Mike Ruins the PPC Broad Match Keyword Debate

Mike_Ruins_Digital_MarketingIf you scour the Internet, you’ll see articles enlightening readers about how broad match keywords “kill” PPC accounts.  On the other hand, you’ll find those that claim the lack of broad match use costs advertisers extra conversions.  So who’s right and who’s wrong?

It reminds me of politics in America.  On most issues, both sides can bring legitimate points.  But division is perpetual because most shape their perspectives based on their personal experience.  Only a select few are able to weave all perspectives together into something healthy that can work for everyone.

Although the broad match debate isn’t as serious as major issues facing the world, I’m going to attempt to expose the nuggets of truth from both sides of this debate and weave them together to benefit all of mankind.  God help me :).

Broad Match Isn’t Good…or Bad

You see, broad match keywords (just like all the other match types) are not inherently good or bad.  They just are what they are and do what they do.  The issue doesn’t lie with their existence.  It lies with the time, place and method of their use.

You don’t call a hammer a bad tool because it’s not good at chopping wood, do you?  It’s only the people that tried to chop wood with it that do.  Instead, those that used it to hammer in nails call it a good tool, because it quickly, easily and efficiently accomplishes that purpose.  In the same way, a person’s judgment of broad match keywords probably lies solely with how they’ve used them in the past and the results achieved.

Broad Match’s Best Friend

ControlAll digital marketing channels have unique characteristics to them that, when used correctly, translate into value.  The value of social media is amplification.  The value of SEO is free, relevant traffic.  For PPC, it’s control.

Without the ability to control what you’re trying to do, the PPC channel loses much of it’s unique value.  Like trying to chop wood with a hammer, a lack of control with PPC results in wasted time and energy, frustration, and ultimately a belief that it’s not worth the effort.

Therefore, in everything one does in the PPC channel, it must be guided by control.  Control over where and when ads are served.  Control over how much you pay for them.  Control over how you test.  Control over the risks you take.

And this, my friends, is what separates those that hate broad match (and everyone other “tool” in PPC) from those that love it.  Those that hate broad match didn’t know who its best friend was – control.  Those that love it knew.

So, the solution is not to throw away the hammer.  It’s to learn to control the time, place and method of its use.

Without control, these are bad reasons to use it

To increase Traffic

Without control, broad match will bring a lot of costly clicks your way that don’t have the slightest chance of bringing you money.  Why?

Because a broad match keyword matches to queries that are deemed to be relevant variations.  This relevance can be very liberal.  For example, a keyword like red shoes will match to a search query like blue shirts.  Red and blue are both colors.  Shoes and shirts are both pieces of clothing.  Therefore, it’s a relevant variation!  #OMG

Of course, if you’re a shoe store that only sells shoes, you just wasted money.

So stop being lazy :).  There’s plenty of keyword opportunities out there to try without needing broad match keywords to go out and find them for you at the cost of paying for irrelevant traffic along the way.  Also, let’s be honest.  You don’t really want more traffic.  You want more sales, leads, etc.

To increase Conversions and Revenue

Clicks cost money, and to be successful with it, they need to be profitable.  When out of control, broad match will bring in so many irrelevant clicks, it’s hard to get enough value from them to be profitable.

To save time

When out of control, you’ll spend more money on wasted clicks than hiring someone.  If you don’t have time to do PPC correctly, find someone who can do it for you.

Other match types are too competitive and expensive

There’s a reason for that.  Remember, this is an auction, not a retail store.  The market sets the value.  If a keyword is expensive, it’s because it’s bringing value to businesses.  Staying away from it means you’re avoiding money, and you’re not in business to do that.  Sure, everyone wants keywords that are cheaper and convert, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of ignoring others.

When out of control, broad match keywords will likely cost you more in value than other match types of more expensive keywords.

25% of search queries every day are new

GarbageWhen out of control, you’ll be getting new queries.  But many of them will amount to garbage.

Honestly, it’s not like new words are made up every day in your industry.  The broad match modifier match type takes care of most fringe queries you’d want to capture.

