Academic journal article Journal of Electronic Commerce Research

Matching Exactly or Semantically? an Examination of the Effectiveness of Synonym-Based Matching Strategy in Chinese Paid Search Market

Academic journal article Journal of Electronic Commerce Research

Matching Exactly or Semantically? an Examination of the Effectiveness of Synonym-Based Matching Strategy in Chinese Paid Search Market

Article excerpt

(ProQuest: ... denotes formulae omitted.)


Paid search advertising, as a predominant online marketing technique, has been used widely in both English and Chinese language markets. The greater relevance of the ad content to what consumers search for attracts consumers to click on the ads and make subsequent purchases. Extant literature has introduced 'exact matching', where the keyword is included in the ad content. However, few studies have examined other matching strategies, especially in the non-English linguistic environment, such as the Chinese paid search market.

Specifically, the Chinese paid search market, as one of the most attractive emerging markets, is considerably different from the English markets. "Synonym is ... a common phenomenon in Chinese [Li 2007, p. 20]." Chinese is regarded as a "language of compound words" [Arcodia 2007; Chen and Chen 2006], as each Chinese word or character is composed of sub-words or sub-characters, each of which has its own meaning [Williams and Bever 2010]. Most Chinese morphemes have a lexical nature and are termed "bound roots" [Packard 2000, p. 77]. Unlike the English words, Chinese words usually are formed through combining bound roots. Since there is a tight semantic relationship between a Chinese word and its sub-words or sub-characters, the meaning of a Chinese word is determined by the meanings of its parts [Guan et al. 2002]. The strong semantic dependence of the Chinese language drives Chinese consumers to use a large set of semantically similar keywords (where there is often an overlap of characters or subwords) in searching1.

Consequently, using synonymous keywords in paid search ads has gained increasing attention from Chinese companies. For example, search engines of the Chinese e-commerce websites (including Taobao2, the leading ecommerce platform in China, and Baidu3, the dominant search engine in China) updated the matching strategies of their searching functions from the exact matching to others (mostly synonyms-based matching). Such upgrading in matching makes the search engines more applicable to users, as actually users have little idea on what should be the exact words to reach their desired information. Thus, in the Chinese paid search market, understanding the use of synonyms in search ads is crucial to improving the performance of paid search advertising (e.g., introducing more traffic to advertisers' stores, enhancing the sales).

In this paper, we take a multi-method approach to answer the following research questions: (1) Do paid search ads with synonymous keywords perform differently from ads with exactly same keywords in the Chinese search market? (2) What is the psychological mechanism of consumers' using synonymous keywords in their information search? And (3) what would be the practical implications of using synonymous keywords on paid search advertising in the Chinese market?

Besides the exact matching and non-matching strategies suggested by Rutz and Trusov [2011], we introduce a third type of matching strategy, synonym-based matching, defined as the textual characteristic of the ad whereby it uses semantically similar words to the search information or part of search information contained in the keyword. Consistent with extant studies [i.e., Rutz and Trusov, 2011], we find a positive relationship between matching and click-through rates. Besides, we find that the effect of exact matching on the click-through rate of paid search ad is stronger when consumers search for single-attribute keywords, while the effect of synonym-based matching on the click-through rate is stronger when consumers search for multi-attribute keywords. The results are robust to both an empirical analysis using secondary data from the Chinese paid search market, and a subsequent controlled experiment.

The theoretical contributes of our study are threefold. First, we systematically investigate the effectiveness of using synonyms in paid search advertising, which has been largely ignored by previous literature. …

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