As promised, we continued counting ballots, and now can announce the top 3 blog post series of 2009 from The ClickEquations Blog.
Here they are:
#1 – Impression Share Deep Dive (Parts I, II, and III)
Our New Facebook Page is looking for fans! If you’re a serious paid search marketer and enjoy this blog or like ClickEquations, please ‘fan up’ by clicking the button in the Facebook widget in the far right column.
The distinguished accounting firm of Anderson Cooper & Woods have finally tallied the ballots and we have our results.
The official top 9 best loved posts from the ClickEquations blog for 2009:
- The Economics of Quality Score
- Living In The Past: 10 Signs Your PPC Got Stuck in 2003.
- Broad Match is a Fishing Tool and You Should Be A Hunter.
- Keyword Suggestion: Think Like and SEO for PPC.
- Surprise: Bids Don’t Determine Your CPC.
- A Guide To Bidding on Brand Terms.
- Avinash’s Favorite PPC Tips.
- Why Adwords isn’t Good Enough.
- Introducing The DeTweet
Note that posts originally a part of a series were not eligible for this year’s awards. A separate ‘best series’ category has been created and winners shall be announced separately.
NOTE: In January 2009 I wrote a three post series on Impression Share. To make reading and linking easier, these posts are combined below. Enjoy.
Impression Share Deep Dive
What if your ads didn’t run?
You picked the keywords, placed the bids, people searched, but your ads didn’t show up?
It happens every day. In almost every one of your campaigns.
It’s documented in a metric called Impression Share (in Google Adwords, no MSN or Yahoo equivalent yet.)
Impression Share displays the percentage of the time that your ads were displayed to people who entered search queries which match your keywords (at their specified match types).
100 minus Impression Share is the percentage of the time your ads didn’t run when you thought they would.
If your campaigns are profitable, the missing impressions are missing profit. Who can afford missing profit these days?
Three things stand between you and this extra profit:
- Getting your Impression Share metrics.
- Knowing what they mean.
- Taking the steps necessary to drive Impression Share up.
Finding Impression Share
To get an impression share report most people have to go to the Reports tab in Adwords, build a Campaign report, and edit the fields to include IS, Lost IS (Budget), Lost IS (Rank), and Exact Match IS. You can’t access these metrics at the AdGroup level (a shame we’ll decry another time).
Impression Share Options in Google Adwords Report Configuration
Impression Share Metrics in ClickEquations
Understanding Impression Share
There are four Impression Share Metrics. IS, IS Budget, IS Rank, and IS Exact. The first three are relatively straight forward. The last is a bit confusing.
- Impression Share = The percentage of the time your ads where shown (for this campaign) out of the times it was eligible to be shown. Eligible means the search matched your keyword, your account was active, the geo-targeting and day-parting and other settings were right, etc.
The next two metrics explain the Impression Share you didn’t get. If your Impression Share is 70%, then your Lost Impression Share is 30%. But why didn’t your ads run those times? The next two metrics tell you:
- Lost IS (Budget) = The percentage of impressions lost due to budget constraints
- Lost IS (Rank) = The percentage of impressions lost due to low Ad Rank (cost-per-click bid x Quality Score).
So Impression Share + Lost IS (Budget) + Lost IS (Rank) = 100%. These tell you what you got and what you didn’t get, and why.
The last one is trickier. For that reason I don’t think it gets the attention it deserves. And I’ll admit that I didn’t understand it until today when I started digging into this topic while doing some analysis work.
- Exact Match IS = The impression share of your campaigns as if your keywords were set to Exact Match. That’s the official Google definition – the one that seems generally misunderstood.
So let’s try it a different way. Exact Match IS tells you the percentage of the time when your ads were displayed for search queries that exactly match the keywords in your campaign.
One minus Exact Match IS is the percentage of the time when someone typed EXACTLY your keywords in as their search query and Google still didn’t show them your ad.
Using Impression Share
The IS metrics are great because they tell you things you could otherwise never know about your campaigns.
Foremost, they tell what you’re getting and what you’re missing in terms of impressions – and from there the calculation of missing clicks, conversions, and even revenue/profit is rather simple (see chart 2 below).
This is huge. We can finally at least partially answer the perennial question ‘How much more could I make from my paid search campaigns?’.
Start With Exact Match IS
Although it somehow seems offered as an afterthought metric, I’d recommend starting by looking at your Exact Match IS.
This simplifies the world and if you’re buying anything near the right keywords provides a sense of how you’re doing in terms of getting shown to the people looking for you.
If your Exact Match IS isn’t high (as usual there’s not simple way to say what that means, but let’s go with 70% or higher) then you really need to work your way down the list and think about your keywords, bids, quality score, ad copy etc.
Think about it this way: if Google doesn’t think it’s worth their while to show your ads to people typing in exactly the keywords you’re buying, how can you expect them to think running your ads is worth it for search queries you aren’t even directly buying?
