Modified Broad Match – The Good and the Bad

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Earlier this year, our PPC prayers were answered: Google finally rolled out their Broad Match Modifier, also known as Modified Broad Match. For years, we complained that broad match was just too broad. Our PPC keywords were matching to “silly synonyms” along with relevant terms – and our ROI went in the tank as a result.

Now, with Modified Broad Match, we can stop the hemorrhaging. We get all the benefits of broad match, but none of the junk.

Or do we?

The Good:

Getting rid of the junk. I wrote about this in one of my recent Search Engine Watch columns. In summary, one of our clients is a law firm specializing in aviation accident law. Even though we use negative keywords extensively, broad match is just too broad at times. Just prior to the US launch of modified broad match, our law firm’s ad for the broad match term “aviation lawyer” was displayed on this search phrase: “what the laws of flying with glass bongs”. This is an obvious case of broad match gone wild – and one that won’t happen with modified broad match.

Improving cost per conversion. By its very nature, modified broad match reduces the wasted impressions and clicks, and hones in on the right queries – without restricting impression the way phrase and exact match do. We’ve seen large improvements in cost per conversion for several clients who found that phrase match didn’t give them the traffic they wanted, but traditional broad match didn’t get good ROI.

Offering flexibility. On multi-word keyphrases (which you should always be using for PPC, by the way), the broad match modifier can be applied to one word in the keyword phrase, or many. For example, let’s say your keyword is “discount running shoes.” You could put the modifier on just the word “discount,” like this:

+discount running shoes

This will ensure that your ad only displays when the word “discount” is part of the query, but will still allow you to appear on queries like:
• Discount jogging sneakers
• Discount shoes for running
• Running shoes at a discount
• Etc.

But you might also show up on:
• Discount basketball shoes
• Discount athletic socks
• Used running shoes at a discount
• Etc.

Ugh. So maybe you’ll want to tighten things up a bit more:

+discount +running +shoes

Now, you’ll eliminate those crazy examples above, but can still show on:
• Running shoes at a discount
• Shoes running discount
• Discount shoes for running a marathon
• I want to find running shoes at a discount store
• Etc.

These are queries that you won’t get with phrase or exact match, but they’re still relevant and likely to convert.

The Bad:

It’s still too restrictive at times. We’ve seen the modifier shrink impression volume by as much as 80%, with no improvement in conversion rates. While this could be due to other concurrent issues, it’s hard to explain to a client why their volume on a top keyphrase suddenly disappeared.

It results in higher CPCs. We’ve also tried running modified broad match phrases side-by-side with traditional broad match. CPCs on the modified phrase have been 20-25% higher than the traditional broad phrase – again, with no difference in CTR or conversion rate.

Sometimes, it performs worse than traditional broad match. Yes, we have actually seen this happen: the modified broad match phrase ended up generating a good amount of impressions, but CTR and conversion rates were actually WORSE than the traditional broad match term. What gives?

What’s your experience been with the broad match modifier?

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  1. I agree that modified broad match is great compared to the standard broad match for helping to filter out unwanted traffic.

    Interesting to see you found CPCs rise when using modified broad match. I recently did some similar analysis and found CPCs were slightly lower in modified broad match keywords (compared to standard broad match keywords), while CTR was slightly higher.

    Like yourself, though, I couldn't find much evidence of differences in conversion rate.


  2. Very comprehensive. Excellent article. I always use broad match at first couple with negative phrase, depending on the result, I will then modify.

  3. Alan and Teena – thanks for your feedback! I expected CTR to be higher on modified broad match, but so far that hasn't played out. Glad you are seeing something different.

  4. When using CPC bidding, you can obviously adjust bids according to how modified and non-modified broad convert for you, so it’s a good idea to use both, but when it comes to CPA bidding it’s very hard to judge whether to stick with modified broad only or not. Over 30 days or so you should meet your target CPA, but the CPA for broad can sometimes be pretty bad, so if you paused broad, you might actually sell a few less items but make a better profit, *but*, given enough time conversion optimizer should *eventually* get close to the target CPA for broad (or will it?, does CPA bidding only every get to your target CPA overall for the whole ad group). It’s not something you’ll get a straight answer for from Google (but if you do let me know if you do)., and of course they will point out that there are no guarantees. All the same maybe I’ll separate some ad groups out in some campaigns so that I have ‘blue widgets – exact’, ‘blue widgets – phrase’, ‘blue widgets – modified broad’, ‘blue widgets – broad’. But I’m a bit loathe to do this as it’ll mean effectively removing a lot of the history on the keywords..

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