Back in July, after 2 months of successful beta testing, Google rolled out a much awaited improvement to their often notorious AdWords broad match. Modified Broad Match – or the Broad Match Modifier – allows Google AdWords advertisers to place plus signs in front of their keywords to better control the types of searches which trigger their ads. Since every word in the keyword which contains a preceding plus sign must be included somewhere in the user’s search query, modified broad match provides advertisers with an extra level of control over the search queries which trigger their ads.

While this extra degree of control was largely welcomed by PPC advertisers, modified broad match no doubt adds an extra degree of complication to Google AdWords management. However, as we will see from four seperate modified broad match experiments, if modified broad match is used correctly, it can be extremely effective in significantly increasing click through rates (CTR) and lowering cost per click (CPC) prices of Google AdWords campaigns.

Infinite Matching Possibilities

Modified broad match isn’t just the fourth match type. Modified broad match is the infinite match type. Whereas previously it was only possible to match a keyword in three possible ways, with modified broad match it is now possible to potentially match a keyword an infinite number of ways. The only limit to the number of matching possibilities using modified broad match is the length of the keyword itself.

Say you wanted to bid on the keyword ‘cheap hotels melbourne’. Previously there were only three possible ways you could match this keyword – exact, phrase, and broad:

  1. [cheap hotels melbourne] – exact match
  2. “cheap hotels melbourne” – phrase match
  3. cheap hotels melbourne – broad match

Now, with modified broad match, adding plus signs in front of certain words in your keyword forces those words to be included in the search query. As any word with a preceding plus sign must be included somewhere within the user’s search query, it is now possible to better control the relevancy of PPC traffic. However, this extra control means more possible customisation – there are now a 10 possible matching combinations for the keyword ‘cheap hotels melbourne’:

  1. [cheap hotels melbourne] – exact match
  2. “cheap hotels melbourne” – phrase match
  3. cheap hotels melbourne – broad match
  4. +cheap +hotels +melbourne – modified broad match
  5. +cheap +hotels melbourne – modified broad match
  6. +cheap hotels +melbourne – modified broad match
  7. cheap +hotels +melbourne – modified broad match
  8. +cheap hotels melbourne – modified broad match
  9. cheap +hotels melbourne – modified broad match
  10. cheap hotels +melbourne – modified broad match

That’s 10 possible matching combinations if the keyword has 3 words, 18 possible matching combinations if the keyword has 4 words, and 34 possible matching combinations if the keyword has 5 words. It doesn’t take long to realise that modified broad match creates a huge number of possible matching combinations – each which triggers its own unique range of search queries.

While these numerous matching possibilities no doubt add extra complication to Google AdWords management, if modified broad match is approached strategically it can be hugely effective in improving Google AdWords campaign performance. Over the course of 4 AdWords campaign experiments on modified broad match, we will see how modified broad match can lead to significant increases in click through rate, while at the same time significantly reducing cost per click prices.

Experiment 1 – Four Keywords

Firstly, let’s look at a small-scale test which was carried out on an AdWords account over the last 2 months. Below are results for a hotel name keyword (broad match), along with 3 modified broad match variations. Each of the 4 keyword combinations were given their own ad group, the same ads, and the same keyword bids. Over the 2 month test period, each keyword combination received over 200 clicks.

While quality score, average position and average cost per click prices were very similar for each of the combinations, click through rate and conversion rate were significantly higher for longer keywords and those with a greater degree of broad match modification. Click through rate rose from 1.36% to 2.99% to 3.81% to 4.65% as the keyword increased in broad match modification, while conversion rate similarly rose from 3.03% to 3.17% to 4.13% to 4.23%.

google adwords modified broad match

Although the experiment was on a small scale using only a handful of keywords, and there could potentially be multiple causes of uncontrolled bias which could have influenced the results, the findings strongly suggest that longer keywords with a higher degree of broad match modification achieve better results than shorter keywords with little or no broad match modification. Considering that longer, modified keywords are more specific in their nature, this is hardly surprising.

Experiment 2 – Multiple Keywords

To provide a more comprehensive analysis of the performance of modified broad match, modified broad match was rolled out across two separate test accounts. Again, the testing time period was just over 2 months, and each test account received over 2,000 clicks. While different keywords had different bids, largely due to their differing levels of competition, care was taken to ensure each match type variation of the same keyword had the same bid.