Now Look At Impression Share
Let’s assume you have good to great Exact Match IS (you worked that out over the last 90 seconds right?). Now look at regular old Impression Share.
Here you’re likely to see something ranging from confusion (some highs and some lows) to a real bloodbath (all lows or at least no highs).
The reason these aren’t all 98.7%? The only easy answer is if you’re lucky enough to have some %’s in the IS Lost Budget column. And I say lucky only because that column is at least definitive. You can spend more and get those impressions.
Lost IS (Rank) theoretically explains the rest, but really it doesn’t explain very much.
Rank means Ad-Rank. Ad-Rank is Bid x Quality Score. Bid can simply be an insane fee you pay despite what something is worth, you probably don’t want to ‘win’ that way. Quality Score is determined by many things, as we’ve been over.
So Impression Share provides an easy way to see something, and know something that is very important to know. But it doesn’t provide a magical simple path to improving the problems it helps you find.
Coping With Impression Share
To solve our problems we’ll have to follow the path through our campaigns.
Impression Share forces us, if we look at it hard enough, to understand the roles of both bids and quality score, to think about our match type strategies, to organize our campaigns more effectively, to include the right keywords not just the most keywords, and to broadly see how interconnected the many options really are in a paid search campaign.
Does It Matter?
But before we get much further, there is something else about Impression Share that should be discussed.
Impression Share is only provided at the campaign level.
In most accounts, campaigns are roll-ups of many ad groups, and ad groups are roll ups of many keywords. Usually keywords and ad groups are not all of the same type or importance.
So before getting too flustered about missing impression share it’s worth stopping to decide if it matters, or more precisely if you can actually tell if it matters.
Suppose we have a campaign called ‘Bedroom Furnishings’ which contains 27 ad groups for everything from ‘nightstands’ to ‘sheets and pillow cases’. Within each ad group are 50 to 500 keywords, of various levels of importance and at various match types and bids.
For this business, suppose that within Bedroom Furnishings, 70% of sales are bedroom sets, 10% are headboards, 8% are lamps and the remainder are all kinds of little things. (assume all of these sales are profitable.)
In other words, only 3 of the 27 Ad Groups represent 88% of the company sales and profit.
In this case all the Impression Share metrics are useless.
The campaigns and ad groups are not organized in a way that allows us to use the IS information as it is provided.
There are too many different types of targets mixed into a single campaign. For some of the ad groups it contains we really want all the impressions we can get. For others, there are more firm ROI targets and beyond a certain point we can’t afford to bid. Still others just don’t matter much.
If we want to use and benefit from IS metrics, we need to reorganize so that one campaign holds the large volume (and profit) ad-groups, and within those ad-groups only the successful corresponding keywords.
Move the marginal keywords and ad-groups into their own campaign that can be tracked separately. And move all the other ad groups and keyword into a third campaign.
This is the minimum reorganization to make IS useful.
- At this point we can look at the IS metrics for our ‘large volume and profitable’ campaign and reasonably obsess about every % we miss.
- We can watch and work on the ‘marginal keywords and groups’ for these high profit categories, and make smart choices to improve them both in performance and IS.
- And we can watch the IS for all our other categories but probably not do too much about them.
A Bag of Rocks and Diamonds
Let me try and make the whole point another way.
Pretend you had a bag filled with 10,000 rocks and 100 diamonds.
If you knew the bag had a hole and a few dozen things had fallen out, you’d be concerned – but really not know how serious the problem was. Maybe all you lost was a few rocks.
Wouldn’t you feel better though if you could put the diamonds in their own little bag and really make sure that nothing fell out?
Keywords and ad groups are the same way. You can’t take great care of the good ones when they’re mixed in with all the junk. Separate and segregate.
A little bit of a big topic for another time, but the use of Impression Share highlights the need.
I’ve written about the problem of averages before. Impression Share is another place that getting average data for a disparate set of things can greatly diminish the value of the information. It’s up to you to organize so that the metrics provided are useful.
Impression Share in ClickEquations
The post a few days ago about Impression Share included a few screen shots from one of the reports included with ClickEquations, which provides a graphic view of Impression Share.
This new video from our ‘ClickEquations in 90-Seconds’ series provides a full tour of that report and the benefits it provides.
Correcting Impression Share Problems
Earlier we looked at the Google Adwords Impression Share metrics. These tell you if your ads are running when people type search queries that match the keywords you’re bidding on.
Very rarely will you find that the ads in your campaign are running anywhere near 100% of the time. Often you will find that they’re not running 25%, 50%, even 75% of the time when you probably expect that they’ll appear.
This will be shocking to some, and should be considered a huge problem.
The only reason to bid on keywords is if you want your ads to run when matching queries are typed. There is no logic to the idea that missing impression share is ‘ok’ because you don’t need the ‘extra impressions’.
