Modify Your Broad MatchTalk to anyone who works with SEM, and I’m sure you’ll hear varying opinions on broad match keywords. Some love ’em, some hate ’em. Today, we’re giving you the verdict on broad match type when it comes to maximizing your ROI.

According to Google, broad match is defined as: “A keyword setting that allows your ad to show when someone searches for that keyword or a variation of it. The broad match keyword “bicycle bell” can cause your ad to show if someone searches for variations like “bicycle bells,” “buy a bell for a bicycle,” and “bell reviews for bikes.”

Broad match certainly has a place in a good AdWords strategy, but it’s not as prominent as Google would like you to think. I say this because Google has made broad match the default setting of every keyword. So unless you specify otherwise, your ads will be showing on a wide variety of searches at Google’s discretion.

Now, while it is obviously in Google’s best interests to show your ad to as wide a range of users as possible, that’s usually not in your best interests. Broad match is all too likely to do one of two things—run up your costs with clicks that don’t convert, or run down your Quality Score with impressions that don’t turn into clicks. Either way, you’re harming your ROI by spending money that’s not moving you towards your goals.

If you want to hit your ideal ROI goals, you need to keep firm control of your campaigns and closely monitor them to ensure healthy performance. Broad match doesn’t facilitate this, as it takes the power to match your ads to relevant user intent out of your hands and gives it to an automated process that does not know your business. This makes it precarious as your primary keyword strategy.

The other keyword match types do a much better job of giving you the control you need to hit ideal ROI and profitability. Phrase match ensures that your ad is shown only when the search query includes the exact phrase of your keyword, or close variations like plurals. (Given the earlier example, phrase match on the keyword “bicycle bell” would show on searches like “buy bicycle bell” or “bicycle bell reviews.”)

Exact match is the most precise match type, matching only when someone searches for your keyword exactly (ie, “bicycle bell” or “bicycle bells”). Modified broad match can also be used judiciously, if you want to cast a slightly wider net. This match type shows your ads only when the search contains those modified terms in your keyword, or close variations of the modified terms, in any order. (ie, “bells for bicycle” or “handlebar bell for bicycle”).

match types table

We like to build out keywords using all three match types, then monitor ad group performance to make sure keyword behavior is in line with ROI and revenue goals. We’ve found that these handpicked keywords will almost always outperform broad match keywords. Even with these more precise match types, however, you’ll want to be sure to monitor your campaigns regularly, and refine them with negative keywords.

However, broad match does have an important function that you shouldn’t overlook. Setting some keywords to broad match will bring you new traffic from unique search queries. This is important in maturing a campaign, since it will give you fresh ideas and insight on how to expand your keyword list.

This is something you’ll want to try once you have an established, stable campaign and are looking to expand, since broad match can easily run down a fledgling campaign, as we’ve discussed. And when you do you’ll want to:

  1. Add any obvious or important negative keywords.
  2. Separate the broad match keywords you’re testing into their own ad group(s).
  3. Monitor this ad group closely, especially in regards to spend.
  4. After about a week, once they’ve had some time to generate traffic, run a search queries report to see what kind of queries have been showing your ads.
  5. Use these queries to inspire new exact/phrase/modified broad keywords.

This should help you expand and mature your already-profitable campaigns by allowing you to target new queries and traffic.

So the verdict on broad match? It should not be your primary keyword strategy, but can be useful to strategic growth efforts when carefully monitored to minimize damage to your ROI.

It should be said, though—broad match setting is only one of the default AdWords settings that can seriously harm your ROI. To find more of these sneaky settings, download our most popular whitepaper, AdWords Default Settings that Kill Profitability.