Google Display Network & Extended Keyword Match

Summary

  • Keyword Targeting on the Display network does not behave the same way as on  the Search network. Because of “Extended Keyword Match” your ads WILL display on pages that DO NOT contain your keywords. In particular for low volume keywords. Even when using phrase or exact match.
  • Pausing / Un-Pausing an AdWords Campaign triggers a Reset or Recalibration which may cause the campaign to behave differently than it did before the pause.

Targeting our Brand Name:
Are we Getting what we Paid for?

We recently noticed something strange with one of our AdWords Display campaigns. The Ad Group was exclusively using Keyword targeting on a phrase matched keyword: Our Brand name. Although it was a low volume Ad Group, the goal was to display our ads on any pages with a mention of our Brand.

Is Pausing and Unpausing Campaigns Safe?

Pausing a Campaign or Ad Group feels pretty safe — after all you are not actually changing anything, just taking a little break. This was our attitude when we decided to pause our campaign for a few hours one day. However, when we unpaused a few hours later the campaign volume suddenly shot up 100x (as did our costs). Nothing had changed with how the campaign was setup. The only factor at play was the pausing and then unpausing of the campaign.

mm-keyword-display

Impressions and Ad Spend over the last 2 weeks of September. The large hump started when we paused and then un-paused our campaigns.

Extended Keyword Match?
But we’re “Phrase” Matching!

When we took a closer look at what was going on we quickly realized that our ads were showing on sites that clearly DID NOT have our Brand name mentioned. We first double checked that we had the setting “Let AdWords automatically find new customers” turned off, and it was. We then dug deeper and discovered that almost 100% of our ad impressions were triggered due to “Extended Keyword Match”.

Extended keyword match is when the placement was relevant to the keywords you chose and other factors, including pages a person seeing your ad has recently browsed.

You can see what percentage of your impressions are coming from this “Extended Keyword Match” by going to: Display > Placements > Segment > Targeting Mode

mm-keyword-segments

Almost 100% of our impressions were due to “Extended Keyword Match”

We did NOT generate any conversions from these extended keyword matches. The goal of this Campaign was to display an ad on pages that mentioned our Brand. Instead we were having ads displayed due to “other factors including pages a person seeing your ad has recently browsed” — this clearly was not aligned with our goals.

Happily, Google was in agreement and quickly issued a full credit for the extra amount spent (which may hint that this is a bug or unexplored edge case of some sort).  On a side note, the AdWords inbound customer service was wonderful, friendly, and exceptional — one of the best customer service experiences I’ve had in a long time.

Conclusion

  • Be careful when pausing / unpausing campaigns. This causes some sort of “reset” of statistics in the AdWords backend and causes the campaign start re-calibrating itself. Monitor the campaign for a few days after the unpause to ensure if is behaving as expected.
  • Avoid exclusively using keyword match types in display campaigns. In particular for keywords with very low search volume. Having a campaign targeting your Brand name does not appear to be a viable option as of this writing.
  • Monitor what percentage of impressions are coming from Extended Keyword Match. Consider excluding those placements that are delivering a relatively high volume of “Extended Keyword Match” impressions.

More Reading…

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