The Popcorn in Your Google AdWords Account

The price of movie theatre popcorn continues to defy any recessionary trend if my recent Christmas holiday family visit was anything to go by. Last year, I remember reading how that, while these concessions account for only about 20% of a theatre’s gross revenues, they represent some 40% of a theatre’s profits. Apparently, while ticket revenues must be shared with movie distributors, 100% of concession revenue goes straight into an exhibitor’s coffers. Hidden inside those big buckets of mostly air is quite an important economic result for every movie theatre you visit.

Movie theatres are not the only places where seemingly small details of the service, like popcorn, can make a disproportionate difference to the success of the enterprise. Google AdWords has its own batch of hidden economic treasures too. And like movie popcorn, they are frequently missed as one small part of the full solution, when in reality they are responsible for a sizable part of the service’s revenue (for Google that is, not you).

One of these details is the option Google gives you to use broad match keyword terms in your keyword list. It’s their default setting and, not surprisingly really, it provides them with the most control over your final ad spend.

Broad match keyword bidding done badly can remove any reasonable chance of making your Google AdWords spend pay its way. However, conversely, when managed properly it can be the one factor that ensures your campaign succeeds while your competitor’s sucks money day after day. It all comes down to how much control you let Google have over how your broad match keywords are used.

So, let’s cover some background details first before I dive in and provide you with the knowledge on how to make broad match bidding work to your advantage.

But first, let’s have a quick refresher on how ‘broad match’ bidding works. Google allows you to choose three ways to bid on your keywords: broad match, phrase match and exact match. It’s easier if I cover these in reverse order, so here’s some explanation on each.

Exact match is what it says – you bid on [flowers] (with the hard brackets around the keyword in your keyword list) and only those people who type in this exact term will see your ad. Exact match bidding works when you know ‘exactly’ what people are going to type in. Naturally, this is a hard strategy to use on its own – guessing all those keywords can be a real challenge when you are starting out.

Phrase match makes things a bit easier. This is where you bid on a term like “flowers auckland” (now with quote marks around it to denote this match option). This lets your keyword show for terms that include this exact word BUT with additional words either side of the phrase. For instance, cheap flowers auckland, or flowers auckland delivery Epsom.

Broad match takes phrase match and expands it in two ways. First, it allows other search keywords to be placed between any multi bid keyword. For instance, say you are bidding on the multi keyword phrase – wedding flowers – then you will also have your ad presented for these terms: wedding spring flowers and wedding without flowers options.

That should be all quite logical and nothing too scary to worry about. Now here’s the ‘popcorn’ bit. By choosing the broad match option you also allow Google to extend the term using synonyms it thinks are appropriate. It’s a function called ‘expanded broad match’ and can be a problem when you use terms that have many synonyms that you don’t want your ad to show for. For instance, say you are bidding on the single broad match keyword of flowers, you could also have your ad shown for the terms roses, plants, florist, tulips, carnations and even orchids. Now, you may only provide cut flowers and never purchase orchids, which means the last option would be incorrect and would bring the wrong traffic to your page. (That is after someone had spent your money by clicking on your ad after searching for this term.)

Google’s take on using expanded broad match keywords is that they are helping you by showing your ad for keywords that they think are relevant. My take is that this type of matching is not what broad match was originally meant to do and, while it has been around for a few months now, I recommend all those using broad match to be aware of it and take steps to limit its capability to generate costly wasted clicks.

So, how do you find out if this type of matching is causing you a problem? The first step is to find out how much ‘expansion’ is happening with your own broad match terms, and then limit this by deploying the fourth keyword match type – negative match.

Hidden within your Google AdWords Report section is a report called ‘search query performance’ (see the picture below).

This will reveal the exact search terms people typed in before they clicked your AdWords ad. By running this report you will see all the terms that were entered compared with their original broad match keyword. For instance, the broad match term could have been “Auckland florist” and they may have typed in “Auckland business for sale florist”.

Now, you may have a florist business but you may not want to put it up for sale so any terms that relate to this are incorrect and don’t need to fire up your ad. Hence, you are best to make the term “business for sale” a negative keyword (you do this by placing a negative sign before it, i.e. “-business for sale”, and adding it to your keyword list.) Your negative keywords can be at either an Ad Group or Campaign level.

Here’s an example of the power of spending time working on this process. The image to the right shows a snapshot of results for a Google AdWords campaign we took over a few months ago. This is for a business that sells only part of a range of a widely used product. They were bidding on a lot of broad match terms with hardly any negative keywords. Each month they ended up buying traffic for searchers looking for the part of the range they didn’t stock. What’s more, the synonym match algorithm was causing problems. It was a bit of a costly mess.

Note how after adding a long list of relevant negative keywords we were able to drop the impression count by 88.5%, increase the click through rate of the ads by 250%, and slash the spend in half by ensuring the ads were only shown for product keywords the company actually stocks.

So there you have it. It pays to be aware of how Google treats the broad keywords you have in your account. Why not run the search query report today and see what it turns up? You may be unpleasantly surprised.