How Google Picks from Your 2,939,781 AdWords Keywords

How Google Picks from Your 2,939,781 AdWords Keywords

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how-google-pics-your-aw-keywords
Have you ever wondered how Google AdWords chooses from all of the similar keywords in your account?

When multiple keywords in your Google AdWords account are eligible to serve in an auction, the AdWords system must decide which keyword/ad/landing page combination will be served. If you don’t take control of your account that usually means the AdWords system will manage your budget for you. Misunderstanding of how paid search auctions actually function can lead to account management issues which typically leads to inflated CPCs as a result of internal competition.

Google’s decision is based on keyword syntax, match type, and ad rank in relation to the searcher’s actual query at the time of search.  These factors are all evaluated in real-time:

  • Syntax: when multiple keywords are eligible, the keyword that matches the users query exactly will be triggered regardless of its match type
  • Exact match: if two keywords are eligible AND share the same syntax AND one is an exact match type, the exact match keyword will be triggered
  • Ad Rank: if two or more keywords are eligible AND share the same syntax AND share the same match type, the triggered keyword will be the one with the higher ad rank – commonly understood as the relationship between your max CPC bid and the associated keyword’s quality score

*Exceptions: If two or more keywords are eligible AND one uses a lower CPC (by comparison to the others) to achieve a higher ad rank, that keyword is the one that will be triggered as a means to conserve budget for future clicks.

Let’s Look at Some Ad Auctions

Let’s pretend we’re an ecommerce company that sells outdoor gear for families.  We are targeting potential customers with the keywords below.

Scenario 1: Keyword Syntax

This first auction scenario displays the importance of leveraging various keyword concepts in your account. We have two broad match keywords here. Both are technically eligible for the user query hiking pack carry toddler but only one can be used to place an ad into auction from this account at any given moment:

Keyword

Match type

Max CPC bid

Ad quality

Ad Rank

hiking pack carry toddler Broad $0.50 high quality
(QS: 10/10)
5
hiking backpacks to carry babies Broad $1.00 low quality
(QS: 4/10)
4

Since the user searched exactly for hiking pack carry toddler then the first broad match keyword and its associated bid of $0.50 will be used to place the ad into auction.

Searched for: hiking pack carry toddler
Ad Served for: hiking pack carry toddler

Scenario 2: Exact match type

This auction scenario demonstrates the importance of targeting a variety of match types in your account and why it is generally recommended that you use all of them. Specifically, we see a case where an advertiser is able to shave a few pennies off of their actual CPCs by leveraging match types and some savvy bidding.

Again, both are technically eligible for the user query hiking packs but only one can be used to place an ad into auction:

Keyword

Match type

Max CPC bid

Ad quality

Ad Rank

hiking packs Broad $1.00 high quality
(QS: 10/10)
10
[hiking packs] Exact $0.50 high quality
(QS: 10/10)
5

Since the user searched exactly for hiking packs then the exact match keyword above will be triggered and its $0.50 max CPC bid will be used to place the ad into auction. Even though its ad rank is lower, the system preference is to focus on the keyword that is more precisely targeted.

Searched for: hiking packs
Ad Served for: [hiking packs]

Scenario 3: Ad Rank

This is the most important and least understood of these paid search auction-time concepts. Given that approximately 15% of daily searches – 525,000,000 per day as of this post – have never been seen by Google’s engine, this is a very common situation. In other words, there is a very low probability that any given advertiser could represent all relevant queries in their account.  When you target broad match or even phrase match keywords, these are the percentage of queries that you are really going after.

In this auction neither of the keywords exactly matches the user’s query of safest hiking packs, so the AdWords system must decide which keyword to trigger based on the Ad Rank at the time of auction. Remember, ad rank commonly understood as the relationship between your max CPC bid and the associated keyword’s quality score. In this case Ad Rank is represented by multiply max CPC bid times quality score (Pro-level: Ad Rank also includes the ‘expected impact of ad extensions’).

Keyword

Match type

Max CPC bid

Ad quality

Ad Rank

bearproof hiking pack Broad $1.00 high quality
(QS: 10/10)
10
hiking backpacks to carry babies Broad $2.00 low quality
(QS: 4/10)
8

Since the user’s search query safest hiking packs is not exactly represented by keywords in this account, the keyword with the highest Ad Rank will be triggered.

So, what does this mean for your messaging? Are you getting the best message in front of users? Can you work to improve your quality score for an existing keyword or should you add new keywords to improve the relevance of your ad experience?

Notice two things:

  1. This advertiser will pay more for this click than if the other keyword were triggered
  2. The keyword concepts are dramatically different and, if these keywords are housed in separate ad groups, the ad messaging might also be dramatically different

This advertiser should expand their keyword concepts to include safest, leverage keyword match types to refine the reach of existing keywords, or use negative keywords to exclude certain traffic.  Better yet … they should take all three of those actions. Performing all of these actions in concert should help to create a better ad experience for users.

Searched for: safest hiking packs
Ad Served for: bearproof hiking pack

Scenario 4: Exception

This auction demonstrates why working toward high quality scores pays dividends because Google AdWords will oftentimes select keywords predicted to deliver an optimal user experience in favor of those that might result in greater ad revenue for the Internet Giant. Google will actually attempt to save advertisers money on clicks to help them generate more traffic within their daily budgets.

What happens when a user searches for hiking packs?

Keyword

Match type

Max CPC bid

Ad quality

Ad Rank

hiking backpacks Broad $0.70 high quality
(QS: 10/10)
7
[hiking packs] Exact $1.00 high quality
(QS: 6/10)
6

Although the second keyword matches the users query hiking packs in both syntax and match type, Google AdWords may actually use the broad match keyword above since its Ad Rank indicates that it may provide a higher quality user experience.

While Google is trying to save you a few dollars here and there, it is worth digging into your search term reports to see how frequently this behavior is exhibited in your account. There may be times where you really want to get a particular message in front of a user but this cost-saving behavior might actually circumvent that approach. If you notice this happening, you can likely expand your keyword list to contain new exact match keywords or totally new keyword concepts (as discussed in the previous scenario) in an attempt to achieve an even higher Ad Rank with those new keywords. More precise keyword selection paired with higher quality scores (and Ad Ranks by extension) will provide you will greater control over your messaging.

Searched for: hiking packs
Ad Served for: hiking backpacks

What Now?

Nothing. All of the pieces have come together and you are the AdWords Megazord. You’ve gone all super saiyan on paid search. You’re an OP Pikachu CP 2593 blasting other Pokémon GO gyms leaders like ‘WOAH.’

Ah… no. You’ve got much to learn young padawan.

Audit your campaign structure for keyword diversity and match type selection. Review your search term reports to understand how keywords are actually entering the AdWords auction. Then look for opportunities where poor quality scores and ad rank can be optimized to generate more traffic within your budgets.  Or let us do it for you.

Stephen Kapusta is a Senior Search Project Manager and trainer specializing in search and display advertising. He is best at finding creative opportunities to reach the audience throughout the conversion funnel by matching content to intent and focusing on providing the right user experiences at the right time. His education experience in media and rhetoric helped mold this marketing approach.

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