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Google’s Keyword Broad Match Modifier: The AdWords PPC Targeting Savior

First off, before I get into praising (below) the new Google AdWords’ Broad Match Modifier (BMM), let me state for the record that I have been extremely disappointed with Google’s “Expanded Broad Match” since it’s inception!

Google AdWords


Well, when Google AdWords first changed their normal Broad Match keyword targeting to this Expanded Matching option, I half jokingly referred to it as their new Pay Per Click “Money Algorithm”. This term seemed to fit very well because this “Mo-gorithm” took perfectly good broad keywords and corrupted their individual intent by algorithmically matching them to many different words for the sake of displaying higher bidded terms over many queries, thus inflating competition for search impressions and causing AdWords advertisers to lose a substantial amount of control of their targeting capabilities.

Here is an example of the loss of control and “Expanded Targeting” that Google’s current broad match triggers:

Expanded Broad Match Keywords: Custom to Customs

AdWords Expanded Broad Match Targeting Example. Matching Keywords: Custom to Customs

The change to broad match targeting that resulted in the above example was done under the misleading (or misguided) pretense that Google would algorithmically know better than you, how to find and gauge the many different keyword combinations that your ads could and should be shown for. The theory is that once you have a list of broad match keywords, all you need to do is add negative keywords to eliminate impressions and clicks from unwanted search terms.

Simple right?

Well, not so, as discovering negative search terms tends to be a tedious process because Google’s own keyword tool will only show you some, and not even a majority, of the versions of the keyphrases that you need to consider. Then you have to monitor and data mine potential negatives out of Search Query reports. Only problem here is that you have to actually pay for a visit in order for the keyword to show up in these query reports.

Hummm, does that make sense to you? I’m just asking because I’ve never really understood it. This is just an idea, but maybe they should come up with a Search Impression Report that tells you the keywords that your ads are gaining impressions for that have yet to result in a paid visit. These reports would save advertisers an unimaginable number of clicks and at the same time help improve Google’s paid search results.

Today’s version of Expanded Broad Match might not even be that bad if it weren’t for one annoying little feature of the Money Algorithm: Low search volume.

Google AdWords Low Search Volume

Google AdWords Low Search Volume

Couple of Options?

So if I understand this right, Google is telling us that our two options are to either:

  1. Do Nothing – Hummm, seems like an odd thing to suggest from an advertising company.
  2. Use the Google Keyword Tool – The same keyword tool that shows you about as complete and inclusive set of search term data as their link: advanced search operator will show of backlinks on any given website.

Extended Broad Match + Low Search Volume = Blurry Targeting

The combination of Extended Broad Match and Low Search Volume is bad for most pay per click advertisers for developing and refining ad groups down to a micro precision level.

Unclear Keyword Targeting

It is especially horrible for PPC campaigns that are trying to tap into an emerging market or extremely small and niche PPC campaigns that rely on fewer, low volume keywords to reach their targeted audience effectively.

This is as bad of a situation as taking prescription muscle relaxers (loose keyword targeting), having a couple of drinks with dinner (loss of advertiser control) and then trying to drive home (desperate need to reach goal) on a dark and rainy night (blurry campaign conditions).

Arrrgh! </rant>

Sorry. That was the accumulation of many years of pent-up broad match frustration just waiting to come out. Now on to the good stuff…

A Niche Broad Match Modifier Case Study

In April we initiated a small paid search campaign for a niche manufacturing client who’s Unique Selling Point is their ability to customize their products for each customer. As expected, AdWords paid search traffic and ad impressions were low due to the highly targeted campaign that was developed. What made this campaign initially successful was the high conversion rate for the extremely target pay per click ads.

AdWords Low Search Volume

Lead levels were great when compared against ad spend and the campaign was producing very well. That all changed at the end of April when we ran into the dreaded Low search volume.

In no time ad impressions, clicks and leads that we were receiving for targeted keywords had dropped as many of our search terms became deactivated.


Did I mention this client is in Canada?

In May Google announced that the new Broad Match Modifier was currently only active to advertisers in the UK and Canada. Since we had just launched the campaign the month before, it was not part of our initial planning to test BMM for this campaign (as in not proposed and budgeted for). However, due the dramatic campaign down turn, some quick thinking and the willingness to experiment, we launched another complete set of keywords utilizing the new modifier.

The results were instantly amazing. The traffic volume almost tippled to a level that exceeded any previous one. Yea!

Google AdWords Weekly PPC Traffic

Google AdWords Weekly PPC Traffic

What about Conversions?

