Do You Only Use Broad Match? Jump Start Your ROI by Utilizing Match Types and Negative Keywords

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This just in! You’ve happened upon day 4 of our week-long series on keyword research! Alright, on to the important stuff now. This post is almost a retrospective on a slew of PPC mistakes I’ve made as an advertiser and a bright red flag in the face for broad match neophytes. Let me ask you a question: Do you only use broad match? If so, chances are you’re bleeding money through irrelevant searches that drive low-quality traffic to your site. That being said, I don’t subscribe to the broad-match-is-evil line of thinking. On the contrary, I think that if you apply some finesse to your broad matching strategy with exact, phrase and negative keywords, you can truly jump start your ROI!

Applying an intelligent broad matching strategy to your keyword research is one of the BEST things you can do for your PPC accounts. But before I get into the details, let’s cover the match type basics so we’re all on the same page.

  • Broad Match: Terminology applies to Google and MSN adCenter. In Yahoo! this is called Advanced Match. In all three search engines, this is the default setting. Broad match allows Google, et al, to display your ads for terms that are variations, plurals or related (enter expanded broad match) to the keywords in your account.
  • Phrase Match: Terminology applies to Google and MSN adCenter ONLY. This match type will show ads when the keyword phrase from your account is a part of the actual search query (all words, in the same order). For example, your keyword is tennis shoes, and that keyword will show ads for searches like tennis shoes store and big purple tennis shoes.
  • Exact Match: Terminology applies to Google and MSN adCenter. In Yahoo! this is called Standard Match. This match type is the obvious one – your keyword will only display ads when searchers enter this keyword exactly into the search engines.
  • Negative Match: Terminology applies to Google and MSN adCenter. In Yahoo! this is called Excluded Keywords. By applying negative match keywords to your account, you are telling the search engines NOT to display your ad for searches containing that term. This also applies to the Content Network. Applying negative keywords in Content campaigns will restrict your ads from displaying on irrelevant sites.

So, how can you apply this knowledge to your keyword research? Easy. Be conscious of your blossoming keyword list and be proactive with your match type strategy. Here is what you can do while performing your keyword research to be prepared for implementing match types and negative keywords in your PPC account:

  1. Any product name, brand term or trademarked service you should plan on implementing as an exact match keyword in your account.
  2. Keywords that you discover have an exceptionally high search volume (relative to other terms in your list) should be given special treatment. Insert these keywords with all three match types. This will maximize your exposure for those terms and once your account is active, a quick way to determine which match type works the best for your ROI, CTR or most important metric.
  3. While performing your keyword research (especially via tools), be on the lookout for results that are not relevant to your website, product, etc. Begin to place these terms into a negative keyword list.
  4. Review and implement a generic negative keyword list. You can download my generic list here: PPC Hero Generic Negative Keyword List. Or you can review others like this negative keyword list. I said to “review” these lists. Why? Because they’re generic and may contain keywords that ARE relevant to your website, product, etc. Remove any relevant keywords from these lists before you add them to your account.
  5. Use the AdWords Keyword Tool to get an idea of what kinds of searches Google will deem as relevant to your broad match keywords. Insert your broad matched keyword and review the results. Record any keywords that are not relevant and add them to your negative keyword list.

In my fledgling attempts at keyword research and PPC account creation, these basic steps would’ve been a God-send. Putting in this effort before your account is live will save you time and money in the long-run. Once your account is active and you begin to drive traffic from your perfectly researched keywords, you will open up Pandora’s box of match type and negative keyword fun! This is when you will learn the joys of expanded broad match and search query reports. What is expanded broad match? This is where Google will display your ad on search queires that are “highly relevant” to your keywords. Let me give you an example:

  • Broad matched keyword: honeymoon packages
  • Expanded broad match search queries: honeymoon, honeymoons, ama vacations, Disney honeymoon, Europe honeymoon, resorts, Yosemite packages

No joke! So, based on this brief example, Google is telling me that they consider “resorts” to be related to “honeymoon packages” and will therefore display my ad. And what about Yosemite? Ouch! One of Google’s methods for determining “relevancy” on expanded broad match is to evaluate user response to ads displayed. If a ton of searchers click the ad (regardless of CTR or conversion), Google will continue to display ads for that expanded broad match term. In my example, the single word “honeymoon” was also broad matched. This is way too general and has a horrible CTR and conversion rate.

