Key Relevance Review of Google Automatic Match – Measuring the Cost of Skipping Keyword Research

by Jim Gilbert and Mike Churchill of Key Relevance

Automatic Match is Google’s new feature that allows AdWords managers to receive clicks in their PPC campaigns without the need to select specific keywords. According to Google:


Automatic matching

Automatic matching is an optional feature that helps your ads reach targeted traffic missed by your keyword lists. It works by analyzing the content of the landing pages, ads, and keywords in your ad group and shows your ads on search queries relevant to this information.

The automatic matching system continually monitors your ad performance and aims to show your ads only on queries that yield a comparable or better cost-per-click (CPC) than that of your current traffic. Automatic matching will only use your unspent budget and will never deliver more traffic than your budget allows for.


In two previous posts, Jim took a somewhat negative shot at Google’s “Automatic Match” feature, with little to go on but past experience with “new features”.


Well, we’re back and have the results of our real-life testing of this new feature.

After a fairly lengthy process of testing “Automatic Match”, we can now report these facts — Facts at the time of this writing, but Google can always change at any moment without warning or notice.


  1. The following statement is still true, so be on the lookout for when Google rolls “Automatic Match” out to your account!
    Quote from an Official Google email dated 23May2008: “The feature will be enabled by default..” – see Automatic Match to be Default
  2. Automatic Match does not start spending immediately… once activated, it takes up to a couple weeks for it to learn what it thinks it should do. So, don’t get complacent if it does don’t start spending on Day One — KEEP TABS — it could take off like a rocket at any time.
  3. Google’s “Automatic Match” IS greedier than expanded broad match! See our original post at: More Greedy than Expanded Broad Match
  4. Still true (if you notice when it shows up): But there is GOOD news — you can OPT out!

    Look for this in your Campaign Settings:

  5. Automatic Match is especially invasive in adgroups that have relatively few keywords.
  6. You can “negate” bad impressions and clicks with negative keywords — if you keep very, very close tabs on them. We use the PPCProbe keyword tool to allow us real-time tracking of the search phrases.

NOW, some actual results:

The Scenario:
One adgroup with 1 PHRASE match keyword, residing in a campaign enabled for automatic match.

The Results:

  • Adgroup spend increased 600%! That’s right… 600%!

While the increase in spend in and of itself is not a bad thing (assuming that’s why we were using Automatic Match in the first place), there is a problem with ther results of our test: spending more money is a good thing only if it is bringing targeted traffic to the site. One of the shortcomings of using Automatic Match is that you don’t get to see the search terms that the searchers are using in the Campaign/AdGroups management screen. We used PPCProbe to allow us to gain the insight into the actual search terms that Automatic Match was matching to in real time.

  • 88% of all clicks were from “Automatic Match”. Only 12% were from the actual phrase match keyword. The CPC of the Automatic Match keywords was a little cheaper than the CPC of the actual phrase in the account, but…
  • The majority (4 out of 5) of “Automatic Match” clicks came from keywords I consider to be not relevant. As we shall see, this makes the Effective CPC much worse in our case.

We ran our test with a single phrase match term in the AdGroup: “wedding table decorations”. Of the clicks collected during our test, clicks for the phrases in the AdGroup broke down as follows:


Category Example Percentage of Clicks
Actual Phrase from AdGroup
(non-Auto Match – Very Relevant Hits)
“wedding table decorations” 11.9%
Automatic Match (Relevant Hits) “weddiing table decor”
“decorations for wedding tables”
“wedding cake table decorations”
“wedding table ideas”
Automatic Match (Non-Relevant/Close Hits) “table settings”
“party table numbers”
“table numbers for weddings”
Automatic Match (Non-Relevant Hits) Chocolate “Hersheys”
“chocolate wedding favors”
“chocolate lollipops”
Automatic Match (Non-Relevant Hits) Flowers “wedding flowers”
“wedding florists”
“wedding lily flowers”
Automatic Match (Non-Relevant Hits) Wedding Gowns “discount wedding gowns”
“discount wedding dresses”
Other (Non-Relevant Hits)   10.4%


As result, if we consider the Actual Phrases, the Automatch Hits, and the Near Misses (to give the benefit of the doubt – it is just a computer making these KW decisions and we are being lazy by using Automatic Match in the first place), you can see that only 28.4% of the ad spend generated relevant traffic to the site. This effectively made the CPC of the KW buys in this AdGroup 3.5 times more expensive with Automatic Match turned on compared to manually selecting keywords because of the ad spend wasted on the mis-targeted Keyword clicks.

