Dispatch From SMX East: Battle Of The Match Types


The “Battle of the Match Types” session at SMX East brought with it interesting perspectives from each panelist, as well as an active question-and-answer session that pushed each panelist to approach topics not included in their presentations. Here’s a quick rundown of each, along with a synopsis of some of the highlights of the Q&A.

Susan Waldes: Campaign-Level Match-Type Segmentation FTW!

Susan Waldes started out the session by stating the advantages of using different match types in targeting keywords, giving a nod to David Rodnitzky’s Alpha Beta method and agreeing that most advertisers want to take advantage of both exact and broad match keywords. Exact match brings with it more targeted bidding, ad copy and landing page control. Broad match helps advertisers serve ads for longer-tail queries and variations.

In terms of how this should impact campaign structure, Susan argued for total segmentation of keyword match types at the campaign level, stating that combining match types in a campaign is akin to targeting both the Google Display Network (GDN) and search with one campaign. As optimization techniques vary by match type, segmenting campaigns by match type will allow managers to effectively optimize for each match type.

She then presented the merits of using single-keyword ad groups (also known by the cringe-worthy “SKAG” acronym), arguing that not only does this give advertisers the ability to better target ad copy and extensions, but some metrics that are only available at the ad group level, such as call duration, are more useful when the ad group in question has only a single keyword.

Hot Take: Because what good would a recap be if I didn’t include inflammatory analysis of each speaker’s presentation?

I probably wouldn’t liken mixing match types to mixing search and display in a single campaign, as the latter is far worse, but she did a solid job presenting the pros and cons of different match types and why there could be advantages from splitting them into different campaigns.

John Lee: How Match Type Segmentation Is Part Of A Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy

John Lee was up next up, and he quickly asserted his primary point that segmentation for the purpose of segmentation is a waste of time. He argued that some campaigns are complicated enough already and that duplicating all campaigns to divide up match types could quickly get out of hand, particularly when taken together with other segmentation methods, such a geographic and keyword theme.

John then moved on to argue that dividing traffic up among single keyword ad groups could lead to longer testing cycles with less significant data and that even breaking out singular vs. plural keywords into different ad groups might be overdoing it, stating, “Do they really need separate ads?”

Overall, John’s argument was to take other factors, such as geography and ad schedules, into account when deciding on match type segmentation before blindly leaping into the alpha beta and SKAG structures, using data to adjust along the way.

Hot Take: I liked John’s argument that common sense segmentation of keywords should be the first step in deciding on a campaign structure and that a one-size-fits-all campaign strategy doesn’t actually fit all, since different managers have different capabilities and time constraints. He also had the best presentation title.

However, as was noted during the Q&A, singular vs. plural keywords might not be a great example of how similar keywords don’t need their own strategy, as these variations can have significantly different performance for many advertisers.

He also argued that exact and modified broad match were sufficient to get pretty much all relevant traffic, though in my experience, that hasn’t been the case for super-long-tail accounts. This may just be a result of the types of account he typically manages and again goes to his argument that one size doesn’t fit all.

Katy Tonkin: The International Angle

Last up was Katy Tonkin, bringing an international angle to the stage in talking about how not only are the options for ad matching different depending on which search engine you’re bidding on, but also, the relative performance of each is different depending on the country.

It’s important to understand these differences, since 24 percent of the world’s population lives in countries where Google, Bing and Yahoo are not the top search engines, and expanding paid search programs from Google to engines such as Yandex and Baidu isn’t a matter of just copying over existing accounts.

Katy next went on to show how Google match type performance varied by country. Interestingly, here data showed that average query length was actually greatest for queries that triggered phrase match keywords compared to broad and broad match modified keywords for many countries.

Another interesting point Katy made was that the ROI of different match types relative to each other was different depending on the country, notably showing that phrase match provided significantly higher ROI than broad and exact match in France.

This all built up to her primary point that search behavior is different in different countries, and that the differences should impact advertisers’ decisions as to how to make use of match types in different countries and on different search engines. Segmentation, she argued, should only be used to control budgets over specific parts of accounts and to better leverage bid modifiers and other ad group settings.

Hot Take: Really great breakdown of the different match types available on different search engines and how that could impact your strategy, depending on which engine you’re bidding on. The performance by match type by country analysis was also interesting, but I found it a bit hard to buy into, since I don’t know what kind of bidding or negatives were used in each country. Bids and negatives are more often than not the real determining factors in which match types gets traffic, in my experience.

One could also argue that a higher ROI for different match types reflects ineffective bidding, since you’d want to hit your ROI goal across all match types — a too-low ROI means you’re bidding too much, and one that’s too high means you’re leaving sales on the table. Still, interesting data and something to think about in international match type strategy.


The questions portion brought a few good questions that weren’t directly addressed in the panelists’ presentations.

One audience member asked how mobile modifiers should impact strategy, to which the panel basically responded that you should use them as you normally do, regardless of structure. However, I think what the questioner was really asking was whether or not you should take your mobile modifiers into consideration in deciding on a campaign structure, and to that I would say yes.

For example, if you have two keywords that are similar enough that they could use the same ad copy, but one performs much differently on mobile relative to desktop than the other, then you should consider breaking them into separate ad groups in order to use different mobile modifiers for each.

Another attendee asked how panelists viewed Dynamic Search Ads (DSA) and whether a keywordless world was on the horizon. The panelists agreed that keywords aren’t going anywhere any time soon and expressed skepticism for how good Google’s DSA system could really be.

While I agree that keywords are certainly going to be here for the foreseeable future, I don’t think it’s out of the question for keywordless ads to become the norm in the future, since it’s not advertisers making the decision — it’s Google. Remember that time Google was all like, “You’re all going to target desktop and tablet computers!” and advertisers had no choice in the matter?

And while, yes, paid search has always been based on keyword bidding, the product that Google built its business on — organic search — has always been based on judging the relevancy of Web pages to queries. Thus, they’re pretty good at matching up Web pages with people’s intent without having sites do a 1:1 mapping for them — and as my colleague Matt Mierzejewski posited in his presentation on DSAs at SMX East, they’re likely looking to use this ability more to trigger text ads, as well.

The moderator, Ginny Marvin, also gave a nod to Google’s ambitions for advertisers to just hand over their credit cards and KPI goals and let Google handle the rest. Only time will tell how that plays out, but certainly, for the time being, the panelists and most advertisers strongly prefer keywords to DSAs.


Overall, the panel did an excellent job of presenting some insightful material and providing anecdotal evidence of how different strategies can help and hurt performance. I’d say that everyone presented some winning material, so much so that a champion seems impossible to crown. The battle continues…

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