Some advertisers would look at this outcome and just swear off of broad match altogether. However, you have to realize that search queries qualified as expanded broad match don’t affect your Quality Score. And what I’m not showing you here is the countless other broad matched search queries that WERE relevant. So, how can you combat expanded broad matching? A tedious and meticulously created negative keyword list! Give your new account time to drive a substantial amount of traffic (enough to draw conclusions from the data). This could be a week or a month, depending on how much traffic your account generates. At that time, run a search query report. Here’s a short list of the fun, exciting things you can do with that gold mine of data:

  1. Review the report for search queries that are working the best for your desired metric (clicks, CTR, conversion rate, etc). Add these search queries as exact and phrase matched keywords into your account. Capitalize on those searches.
  2. Review the report for search queries that are not relevant and add them to your negative keyword list. In the example above I had to be very careful. If I were to simply dump “honeymoon” in my negative keyword list, it would kill nearly ALL of the searches in that ad group. In this instance, I used Negative Exact-Match and Negative Phrase-Match keywords to tip-toe around the keywords that I wanted to keep.

You need to realize that broad match and expanded broad match parameters are constantly changing. Accordingly, you need to make updating your negative keyword list and adding exact/phrase matched keywords a part of your weekly or monthly PPC management routine. Implementing negatives and match types other than broad will seriously jump start your ROI! This was a lot of information, so you if you have any questions, please drop me a comment.

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10 thoughts on “Do You Only Use Broad Match? Jump Start Your ROI by Utilizing Match Types and Negative Keywords

  1. Paul Burani, Clicksharp Marketing

    Wow — deliciously thorough. I didn’t really grasp the importance of expanded broad match until now. PPC Hero lately has been elevated from “just another blog I read” to a search engine where I typically go BEFORE GOOGLE for third-party insight into PPC best practices. Keep up the spectacular work!

  2. JohnJohn Post author


    Thanks so much for the kind words! All of us (Joe, Amber and myself) strive to provide information that we find the most useful in our daily PPC management. It’s great to hear that you find just as much benefit from that information as we do!

  3. Dave


    I concur – great job with this article. You guys really do consistently pump out great quality articles…

    I do have a question though…

    It sounds like you definitely advocate the use of broad match as long as you keep a close eye on incoming queries and adjust accordingly with negatives. But would you recommend implementing broad match right away (i.e., at the start of a new campaign)? Based on this article, it sounds like you would — especially to jumpstart the process of finding out which words to add as negatives…is that right? The reason I ask is because I’ve heard others say to always start with phrase and exact only, so as to get CTR up (and consequently, assist with quality score).

    Also thanks for the great tip about not forgetting phrase and exact match for negatives…

    – Dave

  4. michaelportent


    I can’t speak for the heroes, but I think there’s a time and a place for both techniques.

    Using broad with proper negatives ensures that your traffic will be high (in most cases) and it might also pull in some queries and keyword opportunities that you didn’t know about. (Keyword tools won’t always tell you the crazy things actual humans will think to search on.)

    Phrase and Exact will cut out all the riff-raff, so to speak. You won’t get near as much traffic, in a lot of cases, but you’ll see higher CTRs (an thus, quality scores) and the traffic you do get will be more likely to convert.

    So, I think the usage should apply to your need. If you’re concerned about traffic first and conversions second, use broad. If you’re concerned about conversions over sheer quantity, go phrase & exact.

    What do you think, John?

  5. JohnJohn Post author

    Michael and Dave –
    In my post, I was definitely leaning towards “give broad match a shot from the beginning.” Speaking to my experiences, I’ve been able to kick start accounts with all broad match cylinders firing and still be able to adequately steer the account in the right direction (was that metaphor excessive? Maybe…). However, Michael has a valid point with “usage should apply to your need.”

    If you are nervous about your account’s performance and are afraid you will not be able to make the necessary changes to reach your goals (be they clicks, conversions, etc.), then I would recommend you start with phrase and exact match. And to Michael’s point regarding “conversions over sheer quantity” I think this is mostly true. Generally speaking phrase and exact match keywords will have higher conversion rates. But some of my best converting exact match keywords only came about because I used broad match first, looked at my analytics, reviewed my search query reports and then said, “Hey, this keyword rocks, let’s put it in as exact match!”

    Dave – to bluntly answer your question, YES, I would recommend you use broad match from the beginning (given that you can run and read PPC reports!).
    Michael – thanks for adding to the conversation! You’re PPC Hero’s best commenter.

  6. Dave

    Great clarifying information from both of you — thanks so much. AdWords is such a beast but I am loving every moment trying to tame it! <<— another metaphor for you. 😉

  7. Bethany BeyBethany Bey

    If you have a tight budget, I would recommend starting with more limiting match types (exact and phrase) and then expanding to broad when you see opportunities. Starting off with broad match will spend a lot of your budget before you are able to start seeing trends and making optimizations.

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