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Bidding by Match Type 101


While we all know that the acronym PPC stands for “Pay Per Click”, it’s not always easy to determine what an advertiser should actually pay per click.

With 5+ years experience actively managing PPC campaigns, I’ve found my most successful bidding strategies have intertwined with my match type strategy. However, before we jump into biding by match type, I wanted to give the Rankwatch readers a quick refresher on the various match types available in the 3 big engines – Google, Bing & Yahoo.

Match Types

On Google & Bing there are currently 4 match types: broad, broad match modified, phrase, & exact. Yahoo’s new platform, Gemini, only offers broad, phrase, & exact. However, it appears that broad match modified is on their road map.

All 3 search engines also offer negative keyword options, which will help prevent your keywords showing for irrelevant traffic. Google allows for negative broad, phrase and exact. However, Bing & Yahoo only allow for negative phrase & exact. The folks at PPC Hero, put together a great blog on how the various negative match types work.

Within your Google search query reports, you may also see Broad-Session Based show up under match type. With these queries, Google decides to serve ads based on its best interpretation of the user’s current searches/session.

For example, if you are bidding on “crossfit shorts”, and a user searches “crossfit shorts” and then comes back and searches “send shorts” – your ad could technically show for “send shorts” because that aligns with the users session, despite not being one of your active keywords. Unfortunately, there is no current way to opt out of session based searches, despite it largely being irrelevant. The best way to combat it, is by adding additional negative keywords.

Bidding By Match Type

Now that you have a better understanding of the various match types, let’s discuss how to bid on each.

Exact match keywords should have the highest bid out of all match types, since these keywords have either high volume or a strong performance history (e.g.  strong converter) or in some cases, both.  Unfortunately, there are no set guidelines to follow in regards to what makes a keyword high volume or strong performing, as this will vary heavily based on account, industry, etc.

Phrase match keywords should have a slightly lower bid than your exact match keywords given that this is a less restrictive match type.

Last but not least, it is Broad Match which you should rarely or never bid on.  Before your jaw hits the floor, let me explain. Both Google and Bing define broad match, as keywords which can also show for misspellings, synonyms, related searches, and other relevant variations. Unfortunately, on both search engines sometimes the queries we see aren’t relevant or related.

Given this, I recommend that you use broad match modifiers instead, which will show for misspellings, singular/plural forms, abbreviations and acronyms, and stemmings for all keywords modified with a “+”.

The only time you should consider bidding on broad match, is if you aren’t seeing any volume from your broad match modified keywords. However, I don’t anticipate that this will happen very frequently.

Both broad match modifier and broad match keywords should have the lowest bid out of all match types, since their general purpose is to generate research and ideas for new phrase and exact keywords. You should be scanning your broad match or broad match modifier search queries at least monthly, so that you can make sure you are constantly adding to your pre-existing phrase and exact match ad groups/campaigns.

Regardless of whether you choose to segment match type by campaign or ad group, you’ll want to ensure that you are negating your exact match keywords from our phrase ad group/campaign & your exact and phrase from your broad match/broad match modified ad group/campaign , so you don’t end up competing against yourself.  This is also why I recommend doing match type ad groups/campaigns, instead of keeping all 3 match types together.

Setting Successful Bids

Once you understand the strategy behind bidding by match type, you’ll want to make sure you follow some other bidding tips to ensure you are giving your keywords the best opportunity to perform.

First, you’ll want to determine where to set your bids at.  Some people will tell you to set all of your exact match keywords the same, all of your phrase match keywords the same, and all of your broad match/modified broad match keywords the same. I’m begging you to not do that.  If you have the data available, use your past search queries. Within these reports, you’ll be able to see what your average CPCs were as well as what average position you showed in.  This can help you decide, where to set your bids.  If you don’t have past data to review, I’d recommend checking out the various engines’ Keyword Tools.  While these tools need to be taken with a grain of salt, they can help give you recommend CPCs to start with that you can adjust once you  see how performance is trending.

You’ll also want to make sure you aren’t sabotaging your keyword’s success by bidding too aggressively or too cautiously.

The primary problem with aggressive bids is quickly depleted budgets.  If your budgets are low, you may see that the bids required to maintain the mainline positions (1-3) may lead to you going dark early in the day. Additionally, it’s important to remember that while the mainline positions do tend to generate the most volume,  this does not mean they will generate the most success. Many advertisers I’ve worked with have thought they needed to be number one but actually performed better in lower positions.

Bidding too cautiously can make it almost impossible to get an accurate gauge on how an individual keyword is performing.  You won’t know if your keyword is performing well, since it will likely be in lower positions which will garner almost no volume.

You’ll also want to be checking your bids frequently, as the bidding environment can quickly change. For example, competitors can quickly enter and leave markets, CPCs can go up organically.

For lower volume accounts, I’d recommend that you review performance and update bids at least weekly, where as with higher volume accounts; you’ll want to review bids every other day.  I recommend every other day, as you’ll still want to make sure you are giving your new bids enough time to give you accurate performance data. Never make changes based on limited data.

Lastly, you should also use the reports available in the engines.   You may find great opportunities, by testing different bids based on device, geography, time of day, day of week, etc.

Overall, bidding will be a huge driver of your PPC successes or failures.  So I encourage you to re-structure your bids, and never stop playing around with bids or bid tests.

Please feel free to share your thoughts, feedback or own bidding strategies in the comment section below!

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