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Google to Expand Keyword Matching

Google notified its 150,000 advertisers on Friday that it would expand its keyword matching to show paid listings on related search terms, while also increasing the performance standards for such ads.

The search company said it would alter its "broad match" option next week, in an attempt to serve more text links to related searches. Now, an AdWords customer with the keyword "cashmere sweater" could have broad matches to several related searches, ranging from "cashmere cardigan" to "cashmere turtleneck." The number of options varies from keyword to keyword, determined by the click-through rate. A keyword with a high click-through rate would receive more broad match options.

Google painted the move as an opportunity to let Google do the heavy lifting of figuring out related keywords, instead of advertisers' dealing with the bewildering number of keyword options.

"We're trying to simplify the amount of work it takes to build keyword campaigns," said Salar Kamangar, director of product management at Google. "We want to make it easy for new advertisers and advertisers who don't want to spend a lot of time of doing this."

Broad match is the default option for AdWords, although advertisers can automatically convert their keywords to its more exact targeting options: "phrase match" (keywords appearing in any order in the search) or "exact match" (the search term is the same as the keyword). Advertisers can still choose broad match and opt out of terms, ticking off each individually.

Along with the broader matches, Google said it would tighten up its policing of relevance on broad-and phrased-matched keywords, making advertisers achieve a click-through rate of close to 1 percent compared to .5 percent for exact matches. Kamangar said both users and advertisers stood to benefit from fewer irrelevant ads being displayed.

"We strongly believe that all advertisers are going to benefit by us having higher standards," he said. (Google said the performance of broad-matched ads would not affect the click-through rate it uses to determine a keyword's ranking.)

The broader matching also allows the company to generate more revenue from commercial searches that do not have a direct match to keyword ads or whose ads are not performing well.

"They are really just trying to more effectively monetize the search tail, the searches and phrases that aren't the most popular ones," said Kevin Lee, chief executive of search marketing firm Did-it.com.

Google's broad match takes things a step further than rival Overture Services, which uses a tool called Match Driver to take into account misspellings and other variations to match up queries with relevant keywords. Overture also introduced its own variants of phrase and broad matching in August.

Some longtime AdWords customers expressed disappointment with the program, which they said would take obviate some of the benefits of knowing Google's system inside and out.

"This will definitely favor big players with big budgets, at the expense of folks whose strength was keyword research," complained one poster to WebmasterWorld.com, an active message board for keyword advertisers.

Lee said the changes would probably succeed in displaying ads that are more relevant to the true intent of many searches.

"Is it a potentially aggravating for some marketers? Absolutely, but they've got to understand that Google puts the searcher first," he said.