Should You Still Use Broad Match Keywords?

A question I often hear asked is whether using broad match keywords is still a relevant PPC strategy. I’m not talking about ‘Broad Match Modified’ (the ones with the +symbols) which certainly have use today, but rather, the original broad match keyword targeting that existed since the very beginning.

The answer to this is complicated, but I think it can best be summed up as yes, but with caution.

First and foremost, always remember that Google is a publicly owned company with thousands of shareholders. Its’ number one goal will always be continual growth, and to achieve this they need to be maximize revenue wherever they can.

Just one example of this can be seen in how broad match keywords operate today compared to 2014. Five or six years ago broad match keywords were more restrictive in the search queries they picked up on. Now Google has changed things so that the net is cast much wider then it used to be. This can be good or bad depending on how vigilant you are as a PPC manager.

The bad is Google can often pick up on some pretty irrelevant searches, and wasted spend can accumulate quickly if you aren’t keeping on top of it by examining the search queries every day.

The good is that you will often find many search queries making sales that you would have never thought of. Keyword discovery is one of the prime reasons I use broad match targeting. It is especially useful when setting up a new account that has very little historical data. The phrase “throw it at the wall and see what sticks” is perfect in describing this strategy.

You will want to examine the search queries closely every day to make sure you are excluding any bogus terms; otherwise you are just wasting money. Another strategy here is to simply set a target CPA (if your campaign is using CPA bidding), and let Google figure out which terms are likely to meet your target. Machine learning takes time however, and this really only works well with high volume terms that can provide enough data to Google. Otherwise, you should be proactive and start monitoring the search queries from day 1.

Likewise, you will want to look at search queries performing well (specifically high traffic ones) and put them into a separate ad group with a higher bid and a couple of ads to test against. For any keywords that you separate out, be sure to add it as an ‘exact match negative’ in the former ad group where the broad keyword resides—you won’t want both ad groups picking up on the same term.

Broad keywords are especially useful when you are in a niche that does not have a lot of traffic. A good example I can think of is a client I had that sold ironing board covers. He wanted me to create a list of exact match keywords for very specific terms like [15 x 54 ironing board cover]. I did as he asked, but I didn’t have much confidence because the traffic estimation in the Google Keyword Planner was extremely limited.

Sure enough, immediately after uploading the keywords from the Google Ads Editor they were labeled as low search volume which means that Google will not serve them at all. You used to be able to bid on highly obscure terms, but not anymore! These days, only search queries with a high enough quota of monthly searches are eligible to serve ads at all.

After explaining this to my client I suggested that we try a shotgun approach by bidding a bit aggressively on only one broad match keyword: ironing board covers. From there, we would quickly be able to find new keyword opportunities by monitoring the search term reports. He agreed, and after a few weeks I was able to identify at least a dozen keywords with a fair amount of traffic worth going after.

I was also finding terms I did not expect like ‘padded cover for ironing’, ‘ironing pads’, ‘ironing padded covers’ which all had decent search volume and some sales behind them. And I would never had found them if I used the broad match modified version of ‘+ironing +board +covers’ since these terms do not contain all three of those words.

TLDR version of the article is this:

  • Broad match can be useful in discovering new keywords, especially when operating in a niche with limited traffic, or starting a new account.
  • You should monitor your search queries daily and add irrelevant terms as negatives.
  • You should also add high performing terms into their own ad group with a couple new ads to test against the control.

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