- Isn’t it possible that the impressions you’re missing are the best – meaning highest converting – impressions? Or the most competitive impressions – those others are trying the hardest to take away from you? Do you really want to buy only the remnant impressions?
- Or it could be that you’re getting the best ones, and missing the worst impressions – particularly if you have much lower impression share than impression share exact match (and if you’re keywords are well chosen). It could be that you’re missing lots of wierdo-broad-match Google Gumbo queries that you wouldn’t want anyway.
The point is that lost impression share is an uncontrolled mystery.
If your campaigns have high amounts (say over 30%) lost impression share you’re letting Google decide how and when to advertise your site and spend your money.
Shouldn’t you decide?
Divide And Conquer
As discussed in post II in this series, your first step is to break down your campaigns into logical units for which IS becomes meaningful. IS metrics across campaigns with dozens of dis-similar ad-groups aren’t actionable.
Of course, re-organizing campaigns is a large and difficult process. Adwords Editor makes it possible in a simpler matter than before, but it’s still a lot of work.
At a minimum your ‘must win’ ad groups should be isolated in ways that give you good visibility into their IS performance. Your core brand terms, which we’ve written about before in terms of organization, are a good place to start.
Then I’d suggest creating a slum for your losers, misfits, and keywords of questionable origin. Every campaign has them, ad groups that are a bit of stretch, a test, perform terribly but are hung onto for sentimental value, whatever.
Get anything you really don’t care about, or know deep down isn’t likely to work moved out of your bread-and-butter campaigns and onto ‘short bus’ campaigns.
You can let them run there, work on improving them, ignore them, whatever. But they will no longer be mucking up the impression share metrics in your more meaningful campaigns.
Now Do Everything Right
Once you have reasonably tight campaigns, and clear IS metrics for these cleaned-up campaigns, you can start working on a fix to the real problem(s).
Except for one tiny problem: You can’t fix what’s causing lost impression share.
Lost impressions are a symptom of a much larger disease – the overall quality of just about every aspect of your campaigns design and performance.
So if you want to eliminate lost impression share, you’re just going to have to improve nearly every aspect of your campaigns:
- Build out your match type keyword traps. Increasing coverage of exact and phrase match terms, and bidding them properly, should garner more impressions for those terms for broad-match heavy campaigns.
- Harvest search queries to increase negatives and add new phrase/exact match keywords. Every step to remove excess and intelligently expand your keywords improves the value of the IS measurement and hopefully the number as well.
- Check and address quality score across your campaign. Ad Rank = bid x QS, and often QS isn’t thought of enough.
- Write and test more text ads. This is the most overlooked effort in PPC, can drive quality score which drives ad-rank, and more importantly can multiple CTR by many times which grows everything positive.
- Bid differently. As a component of ad-rank, which plays a huge role in Impression Share, bids are a factor. Notice that bids don’t have to be your first or only lever (And watch for our upcoming blog post series on bidding.)
Impression Share is an interesting, and perhaps unexpected, broad measure of the quality of our campaigns because of how it’s influenced by the wide range of factors suggested above. Paid search is way too complex, and still to opaque (and perhaps inconsistent and imperfect) to pretend that it’s a clear measure that will track ‘campaign quality’ in any precise way – but it is an indicator and one we can use in surprisingly far-reaching way.
Impression Share Wrap Up
A lot of the paid search process happens without enough feedback or context.
Any available metrics that help us understand and measure the funnel we’re trying to push people through, therefore, is very important.
Other than the laughably inaccurate traffic/click estimates in the keyword tool, impression share is our only way to get critical visibility into the size of the audience we’re aiming at and keep a scorecard of our progress toward reaching it.
NOTE: In November 2008 I wrote a five post series on Google Adwords Quality Score. To make reading and linking easier, these posts are combined below. Enjoy.
Quality Score does three things for Google:
- It acts as a bozo filter to limit or prevent ‘undesirable’ ads and advertisers
- It acts as a ‘preferred customer program’ to reward top performing advertisers
- It provides a ‘secret sauce’ that ensures nobody knows how/why certain ads are run at specific times for certain prices.
The first two are rather straightforward. These are the aspects encompassed in the ‘improving everyone’s experience’ description and rationale Google generally gives for Quality Score.
But it’s the last one that has real impact on paid search marketers.
Quality Score is Google’s way of passing judgement on and rating a number of different aspects of your paid search campaigns.
This rating is then used to make value judgements about your suitability to advertise for any particular keyword at any particular time.
And to manipulate everything the concept of auction was supposed to tell you about bidding for keywords. Yes there is an auction going on, but it’s happening in an environment where everyone has a different multiplier on their money. Some are positive, some are negative.
