When Exact Match Isn’t Exactly Exact

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One of the most basic elements of PPC is keyword match types. Each engine has slightly different options available: Google and MSN have Broad, Phrase, and Exact; Yahoo has Standard and Advanced; and Ask has Exact and Broad. All four also have negative match, which essentially is keywords you DON’T want your ads to appear on.

Google’s Adwords Help Center defines the match types, and these definitions are pretty standard across all the engines. Exact match, in particular, is defined this way: “If you surround your keywords in brackets – such as [tennis shoes] -your ads will appear when users search for the specific phrase tennis shoes, in this order, and without any other terms in the query. For example, your ad won’t show for the query red tennis shoes. Exact matching is the most targeted option. Although you won’t receive as many impressions with exact matching, you’ll likely enjoy the most targeted clicks, because users searching for terms in this manner typically want precisely what your business has to offer.”

Pretty straightforward, right? Makes sense, right? So, by way of example, let’s say my keyword is, oh, Redbook. If I have Redbook set to exact match, for Google, MSN, and Ask, then my ad will only show when someone types that one word into the search box, right? I mean, Google says so, so it must be true, right?


Let me give an actual example from our analytics. One of our more popular magazines is TV y Novelas. One of my PPC keywords for that magazine is [tv y novelas] – exact match, with the brackets and all. So, according to Google’s definition, the only search that’ll trigger that ad is those three words, in that exact order. Not true. Here are some of the other search terms that drove clicks to our site for that keyword:
* tv y novelas magazine (which is also a keyword in the same ad group, and even has a higher CPC attached to it!)
* univision novelas (sorry, not even close)
* www (dot) tvinovelas (dot) com (dot) mx (huh??)

There are others, but you get the point. I don’t know about you, but in my book, these are anything but exact match. They’re not even phrase match, which according to Google means “your ad will appear when a user searches on the phrase tennis shoes, in this order, and possibly with other terms in the query.”

I find that, in general, the search partner sites are bigger offenders than Google.com. The worst one is AOL. On the exact match keyword [martha stewart living], we get 2-3 clicks per day from AOL on www(dot)marthastewart(dot)com. Not only is that not exactly the keyword, it doesn’t even have all the words in it! I purposely don’t have “martha stewart” as a keyword – hello, probably 99% of the people searching for that aren’t looking to subscribe to her magazine. And I even have “www” and “.com” as negative keywords. Apparently AOL doesn’t understand the whole “www” thing. (Why am I not surprised?)

I have to stop picking on Google for a second to say that this problem is worse on MSN, and worse yet on Ask. Some of our highest-volume referrals in the Ask program are www dot whatever dot com. Needless to say, these don’t convert real well.

Here’s my opinion. I’m fine with the engines showing my broad match keyword ads on stuff like this. That’s the risk you run when you use broad match, and often you get the benefit of capturing those tail searches that would be missed by phrase or exact match. But, Dear Engines, you can’t have it both ways. Don’t tell me that exact match means my ad won’t show if there are other words in the query, when clearly my ads DO show in that case, especially on AOL. Either make the match options work the way you say they work, or change your definitions. When I’m paying top dollar for [martha stewart living], I don’t want visitors that typed in something else. And when I start getting visitors that typed something else, I have to reduce my bids to account for the untargeted (and un-converting) traffic.

Hey Google et al, next time you’re at a restaurant and you order a root beer, I hope you don’t mind if I bring you a Bud Light instead. After all, it has “beer” in its name, too.

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