Google AdWords advertisers who closely track their campaigns may have noticed traffic coming in for a wide variety of phrases that might seem like an odd fit for their campaigns. While bloggers have been speculating about problems with the AdWords Broad Match system since late summer, Mike Churchill at SEOClubHouse explains the system is working just as Google wants it to.

Since late August, many AdWords advertisers have noticed some odd queries showing up in their AdWords campaign reports. These queries often have no relation to the keywords being bid on through the campaign, leading many to speculate that Google's broad match system was "broken."

As it turns out, broad match isn't broken. The team at Google has just been trying something new. Mike explains:

Google is combining the search queries from two successive searches when serving up the PPC ads. If a Google visitor makes a search, then uses the search box on the first search's results page, the original query AND the second query are BOTH used to determine the ad to display. My colleague Jim Gilbert refers to this as the "Google 1-2 Punch", and it can end up costing you money and leaving you confused if you don't take steps to combat this new algorithm change.

Why is this a problem? Ads may be displayed for inappropriate searches, resulting in unnecessary expense for the advertiser.

A problem with the AdWords algorithm? Unlikely. Mike says he's spoken with some Google engineers about the issue and they responded:

"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."

Want to see it in action?

Here's a screen shot I took of a Google search for "play kitchens." You'll note the expected search results at the top and down the right side of the screen.

Next I ran a search for the phrase "toy truck." You can see universal search at play in the images at the top center, but if you look through the AdWords ads down the right side of the screen, you'll see something surprising. The fourth ad down, outlined in red, is for "toy kitchens" at NexTag.

Note that "toy" is the highlighted word in the ad. Google served up the ad by taking my first query (play kitchen) and combining it with my second query (toy truck) to serve up an ad for "toy kitchen."

That may work this time around because I was looking for a toy kitchen and the ad may stand out on my second search as something I missed on the first. But it's certainly not a great idea for advertisers if Google doesn't let them opt out. It's important to note this "second round" match seems to be happening for all types of campaigns, not just for broad match campaigns.

The news isn't all bad.

Some advertisers are finding they get a decent conversion rate even on the second-run ad matches. Of course others are not happy with the lack of targeting going on and are seeing drops in conversion rates.

Mike offers a work around:

There is a partial defense: the traditional defense against expanded broad match is to use negatives in the campaign to explicitly request that your ad NOT be displayed when one of those related terms is searched for. Thus, if I were selling stainless steel knives, I might include "pots" and "pans" in my negative list to keep my ad from matching to searches for stainless steel pots.

With the Google 1-2 punch, it appears that using a negative exact match phrase in the adgroup may prevent the ad from being displayed - even if that negated phrase is NOT the phrase being searched for in the second case!

October 15, 2007

Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.


It's funny that you mention this - I just did a search for boat insurance and then for condo Insurance and the results were horrid not only in organic but with Paid. I think they should give this test the boot.

Yes and has any noticed a few days ago that they turned off the negative keywords tool? It still exists but in a much less useful form that requires a lot more work and makes it much harder to add negative or very specific keywords.

This really rubs me the wrong way. I'm okay with Google trying new things with Adwords, but it should be a Beta test and should be for volunteering advertisers. For some of us, we can't always keep track of everything that happens with Adwords, so unless we're told about it specifically, we simply see an increase in traffic without an increase in transactions and we just think our site is crap or something. This is a very bad move by Google, IMO.

I think the best part of this is that you can now Rick Roll people through their Adwords accounts. I mean, seriously, you've never had that kind of roll potential before.

You can also mitigate risk of bad searches by using phrase match. For a 2 word term like play kitchen, this would eliminate the problem altogether.

I´ve being seen that in many of our client´s accounts. So I´ve sent some screen shots to our Google Agency contact and asked for an explanation. He/She gave us the following anser (after talking with the technicians):
"Adwords is working fine. Broad Match shows ads not only for exact keywords you have in the related adgroups but also sinonims or whatever term that the system could consider relevant to the query by extension. The system will do this if considers, based on the user behaviour, that it will works better."
No comments.

As if the 1 - 2 punch wasn't enough. They are now telling me that the better my quality score the more likely they are going to be "expansive" with the keywords they will serve your ad for. They then deem those keyword expansions 'appropriate' based on their click through rate. Relevance has been replaced by click through rate.

I would suggest to give broad match a miss if you want to have a profitable PPC campaign.

Many blog posts and articles have confirmed my thought and I would never recommend my clients to use broad match in their AdWords campaigns.

On the personal level I have been burnt a big hole when I just started my PPC journey with the Big G which broad match 'contributed' the majority of the losses.

My 2 cents.

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