Imagine placing bids on ebay when you had no idea the conversion rate that was going to be used to turn your dollars into the local currency of the seller. And what if when looking at the bids or relative order of other bidders, you had no idea what conversion rate had been applied to their bids. How would you bid in that environment? Quite differently than in one that was open and transparent, that’s for sure.
There is a lot we know about Quality Score, and a lot that Google just isn’t going to tell us.
What Drives Quality Score
A cornerstone of High Resolution PPC is the fact that there is a true but over-simplified view of just about every aspect of paid search marketing.
With Quality Score, the popular notion is that there is one single specific metric calculated based on a few simple variables and attached to each keyword in your Ad-Groups.
Google fosters this impression, but a careful reading of their materials (and the comments of some very knowledgeable folks) suggests it’s not that simple. There are a number of different Quality Scores or QS components which are calculated independently and used separately or collectively in different situations.
And these scores aren’t static. Quality Score is computed in real time for every search. The calculation is based not just the keyword but on the unique combination of search query, keyword, the text-ad selected, the searcher’s geography, and other variables.
While we don’t know everything about the Quality Score calculation(s), we can rank and summarize the main influencers:
- CTR is by far the largest factor, and considered at many levels – from the historic overall average CTR of your account, to the CTR of the Ad-Group the keyword is in, to the recent CTR of the specific query-keyword-textAd combination.
- Relevance is important – this requires you to keep tight topical and even literal groupings for your keyword within an Ad-Group and ensure that the specific terms (or clear & common synonmns) appear within each matching text ad and on the target landing page.
- ‘Other Factors’ are also considered although they probably play a generally minor role – these include the geography of the user (do you’re ads get higher CTR’s in FL, you’ll get a higher QS for FL searchers), the load time of your pages, the content on and linked to your landing pages, and more.
Around these basics there are a lot of details to chase down and act upon.
But the basic lessons should be learned first.
- The impact of Quality Score on your campaigns in enormous. Even without knowing exactly how it’s being calculated or applied, we need to understand the general goals of Quality Score and execute our campaigns accordingly. Selectively or occasionally doing these things isn’t going to to work.
- Quality Score rewards things you want to do anyway. Do not tolerate poor performing click-through-rates. Narrowcast your Ad-Groups from query to landing page. Treat your visitors with respect. Doing the basic right takes you a long way, and yet of the hundreds of accounts I review each year, very few uniformly get these things right.
Applying these lessons in a rather simple fashion could in many cases deliver excellent Quality Score results.
Want a quick-fix Quality Score strategy example? Try this:
- Go through your Ad-Groups, look at the text-ads that are running. Delete any ads getting CTRs 50% lower than your top performers.
- Go through the keywords in each Ad-Group. If there are keywords getting performing 2X worse than your average CTR, pause them or move them to a new ‘Rehab’ Ag-Group.
- Visit your landing page. Think like a prospect and fix anything that would stop you from understanding, trusting, or moving forward.
To learn more about Quality Score, and hear a more detailed approach to applying the deep facts to improving your campaigns, attend our Quality Score Webinar today (Tuesday Nov 25) at 12:00 EST.
Quality Score Final Thoughts
Quality Score is the secret sauce in Google Adwords. It plays a huge rule in nearly everything advertisers care about; when and where ads run, how ads rank, and what ads cost-per-click.
Quality Score – along with their Broad Match and Automatic Matching formulas – give Google a huge set of levers and dials to play with at will.
As they do, our ads and ad-budgets jerk around like marionettes.
I’m left with two conclusions:
- The lack of transparency is astounding. Everything Google is doing is reasonable and legitimate from a business perspective. They’re optimizing their product to maximize their revenue, and trying to make their customers feel good so they spend a lot of money and are happy about it. But advertisers can’t and don’t know what’s going on in the black box of Quality Score. We’ve got some clues, there has been more clarity recently than historically, but the playing field we’re on is far from level.
- Paid search managers must prioritize Quality Score management. This means a lot of things as we’ve discussed; small tight keyword groupings, focused text-ad and landing-page copy, paying attention to the published Quality Score numbers themselves, starting new campaigns slowly, not letting losers hang out, even in dark corners of your campaign, and much more. It all adds up to an increase in workload, responsibility, and the need for specialized tools to have any chance to real success
I used to think of Quality Score as an ‘other factor’ in campaign management and success.
Now I think it’s one leg in the three-legged stool of the PPC process.
Campaign organization, Bidding, and Quality Score must all have equal and appropriate attention to make paid search really work.
(Although a more complete picture is the Target-Value-Satisfy-Understand model of ‘High Resolution PPC’ with Quality Score being a piece of the Valuation component.)
Where Are The Quality Score Tools?
As a final point, given this realization, I must say that the tools for helping manage the importance of Quality Score are sorely missing. Right now the Quality Score number itself is available only inside of Adwords – although it is now in the API so we can expect third party vendors to support it soon.
