Expect the Unexpected: Keyword Delivery Monitoring and Tuning

Think you only get traffic on the keywords you buy? Buying traffic based on keywords is simple. You pick the keywords you’re interested in, and that’s the traffic you get to your site.

Wrong.

Unless you specify otherwise, most engines use broad match as a default when you set up a campaign. You may think you know what broad match is and the kinds of keywords that will trigger your ad being shown (and, therefore, cost you money) when searchers select your ad. But you could be in for a broad match surprise that might include misspellings, synonyms that are not as similar as you might prefer, and even typographical errors on domain names (both your own and those of the competition). For the scoop on exactly how and why you have to monitor and tune your broad match listings, read on.

Yahoo’s Broad Match

The first manifestation of a broad match, which still affects you today, was present before Google even launched CPC (define) AdWords. Overture, the precursor to Yahoo Search Marketing, added a feature to its listings in 2000. Named Match Driver, it wasn’t something you could turn on or off through the DirecTraffic Center (DTC). Match Driver was originally described as follows:

Match Driver takes misspellings, hyphenated terms, compound words, singular/plural combinations and punctuation variations of most popular terms and maps them to the most common form of that term. Let’s say that a consumer searched on the term “e commerce.” Match Driver would match “e commerce” with all the permutations of that term, such as “e-commerce,” “e comerce” and “e-comerce,” to the primary form, “ecommerce,” and display the same set of results. This tool helps consumers find what they’re looking for on the Internet, which enhances our search engine and allows us [Overture] to drive even more traffic to our advertisers’ sites.

Recently, Yahoo updated the description. In addition to the revised Match Driver definition, Yahoo includes information on its enhanced matching program. With enhanced match, Yahoo has yet another way to match your listings with the searcher’s activities while preserving the searcher’s intent (at least in theory).

Yahoo’s enhanced matching makes use of titles and descriptions as well as the search keywords you specify in the DTC. The net result is you may be getting traffic for keywords you didn’t expect. As long as the searcher intent and the conversion/ROI (define) are still there and your spending on the unexpected keyword clicks isn’t very high in comparison to your campaign’s total spend, you probably won’t worry. Perhaps you’ll even ignore the issue. Unless you know what to look for, you may not even realize this is going on.

With Yahoo’s advanced match option, you can use negative keywords to control cases when your ad is chosen for display. This makes adjusting the keyword mix much easier. But monitoring in Yahoo is still important and will become more so as “Project Panama” rolls out later this year (Yahoo’s just announced another delay in the rollout of the yield-managed enhancements to the Yahoo DTC).

Google’s and MSN’s Broad Match

Google also tries to match your ads to user intent, even if the match is a bit beyond what you might have expected. Google’s extended broad match includes misspellings, synonyms, and, most surprisingly, typos of domain names. The net result is you must monitor and tune Google campaigns that include broad match listings (which, of course, you should use strategically but not exclusively).

The best solutions to monitor your actual keyword traffic flow from paid listings will be either high-end campaign management platforms and tools that can report the difference between the keyword bid upon and the search keyword, or Web analytics systems and tools.

It’s a bit too early to determine how far MSN’s system is extending its definitions of broad match and whether synonyms, typos, and domain misspellings will pose a challenge within its system. It’s likely, however, the same best practices that apply in Google will apply in MSN.

Beyond Monitoring

Monitoring isn’t enough. When appropriate, use negative keywords to eliminate ads showing for a search. If the engine’s system doesn’t allow a matching system to be turned off and you believe your ad is shown for irrelevant queries, I’m sure at least some people at the search engine would like to know, even if your rep isn’t particularly enthusiastic about passing on data you gathered about conversion rates.

From the consumer perspective, sometimes the extended broad match in Google or the Match Driver and enhanced matching are highly relevant. Other times, the systems fail for both the consumer and the marketer but are close enough that the searcher clicks on your ad anyway, costing you money.

So although broad match is a powerful tool, the engines’ definitions of broad match are getting broader all the time in an attempt to make more money while preserving relevance. Remember, though relevance might be enough for the search engine, you demand profit, too. That’s why you or your search agency must be monitoring, measuring, and tuning your listings as needed.

Meet Kevin at Search Engine Strategies in San Jose, August 7-10, 2006, at the San Jose McEnery Convention Center.

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