Goal conversion rates are holding high with BMM keywords converting at 30%+ for the small sampling that has been taken recently. ๐Ÿ™‚

Broad Match Modified Keywords

Broad Match Modified Keywords

Goal conversion rates are not as good for non-BMM keywords, which are only converting at 10% for the small sampling that covers the same time period. ๐Ÿ˜

Standard Broad, Phrase and Exact Matched Keywords

Standard Broad, Phrase and Exact Matched Keywords

When we remove our BMM and highly targeted “Exact Match” keywords, and then analyze conversion rates for the remaining Expanded Broad Match and Phrase Match keywords, we encounter no conversions for the sampling that covers the same time period. ๐Ÿ™

Broad and Phrase Matched Keywords Only

Broad and Phrase Matched Keywords Only

Broad Match Modifier = Controlled Keyword Advertising + Increased Exposure + Higher Conversion Rates

Overall AdWords campaign conversion rates were coming in under 14% prior to the down turn and BMM launch. Since then conversion rates for this campaign have doubled and are over 28%. Quite an improvement.

I am failry certain that results for each campaign and ad group will vary depending on volume of impressions and clicks, word length of search query string, competition and matching options, but current metrics point towards positive returns.

Broad Match Modifier Triggered Ads Showing for Searchers in the United States

It is also worth noting that even though the Broad Match Modifier keyword targeting is currently only available to pay per click advertisers in the United Kingdom and Canada, BMM triggered ads are displaying on SERPs for searchers in US. This gives current Canadian and English advertisers a larger audience to test this matching on.

Broad Match Modifier Keywords Showing to US Searchers

Broad Match Modifier Keywords Showing to US Searchers


June 25th, 2010 Update: As of , where BMM was added to keywords for a US based campaign and visitors were generated for clicks matching search terms that are consistent with current expanded broad match results.

July 14th, 2010 Update: As of Today, Google AdWords has now expanded coverage of Broad Match Modifier and currently is Active for US PPC Advertisers.
Run, Run, Run and convert/add Modified Broad Matching to all of your broad keywords!

Modified Keyword Example Generated from a US Campaign:
Based on comparing this campaign’s BMM visits to past broad matched clicks, these results are consistent with keywords matched to Canadian campaigns that have been generating traffic from this new match type for the past few weeks. Whoo Hoo!

Live Broad Match Modified Keywords on July 14th, 2010

Live Broad Match Modified Keywords on July 14th, 2010

Share your broad match modifier and pay per click thoughts.Do you have any additional AdWords PPC Targeting or Broad Match Modifier comments? Feel free to share your thoughts.

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Reader Comments

  • Michael VanDeMar | June 24, 2010

    I do like your idea of seeing what impressions triggered an ad, and what I think would be even better is if they showed you a whole selection of historical searches that would have triggered an ad, and allowed you to to yay or nay each, and from there do a broad *negative* match to refine what you do and do not want to show for, instead of making you exclude phrases only in exact match form. Then they might have something viable.

  • James | June 24, 2010

    Good idea about some sort of Historical Search Impression report. Google could analyze any new or existing AdGroup, gauge your keywords against the historical query data and provide you with a list of remaining matches after they have filtered out any of your existing negative keywords.

  • attacat_han | June 24, 2010

    Great post! For so long I’ve also been frustrated with the expanded broad match problem and now with modified broad match, I’ve seen a better CTR, conversion rate and CPA than phrase & exact match alternatives. Big Win! ๐Ÿ™‚
    Now we just need them to update AdWords Editor so that it’s a little easier to change lots of keywords to BMM.

    • James | June 24, 2010

      Earlier today I actually made mass campaign changes through AdWords Editor where I added BMM keywords based on existing broad match versions. The simplest way I found to do this was to copy the keyword lines from AWE into an excel spreadsheet and make search & replace changes there. Then copy the changes back into AWE through the “Add/Update Multiple Campaigns” button/feature.

  • attacat_han | June 25, 2010

    James you’re absolutely right, this is the easiest way at the moment, but would be nice not to have to use excel!

  • Brian | June 30, 2010

    Can we use BMM for UK focused campaigns or do we have to actually be in the UK?

    • James | June 30, 2010


      It currently depends on what country your AdWords account is set-up for. So if your account is set-up in the United Kingdom, then you already have access to this. If your account is set-up in the US and you just want to target the UK, then this will not be active for you yet.

      Also, I am not sure if you have to be physically located in the UK or if your payment option just has to be British Pounds, but having both would be good:)

  • Ahmed | August 13, 2010

    Hi James,

    Thanks for a very good summary.. I just have one question which is the effect of BMM keywords on content campaigns running with contextual targeting (not managed placements) so will the new match type affect the Google robots searching for the relevant websites?


  • James | August 13, 2010


    If I correctly understand what you mean, then this could affect content network campaigns. Since modified broad match has to do with keyword control and match types, this can affect the actual keywords that Google needs to match in order to trigger your content ads. I’ll know more once I examine a few more display network campaigns.