But the broader issues of focus, alignment and relevance between components, and the impact Quality Score has on bidding and position is almost entirely unsupported or assisted by the tools on the market.
The ClickVariance variable in ClickEquations does help identify AdGroups with keywords that are too diverse from a performance perspective, which is a start in the right direction.
That makes the reality of taking advantage of whatever understand we’ve gained about Quality Score very difficult. Today it will require a lot of manual effort and hours of work.
But from a ClickEquations viewpoint it’s an opportunity we’ll address.
Quality Score Q&A
In our Quality Score Webinar with Bryan Eisenberg (If you missed it, you can now watch the replay) there were way too many questions to answer during the event.
This is the first of several posts in which these questions will be answered. We’ll split the answers between here and TheGrok.com, but keep linking to more as they’re posted.
Have more? Put ‘em in the comments. Disagree with any of the answers. Comment please!
Q: What does ‘removing ads from the bottom’ mean?
A: I think the point you’re referring to was part of the discussion of text-ads. Since most people run 2-4 versions of their ad to test for better CTR and conversion rate, it’s a good idea to regularly remove the ads getting lower CTR (and/or Conv Rate) and add new ones in an attempt to create a new ‘kind of the hill’.
Q: What about long tail keywords?
A: The only thing that matters about keywords relative to Quality Score is the CTR they generate and their relevance to the ads, queries, and landing page. The concepts of head and tail don’t factor in.
Q: How does Google determine if a landing page is relevant? Someone might actually find the page useful but still bounce back to Google to click another ad.
A: The primary determinant of relevance is semantic – do the words on the page match the words in the query and keyword purchase, either literally or at least contextually. Bryan mentioned the idea of Google measuring bounce rates and using the fact that someone came back and did another search or clicked another ad as one of their clues, but that is likely less significant. If a page has good relevance but many users bounce that’s better than if it has no relevance and users bounce.
Q: Is there a way to check the Quality Score of your competition?
A: No you can’t see their score on an individual keyword basis, or figure out their CTR(s). But you can certainly assess the relevance of their text ads and landing pages. Finding keywords that have low relevance – because they tend to be broad matched and lumped into a more general group – and then tightening up your relevance to that exact word/topic, would be a way to get an advantage.
Q: What’s a good click-through-rate?
A: As we mentioned in the Webinar, their is no real answer for this given the wide range of keywords, queries, ads, and situations. Long ago Google wouldn’t run ads with less than 1% CTR for very long, and while that is no longer true it is rare that less than 1% is a very good CTR. For brand-terms on the other hand I’ve seen 30-40% common in some cases. Just depends is the real answer. Testing some reasonably broad types of text-ads should help you find the range for any keyword. But writing good text-ads is pretty hard for many people.
Q: Does the Quality Score of one account in My Client Center effect the other accounts in that Client Center?
A: No. All Quality Score issues are constrained on one Google Account.
Q: If QS suffers when keyword and query aren’t tightly aligned, should you use Exact and Phrase match early in a campaign and delay Broad until a good QS is established?
A: No because QS is only calculated ‘as if’ all keywords were exact match. Not sure exactly how this works but it suggest Google is trying to not penalize you because they match a broader set of queries to your keywords.
TIP FROM PARTIPANT: Quality Score is in the Keyword/Placement Report in Google. I had said it was only under the pop-up in the management window.
Q: If you have two ads in an AgGroup, does the QS as displayed reflect the lower of the two? Should you just run one until ‘established’?
A: Probably not, more likely an average. Running one wouldn’t help because as soon as you ad another you’re in the same situation (although you may have some good history built up, but that probably counts much less than whatever is currently running.)
Q: Do the other search engine use a Quality Score?
A: There are other search engines? Hm. Actually you’ve stumpeded me. Comments?
Q: Does testing ads frequently reduce Quality Score?
A: In theory this makes sense – as you’re restarting the history and calculation, but my guess is that if a keyword in an AdGroup has a good history, you get the benefit of the doubt for a while until a new text-ad proves lousy. Google wants to encourage testing. I would never recommend a full new set of text-ads, rather leave known winners and fold new ones into the mix until they prove themselves.
Q: Does using the keyword in the title and description and URL produce a high Quality Score?
A: Repeating a keyword in the text-ad and landing page and yes even the URL (not often possible certainly does produce a part of the relevance that delivers a good Quality Score. But remember that CTR is the most important attribute, there are other components too (like load time etc.) and almost certainly the relevance calculation is somehow more complex. So nothing other than doing everything right (with everything being a set of things and measures we don’t know) will guarentee a high Quality Score
Q: What is the most optimized landing page in terms of Quality Score?
A: One that is perfectly relevant to the keyword, search query, and text in the ad, and gets people to stay (low bounce rate) and probably move forward (another click if not a conversion). Beyond that, nobody knows.
Q: Can high impression low Quality Score keywords impact low impression keywords?
