SEO Implications of New Matching Approach for Google Ads?

There are some changes coming to paid search at Google that sound exciting on the surface, but may leave many guessing how exactly those changes might manifest themselves. Over at the Inside Google Adwords blog, we were greeted with a blog post titled New matching behavior for phrase and exact match keywords on April 17th, that tells us that Google will be returning a few more results for paid advertisements that are phrase and exact match keywords. The post tells us to expect to see this start in mid-May.

While I don’t offer paid search as a service, I do often use the Google Keywords Suggestion Tool, and it left me wondering if the search volumes reported by that tool would change in response to the broader match in Google Adwords. Will it continue to show me only “exact” match volumes for keywords that I enter into the tool, or will it start reporting matches for keywords that are broader? Coincidentally, Google was granted a couple of patents this week involving search advertisements, including one on ways that the search engine might modify or expand the range of terms and phrases that advertisements may be shown for.

The first one that caught my eye was the following, which lists Ramananthan V. Guha as one of the inventors behind the patent. He’s known for a few things, including early work building the first version of RSS, as well as being a major force behind Google Custom Search Engines. He also developed Google’s version of trust rank, as an annotation system from “trusted sources” that could make search results more relevant for certain terms and phrases.

What we see in this patent is that Google might conduct search log file analysis to understand when certain queries might evidence a very close matching intent, or a matching “dominant intent. For example, on a query for “train cake pan,” a look through query logs might find a number of terms that may tend to show up during the same query session, and tend to do so frequently. Some commonly associated terms might include “train cake pans” “train pan,” cake pans,” “baking pans,” and “decorative cakes.”

An analysis of how closely related the intents behind those queries might be could determine whether or not advertisements triggered by those other query terms might appear for the initial query of “train cake pan.” The patent suggests that some of this analysis could involve looking at the landing page as well, and determining how relevant it might be for some of those terms.

Given the timing of the Adwords blog announcement and the granting of this patent yesterday, and the fact that both point towards a broader matching of advertisement terms where the intent seems to be close matches. In fact, here’s a snippet from the blog post that echoes that:

We know users are happier when they get search results that reflect their intent and help them achieve their desired action, even if it’s not a precise match for what they’ve typed. So we’re extending this behavior to ads.

The patent may not the impetus behind this change, or it might only be so in part, but if you’re interested in how Google might find ways to broaden advertising results for those queries, this patent holds a number of possibilities:

Query identification and association

Invented by Ramananthan V. Guha, Shivakumar Venkataraman, Vineet Gupta, Gokay Baris Gultekin, Pradnya Karbhari, and Abhinav Jalan
Assigned to Google
US Patent 8,171,021
Grnted May 1, 2012
Filed June 17, 2009

Abstract

Apparatus, systems and methods for predictive query identification for advertisements are disclosed. Candidate query are identified from queries stored in a query log. Relevancy scores for a plurality of web documents are generated, each relevancy score associated with a corresponding web document and being a measure of the relevance of the candidate query to the web document.

A web document having an associated relevancy score that exceeds a relevancy threshold is selected. The selected web document is associated with the candidate query.

This second patent describes how certain ads might be seen to be more relevant to the pages they point to if the page itself is considered relevant for the keywords being used in the advertisement. Does this mean that better SEO for landing pages will be more important for paid search?

One thing that struck me right away with this patent is that the three named inventors are amongst the most well known search engineers at Google, with Georges Harik as a major force behind Adwords, Adsense, and advertisemens in GMail.

Methods and apparatus for serving relevant advertisements
Invented by Jeffrey A. Dean, Georges R. Harik, and Paul Bucheit
Assigned to Google
US Patent 8,171,034
Granted May 1, 2012
Filed March 22, 2010

Abstract

The relevance of advertisements to a user’s interests is improved. In one implementation, the content of a web page is analyzed to determine a list of one or more topics associated with that web page.

An advertisement is considered to be relevant to that web page if it is associated with keywords belonging to the list of one or more topics. One or more of these relevant advertisements may be provided for rendering in conjunction with the web page or related web pages.

Takeaways

I should probably look more closely at search patents involving paid search more frequently.

I’m concerned that the new matching behavior of queries in advertisements might influence Google to change the search volume that it reports for those queries in the Google Keyword Suggestion Tool.

The two patents both tell us that Google might be paying more attention to the content found on landing pages pointed at by advertisements in the future. That could play a role in the display of those ads, and when they might appear for which queries.

Google recently updated their page on how they calculate quality scores for advertisements, on April 24th, and it now provides a greater level of transparency regarding scores for things like “Expected click-through rate”, Ad Relevance” and “Landing page Experience”.

Under these recently granted patents, it’s possible that an ad might be triggered to appear in search results for a term closely matched (in searcher intent) to terms chosen by advertisers might alo be influenced by how well of a match a landing page might be to those other terms.

Is Google following the processes described in these ads, or something close to them? That’s probably worth exploring.

If so, it might be worth doing a little more analysis of the on-page SEO of those landing pages, and the terms and topics they could or should be optimized for.

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16 thoughts on “SEO Implications of New Matching Approach for Google Ads?”

  1. It seems that in a broad sense, the G is focused on relevance these days – paid or natural results. I’ve never done much PFC advertising, but on the surface this seems like it might be a good thing? I look forward to seeing the comments here.