  • Ahmed | August 13, 2010

    Thx for your replay..
    But i think it’s not clear enough the actual effect that this will have on the content campaigns. As in contextual targeting it’s about themes more than match types. And i think nothing was said before about match types in those campaigns all we know that the Google robots links our keywords to the relevant sites and we have to make a related theme ad groups with relevant keyword list..So will this new match type prevent some ads that could appear in the broad match type from appearing now with the new BMM match type ?

    I appreciate your help!


  • Tony | August 16, 2010

    Hi Ahmed,
    James’ article discusses the impact to keyword search campaigns. For contextually targeted content campaigns, google doesn’t make it very well known or easy to find, but they only consider the exact match version of your keywords when determining which sites will match for your ad. So these new BMM match types, will have no affect on your campaigns. We would recommend you separate your content campaigns from your keyword search campaigns, this will allow you better bidding and daily budget controls. Then you will only need a few keywords and just one match type of them, it doesn’t matter which match type you use as google only considers the exact match version so you could have your keywords be the exact match type. Google recommends 5-15 keywords per ad groups, so you don’t need every keyword you have in your keyword search ad groups, just the main ideas or themes of those keywords.

  • Calculate Marketing | October 19, 2010

    Hi James,

    Nice analysis on modified broad match, which I’ve found to be particularly rare. I recently did some similar analysis, and like yourself, found that modified broad match tended to deliver promising results. From the 3 AdWords accounts I tested, modified broad match keywords tended to exhibit higher CTRs than keywords without broad match modification:

    I also found CPCs were typically lower for broad match modified keywords, although Quality Scores were relatively indifferent. Longer keywords, especially those with more plus signs, also tended to perform better than shorter variations.

    Guess it’s still early days, but glad to see both of us are getting positive results.


  • thiago Monteiro | October 05, 2011

    Hi there, right now I’m developing a ppc campaign for a client and a huge doubt emerged:

    Using the broad modifier but between [ ] works?

    I mean, I have a four word keyword like A & X supplies, so +[a & x] +supplies.

    This way the name of the company A & X should be always considered together.

  • James | October 05, 2011

    Hi Thiago,

    The use of BMM in the manner that you want will not work as you cannot use the [] symbols to control your matching options. Google AdWords only recognizes the use of [] for whole exact match keywords and not parts of keywords.

    For this situation, you are best off Phrase Matching the company name “a & x” so that it has to be included in the search query. Doing so will match A & X supplies, A & X company, A & X Minneapolis and any other version that contains A & X.

  • Pete | December 23, 2011

    Hi James,

    Great post, enjoyed it, shed some light on this sometimes confusing topic!

    I’d like to know your perspective of singular and plural forms of a (modified) broad keyword.
    For example, if my target is ‘injury lawyer chicago’ would you recommend to add both ‘+injury +lawyer +chicago’ and ‘+injury +lawyers +chicago’ ?

    I mean, technically it shouldn’t be necessary because BMM will account for plurals too, right?

    But how about the Quality Score and CPC aspect? I believed that if your keyword matches the search query exactly, you get a higher Quality Score and pay a lower CPC? If this is the case then you do want both forms in your list right? (because the client will pay less money for clicks).

    However, I believe Google considers these 2 keywords to be duplicates. Would these keywords compete against each other? Is having both keywords active bad for the account from a Quality Score perspective?

    Could you share some of your best practices and experiences about this?

  • James | December 26, 2011

    Hi Pete,

    “Technically” you might not need to have dedicated singular and plural BMM keywords to cover the search term(s) that you want to target.

    That being said, I do recommend having both singulars and plurals in the ad group to help with analysis and spot QS, CTR and Conversion trends. Google AdWords typically does a good job of assigning clicks and impressions from the singular or plural matched search query version to the corresponding keyword if you have both versions in the ad group and set to the same/similar bid level.

    Also, I have seen plural and singular BMM versions in ad groups where one has been deactivated due to the “Low Search Volume” status/filter for longer-tail keywords. So if you only have one version in the AG, and it gets deactivated, you will not be showing up for any of those searches.

    As to Quality Score for competing/duplicate keywords, I do not believe that this is the case, and have never seen any evidence that this happens for singular and/or plural versions.

    One final note on Quality Score for individual keywords; QS is factored in a few different ways in regards to exact, broad, phrase and BMM keywords and text ads and that the “Visible Quality Score” that is shown in your AdWords account, is not a direct representation of an individual BMM keyword’s matched search query and it’s true QS. The simplest way to put it is that true quality score is not accurately shown in AdWords, but what is shown is only a vague/related number, barely close enough to make optimization adjustments based on. To find out more about this, I recommend that you read Craig Danuloff’s “Quality Score in High Resolution” book ( He has done a through job of researching Quality Score and it truly the expert in this.

    So to summarize, I would have both ‘+injury +lawyer’ and ‘+injury +lawyers’ keyword versions in the same ad group.

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