If you’re familiar with Google AdWords, and a friend asked you to explain it to them, you’d probably say something like this:
When you create an AdWords campaign, you select the keywords you want to advertise on, and write ads that will be triggered when people search for the keywords in your list.
That’s almost true – but actually, it’s an oversimplification of the truth. If you’re using broad match keywords in your campaign, Google will show your ads whenever people have searched for phrases that Google believes to be relevant to your keywords. So, for example, the keyword you’ve chosen to advertise on might be:
hotel in chester
And your ad might be triggered when people search for all kinds of variations of that phrase – hotels in chester, chester hotel, accommodation near chester, hotel in chester that takes dogs, hotel in cheshire that has a swimming pool and takes dogs… you get the picture! Your chosen keyword can allow your ads to show on all kinds of variants of the phrase, including singulars and plurals, misspellings, synonyms and more. It can match against words that weren’t even in your original keyword – ‘accommodation cheshire’ for example. It can sometimes match against phrases that really seem quite odd given the original keyword. Google may consider things relevant that you don’t! Is this a good or a bad thing? As with most things Google, the answer is ‘it depends’…
Advantages of broad match
The key advantage of broad match is to allow you to easily target what’s known as the ‘long tail’. The long tail is an important concept when marketing on search engines – it refers to the fact that although there is a small number of very high traffic terms that people search for online (think ‘books’ / ‘cheap flights’ / etc), there is a much larger number of very low traffic terms that are used. If you looked up how many people search for ‘hotels in chester’, you might find that a few hundred people a month search for this exact phrase. The other, more obscure, terms relating to hotels in Chester may individually get less traffic, but collectively they will add up to a lot more traffic than would be brought in by the main term alone. The more obscure terms tend to convert better into sales or enquiries, too, because if someone is searching for a hotel in Chester that has a swimming pool and accepts dogs, and you can provide that, then you will very likely get a booking out of it. So in an ideal world, you would be targeting these long tail phrases. But adding hundreds of different keywords to your account (which would be best practice – when we run an AdWords account we often target vast numbers of search phrases) is time consuming, and you’ll never be able to list every phrase that someone might conceivably search for. Broad match catches the variants without you needing to put all this extra work in. You may also be able to obtain your clicks more cheaply than with one of the tighter match types, because your ads are often showing on more obscure phrases with lower competition.
Disadvantages of broad match
The main disadvantage, clearly, is that you lose some control of exactly which search terms will trigger your advert to appear. This can be partially overcome by the addition of negative keywords – for example, if your hotel in Chester doesn’t accept dogs, you would put ‘dogs’ in as a negative keyword and then in future your ad would not appear when the word dogs appears in the search phrase. So if you are using broad match, it’s important to keep on top of the housekeeping – checking which phrases have triggered your ads to appear, and blocking any irrelevant ones with negatives.
Broad match modifiers
As well as using lots of negative keywords, broad match modifiers are another way you can get some of the advantages of broad match without all of the disadvantages. By including a + in front of the words that absolutely must appear in a search term in order to trigger your ad, you can get some of the broadness of broad match without allowing Google quite so much leeway to decide where to show your ad. +hotel +chester would match against any phrase that included both of those words, so it would still bring in traffic from a lot of different variants without being quite so broad. It’s another option to consider for targeting the long tail.
If you only have a small number of keywords in your account, you’ll need to keep their match type fairly broad in order to capture enough traffic. They are a great way of ‘flushing out’ new search terms you hadn’t thought of, and building your keyword lists with new ideas. But if you’re using broad match keywords, you must be diligent about checking search terms regularly and adding negatives where needed to improve the relevance of your traffic. You may also wish to use broad match modifiers to narrow down your broad match keywords slightly.