Google remodels top secret money machine

'Perfect ad' be damned

Auto Match Revealed

Automatic Match is a more obvious turn of the dial. This AdWords beta - which debuted in February with a handful of advertisers and has since expanded to who knows how many more - automatically spends budgeted ad dollars you aren't spending on your own.

"Automatic Matching automatically extends your campaign's reach by using surplus budget to serve your ads on relevant search queries that are not already triggered by your keyword lists," reads Google's initial email to beta testers.

That's right, Auto Match automatically spends your unused budget on keyword searches you aren't actually bidding on. According to Google, it only chooses relevant searches. But tests from KeyRelevance tell a different story.

With his seasoned advertiser, Jim Gilbert setup bidding on the keywords "wedding table decorations." And he designated this bid as a "phrase match," meaning he only wanted an ad placed if someone searched on all three of those words, in that order (with or without additional keywords).

But the account wasn't spending its daily budget, and when Auto Match kicked in, it started placing ads against all sorts of other keyword combinations.

Some of these suited his advertiser, including "wedding table decor," "decorations for wedding tables," "wedding cake table decorations," and "wedding table ideas." But many more did not, including "party table numbers," "chocolate wedding favors," "chocolate lollipops," "Hersheys," "wedding flowers," and "wedding gowns."

With Auto Match turned on, spending on this single ad group increased roughly 600 per cent. And in the end, more than 70 per cent of the traffic generated by the ad group was a complete waste. "I'll give it credit for being somewhat accurate," Gilbert says. "But most of the matches were pure trash."

Gilbert can turn Auto Match off. But it's turned on by default. The question is whether Google will keep this default when it rolls things out to the web at large.

Google Auto Match

Auto Match: On by default

Yes, Auto Match is a beta. And yes, Google may improve its ad matching abilities before the program goes web-wide. But this sort of thing is never an exact science, and there's no denying that Google is attempting to wrest even more control from advertisers - while ensuring additional spending.

When Sergey Brin hinted that Google would soon expand its ad coverage, he didn't say the company wanted more dollars. He said that the company was concerned that web surfers weren't seeing enough ads: "Our ads are an important addition, quality wise, to our pages. They're a very important source of information."

But the truth is a little different. When you type the words "chocolate lollipop," do you want an ad for wedding table decorations? ®

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