“Hello, I’m Broad Match—and I’ve Changed!”

In March, I spoke about the power of broad match to a room of PPC experts at the SMX (Search Marketing Expo) in Munich.

I’ll admit, I was anxious about the topic and how the audience would receive my largely pro-broad match talk. 

While many agencies use broad match and understand the value, I continue to see negative comments from others. Some perceive broad match as yet another instance of Google pushing accounts towards unwanted automation. Others bear the scars of bad experiences with broad match from a few years ago—and so they refuse to even test it.

Thankfully, even with broad match skepticism in the air, my talk was well received. Lots of heads nodded as I discussed my team’s path to implementing broad match. And when I surveyed the room, half of the audience confessed to using it. 

But the resistance is real, and that’s too bad. Because I believe lots of agencies and businesses, including B2Bs, that aren’t using broad match could really benefit from it. 

The evolution of broad match

If you’ve been burned by broad match in the past, I totally get your cynicism. My team and I had the same experience. If you’d asked me two years ago if we were using broad match, I would have told you no way!

But broad match has evolved a lot since that time. The “new” broad match is dramatically different. It’s so different, it’s really too bad that Google didn’t give it a new name—some of this confusion could have been avoided!

This kind of evolution isn’t new in the world of Google Ads—and match types especially. Remember modified broad match and close variants? Even exact match has changed and is no longer an “exact match” in the literal sense. 

To refresh your memory, here are some of the major milestones in the broad match evolution:

For more background on broad match—and its most recent changes—be sure to check out this paper that Google released last year

It’s also important to recognize that the evolution of broad match isn’t happening in isolation. It’s part of other, broader changes in the Google ecosystem, with AI driving many of them

How the new broad match works

Let’s take a look at what makes today’s broad match so different from past iterations—and other match types, such as exact and phrase match.

With exact match, ads may show on searches that are the same meaning as your keyword. 

With phrase match, ads may show on searches that include the meaning of your keyword. 

In other words, these matches are made based on contextual signals. 

Today’s broad match uses these signals as well, but it also uses other signals, such as:

  • Other keywords in the ad group
  • Landing page 
  • User search behavior 
  • User location

Broad match is the only match type that uses all the signals available to understand the intent of both the user’s search and your keyword. 

If this sounds like an application of AI, you’re absolutely right. Google itself describes the use of AI in broad match:

“When broad match launched, our engineering team at Google would manually write out the synonyms for a keyword and cast a really wide net. For example, an ad keyword including “cheap” could match with searches for “inexpensive” and “shoestring”. While “shoestring” can be a different way of saying “budget”, a user could alternatively use this word to search for shoe laces.

Thanks to new machine learning capabilities, large language models now better understand a user’s intent. We train it with billions of pieces of text so it can learn all the different variations and meanings of a word or phrase and what sequences make sense.”

Broad match may become your only match

This brings me to another reason why you should test broad match again—it’s an important means of future-proofing your account

There’s still a role for exact match and phrase match. But I don’t believe those match types will stand the test of time when it comes to expanding your account’s reach in a meaningful way. 

By utilizing the additional signals that Google has for broad match, you’re getting access to keyword opportunities and reach that exact match and phrase match can’t offer. 

Plus, I have a hunch that other match types will eventually go away entirely and everyone will be using some form of broad match—like it or not. It just seems like a natural part of Google Ads’ progression. 

Rather than playing catch up with these changes, it’s much better to test and get comfortable with broad match BEFORE those changes become mandatory. 

Tips for introducing broad match

Have I convinced you to test broad match again? Here are some suggestions for how to proceed:  

Go slow

By no means should you jump in and change all your exact matches to broad matches. That’s a recipe for disaster!

My team and I took a gradual approach. We started by launching broad match alongside exact match last year. Once we saw that broad match was converting more often than exact match, we started pausing exact match.

You can follow our lead if you like. Slowly introduce broad match, monitor conversions, and then pause exact match once you feel more comfortable. 

Give it time

For broad match to succeed, you have to give the AI behind it enough time to learn.   

Ginny Marvin frequently recommends patience with broad match, and I wholeheartedly agree. I can tell you that, based on our experience, the first week of broad match is rough. Having to explain to your client why their average of 10 leads a day has dropped to two is no fun. 

But if you can stick it out past that first week, weeks two and three start to feel much better. And by week four, you’ll probably be ready to start expanding upon your test. 

Be diligent

Nothing about Google Ads is plug-and-play, and broad match is no exception. For success, you need to:

  • Add negations to your accounts and monitor daily
  • Ensure your landing pages are filled with helpful, targeted information
  • Structure your Google Ads account structure with logically organized campaigns and ad groups
  • Incorporate smart bidding and target the right audiences

You should also keep your eyes on what’s happening outside of your broad match test. Monitor for other changes in the account and overall account performance.

Manage expectations

While you may see a nice lift with broad match, it probably won’t be anything earth-shattering (although there may be exceptions). 

But remember, implementing broad match isn’t just about performance today. It’s also about setting yourself up for success in the future. 

Broad match is the future of Google Ads 

If you tried broad match last year and it was a flop, try it again this year. And give the AI enough time to get up to speed. 

If you can get past that first week, you may be surprised by what you see. And you’ll feel good knowing that you’re setting yourself—and your client—up for future success.