So, where are these mismatched keywords coming from? Are chocolates, flowers and wedding gowns featured on the landing page for the AdGroup? The short answer is “No”. The word “flower” is mentioned once in the plain text of the page, the words “hershey” and “chocolate” appear in the sidebar navigation that points to other pages of the site, and the words “gown” and “dress” are not on the page at all. None of these off-target keywords appeared in the AdWords Ad Copy or anywhere else in the AdGroup. A new AdGroup was created for this test, so no deleted words were previously in the AdGroup. From this we conclude that Automatic Match seems to be using a variation of the Expanded Broad Match algorithm.


  • Turn Automatic Matching off until you understand the ramifications of what it will do to your ad spend, traffic, and conversions.
  • If you should decide to use it, watch it closely, and track the actual phrases that are being used to drive traffic to the site.
  • Be prepared for nothing to happen on the Automatic Match lines of your AdGroups immediately – Automatic Match takes some time to “kick in”.
  • Compute an “effective CPC” [total $$ / (total clicks – off-target Automatch clicks)] for the AdGroup. Once you discount the off-target traffic you will be better able to determine the real cost of using Automatic Matching in your ad campaign.

Pay Per Click

Google Announces AdWords Enhancements – Real Time Quality Score Calcs and No More Minimum Bid

By Mike Churchill and Jim Gilbert

Google announced some upcoming AdWords changes that affect the way that they handle the Quality Score calculations. These changes have been made to improve the accuracy of the Quality Score calculations and to improve the usability of the AdWords accounts. They were announced on 21 August 2008, and will initially be rolled out to a few PPC customers for feedback, with the rollout to the full AdWords client base occurring over the next two months.

There are four enhancements announced:

Quality Score Timeliness

Google will now be calculating the Quality Score for your ad each time it matches a search query. In the past, the Quality Score was only recalculated periodically, which could cause some lag in the improvement to Quality Score once the problems were corrected. By calculating the Quality Score “on-the-fly” your ads will be more likely to display when relevant (and less likely to display when not).

“Minimum Bid” to be Retired (but not really)

The Minimum Bid calculation was added to Google AdWords about three years ago (July 2005), and has been the bane of many PPC advertisers. We believe that the Minimum Bid calculation was a work-saving measure that allowed Google to limit the number of phrases to be considered for a particular search query and provide better speed-of-service to the searcher. As a result, though, many phases would be turned off, and an inattentive PPC manager could be caught unawares. Users of the Google API and the offline AdWords Editor will still see the Minimum Bid field until these tools are updated, so while they no longer show in the Google GUI, they are still being calculated (based on the new Quality Score calculations).

As a part of the real-time Quality Score improvements, in the GUI, the Minimum Bid metric is being replaced with….
Continue reading

Yahoo Conversion Problem?

by Jim Gilbert

If you have advertised on Yahoo’s Panama for any length of time or managed multiple accounts there, you may have seen (in many account cases) a deterioration in conversion performance in search.

We are talking search here — not the content network.

I just finished investigating this issue on several accounts today and found a very interesting fact:

Of all the clicks coming from these accounts on Yahoo Panama, only 33.7% were actually from Yahoo — the rest (66.3%) were from Yahoo’s Search Network!

So Yahoo’s search network delivers more traffic than Yahoo search? Yep, in many cases this appears to be an absolute fact.

“So who cares”, you say?

You should! Yahoo’s search network (and Google’s for that matter) is not chunked full of brand name properties to put it politely — to be a bit rude many are “scummy”. So, conversion performance from Yahoo is 66.3% search network which just DOES NOT convert as well as search.

