Who's Afraid of Big Bad Broad Match? The Anti-Hero of Keyword Match Types


PPC campaigns live and die by the data that supports them. While it’s true that PPC campaigns need to be targeted towards transactional users, it can be hard to know which keyword concepts will be winners and which will waste time and budget. High CTR is the goal, but impressions matter just as much (if not more in the early days of a campaign).

So what is an advertiser to do, especially when working on a new account with no data to speak of? How do you build up enough data so that you can start refining?

Broad Match. Nothing splits the room quite like this match-type and the implications of using it. The very definition of broad match (the match type designed to bring in the broadest possible audience) means there will be divide. On the one hand, nothing brings in the impressions like broad match – if the keyword is in the query, regardless of the context, your ad can be triggered. On the other hand, ad impressions that don’t match the intent of the search query bring down your CTR, which ultimately cause your cost per click to rise. 

Broad match type Snape meme 

It can be tempting to write Broad Match off as a villain, robbing you of your budget and driving down CTR and quality score. Let’s be fair here, Broad Match can come off as unassuming and unsophisticated. It can even come off as needy, demanding all the budget and not leaving any for the perceived superior keyword match-types. Yet when Broad Match is used correctly, it brings invaluable data to the table, and at a much cheaper price than the Modified Broad, Phrase, and Exact match types.

How to Make Bad-Boy Broad Match Work for You

Use broad match in concert with long-tail keywords

As search engines (Google and Bing have made huge strides) get more sophisticated, they’ve gotten better at recognizing intent. There are countless articles and data sources pointing to the benefits of long-tail keywords: they indicate a more transactional user and they tend to filter out the aspirational users. Broad match loves helping out long-tail because it offers more flexibility in the keyword phrase without changing the intent of the keyword.

What it doesn’t love is single word keywords that can be in any phrase, regardless of intent or context. Let’s take a keyword as innocuous as “maternity”. On the surface it seems self-explanatory: the user searching for this must be either pregnant or know someone who is. Here’s the result: 

Broad match type Google serp

Now here’s the problem – is the user looking for clothes, maternity leave rights, or a wing of a hospital?

In this instance we see advertisers who can afford to bid high on the uncertainty just for the sake of keeping their major house name brand at the forefront of people’s minds (JC Penney, H&M, etc.), a major family of hospitals, and the name brand for a line of maternity clothes. Additionally, since impulse purchases are easier to facilitate through Google Shopping, the window will take up spots that used to be reserved for winners 4-6 in the ad auction.

Broad match will not care who you are or who your audience is – all it cares about are keywords. In order to avoid this pitfall:

  • Ensure the keywords set to broad are at least 3-4 words long so the proper context can be applied.
  • Avoid single-word keywords unless they are brand-centric and set to exact close variant.

Show me the data

As referenced before, making decisions on account structure and performance benchmarks can be difficult. While it’s possible to generate data organically, most initiatives don’t have the time to languish in low impression land. While too many impressions can drown an account in bad data, too few can starve it from meaningful growth. Broad match to the rescue!

Broad match wins for bringing in data in two key ways:

  • Broad match allows for your ads to be matched to synonyms and other close variants. While this may eventually prove a liability to an account, in the early days it allows advertisers to get an unbiased picture of what the market is searching for and where it’s meaningful to invest in keyword concepts, as well as opportunities to discover budget-protecting negative keywords.
  • Broad match costs less (or at least it should) per click. Since broad match tends to allow for looser connections, it is expected it will get the lowest MCPC (max cost per click) in the campaign. For example, “Maternity” on broad match pulled in three different kinds of ads, but there was still the potential from a demographic perspective the user would find value in the ad, and click through. Additionally, impressions cost nothing, and broad match impressions create a free billboard for your brand to remind the user they need your product.