A: Yes. Their are overall Quality Score for an Adgroup and for the Account components which impact everything. This is why improving or removing low CTR keywords and text-ads is important to overall and broad Quality Score.
Q: How many impressions should an ad get before evaluating it’s CTR?
A: It depends upon margin of error you’re willing to tolerate. A simple calculation for the margin-of-error in any sample size can be calculated as 1/SquareRoot-of-Sample-Size. So, with 100 impressions your margin of error is 1/10 or +/-10%. For an ad with a CTR of 7%, this is clearly an unacceptable margin of error. For a brand keyword/ad where CTR is in the 40-50% range, this margin of error is probably acceptable. A good general guideline is that brand ads should probably see something on the order of 100-150 impressions and that general ads should see at least 200-300 impressions before making any meaningful decisions. More impressions yield even greater confidence levels.
NOTE: In late June 2008 I wrote a four post series on Match Types. These posts continue to get a lot of traffic, but having them broken up leads many people to see/read only part of what is essentially one idea. So to better share this information these four posts are combined here to make it easier to enjoy.
The Perfect Match Type
Match Type is the PPC option which has perhaps the highest impact, is the least understood, and is most often under-utilized.
In this post, I’ll take a long look at the Match Type option and how and why you should use it to improve your paid search campaigns and results.
The Match Type option is the primary connector between your keywords and the search queries users actually enter into the search engines. Each keyword has a Match Type associate with it, which defines how the keyword is connected to queries. On Google we have these options:
- The EXACT Match Type turns the keyword into a rifle. It will only cause your ads to be displayed when the query is identical to the keyword. (At least in theory, we’ll cover some real world exceptions later).
- The PHRASE Match Type turns your keyword into a shotgun. It will hit anything surrounding the keyword as long as the query contains your purchased keyword(s) with anything before or after them.
- The BROAD Match Type turns your keyword into a bomb. It will explode in all directions and send debris and shrapnel farther and wider than you had ever imagined. In other words, the keyword can match pretty much any query the search engine decides is even tangentially related. (There will definitely be more on this later).
In addition to these Google now offers ‘Automatic Matching’ as we’ve written about previously.
The theory of these basic Match Type definitions are easily understandable – but in practice deciding the right Match Type isn’t always easy.
The problem is that each Match Type is a filter of sorts, letting certain queries through and stopping (or reducing the probability of) your ad from showing for other queries.
But these are rather coarse filters, and when considered against the massive diversity of search queries that users type when looking for something, plus the impact of other factors such as bids, quality score, and competitors, any Match Type choice becomes a pretty large compromise.
A Brand New Example
Let’s consider what might appear to be the simplest of all Match Type situations; your company name. Suppose that you’re running the paid search campaign for the well-known excess-capacity auctioneer Whaazooh.com.
What Match Type should you place on the brand name keyword ‘Whaazooh’?
- If you buy ‘Whaazooh’ on Exact Match, your ad is eligible to run only when the search query is ‘Whaazooh’ (or ‘whaazooh’) but miss every other direct variation (‘whaazooh.com’, ‘whaazooh inc’, ‘Whaazooh acutioneers’ as well as the mis-spellings ‘waazoo’. Of course, you also don’t get any of the contextual but not literal search queries either – you’ll miss ‘liquidation auctioneer in Palookaville WI’ and thousands of other searches who were intentionally or conceptually asking a question that your ad could have answered.
- If you buy ‘Whaazooh’ on Phrase Match, your ad is eligible to run for ‘Whaazooh’ or ‘whaazooh’ and direct variations that include ‘whaazooh’ such as ‘whaazooh.com’, ‘whaazooh inc’, ‘Whaazooh acutioneers’, ‘shop at whaazooh’ or even ‘whaazooh sucks and you should never do business with them’. You’ll still not be running (at least due to this keyword) for any conceptually related searches.
- If you buy ‘Whaazooh’ on Broad Match - the default and most popular match type, everything is potentially covered. You’re ad is eligible to run for ‘whazzooh inc.’ and ‘whaazooh reviews’ and even ‘excess diamond tip drill bit dealers’. You’ve officially cast a wide net.
Each step from Exact to Phrase to Broad opens you up to a larger quantity of (generally) less specific search queries. Some of these incremental queries are relevant and will prove profitable, but many will be irrelevant, or at least low converting.
Buying ‘Whaazooh’ on Phrase match means you could easily pay for the click of someone who searched ‘Boycott Whaazooh’. And on Broad Match you almost certainly will pay for the clicks of people who searched for things which are 100% unrelated to your company, products, and industry.
So deciding the right Match Type requires balancing the benefits of progressively more diverse query matches against the risks of progressively more diverse query matches.
But for most keywords there is no perfect balance. You’re left to try and find the most acceptable compromise between volume and profitability.
