AdWords Expanded Broad Match: How to Combat Google’s Cash Grab

Switch to Phrase and Exact Match and Bring Down Your Cost Per Click and Cost Per Sale

Yesterday, I got an email from my acquaintance Andrew Goodman over at PageZero (author of the excellent Winning Results with Google AdWords Winning Results with Google AdWords) discussing issues with broad match in Google PPC management.

In August one of my clients had a horrible surprise (well we both did) where PPC costs skyrocketed - almost tripling for one week, with only about a 25% improvement in leads.

I got on it right away and called Google. The Google AdWords representative told me that thanks to our great quality score we'd qualified for "expanded broad match". Although Google says that they are against get rich quick schemes and fake sweepstakes in AdWords, this move is straight out of that shady playbook.

Sure, we'd "qualified". Qualified to pay three times as much for just a fraction more business.

"So how do we turn it off?" I asked.

"You can't," she answered.

So what did I do? My clients had been making money on this campaign and they wanted to go back to doing so. So I eliminated all broad match phrases from all our campaigns. That left some holes in the campaigns so I added some additional phrase matches to compensate, i.e.

broad match:
French DVD films
became phrase match:
"French DVD films"
"DVD French films"
"films French DVD"
"DVD films French"
"French films DVD"

As you can see it takes six phrase matches to cover a single three word broad match. With longer phrases, there are clearly phrases which are more likely than others so it's not all that intimidating.

A bit of a pain in the neck, but eminently doable (Splutweb's keyword permutation tool (broken link - is free and speeds the process).

The result was worth it. Our advertising costs dropped in half (about one quarter or one fifth of what Google was serving us with expanded broad match).

With expanded broad match our CTR went way down. So not only were we getting lots more lousy clicks, we were now paying far more per click. When that CTR went down, advertising costs soared.

How about the sales? Well, they are down about 20% from what we had pre-expanded broad match. They are down about a third from what we had with expanded broad match.

Here's what those numbers might look like with and without expanded broad match.

Match Type Cost Sales CPS (cost per sale)
original Broad Match $4600 480 $9.58
with Expanded Broad Match $8400 600 $14.00
Phrase/Exact Match only $3500 680 $5.47

So in the end, Google did us a favour by penalising us for one week with expanded broad match. They weaned us off of broad match altogether.

If you want to make money with AdWords, just don't use broad match.

The two interesting forms are phrase match which is created by putting quotation marks around your phrase "french DVD films" or exact match which is created by putting square brackets on your term [french DVD films].

Anything other kind of match and you are taking money out of your children's education fund and subsidising Google's purchase of YouTube.

Here's what Andrew Goodman had to say:

it probably shouldn't be incumbent on you to be trying to disable Google matching features through obscure unpublished methods. Until Google comes clean and decides whether they are or are not going to document their "behaviorally-driven experiments," (along with a proper "opt out" capability), the only thing to do is to sit tight, and again, focus on better bidding strategy, and caution with matching options.

Bottom-line-wise, Google felt this experiment was material enough to disclose it in their recent quarterly earnings call. It might have been nice, though, if they'd spoken with more advertisers about it. We were the guinea pigs....There's a difference between helping little old ladies across the street, and installing a catapult that throws all passersby across the street so we can get there "better". And then charges you on your card for the service.

I couldn't agree more. We couldn't get a credit for the $2,000 which went up in smoke that week, on clicks which were next to useless to us.

(If you would like to get access to Andrew's subscriber members only newsletter directly, invest in Andrew's Google AdWords Handbook. Andrew manages a lot of top campaigns and sees the impact of Google AdWords changes across a wider range of industries faster than almost anybody out there. Hooking up with Page Zero's information services will be one of the best PPC investments you will make.

Andrew Goodman cites Mike Churchill and Jim Gilbert of SEMClubHouse.

Their recommendation is also to just stop using broad match. The put the blame on the new feature on Google trying to meet Wall Street quarterly targets:

Why does Google refuse to allow opt out for “expanded broad match”? The original explanation I received for implementation of “expanded broad match” was to enhance the AdWords user’s experience and provide them a better variety of related ads. Started out innocent enough, but as Google went public and had to answer to the ridiculous quarterly financial demands put on public companies by “Wallstreet” they probably realized that killing “expanded broad match” would have a severely negative impact on AdWords revenue. Furthermore, with continued “Wallstreet” pressure following Google’s first time “missed quarter”...not only can they NOT AFFORD to allow opting out of “expanded broad match” — by just loosening the knob they can instantly and dramatically pump revenue up in seconds.

Surreptitious expanded broad match really does look like a get rich quick scheme.

