Overture’s Shift to Default Broad Match

Overture will soon make a major switch, matching terms on a broad basis, rather than the traditional exact match default it’s followed since the company launched.

The change will make it easier for advertisers to gain more traffic, as they’ll no longer have to come up with each exact term they want to target. This makes tapping into the “tail” of search queries easier to target.

The change will likely increase Overture’s revenues, too. Not only will advertisers probably target more terms, they’ll likely also pay more. Previously low-cost terms will be rolled into the same bid price as more expensive ones.

Overture had no comment on whether the change would generate more money. Spokesperson Gaude Paez stressed the move is primarily a response to advertiser demands to more easily gain more traffic.

Unlike Overture, Google has offered default broad matching since it started its pay-per-click (PPC) AdWords program. Now, Overture’s system will become more Google-like in terms of targeting, though Google’s system will still offer more advertiser control.

In particular, Google’s keyword matching options allow exact, phrase, and broad matching to be individually selected. Overture’s new system will simply allow a choice between exact and broad matching. In both engines, advertisers can use “negative” (Google’s term) or “excluded” (Overture’s term) words to ensure their ads don’t show up if a particular word also appears in a query.

Overture advertisers were informed about the change. An exact date hasn’t been announced, but Overture said it will happen in the next few weeks.

When the change does happen, all new ads will automatically have broad matching — what Overture confusingly calls “advanced match” — enabled. Advertisers can deselect this option on an ad-by-ad basis and return to Overture’s traditional exact matching (“standard match”). Advanced match will completely replace the broad and phrase match type option Overture introduced last year.

Existing ads in the European and Australian markets will automatically have broad matching enabled, Overture said. Advertisers will have to manually move these back to standard match, if that’s what they prefer. Overture also said all advertisers will be notified well in advance of the change. In other markets, including the U.S., existing ads will remain using standard match, if that’s what was previously selected.

What’s the Search Tail?

The move will help Overture advertisers better tap into the tail of queries, in the way Google advertisers have long been able to do. But what does this mean? The illustration below may help:

The chart shows the top queries for “shoes” on Overture’s network in July 2004, as reported by Overture’s Search Term Suggestion Tool. The most popular query was “shoes” itself, queried 650,000 times on the sites Overture serves.

The next most popular queries containing “shoes” follow. You can see how the search volume quickly drops off. Those who only target the term “shoes” miss out on the long tail that follows behind the primary word. Broad matching — at Overture and Google — gets advertisers into these additional terms more easily.

To really understand the potential in the search tail, see the chart below. It shows the top 100 terms related to shoes:

As you can see, exact matching only the word “shoes” can miss lots of potential traffic. Just because the volume is lower doesn’t mean it’s bad traffic. Anecdotally, many advertisers report more specific queries often bring in more qualified buyers.

Latest Move Toward Pay Per Lead, Not Per Term

Overall, the ability to more easily target tail terms will be an advantage to advertisers. It’s likely to cost them more money, but that’s inevitable.

As I’ve said before, paid listings are moving away from a pay-per-term model toward a pay-per-lead one. In other words, it’s how much a particular lead is worth to you, not the keyword the lead typed in.

The search engines want to be paid for the lead’s full value to the advertiser. This is often more than the particular term’s value because “tail blindness” — focusing only on popular terms — leads to less competition among advertisers for tail terms.

We saw a big move toward this when Overture brought in auto-bidding in 2002 and its Match Driver feature rolled up similar terms that same year. At the end of last year, Google’s expanded broad matching was another step in this direction. The forthcoming Overture change is a further step forward.

As long as you understand what you can afford to pay, you can survive the changes. You can stick with standard match, trading time for (perhaps) lower costs, in some cases. As for the search engines, making life easier for advertisers is great — so long as they also provide as much control and transparency as possible to advertisers who want it.

This column was adopted from ClickZ’s SearchEngineWatch.com. A longer, more detailed version is available to paid Search Engine Watch members.

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