Given the rising popularity of voice search, let’s say someone searches for please find me a good place to buy red dress shoes in cleveland ohio.  Certainly a good candidate of a search that hasn’t been seen recently.  Well, if you have the broad match modified keyword +red +dress +shoes +cleveland being targeted, you’re all set.  Or even if you are targeting Cleveland and have the BMM keyword +red +dress +shoes, you’re all set.  You’re matching to that either way.

With control, these are good reasons to use it

You’ll notice something here.  All of the good reasons below are the same as the bad reasons, with control being the equalizer.  This is what happens when you use the right tool for the right purpose.

To increase Traffic

When your account’s performing at a certain level, you want more traffic to help find new keywords to expand your reach.  Under control, you can find these while keeping your whole account at an acceptable performance level.

To increase Conversions and Revenue

Over time, you can make sure broad match brings in profitable converting clicks by controlling cost per click, spend, reach and other things.

To save time

It can be time intensive to find fringe keywords that will work for you.  They don’t show up in keyword tools.  If they do, they don’t show any volume.  They may be seldom used.  Under control, broad match can act as a keyword tool, dragging in queries that you may not find with conventional research.

Other match types are too competitive and expensive

If you’ve added a keyword to your account, then competitors likely have as well.  This drives up prices for clicks and takes away margin from conversions.  While these keywords are still valuable, there can be others out there that can drive cheaper conversions because competitors’ ads aren’t found there.  Under control, you just might be able to find some opportunities and take advantage of them.

25% of search queries every day are new

Check out what Susan Waldes says in her article Because My Crystal Ball Is Broken and Other Reasons To Bring Back Broad Match in 2015

30 percent of conversions in the last year came from queries that had only one single impression.  If you don’t have any broad match, you can only capture the portion of that 30 percent of conversions that you already predicted with your crystal ball.

She has a lot of other good things to say there about this topic too.  And while I’m pushing other articles, here’s one by Brad Geddes that has a lot of good broad match uses as well – 7 Great Uses for Broad Match (yes, really! broad match).  Again, all to be implemented under the guise of control.  Have I beaten that horse to death yet? 🙂  I believe so!

Controlling the process

Cross the StreetIn the end, the use of broad match is about how and when, not about if.  It’s like Susan points out in her article…

Google is like the parent who told us to be careful crossing the street. We are the child who responded by never leaving the house. Adding more broad match to your account is… finally leaving the house and being careful crossing the street.

Leaving the house involves using it, being careful crossing the street involves things like…

  • Using it in a separate campaign so you can control the % of budget that’s spent on it.
  • Using a portfolio bid strategy like Maximize Clicks to make sure you get the most traffic and conversions within your limited budget.
  • Implementing negative keywords to exclude queries that are matched, but aren’t relevant.
  • Implementing negative keywords to exclude broad match keywords from matching to queries that should be matching to keywords in other campaigns in your account.
  • Waiting to use it until your account performs at a certain profitable level to make sure venturing into the space doesn’t take your account as a whole out of profitability.
  • Start with long-tail (those typically with 3 or more words) broad match versions of your best-performing keywords to incrementally expand your reach.

There really is no debate

So as you can see, your results can be sub-optimal whether you use broad match or not.  If you use it in the wrong way, you can spew money without getting any in return.  This can cause you to easily come to the conclusion that PPC doesn’t work for you; giving your competitors an entire valuable channel of online marketing all to themselves.

On the other hand, you can lose potential customers that didn’t use the exact queries you’re targeting with keywords in your account if you don’t use it.  Again, lost money.

So there really is no debate.  Instead of taking sides because of your experience, learn about broad match as a tool and the appropriate times, places and methods to use it.

Make sure to check out more posts in the Mike Ruins Digital Marketing series, where I challenge the status quo by tackling digital marketing topics that most practitioners have all wrong.

Mike Fleming

Mike Fleming is a Senior Client Manager for Point It, and has been managing PPC accounts of all kinds for over 6 years; with a strong emphasis in Analytics and Conversion Optimization. He’s a respected digital marketing blogger and speaker who’s articles can be found on industry blogs like SEMRush.com and SearchEngineGuide.com. He also contributed to a published book called The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!. Mike enjoys playing, writing and recording music, playing basketball and investing. He resides in Canton, Ohio with a girl who threw a snowball at him one day…then married him.

No Comments

Leave a Comment: