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Search Tip: Watch Your Match Types

Match types are a critical but too often overlooked aspect of paid search.

Roughly, the major PPC engines define three levels of matching:

  • Exact Match, where the search phrase must match the advertised phrase exactly. (On Yahoo, this is “standard match”, and includes singular or plural variations, common misspellings, etc.)
  • Phrase Match, where the search phrase must contain the advertising phrase exactly (not available on Yahoo); and
  • Broad Match, where the search phrase must contain each word in the advertised phrase. More or less. (On Yahoo, this is “advanced match”, which displays ads for a “broader range of searches relevant to your keywords, titles, descriptions, and web content.”)

On Google and Yahoo, the match type is an attribute of the advertised phrase. On MSN, one sets three different bids (one for each match type) for each search phrase.

For example, consider ads running against the search phrase fish bait.

This would broad match, phrase match, and exact match against the search phrase fish bait.

This would broad match against bait fish and fish oil bait (but wouldn’t phrase or exact against either).

And this would broad match and phrase match against live fish bait and fish bait trap.

Some tips to keep in mind:

  • Broad match can be too broad. Google and MSN can extend broad match to synonyms and related concepts. Be careful, use negatives, and watch your logs.
  • Phrase match and exact match are sensitive to phrase order. If you want both fish bait and bait fish, you need to run both terms if you are using phrase or exact.
  • Conversion is almost always higher on exact match, but volume is lower.
  • Use negatives to improve the performance of broad match and phrase match ads. These can be applied at the adgroup level (on Google and Yahoo), the campaign level (on Google), or on the account level (on Yahoo). (Negatives don’t matter for exact match.)
  • Broad match is useful to collect data on the actual terms used by searchers. Carefully review search phrase (not advertised phrase) occurrence and volume data to determine which ads would be helped by negatives and which terms merit splitting into more specific ads.
  • One basic strategy is starting broad to maximize coverage. (Beware singular keywords!) Watch your search logs carefully. Add negatives as needed. If performance is still poor, tighten up the match type to phrase or exact.

Put time and testing into your match type decisions — you’ll be well rewarded for it.

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  • Alan Rimm-Kaufman
    Alan Rimm-Kaufman founded the Rimm-Kaufman Group...
  • Comments
    8 Responses to “Search Tip: Watch Your Match Types”
    1. slashrockstar says:

      Just wanted to point out that you had one bullet in your tips that was misleading:

      “Phrase match and exact match are identical for one word terms.”

      This is not true. Phrase match can have words on either side of it where exact match would not have any other words at all for single word terms.

      engineer, slashrockstar

    2. Good catch!

      Writing too quickly. You are indeed correct. Bullet struck.

      Thanks for the correction.

    3. Jennifer says:

      When testing match type – do you think it is worth starting broad & then tightening (as described abvoe) or do you think there is some merit to having all three, bidding them separately, and segmenting your traffic so that you can assess the value of the three types of traffic & decide which meet your ROI goals vs. which are wasted spend?

    4. Hi Jennifer,

      Great question. The answer depends somewhat on the volume of traffic on the keyword in question and where you strike the balance between learning quicker but with potentially less efficiency and getting to the right answer slower but with more efficiency.

      For a brand new selection of keywords (a new client, or a new category for and existing client) we find that starting on broad allows us to learn a bit faster. All the data is centralized on a single iteration, you don’t have to worry about bidding differentials skewing the results between multiple versions, and you don’t have to guess at what those initial differences ought to be out of the gate with no data.

      The downside, as you suggest is that in all likelihood you’ll be bidding somewhat too much for the broad and phrased matched traffic and somewhat too little for the exact matched traffic during the learning period. Cooking in some sort of assumed differential at the beginning can allow you to collect data more efficiently, but it does make the analysis a bit more difficult and may delay getting you to the “right” place.

      Hope this is helpful!

    5. Jason says:

      Search bid strategy

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