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The Hidden Dangers of AdWords International Broad Matching

It has always been important for search marketers to regularly check search logs and add negatives in order to reign in the wide reach of broad match. This is an especially important task to consider when you are running international campaigns. Many advertisers with sites that are only in English still choose to run extensive international SEM efforts as there is a large market of English speaking users abroad. However, one often overlooked feature of Google AdWords campaigns that affects broad matching is that Google determines ad relevancy by the user’s Google language preferences and not the language of the query entered by the user. You can read more about how Google specifically handles language targeting here. If a user’s browser settings are in English and your campaign is targeting English language settings, your ads are eligible to serve through broad matching even if the user’s search query was in Arabic, Japanese, Spanish, etc. This can happen no matter what Google property the user is searching from (Google.com, Google.de, etc). Thus, when using broad match keywords, you are automatically opted into cross-language broad matching.

How Bad is Cross-Language Broad Match Performance?

We recently on-boarded a client that was not running broad match for their international campaigns due to historically bad performance. However, we decided to see if broad match should be given another chance. When we looked into historical search query data for their highest traffic keyword, the broad matching that had occurred was alarming. Only one of the top 10 search terms that broad matched to this keyword was actually in English.

Top Search Terms

When running their international campaigns in South East Asia and the Middle East, the majority of all the broad match traffic that they received was not in English. In fact, 80% of the total click volume came from queries that did not even contain characters in the English alphabet, despite the campaign's language settings being set to English-only. When we broke the historical search terms up into language buckets, the overall impact on performance of this matching was very clear.

Broad Match Performance By Category

Not a single one of the nearly 10,000 clicks that came in on these non-English search terms resulted in an order.

How to Rein in Cross-Language Broad Matching

There are a couple of ways you could choose to combat this phenomenon. One method, which is the one we used, is to launch all broad match keywords as broad match modified keywords instead. In the last four months these broad match modified keywords have supplemented international order volume 12% with orders that we would not have received otherwise. Another strategy would be to build out extensive negative lists to block any queries coming in on other languages. The advantage of this over broad match modified keywords is that you open yourself up to a much wider array of potential query volume. However, this is a much more time consuming endeavor due to the numerous amount of languages you could potentially match to when serving ads worldwide. If international orders comprise a large enough portion of your total revenue, however, then this strategy may be the way to go.


International campaigns bring with them the opportunity to tap into worldwide demand, but they also exhibit some unforeseen nuances that require smart analysts digging in. Along with broad matching to searches in other languages, this advertiser also found that performance of English keywords internationally actually fared the worst in other countries where English is the primary language. This is likely due to competition from more domestic advertisers within those countries as well as a searcher preference for using native currencies, but this behavior was unexpected when these campaigns were launched. Regardless of the strategy that you adopt for international broad match in your campaigns, the overall conclusion is that there is nothing to fear. You just need to be proactive in your data analysis and quick to implement a corrective strategy if needed.
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