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16 Responses to AdWords Expanded Broad Match: How to Combat Google’s Cash Grab

  1. Hello George,

    The best way to approach broad match is just not to use it. It does mean more work for you and I. But it's not that hard. In our example:

    Of course this is more trouble for us. But it will be cheaper on a per click basis and you will get better clicks. Use the

    [dvd french films]
    "dvd french films"
    [dvd films french]
    "dvd films french"
    [french dvd films]
    "french dvd films"
    [french films dvd]
    "french films dvd"
    [films dvd french]
    "films dvd french"
    [films french dvd]
    "films french dvd"
    [dvd france films]
    "dvd france films"
    [dvd films france]
    "dvd films france"
    [france dvd films]
    "france dvd films"
    [france films dvd]
    "france films dvd"
    [films dvd france]
    "films dvd france"
    [films france dvd]
    "films france dvd"
    [dvd in french films]
    "dvd in french films"
    [dvd films in french]
    "dvd films in french"
    [in french dvd films]
    "in french dvd films"
    [in french films dvd]
    "in french films dvd"
    [films dvd in french]
    "films dvd in french"
    [films in french dvd]
    "films in french dvd"
    [dvd french language films]
    "dvd french language films"
    [dvd films french language]
    "dvd films french language"
    [french language dvd films]
    "french language dvd films"
    [french language films dvd]
    "french language films dvd"
    [films dvd french language]
    "films dvd french language"
    [films french language dvd]
    "films french language dvd"

    Of course this is more work for us, the advertiser. But it will be cheaper on a per click basis and you will get better clicks. Use the Splutweb Tool I recommended above and it won't take too much time.

    You just need to know all the elements of your phrase. Do include the exact match – still cheaper clicks than phrase match in most cases.

    Let's just hope Google doesn't launch expanded phrase match. I've started auditing our AdWords account more closely with PPC Assurance and I have some bad news.

    Even with expanded broad match and broad match turned off, we are getting 10% click fraud from other advertisers and stepping bots (bots that go through every ad in AdWords clicking them). Google won't refund those clicks even though we have precise reports on them.

    As an advertiser, Google is not your friend. They are looking to maximize their ROI. Of course, Google is not a fly-by-night operation so maximum ROI does not mean taking all they can from you this week and running with the money. But anything they can do to increase AdWords costs while advertisers can still make a profit is fair game.

  2. George

    Is Phrase Match really the answer in all cases. Sure you can bid for “DVD films french” but you’ll miss out on “DVD films in french”. It’s these things that broad match was made for and I wish it was possible to just turn off the expanded match option. I had nothing but bad experience with it.

  3. Garry

    Good information. I’m on to it.

  4. SEO Wrench (Jim Matheson)

    You actually can turn off expanded broad match. Go into edit campaign settings, and then look for Advanced Options. Right there is a check box titled “Show ads on more search queries without adding keywords.”

    Edit all your campaigns and once and use the down arrow functionality to turn them all off.

    In addition, it is my understanding that Expanded Broad Match does not kick in at all if you are hitting your daily budgets. It will only kick in if you are not reaching your budget. I for one have my budgets way above what I ever spend, so Expanded Broad Match is/was kicking in, but it may not be for everyone.

    I have tried to use the Search Query report to see what Expanded Broad match was matching (to see if it came up with anything good that I had missed), but between the mix of what it aggregates and the unique queries it makes it nearly impossible to figure out what exactly expanded broad match is actually matching.

    PS your wordpress comment box does not seem to want to let me submit with Firefox 3, had to switch to IE to get it to work for me.

  5. SEO Wrench (Jim Matheson)

    If you don’t see that check box then that probably means you do not have expanded broad match enabled in your account (probably a good thing).

    As Alec mentioned, you have to “qualify” for it and it is my understanding that the majority of accounts, especially smaller ones still do not have this enabled.

  6. SEO Wrench (Jim Matheson)

    PS it let me submit via Firefox 3 this time. not sure why or if you changed something on your end.

  7. Nelsonan

    After looking through this issue for a while (which seems to have plagues adwords advertisers for a couple of years now….), I have concluded that this might not be the BEST solution.

    I mean, it is not simple enough to just turn off all of your broad matching. This will cut you off from much of your traffic that you DO want (as opposed to the ones google hands out some times).

    -What would seem to make more sense is to first do what you did above, aka use all of those permutations for each keyword.
    -Put all of these permutations in broad, phrase, AND exact match (yes trippling your keywords).
    -Make sure you set the max bid price for the broad matches MUCH LOWER THAN FOR PHRASE AND EVEN LOWER THAN THE SAME EXACT MATCH KEYWORDS.
    **important step next**
    -Then, use the “Search Query Performance Report” under “reports” in adwords to see exactly which keywords google is screwing you over on.

