How Effective is Google’s Session-Based Broad Match?
Some Google AdWords advertisers are not pleased with what they are finding in Google’s Search Query Performance reports for their campaigns. These reports show advertisers what keyword queries are surfacing their ads, and some are finding some of these keywords questionable.
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You might think that an ad impression is an ad impression, but when you’re charged by the click, you want the clicks to come from people who are likely to buy what you’re selling, considering that you are paying Google for each click.
A Wall Street Journal piece has put the spotlight on some of these advertisers, including a New York dentist who claims irrelevant keywords have cost him nearly $3,000 over the last year or so. The problem allegedly stems from Google’s session-based broad match feature, which shows ads to users not only for a single query, but also for subsequent queries in the users same search session.
Google explains the feature in the AdWords Help Center:
“When determining which ads to show on a Google search result page, the AdWords system evaluates some of the user’s previous queries during their search session as well as the current search query. If the system detects a relationship, it will show ads related to these other queries, too.”
“The system considers the previous queries in order to better understand the intent of the user’s current query. The added information allows the system to deliver more relevant ads.”
“This feature is an enhancement of broad match. It works by generating similar terms for each search query based on the content of the current query and, if deemed relevant, the previous queries in a user’s search session. Your ad will potentially show if one of your broad-matched keywords matches any of these similar terms.”
Sounds good in theory, but the advertisers complaining appear to disagree with what Google is considering to be relevant. The dentist from the WSJ story cited ” ” and “[Chinese characters] in Chinatown” as examples â€“ not exactly dentist-related. The story also cites a plastic surgeon, who counted “olivia newton john photos” among questionable keywords.
The WSJ spoke with Google’s Nick Fox:
Mr. Fox acknowledged there are “edge” cases in which search queries “does not appear to be relevant to the ads, but the context of previous queries indicated that the user would have a strong interest in that advertisers’ ad.” In addition, he said, “a user must be interested enough in an ad to want to click on it.” He said a very small percentage of ad clicks are session-based and that advertisers can limit the scope of their campaign to halt session-based clicks.
Google’s Mr. Fox said: “It has to be the case that the users, in the very recent history, searched for terms he’s advertising on.”
It’s worth noting that Google says that whenever an ad is served based on the associated keyword’s relevance to the previous search queries, the ad’s performance has no effect on that keyword’s Quality Score.
It’s also worth noting that not everyone is unhappy with the session-based clicks. Jordan McClements, commenting on a Clixmarketing post on session-based broad match says, “If you are in a niche where there is not much search traffic, and a new client/sale is worth a lot of money to you then it is probably a good idea to keep all your ‘broad’ options open.”
John Lee, who wrote that post, says, “I want advertisers to be aware that in the case of session-based broad match â€“ you can’t turn it off. My recommendation is to remain vigilant in reporting, primarily with Search Query Reports to ensure that the session-based query matches that do come through are relevant. If they aren’t, roll that knowledge (and those queries) into your negative keyword lists.”
Probably good advice.
Perhaps the real question is how much of the problem is Google and how much is the advertiser?
Speaking of negative keywords, Google actually just released a new feature this week to manage negative keywords across multiple campaigns with negative keyword lists.