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?).

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7 thoughts on “Expanded Broad Match Corrupted Around Aug 20 — Stop Using It!

  1. We’ve been dealing w/ the exact same issue, started about late Aug and really peaked into the “sphere of awful” about 10 days ago. Cost:conversion was through the roof. We notched back the main offenders using phrase and exact, left a few proven phrases in broad, and are watching closely.

    This has such a dramatic effect on ROI it’s just silly for Google to do. Need to throttle that down. Then again why not keep it aggressively broad if you’re Google? The big fish with huge spends probably don’t even notice or care, while the smaller players who are careful about conversion costs get hammered.

  2. Nice article. The more pressure that can be put on them about this, the better. Expanded broad match is a crock. Previous to implementing an extensive and ever expanding negative keyword strategy, maybe 10% of the terms in the search query report for broad match were relevant. Another 50% were totally irrelevant horrible matches (everything from “used jeans” to “wholesale automatic weapons”) and the rest, well, let’s say they ranged from cartoon sex clips to things that get people put into sex offender databases. Let me tell you, it’s great to learn a client’s brand was associated with that.

  3. Yeah we picked this up too;

    But we think we have evidence that “broad match” was expanded to include a user’s search history, and not just semantic variations of a search phrase. It makes sense to try this if you think about it – at least for users anyway. If someone does a search for “apple” then Google have a lot better chance of matching an ad if historically you’ve made a lot of searches for computer terms, music, or fruit; but for us it’s not worked out well. I agree, Google can’t lose here.

  4. How come this isnt illegal, since we never signed up for (in the original ToS) a service that primarily hurts both my PPC campaign and my wallet?

    For Pete’s sake – we paid $5.49 for ‘Electronic Data Interchange’ to have it show up for “albanian english dictionary”. I can’t even do a 6 degrees of separation here…

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