In test account 1, exact match performed significantly better than the other match types in terms of click through rate (CTR). Phrase, broad and modified broad match had similar click through rates, although average cost per click prices were much lower for phrase match keywords. Although there was little difference in CTR between broad and modified broad match, modified broad match had a 10% lower average cost per click, and a Quality Score comparable to exact match.

modified broad match comparison

In test account 2, however, the story was much more conclusive. Exact match was this time the worst performing match type in terms of click through rate, while Quality Score of exact match was considerably lower than the other match types. Modified broad match had a higher click through rate than standard broad math, although average cost per click prices were slightly higher. However, once again, modified broad match boasted the highest Quality Score, suggesting that modified broad match keywords were perceived as highly relevant for the searches they triggered.

match types broad match modifier

While both test accounts provided results which were largely promising for advocates of modified broad match, the differences in match type performance between the two accounts suggest a more investigative analysis is needed.

Experiment 3 – Amount of Modification in Keyword

In experiment 1 we found that although the sample size was small, keywords with more broad match modification tended to perform better than keywords with less broad match modification. To test the accuracy of this finding, keywords across the two test accounts were grouped according to the number of plus signs they contained. A keyword which contained 4 plus signs for example, meant that those 4 words must be included somewhere within the user’s search query.

Once again, account 1 provided little evidence that more broad match modification resulted in higher click through rates. Although click through rates increased for keywords with 4 or 5 modified words, click volume was significantly lower for these longer words, making it hard to provide a conclusive result. Cost per click (CPC) prices, however, were more conclusive, with CPC prices falling steadily as the amount of broad match modification increases.

broad match modifier word length analysis

In test account 2, not only did cost per click prices fall for keywords with more broad match modification, but click through rate showed a more convincing trend. Quality Scores remained relatively similar across all keyword groups.

modified broad match plus sign

Although the results reflect favourably on the use of modified broad match, with keywords having more plus signs generally performing better than those with less plus signs, the results do not take into account the number of words in the keywords which were not broad math modified.

Experiment 4 – Amount of Modification vs. Non-Modification in Keyword

To assess the performance of keywords with differing number of modified and non-modified words, keywords were grouped according to the number of words they contained vs. the number of which were modified. A keyword such as +cheap +hotels melbourne +4 +star, for example, contains 5 words, of which 4 words were broad match modified.

The results show that keywords with a high percentage of their words broad match modified had click through rates considerably higher than keywords where only a few (or none) of their words were broad match modified. While longer keywords also performed better than shorter keywords in terms of click through rate, as expected from long-tail theory, keywords with a higher number of broad match modified words tended to have a higher click through rate.

broad match modifier click through rate (CTR)

Similarly, keywords with a greater amount of broad match modification tended to have lower cost per click prices. Keywords with 0 or 1 plus sign were generally expensive while keywords with 3 or 4 plus signs were considerably cheaper.

modified broad match adwords

Although Quality Score was higher for keywords containing a greater number of words, Quality Score remained relatively constant for keywords of varying broad match modification. Quality Score, however, was relatively high across all keywords, suggesting a strong degree of relevancy across the campaigns.

modifed broad match adwords quality score


Although exact match was found to perform very well, modified broad match outperformed phrase match and standard broad match in both test accounts. Looking at keywords with different amounts of broad match modification, the results suggest that broad match modification can be incredibly useful in increasingly click through rates and reducing average cost per click prices for Google AdWords campaigns. While keywords containing a greater number of words will naturally tend to achieve higher click through rates and lower cost per click prices, as expected from long-tail theory, the findings suggest that incorporating modified broad match into your long-tail strategy can provide superior results on keywords of all word lengths.

While modified broad match presents a great opportunity for PPC advertisers to improve the performance of their campaigns, it also allows advertisers to increase their control over the types of search queries which match each of their keywords. If modified broad match is rolled out strategically and methodically, with highly-tailored ads closely matching the keywords in each ad group, there is no reason why modified broad match can’t be a stepping stone towards even greater results.

How have you found modified broad match? Did you see similar results in CTR and CPCs? Did modified broad match affect your conversion rates? Share your thoughts and experiences on modified broad match below.

Alan Mitchell

Alan Mitchell

14 Years Experience. 10,000 Hours Research & Innovation. Exclusive Self-Built Technology. World-Leading PPC Marketing by Alan Mitchell

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