Google’s Automatic Match to Become Default!

by Jim Gilbert


Quote from an Official Google email dated 23May2008:
“The feature will be enabled by default, although it
won’t begin to affect your accounts until June 3, 2008.”


See our original article at:

If you need the quick summary and don’t have time to read our original article, here you go:

  • If your Adwords keywords (Exact, Phrase and Broad match types — including expanded broad match) don’t make your ads show… Automatic Match Will!

Call me somewhat of a cynic, but I have a very tough time relating this to “producing better relevance”. I have personally seen what broad match (with expanded broad match) can do when it gets out of control and have found ways to prevent the excessive spend from occurring. Thank goodness…

But there is GOOD news — you can OPT out!

Google's Automatic Match


For the moment the Beta description is still available (Automatic Match Beta),

Try using the AdWords help function (while logged in) searching for “Automatic Match” and you get this:
Your search — “automatic match” — did not match any answers in the AdWords Help Center.


Why is it hidden? Go Figure!



Google Says Users Won’t be able to Tell Paid Ads from Natural

by Jim Gilbert

By Scott Morrison, Of DOW JONES NEWSWIRES reports a top Google executive (Tim Armstrong, Google’s North American president for advertising and commerce.) of saying:

“Speaking at the Bear Stearns Media Conference in Palm Beach, Fla., Armstrong said Google’s advertising platform will evolve over time so that it won’t distinguish between search and display ads.”

Anyone care to comment on what the heck that means?

Google’s Automatic Match – More Greedy than Expanded Broad Match

by Jim Gilbert

Quote from an Official Google email dated 23May2008:

“The feature will be enabled by default, although it
won’t begin to affect your accounts until June 3, 2008.”

UPDATE! 23May2008 — Automatic Match to be the DEFAULT! see the full update at: Automatic Match to be Default

Google Automatic Match Beta

So far this “Automatic Match” option is only a beta and accessible by invitation only. BUT, If this monster goes live and removes our ability to “opt out” (like in Expanded Broad Match), something very, very ugly may happen:

  •   No matter how large your budgets, they WILL be spent — every penny (and dollar)!

I was going to let you read the Beta help file, but it disappeared… IT’S BACK, but you will have to be logged into an AdWords account to get to it: Automatic Match


Just build your campaigns and they will come. Heck, you no longer even have to offer any keywords — Google will look at your ad and your site and make sure your ads show for any search query that even “smells” relevant.


Did Google’s revenue drop in January scare them that badly?


Pay Per Click

Expanded Broad Match and The Google 1-2 Punch

By Mike Churchill
(Special thanks to my colleagues Jim Gilbert and Liana Evans in researching this article).

There has been a lot of discussion on Google’s recent changes to the way that they handle expanded broad match (at WebMasterWorld , High Rankings Forum and other places).

We have come across a different issue that relates to the investigation of expanded broad match, and has wider-reaching repercussions for your PPC campaigns, as well as understanding oddities in interpreting Analytics. We have been seeing this issue for the last month or so (since Aug-Sep 2007), and according to the Google engineers with which I have discussed this: “the search results […] are the result intended behavior. When determining which ads to show on a Google search result page, the AdWords system evaluates the user’s previous search query as well as the current search query.”

Continue reading

Expanded Broad Match Corrupted Around Aug 20 — Stop Using It!

by Jim Gilbert

Summary of the Issue:

Around August 20, 2007 many clients’ Google AdWords accounts saw their cost/conversion skyrocket — in one particular case we saw it was over 100% increase. It was caused by a corrupted “Expanded Broad Match” algorithm.

What Caused it?

“Expanded broad match” was expanded by Google way too much. AdWords began showing ads for “expanded broad match” terms that were just not relevant to the broad keyword generating them.

What to do:

1) Stop using “Broad Match”! If you do use it Google kicks in “Expanded Broad Match” and you can not opt out of the expanded part.

2) Insist to your Google contacts that you be allowed to opt out of expanded broad match!
(We have tried for a couple years, but have made no progress.)