    What I mean is:

    if you sell purple flowers and you have a broad match keyword purple flower, but the report shows that someone searched for the term pink flower and that triggered the purple flower ads…

    ADD THE WORDS YOU SEE WORKING AGAINST YOU TO THE NEGATIVE KEYWORD LIST (in this case, you would add -pink to your keyword list)

    I am convinced that AN EXPANSIVE NEGATIVE KEYWORD LIST IS THE KEY to dodging this problem. Over time your negative keyword list will get longer and longer but the more you add to it, the more precise traffic you will receive.

    Let me know what you guys think!

  8. @ Nelsonan

    Actually I’ve found that phrase match – with a lot of phrases – gives me most of what broad match used to give me before broad match started to use synonyms and guesses.

    But your technique sounds good as well. Thanks for sharing!

    @ Jim

    Thanks for the tip about that checkbox, “Show ads on more search queries without adding keywords.” I didn’t know about that. Despite having an English degree and working as a search professional for six years, I’m still not quite sure what that sentence means. I hope it does mean what you say it does. I would suggest that Google is trying to be very opaque here.

    I agree with you about daily budgets. Why would I want to set my daily budget to close to daily spend? It just means my ads get cut off at one point in the day. A pity that we have to palisade ourselves and our money off, just to stop Google from showing our ads on unrelated (in most cases) and (in the rest of cases) unwanted key phrases

    PS. I’ll check out the Firefox 3 issue. We are running and testing on Firefox 2, Safari 3, IE6 and Opera, on a mix of Mac OS X, Windows 2000, Windows XP and Linux. I’ll have to add Firefox 3 to the mix.

  9. Nelsonan

    @SEO Wrench

    Maybe I’m just a fool, but I can’t for the life of my locate that button to turn it off. I can’t find “advanced options” under edit campaign settings. What am I missing??

    Also would you consider this a “fix” to the griping that has been taking place for the last several years pertaining to this expanded broad match issue?


  10. Nelsonan

    What I do not understand then, is that first of all I would not consider my account small at all, and also when I check the reports I am definitely getting bogus clicks, aka people are seeing my ads that are searching for nothing that I am paying for them to see.

    Regardless I am taking the steps to maximize my negative keyword lists and phrase/exact matches while shrinking my list of broad matches.

    Something tells me it should never have to be this difficult…

  11. Something tells me it should never have to be this difficult…

    No, it shouldn’t. It’s a straight crass money grab by Google (they fill all the vacant SERPS with ads and heat up the competition across the board).

    We’ve done a fair amount of work on getting refunds out of Google (bad geo targeting, bots stepping through our AdWords campaigns). They give you such a run around that most people just give up.

    So with the unannounced broad match cash grab, they literally lifted thousands out of one of my client’s pockets. Imagine this multiplied across the board.

    Monopoly power. What are you going to do…

    Stop advertising on AdWords?

    Say goodbye to 90% of the paid search market.

    So we have to work with it. My solution works very well. Putting it in is only a small nuisance. Nelsonan’s solution works superbly. But is a lot more trouble.

    And so collective intelligence defies the Borg. But the Borg still wins as too many AdWords advertisers haven’t read this article and our comments here and don’t know how to defend themselves and don’t even know how they are being pickpocketed.

  12. PPC Services - Vinson

    You guys have just confirmed what I thought about AdWords broad match.

    I would never recommend my clients to using broad match nor my own promotions.

    Like you I have been burnt when I just started my AdWords advertising journey years ago.

    The posts are all very enlightening, not to say how true there are about Google and AdWords.

    Isn’t item #6 in the Big G’s corporate philosophy mentioned about “You can make money without doing evil”? (

    How ironic and I feel like having a big laugh.

    Yes, that is the monopoly power and we the small little tiny fish just can’t do anything besides accepting the fact and go with the flow or can we?

    Too bad that the M Corp and Y Corp just can’t make it in terms of search technologies.

  13. Pingback: Broad Match—Danger, Will Robinson. | Internet Marketing Kultch

  14. Im also experiencing the Expanded Broad Match virus and there is no ‘Advanced Settings’ tab in my campaign (active since 2003) nor is there an option to turn it off. I would pay HUNDREDS (hear me Google!?) to Disable this ‘Feature.’

  15. edi software

    You have to do your keyword research in a different manner. With SEO, it’s better to check for the low hanging fruit (exact match) and you will naturally gain phrase and broad match as time goes on.

  16. Lee Son

    There is some great info here.
    I started to feel like broad match was getting a little too broad when the keyword tree care service was getting clicks for the search term “kumquat tree” and another for “loquat tree” in the same day. I live in a northern climate FFS.

    So I have gone through and put a + in front of every single word in the broad match category. I’ll see how that goes.

    I think big G is taking us for a ride and keeps coming up with new tricks to squeeze us a little more each quarter. It’s going to come around and bite them at some point.

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