A few final notes:

  • Though broad match has its downsides, it still brings in 56% more conversions than exact match.   
  • Broad match is the default match type on AdWords for a reason – when beginning a campaign, broad brings in the most data for you to act on.
  • Broad match in Bing Ads is a lot broader than AdWords, so be sure when replicating accounts in Bing that you account for this difference and plan accordingly.

What’s your favorite case of broad match being a hero?




Apr 03, 2015

Great post my friend:)
Thanks a lot.

Apr 04, 2015

Thanks! Glad you found it useful!

Apr 05, 2015

Broad match is a game for those with deep pockets (i.e. most people reading this message)

Apr 07, 2015

Hi Wayne, thank you for bringing up this important objection to broad match! The thing to keep in mind is broad match is not going to stay in your account forever, and is always meant to be the lowest MCPC. Additionally, any keyword as a one note keyword will be expensive (either because it takes up valuable space in an ad group, or because it brings in impressions that are not truly relevant). This applies to all match types, not just broad.

End of the day - without data, the most frugal and strategic account will never get the legs to prove itself. Nothing delivers the data like Broad.

Permata Wardoyo
Apr 06, 2015

Hi Navah,
Thank you for your great tips here, just when I began to learn about AdWords, and this article of yours really made a big help to me for understanding more about adwords.
I'll try your tips here as soon as possible to my project.
Thanks again, Navah.

Apr 07, 2015

Hi Permata - so glad you found this useful! Would love to hear about the end result!

Dec 17, 2016

Hello! I was able to have sworn I've visited your website before but after undergoing some of the posts
I realized it's a new comer to me. Anyhow, I'm certainly pleased
I stumbled upon it and I'll be bookmarking it and checking back frequently!

Mark Jensen
Apr 06, 2015

Navah, I like your tip about adding more words to broad match terms to make sure context is kept when ads are triggered via the keyword. We've found that a common mistake with broad match is not being aware of how the bid impacts the rest of the adgroup.

If you have broad match in the same adgroup as other match types it risks pulling all/ a lot of the traffic when the adrank is higher than the other keywords. If your broad match is killing it and you want to increase the bid; consider pausing the other adgroup keywords that the broad match will essentially replace or even putting it in its own adgroup with the previous adgroup keywords as negatives.

Apr 07, 2015

Mark, you hit the nail on the head! This is especially true when considering phrase and exact match. I still think there's value in the mod. broad (demanding the keywords are there, but not caring about the order), and one should always reward the star performers. Usually, I've found that I need to switch broad match to mod. broad once an account has hit "maturity", but I'm glad to hear you found a proven best practice in broad. Thanks for sharing!

Apr 06, 2015

In response to Wayne's comment, "broad match is a game for those with deep pockets", I'd like to add OR for those with the right toolset. WordStream's QueryStream tools helps you identify those missed opps and bad matches quickly and easily so that you can use broad match successfully.

Apr 07, 2015

Exactly! One of the reasons I love broad match is for pragmatic keyword analysis. Thanks April!

May 07, 2015

I couldn't refrain from commenting. Very well written!

May 12, 2015

Thanks! I'm glad you found the post useful!

Apr 07, 2015

I think broad match gets a bad rap. You can use it for short periods of time to gather enough data to create really well performing campaigns, and not spend excessively. The best campaigns are based on correct (and creative) interpretations of user behavior.

Apr 07, 2015

Olivia, I love that you include creative in the analysis! One of my favorite use cases of broad was for a client who had Amazon coming up in the Query Stream. Initially, her gut was to put it as a negative, but if we think about the query, "XYZ product amazon" it is very transnational in nature and has hints of bargain shopping. While we lowered the bid on those terms, it still made sense to try and snipe that traffic.

Thanks for sharing!

Feb 23, 2016

For those commenters who are completely against broad match, there is always the broad match modifiers that can be used instead. They give you much more control, but generate fewer new keywords.

I still use broad match in my campaigns to generate new keyphrases, except on Bing. I've found that broad match on Bing brings back too many seemingly random keyphrases, so its broad match modifiers only there.

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