Broad Match is Dead. Long Live Broad Match

When launching a new paid search account, restructuring an existing account, or creating a new campaign, limiting where your ads are shown is essential. Showing your ads to the right target audience and carefully selecting when your ads are shown will lower what you pay per click and allow you to allocate spend to new campaigns.

You simply cannot trust Google (pro tip: Google is in it for the money) or any other search engine. Google defines broad match as “any relevant variations of your keywords, including synonyms, singular and plural forms, possible misspellings, stemmings, related searches, and other relevant variations.” Google’s expansive definition creates the potential for a lot of unwanted impressions. Why give search engines the opportunity to select what keywords you target. At Obility we have seen egregious examples of Google displaying ads for keywords not remotely relevant to the target broad keyword.

The example below shows the search term report for a client targeting client brand checks broad match. When targeting keywords with the client brand name, advertisers can reasonably expect Google to only show ads related to the client brand. However, when viewing the search term report, we found not only our ads being shown for competitor terms but also for incredibly broad terms (e.g. business checks, order checks, print checks, harland clarke). Google basically chooses to display your ad for anything remotely relevant to the broad keyword you are targeting.


Gain Control with Modified Broad Keywords

Conversely, you cannot limit your account to exact and phrase match either. This simply leaves too much opportunity on the table.

Modified broad match (mod broad in PPC lingo) should be used liberally. Mod broad allows for keyword discovery while reigning in Google overreach. Modified broad (where advertisers identify one or more keywords that much be in the search query with a plus sign e.g. +modified broad must include the term modified) give advertisers a powerful tool to target long tail keywords while maintaining significant control of what keywords are targeted.

Use mod broad and phrase match keywords for discovery: identifying new keywords that perform well. Exact match keywords should be used to apply stringent bid control. While modified broad and phrase give advertisers an opportunity to reach a larger audience, exact match keywords allow better control of what an advertiser is willing to pay for target terms.

In addition to mod broad keyword targeting, advertisers should also frequently use search term reports (STRs) provided by the AdWords UI. Obility recommends running account STRs bi-weekly. Run both ad group and keyword level STRs to provide information on both new keywords and negative keywords.

Tighten Targeting

While broad matching keywords can be damaging to account performance, negatively targeting broad match terms can significantly increase clickthrough rate and improve account performance. Use negative broad terms whenever you are not going to block a potentially relevant term (e.g. job and jobs should often be added as negative broad match terms). Use both campaign and ad group negative broad match terms. While campaign negative keywords are typically used to limit where your ads are shown, ad group negative keywords are best used to prevent your target keywords from competing against each other (e.g. negatively target software in a general lead management ad group so that its keywords don’t compete with a lead management software ad group).

In addition to negative keyword targeting, controlling your account settings are essential. Google being Google defaults campaign settings to target misspellings and near match for exact match keywords. This means that if you target lead score, Google could potentially show ads for leading scorer. At Obility, we recommend turning off misspelling targeting for all campaigns other than Brand and Competitor.

When Broad Makes Sense

As with all blanket statements of trends being dead – think the constant refrain of SEO is dead – use of broad match targeting in paid search can make sense when used sparingly. The trouble with only targeting mod broad, phrase, & exact match keywords is that they are expensive. Advertisers willing to pay more for these terms has ratcheted up cost per click (CPC) leading to many instances where targeting broad keywords makes sense.

For example, we have a client offering email marketing as part of its platform. Email marketing terms are incredibly competitive where advertisers are paying $40-50 per click. Our client was paying over $35 per click for 5th position for many general email marketing terms when targeting with exact match. However when targeting broad match best email marketing software, our client would pay less than half the cost.

email marketing

The table above shows what our client was paying per click to appear for searches for email marketing (search term impression) using two different methods: one, we targeted best email marketing software broad match; the other we targeted email marketing exact match. As you can see, targeting exact match is considerably more expensive and led to essentially the same position. While targeting broad match relinquishes some control, Google tends to award that recklessness with cheaper CPC’s.

A Mixed Strategy is Best

Our recommended strategy is a paid search account that prioritizes top terms (i.e. high bids for top exact and phrase match terms) but also includes lower bids for broad match terms that are too expensive to target with phrase or exact match. Not surprisingly, this is a difficult balance to attain and requires quite a bit of experimentation.


  1. Keep broad match targeting to a minimum
  2. Use modified broad targeting liberally
  3. Search term reports should be run regularly
  4. Copious use of negative broad terms
  5. Campaign settings should limit targeting of misspellings
  6. Broad keywords have their place

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