Building Filters With Keywords and Match Types
The problem is actually somewhat easier to solve if we think about it in terms of a group of keywords all working to attract a set of related queries.
This is also more akin to your real world ad-groups, where there are many related words and phrases and each, depending on the Match Type could attract queries related to the same subject or using the same terms. Often even the same keyword will be purchased multiple times within one campaign, setting the Match Type differently in each instance.
In this way you can build a layered keyword trap, using the Match Type option (along with our Bid and several other controls) to specifically capture certain queries at the Exact Match level, others at the Phrase Match Level, and still more at the Broad Match level.
Considering the ‘whaazooh’ brand for example, we can buy the keyword and some related phrases separately at Exact, Phrase and Broad Match Types, and (assuming proper bidding and quality scores) we’ll catch specifically targeted queries at each layer while letting others fall through to be caught (or not) by the levels below.
Over time, by watching the queries that each keyword attracts we can tune this system quite precisely, not only filtering unwanted queries with new negative keywords, but expanding our total volume through quality score and bidding improvements and tailoring the ROI of different query classes.
In a later post we’ll take a detailed look at this tuning process.
The great benefit of this model is that it lets us take pretty significant control over the keyword to query matching process back from the search engines.
Rather than just buying Broad Match keywords and letting the engine decide which queries are important, or buying just Phrase or Exact Match keywords and missing out on a lot of volume, we set the stage to have the best of all worlds.
And with proper Ad-Group and Campaign configurations and good tracking software we’ll have amazing visibility into our progress, so we can understand things clearly and tune rapidly.
The Match Type Keyword Trap
Above I introduced the idea of building a Match Type Keyword Trap. This layering of keyword & match type combinations provides control over which, where, and how queries are attracted, and therefore their cost-per-click.
In the simplest case, you’d buy one keyword (say ‘Whaazooh’) three times in one campaign – once on Exact Match, once on Phrase Match, and once on Broad Match.
The goal is to catch all queries which are literally ‘Whaazooh’ with the Exact Match keyword, all queries which are ‘Whaazooh’ plus some word(s) before or after it with the Phrase Match, and all other related queries with the Broad Match.
Because in almost every case where many different queries exist for a single word or topic, some of those queries are very valuable, some are mildly valuable, and many are not valuable (or at least not valuable enough). We want to segregate these queries by their value to us so we can pay highly for the high value ones and less so for those less valuable.
In the simple cases (I have to keep saying that because not all cases are simple, there are many complex variants of this) we’ll do better by trapping the best ones with the most specific Match Types (Exact if possible or Phrase if not) and using Broad Match to harvest winners and losers which are acted upon accordingly.
Winners are promoted (to Phrase Match or Exact Match). Losers are demoted via lower bids or even made into negative keywords.
We do better not because of the place they’re trapped, but because by segregating them we control the bid (as well as the text-ad, landing page, etc.)
Forcing The Stack
Buying the same keyword three times at different match types does not fully bait the trap. It’s a good idea to use staggered bids to give it some extra oomph.
Google says that keywords that are ‘more specific’ will always match first. This means that if a query matches an exact match keyword, that should always match before an eligible phrase or broad match keyword.
But experience shows this doesn’t always happen – some small percentage of the time the less specific keyword gets the match. It maybe that if the quality score of the broader match keyword is higher, that one wins out anyway.
To avoid this, and because the ‘more specific’ match type keywords should produce higher returns and be worth more to you, it’s a good idea to further force the trap by stacking the bids – higher for the Exact Match versions and sequentially lower for the Phrase and Broad Match versions. This gives the Exact Match keyword multiple reasons to attract and win the Exact Match queries; it is a better match and it will have a higher ad rank (bid x quality score) to drive it up in the auction.
When you do this, leave enough room between the various bids. The Average CPC the engines report are averages, so expect a range of bids in each and leave enough room so the ranges don’t overlap.
In this example, we bid higher for several terms that have proven great performers, setting them on Exact Match and bidding $1.25. Several others that are good performers and perhaps come in some variations are set at Phrase Match for $0.65. A larger collection of phrases and concepts are bid Broad Match at $0.15. Over time we shift, add, put in more negatives, and generally take control over how we pay for and catch queries.
How do you know if it’s working?
In theory you’ll normalize the ROI (or ROAS if you must) for your Exact, Phrase, and Broad Match keywords.
In other words, you’ll raise bids for your Exact Match keywords to maximize profits. You’ll set accordingly lower bids on Phrase and Broad Match keywords until they produce the same return as the Exact Match does – so their lower conversion rates and ROI are compensated for with proportionally lower bids.
Suppose your exact match keyword converts one out of ten times. And the broad match version converts one out of 100 times. In this case, assuming equal sales revenue and net profit in each case, you can afford to bid 10X higher for the exact match keyword than the broad match version. Each keyword get the bid it deserves.
