broad match keywords, it’s only a matter of time until, you start paying for their broad matching mistakes, with bad expanded broad matches. In other words expanded broad matching spreads like a disease among advertisers.