How to Optimize Your PPC Campaign Without Exact Match

ppc spendAs you’ve probably heard, Google got rid of the exact match ad type, taking away a significant amount of control from its Adwords advertisers. The screams of outrage were heard around the world, but it’s a reality we need to deal with. So how do we as marketers use this as an opportunity to simplify and optimize our PPC campaigns?

First of all, even if you’re not entirely sure what exact match was, you’ve probably seen examples like this: [tennis shoes]

In the old setup, your ad would only show on searches for the precise phrase inside the brackets. If someone searched for “tennis shoe” your ad wouldn’t show. In the new version of exact match, you still use brackets, but your ad also shows for “close variants” of your phrase.

This is a pretty big shift in how Adwords works, so we’ve come up with 3 ways that you should change the way you’re approaching PPC to adapt to this new reality.

  1. Learn to Embrace Intent-Driven Search on Landing Pages

There’s a lot of speculation that this move by Google is intended, like many of its recent algorithm updates, to signal an increasing reliance on user intent in displaying search results. Advertisers who have landing pages that are in line with this emerging trend will undoubtedly benefit.

Instead of just worrying about the exact number of keywords you’re using, where they are, and how Google might be seeing them, look at your landing pages as if you’re coming to them for the first time after performing a Google search.

Think carefully about user intent – why are they on your page? You hope it’s to buy something or take another of your preferred actions, but that may not have been their intent when they did a search. Google is hoping to start using that intent when producing results, both organic and paid, so if you are also trying to use it you may see improvements in your ads’ performance and your CPC. You will almost certainly be ahead of the game in the future as good moves toward a more keywordless algorithm.

One way to make optimizing for intent easier on yourself is by segmenting your Adwords account effectively. You can group keywords based on your customer’s buying process, or by your calls to action, or any other segmentation that makes sense and makes it easier to create an intent-driven landing page.

For example one search marketer, Kiko Correa, reported that by splitting his highest performing keyword into its very own campaign he got a 30% spike in ROI and a revenue increase over 60%. Read more about his experiment here.

While that case is based on branded searches, it still bears looking into even for marketers working outside of branded campaigns. If you’ve got landing pages that are optimized not only for your chosen keywords (and similar variations…thanks, Google) but also for the intent behind those keyword searches, you’re way ahead of the curve.

2. Expand Your Use of Negative Keywords

In a nutshell, negative keywords prevent your ad from showing on particular searches. Although sometimes not as quickly implemented as exact match, negative keywords, particularly in combination with the broad match modifier, can accomplish many of the same outcomes for advertisers as exact match once did more efficiently.

Negative keywords work just like regular ones, except they exclude your ads from particular searches instead of triggering them. Don’t want to show up on searches for your competitor? Assign their name as a negative keyword.

Historical data show that your product just doesn’t perform well for a particular search term or phrase? You can exclude it using negative keywords.

Just like regular keywords, you can get very specific about how negative keywords work. They can be broad, phrase, or exact match keywords, but unlike regular keywords they won’t exclude queries that are synonyms or close variations.

It sounds complicated, but as a recent Kissmetrics article pointed out, getting comfortable with negative keywords lets you “narrow your visitors by specifying keywords you don’t want attributed to your key phrase or word. It’s less work, less complex, and carries a lower cost.”1

To save time you can use your shared library in Adwords that will let you exclude keywords from across all your campaigns.

3. Start Using the Broad Match Modifier

The broad match modifier (+keyword +keyword) allows you to limit your ad to searches that contain all the modified terms, but in any particular order.

This is not quite as precise as exact match once was. Google’s help documents tell us that when we use broad match, “ads show on searches that contain the modified term (or close variations, but not synonyms) in any order.”

Their example:

ppc broad match

Again, not quite as quick and easy as exact match, but workable. And if you’re using this technique in careful conjunction with negative keywords, you’ll get a level of precision akin to what you were seeing with exact match, without needing to perform continuous keyword list expansion.

Who Benefits from this Change

Advertisers may not be able to laser in on particular keywords or phrases anymore, but this can free them up to focus on other areas of their PPC marketing, such as landing pages and improving ad rank.

In their initial response to Google’s announcement in August that it was retiring exact match, WordStream reported that they have found “that shaping PPC traffic using these more precise match types almost always improved ROI, typically in the range of low double digits.”2

The flip side to that? “The increased control and ROI came at a cost of dramatically increased account management complexity.”

Google’s hope, in addition to moving ever closer to purely intent-driven search results, is probably that by freeing advertisers from needing to target minute variations in search terms advertisers will focus on creating better ads and landing pages, leading to better results for both searchers and advertisers.

That’s the benevolent interpretation of Google’s intentions, of course. There was a huge backlash to the announcement (see some examples of the angry tweets from that week), along with speculation that Google is just trying to get more cash out of Adwords.

Regardless of the motivations behind the decision, this is world PPC works in now, and we’ve all got to learn to optimize with the tools we’re given.


1. Kissmetrics: Adwords Killed Exact Match
2. RIP Exact Match

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Andrea Fryrear
About the Author:

Andrea Fryrear

Andrea loves to dissect marketing buzzwords and fads looking for the pearls of wisdom at their cores. Her favorite topic is agile marketing, which she believes holds the key to a more fulfilling (and less stressful) marketing career for individuals and a more powerful marketing department for business. When not scrutinizing the latest agile methodologies, Andrea can be found on the volleyball court, at the park with her two delightful kids, or baking “calorie-free” cookies. Connect with her on Twitter @AndreaFryrear, or on LinkedIn.

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