  2. I wonder if this is just part of Google+ and your network of friends having an influence on the ads that are displayed. So if a friend of yours post a picture of a train cake and talks about how they used brands X cake pan to make it for their 3 year old…. you do a search for “train cake pans” on Google 10 mins after you read the post. Google knows the content of the websites running adwords and know that 3 of them carry the same brand X, Google will give the top 3 spots to those companies. You go to one of the 3 websites and
    instantly given the page that shows the same exact same train cake pan that your friend
    used in the Google+ post you just read.

    Its like Google has just read your mind, or for better PR they “now your intent”.

    Andy

  3. Hi, I do Adwords for some clients and to me this is not so welcome. It may be silly of me but exact show be just that: exact. Same with the phrase match keywords. Just match the phrase, please. Don’t add in your own stuff, that is for broad and modified broad matches. There is an opt out feature in this but still diy types will probably not get the memo. My guess is that it will cost them more for lower returns.
    As a campaign goes on, you get a search query data. I use that to create exact match bid for longer and unusual searches at a lower cost. And there are other uses. Bid high on a exact match that converts well, for instance. If you don’t get the memo, these strategies will need to be changed. Doesn’t anyone at G think stability is a value or benefit?

  4. Paid results doesn’t sound cool for me…as most people doesn’t care about clicking on paid results.

  5. Hi Phil,

    I’ve worked on some aspects of PPC campaigns, including keyword research, strategic approaches, and landing page optimization, but haven’t hands-on managed PPC accounts. My energy is better allocated towards organic SEO given my experience and the research I do on those topics.

    Most PPC campaigns tend to focus upon searchers who have a transactional intent rather than when exploring topics to learn more about them, or often even in finding ways to compare different offerings. But, relevance is a key to both organic and paid search.

    It does seem like the relevance of landing pages being pointed to by a sponsored listing or ad is going to influence what terms might be used to trigger ads more in the future, and understanding that can help influence which terms are actually used.

  6. Hi Andy,

    I’m trying to keep an eye out for ways that Google might use social signals to influence which ads people see. I’m not sure that this particular change is one of those areas, but it’s quite possible that we might see those types of signals influencing paid search. Definitely a good set of questions to keep in mind.

    One paper that I found really interesting about social signals being used for paid ads is this one:

    AdHeat: An Influence-based Diffusion Model for Propagating Hints to Match Ads (pdf)

    It’s not an exact match for what you describe, but it has some similarities.

    I think the patent filings I’ve pointed at are closer to what was described in Google’s blog post, but it’s possible that those aren’t the only things going on. :)

  7. Hi Kristinn,

    I agree. If I’m going to choose which words I want to use to advertise with, I want to use those specific words. If I want to broaden them, isn’t that the purpose of phrase and broad match? I think this change needs to be made so clearly to advertisers that there should be no way they could miss it. That could even include changing the word “exact” to something else that won’t mislead anyone.

  8. Hi Shony,

    A lot less people do click on ads than on organic results. I can probably count on one or two hands the number of times I’ve clicked on sponsored listings.

  9. When we first built our website we put a lot of effort into adwords.

    Being complete novices we piled money into broad keyword terms like bathroom design to find google matched us to complete junk like bathroom wallpaper.

    It might not be that big of a change, but essentially it was an irrelevant keyword that was useless resulting in a high bounce rate.

    To combat this we started to build up our negative keyword list, and found a dramatic drop in impressions but increase in good traffic.

    This meant we spent less money with adwords and got better results. For us it’s great, but for google it’s not.

    The thing about adwords is it makes money, Google has every incentive to send irrelevant traffic as this raises spending.

    When I saw the announcement about making the searches broader I immediately saw this as googles way of raising its revenue by sending poor traffic.

    Thank goodness for negative keywords!

  10. I think that paid search ads are sort of irrelevant. There may be a small percentage of people who accidentally click those search results…mostly because they are uneducated or not well-versed in internet use. However, for those of us who know how to use Google to our advantage…we rarely even glance at those links. Great post, thanks so much for sharing!

  11. Hi Will,

    It’s definitely worth paying a great amount of attention to the words that are being used to trigger the ads are linked to your landing pages. I’m not sure that Google is making this change to try to make more money at the expense of advertisers – if Adwords proves both more expensive and less effective, less people will use it. But its definitely worth being very attentive to what words are being used, and how effective they might be.

  12. Hi Molly,

    I do believe that there are some people who are willing to click upon advertisements when they reach the point where they are interested in actually making a search, and those ads appear to be relevant. I personally very rarely click upon ads, but I’m not going to presume that how I use Google is the same as how others do.

  13. I also think this is just a way for Google to increase revenue but as this is implemented, we will likely see a higher bounce rate. Then it will be corrected. But I am not a big fan of paid advertisements and as you mentioned, I could count on one hand the amount of times I have clicked on one.

  14. Hi Bianca,

    If the expanded queries that ads might show up for are indeed good matches, there might not be as big a bump in bounce rate as we might imagine. I’d love to see some data on how well this might be working.

  15. When this update rolled around it messed us up a little, but thankfully you now have the option to turn off ‘close variants’ at the campaign level if you like the old way of doing PPC with the regular match types.

    The only thing I would say is that we’ve really been loving Broad Match Modified keywords which help us uncover new keywords to focus on WITHOUT having stupid keywords like Will said above.

    Great write up on this Bill EXTREMELY detailed. Thanks

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