UPDATE: 10/16 — see 10/16 note below

The Rant, Some Interesting Thoughts and the Detail — if you like the fun stuff

The Real Title of this Post should be “Expanded Broad Match – Google’s EPS (Earnings Per Share) Equalizer”

Rarely will you find me crawling all over Google’s AdWords PPC offering. Compared to the alternatives (competition in other words), they have done a technically good job, understand usability, continue to grow their footprint and are somewhat responsive to user (and agency) needs.

However, “crawling” is now in order. Since Google announced their “expanded broad match” it has been a sore spot with all those who understand how it works and what it does. For over 2 years we have begged Google to allow AdWords clients to “opt out” of the “expanded broad match” — broad match as it was originally YES, expanded broad match as it is today NO, NO, NO!

Around mid to late August and into September several very valuable AdWords clients cost/conversion numbers went VERY FAR SOUTH (like in bad & the ugly) — in one case over doubling! Careful investigation revealed that the increase in conversion costs were directly related to a VERY FEW broad match terms.

Even further investigation identified “some” of the new “expanded broad match” terms that had kicked in and destroying the conversion costs. Expanded terms that DO NOT RELATE to the broad term in anything resembling an acceptable manner.

Demands to the usual Google contacts requesting an option to “opt out” to “expanded broad match” were (again) unsuccessful. We provided the documentation and our reps agreed that these documented instances were “kind of far out there”. They even offered to help find more negative keywords to prevent it from happening. In one case we let them try to add effective keywords is and existing list of over 1,200 ones — trust me there was little they could do. See, there is no tool for identifying what Google expands broad keywords to. There used to be, but it conveniently disappeared.

We have great Google Reps, but they can only consult with their superiors on making these types of changes — the reps do not have the power to make something like this happen. Nor do they have “thousands of users” complaining — since their are probably not thousands of users who understand or can detect what is really happening.

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” Google probably sees this:

My Opinion Only and I will remove it if Google will allow us to opt out of “expanded broad match”.

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.

Now it’s time to monitor the “expanded broad match knob”. We have put things in place to detect this “knob turning”. Like last time, wouldn’t it look funny if the knob was loosened only during the mid to late quarter periods?

This is only the beginning — those smart enough to monitor and detect wasted click spend due to unsupportable expansion of terms will at some point do more than just beg or throw fits.

P.S. Relax… I am not a cynic or pessimist — The facts of the analysis support these conclusions (except maybe my final opinions).

UPDATE: 10/16:
Appears the Expanded Broad Match Knob was screwed back in in a good bit. I screamed and hollered and Google backed off — doubtful. What is more likely is that they had pumped revenue all they could for the quarter ending Sep (3Q) and backed off during early 4Q (and Hoping they don’t have to do that ever again?).

Pig Asking Pig How to Eat? Yahoo….

by Jim Gilbert

Rumor has it that new Yahoo executives are running around the trough asking other Yahooers about the direction of the company and what needs to be done. Ain’t that a laugh!

From my experience with the Yahooers I’m allowed to interact with they are part of the problem — not part of the solution.

Many recommendations have been forwarded to Yahoo (from little ole me) regarding their PPC systems and to date NOT ONE has ever been implemented. But then, what do I know since I’ve only used PPC systems for years to manage many, many client accounts? A couple of these recommendations were almost guaranteed to put lots of $$$$ in Yahoo’s pockets.

So Yahoo… this is an open challenge to see if your new executives are serious about making improvements and money! Talk to the “right” people — yes, I’m one of them and not that hard to find.

You might even want to keep in mind that at least one high level executive on “Wall Street” values my opinion. That’s kind of funny… Wall Street wants my opinions on Yahoo, but Yahoo doesn’t.

Google AdWords Allows You To Block Ads With IP Exclusion

Spotted at Search Engine Roundtable and worth the read if you manage Google PPC accounts.

Heck, we are already blocking some of those babies as this is being written.

Google just released a new feature for AdWords advertisers. Advertisers can now specify if they do not want their ads to show up for specific IP addresses.

Visit the Search Engine Roundtable post or Google IP Blocking Help for more…