Tuning Your Match Type Keyword Traps
When you buy the same keyword at different match types, or different keywords and phrases at different match types in a coordinated effort to properly target and value queries, your initial settings will be less than perfect.
You don’t know what queries you’ll see, the price you’ll pay for each, or how they’ll perform in terms of conversions.
But you can monitor and measure each of these over time, and make adjustments to create a more effective trap.
There are three controls you’ll primarily use to tune the trap:
- Negative Keywords - Without question your campaigns will see (and you’ll pay for) queries that are either undesirable or prove to be poor performers. You should continually review query reports and add keywords as negatives either to all appropriate ad-groups, or to those which have bids above the keyword value.
- Add or Move Keywords - As you review the queries caught by each keyword and ad-group, and the performance of both queries and keywords, there will be interesting or well performing keywords which should be moved up the match type & bid hierarchy.If a query is performing exceptionally well against the Phrase Match option, for example, you might want to create an Exact Match copy of that keyword and give it a higher bid. This should cause that query to be grabbed by your new Exact Match and yet let other matches to that Phrase Match keyword keep matching there.Well performing keywords in the Broad Match group (which is usually bid particularly low) are especially good candidates to be ‘promoted’ into the higher-bids & more targeted environments of the Phrase Match or Exact Match ad-groups.
- Raise or Lower Bids – Based on your goals (revenue or CPA or ROI or whatever) and reflecting the measured performance of the purchased keywords, find the right shape of the pyramid by bidding good Exact Match performance up and cutting Broad Match bids as you negative out losers and promote winners.
I should have pointed out somewhere earlier, that by far the best way to configure the MTKT is to separately each keyword group with different Match Types into separate Ad-Groups. This makes reporting and measurement easier, and allows you to control negatives at the right level.
As a naming convention , we end each Ad-Group name with a (E) if it holds Exact Match keyword, (P) if it holds Phrase Match keywords, and (B) for Broad Match. This makes is much easier when visually inspecting reports or making account changes.
Success with your MTKT is achieved when you’re attracting only desirable queries and have maximized ROI by setting bids according to conversion profitability.
Reviewing the queries on an ad-group by ad-group basis is the cornerstone of the process. The Exact Match keywords should be clear and profitable. The Phrase Matches should be on target or quickly either promoted to Exact or made into negatives. And the Broad Match should also winnow down in many cases (but not always) through promotion or negative creation.
In some cases the Broad Match ad-groups are ultimately turned off, or left running with extra low bids just to capture any potentially new and interesting queries.
Results are harder to summarize, although as pointed out in the previous post, what you normally shouldn’t see is great variation between the ROI (or ROAS if you must still use that horrid metric) for the different Match Type divided ad-groups.
There are exceptions, but they should be positive ones where Exact Match, or more rarely Phrase Match groups are extremely profitable while others are just normally so. But very low or negative returns are a sign that either the queries being attracted just don’t have potential, or else something later in the chain is wrong – ad-text, landing page, offer, checkout process etc.
Match Type Rock Scissors Paper
So fare I’ve discussed the how’s and why’s of buying the same or similar terms at the same time with different Match Type settings. Buying multiple terms and multiple levels – when done correctly – has the ability to give you control over which queries are caught at which price.
One reason this works is because the engines (generally) execute the match types sequentially.
In other words, if you are bidding on the same keyword, or two keywords that would both match for one particular query, an Exact Match should take precedence over a Phrase Match which should take precedence over a Broad Match.
So even though a particular query is technical a match for both one Broad Match keyword and another Phrase Match keyword, the Phrase Match should always ‘win’ and catch that query.
I should hasten to point out, this will not always be true. If you carefully watch query reports for your keywords you will see queries that were exact matches against a keyword you had set to Exact Match, yet the query lands in a Broad Match group. But in our experience these are rare in the sub 1% range of all queries.
Emphasis the Match Type Setting with Higher Bids
You can and should add punch to this precedence by ALWAYS placing rather substantially higher bids on your Exact Match vs Phrase Match, and Phrase Match vs Broad Match when they’re stacked in targeting the same terms.
And make the differences between the bids significant – it generally won’t help to bid $0.05 more for Exact Match than Broad Match. When bidding it’s easy to look at your Max CPCs (since that’s the option used to set the bid) but since your actual and average CPC is usually just a fraction of the Max you really can’t base your decision on those. Look instead at average CPC’s being reported and then set the Max’s at large enough intervals to create real steps between the different keyword/match type combinations.
By placing a substantially higher bid on the match type differentiated keywords, you’re providing another algorithmic reason for the engine to match exact match queries to your Exact Match keywords. Of course, it should also be true that you want generally higher position and higher impression share for the keywords you’re bidding on Exact Match.
A Simple Match
At the start of this series I mentioned that Match Type was a powerful and often under-utilized option. I hope this post has covered some of the ways you can get more out of these options.