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The optimal bidding strategy for AdWords match types

A keyword you do know should always perform better than a keyword you don't know

A great place to start when considering how you bid by match type is one of our AdWords principles: “A keyword you do know should always perform better than a keyword you don’t know”.

The fundamental issue here is that we buy keywords, but our customers type search queries. If you can match what a user types with well targeted ad copy you can increase your CTR and therefore increase your Quality Score. Which as we know means we pay less per click or gain a higher ad rank at the same bid. You can find out more about this in the fantastic video presented by Hal Varian the Chief Economist at Google:

So now we understand that search queries are important, how does that translate to match types?

Non-exact (phrase, broad, broad match modifer) keywords are simply a collection of search queries under the banner of a single keyword in an AdWords account. These keywords can act in a few rather odd and confusing ways.

Search queries can migrate from one broad match keyword to another

Ever noticed when you increase the bid on a broad match and suddenly you get lots of traffic overnight on that keyword but the entire account gains no more clicks? Because multiple non-exact keywords have the ability to match to the same search term, sometimes the search term’s traffic migrates to the higher bidded term. This is Google’s alogrithm working as it should and maximizing your clicks with the constraint of your bid and/or your budget.

How do you fix it?

The first thing to do is add all your high spending and/or high converting search terms as exact match keywords to your account. You can use the AdWords Search terms report to find your search terms. AdWords will (generally!) match the search term to the best matching keyword in your account. We say “generally” because if your bid is too high on a non-exact match type you can experience “misrouting”.

What’s Misrouting?

Misrouting occurs when you have a search term on exact match in your account but AdWords is still matching a broad or phrase keyword to this term. The two main reasons for this are:

  1. You’re bidding higher on the broad match keyword which is getting matched to the search queries
  2. You have an ad in your broad match ad group which has a higher CTR

Most of the time the first reason is the culprit and simply reducing your bid should fix this, but there are other ways to solve misrouting.

Routing negatives

We’d usually recommend using the bid to prevent misrouting as the very act of misrouting is an indicator to you that you have a bidding issue – most of the time you should not be bidding higher on broad or phrase match in the first place. One exception to this rule is when you are “query farming” – this is the process of raising bids on broad or phrase match to generate search terms with the intention of adding these to the account on exact match – this is an account traffic expansion technique but should only be used temporarily. Routing negatives are negatives applied to your account to prevent the AdWords system from matching search terms which you have on exact match to broad or phrase match keywords. Hopefully you have split your campaigns by match type – if not, then please read our post on Why split AdWords campaigns by match type? The process is to add all your exact match keywords as exact negatives to your non-exact match campaigns. This forces the AdWords system to match to the exact match keyword even if the bid is higher on broad or phrase match.

“But my broad match keywords have a better CPA!”

If that is the case then you have problems! We call this “account inversion” where you have a combination of heavy misrouting and/or absence of exact match keywords which match your search queries. Remember broad and phrase match are just collections of search terms, mine those search terms and add them to your account.

Key points

  • Add all your high spending and/or converting search queries as exact match keywords
  • Always bid higher on exact match than broad match

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