Google Engage for Agencies – What’s It Worth?

As part of their overhaul of their Certification program, Google recently launched a new service for SEM agencies called Google Engage for Agencies. The program offers training resources, marketing materials, news, and support for agencies who manage Adwords accounts on behalf of clients. Members of Engage also get free $100 Adwords vouchers to use for new clients.

The program launched several months ago, but I just recently had time to go in and play around with it. Overall, I’m underwhelmed. In order to secure your membership in the program, you’ll need to watch four 15-20 minute videos covering an overview of Adwords. The videos are so basic it’s not even funny – really 101 type stuff. And you have to watch each video in its entirety to get a little code you can enter to finalize your membership and get your $100 vouchers.

It seems to me that anyone who’s already Adwords Certified should be able to skip that step. After all, if you’ve passed the Fundamentals test, you’ll already know everything that’s in the Engage videos. You can’t tell me that Google doesn’t know you’re certified – the login for Engage is the same as your Adwords login, and your profile includes certification info. And if you work at an agency, your time is money – time spent watching basic videos on stuff you’ve been doing for years is time you’re not doing billable client work.

All that said, there are a few redeeming qualities of the program. Obviously, the vouchers are nice – I don’t know any agency folks who would turn down $100. Engage also has a library of marketing materials that can be used to sell Adwords to clients. For example, there’s a downloadable PDF on preparing a sales pitch for Adwords, complete with worksheets you can use to ensure you’re asking the right questions of your prospect. While I’m not personally responsible for sales at Fluency Media, I’ve passed along many of these materials to our sales team.

And the training modules are definitely helpful for new agency team members who need to get up to speed on PPC. So if you’ve hired an intern or new staff member, I recommend starting them off with the intro videos I mentioned earlier. You’ll get the dual benefit of training them on PPC and enrolling them in the Engage program at the same time.

Engage also includes handy links to Adwords Certification training modules. This info, formerly found in your Adwords MCC, is a good training resource for those new to PPC, as well as a handy refresher course for anyone who needs to get certified or renew their certification.

To sum it up, if you’ve been doing PPC for a while, you may not find much use for Engage; but if you’re new to PPC, you’ll find it informative.

Have you tried Engage for Agencies? What do you think of it?

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Adwords Reps – A Love-Hate Relationship

Since the dawn of Adwords, PPC managers have had a love-hate relationship with their Adwords reps. In my own experience, I love having someone who can go to bat for me when I need help pushing ad copy through editorial, solving a billing problem, or increasing the capacity of my account.

On the other hand, I’m not so fond of the frequency at which reps change: just when I feel comfortable that my rep understands our clients, we’re assigned someone new. I also have been almost universally disappointed with the “optimizations” provided by Google. The only thing they’re optimizing is Google’s revenue.

Late last year, Google announced that they were switching up their account rep structure for agencies. Instead of one rep per agency, reps would be assigned by vertical. Personally, I’ve found this to be a pain – I can never remember who I’m supposed to contact about which client. Furthermore, vertical support is only available at a certain spend level: as far as I can tell, the minimum is at least $15,000 per month. That’s a pretty hefty chunk of change for many advertisers.

To get support for clients below that budget level, we had to contact the generic Adwords support hotline. While I’ve always found the general support reps to be attentive and helpful, it’s still frustrating to have to re-explain a client’s business and goals over and over to a new person each time you call.

Just this week, though, I got an email from a rep who said he’d been assigned to our agency for this quarter, offering to discuss all of our clients. I agreed to a call, and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. He had obviously taken the time to review our client campaigns, and beyond that, he had looked at their websites to get an idea of the client’s business. He had several optimization ideas I was impressed with, as well. While most of the ideas weren’t new features, he had suggestions for new ways to use the features that I hadn’t thought of or heard of. All in all, I was quite pleased, and have spent a chunk of time this week implementing many of his suggestions for testing.

But that’s just me. In a recent PPC Chat, PPC’ers weighed in on the usefulness of Adwords reps. The overwhelming sentiment was that reps are only marginally helpful, and often are just trying to make more money for Google. I have to say that I’ve found this to be truer of the vertical reps than the agency rep I talked to this week. PPC Chatters also said they find it much more helpful to ask other PPC’ers via Twitter or online forums for help, rather than going to Google.

What’s your take? Is Adwords Support as marginal as ever, or is it getting better? Share the good, the bad, and the ugly in the comments!

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Preparing for the Adwords Fundamentals Exam

Many professional careers have certification programs, and PPC is no exception. Both Google Adwords and Microsoft adCenter offer certification programs for PPC professionals. In this post, I’m going to talk about preparing for the Google Adwords Fundamentals exam, which is the first step to becoming a Certified Professional.

First of all, if you’ve been actively managing PPC accounts for at least a year or two, you should have a good chance of passing the Fundamentals exam without even studying. But if this is your first time taking one of the Adwords exams, or if it’s been a couple years since you’ve taken it, there are a few things you should be aware of:

• The test costs $50, non-refundable. So if you’re not feeling confident about your Adwords knowledge, don’t take the test.
• You have 90 minutes to complete the exam – and once you start, you have to finish in one sitting. Make sure you have that big a block of time available to take the exam uninterrupted.
• Once you start the exam, the testing interface locks out your computer so you can’t access browsers or other programs. It wasn’t always this way with the Adwords exam – you used to take the exam in one browser, and could have another one open to search for the answers! (Of course I didn’t do this, wink wink!)
• You can mark questions for review later, so if you don’t know an answer or aren’t sure, mark it and go on – you can come back to it later.

If you’re relatively new to PPC, though, you’ll want to study a bit before you take the exam. The best way to study is to review the training materials in the Google Learning Center.

The Learning Center is your home base for preparing for the exam. It contains detailed written documentation on all the topics that will be tested.

That said, there are a LOT of topics. If you’re a complete beginner, you’ll want to take the time to go through all of the lessons; you can do this while you’re actively managing a PPC account or shadowing someone else during training.

However, if you have some Adwords experience, read through the lesson description first. If it covers something you feel pretty confident about, skip it. Focus on the lessons on topics that are new to you. If the lesson includes any case studies or examples, pay particular attention, as a lot of exam questions are in the form of case study-type examples that you’ll need to analyze and answer correctly.

Remember that all the rules for taking standardized tests apply to the Adwords exam, too:

• Skip questions you’re not sure of and come back to them
• Your first impression is usually correct
• On true/false questions, you have a 50/50 chance of getting the answer right
And so on

With careful preparation, you’ll be able to pass the exam and become a Certified Professional!

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AdWords Campaign Experiments: Details and Pitfalls

Back in September, I wrote a brief overview of AdWords Campaign Experiments (ACE), and Joe Kerschbaum wrote an excellent post on ways to use the feature.

ACE is a great enhancement that can really take your PPC campaigns to the next level. That said, there are a few important details you need to know before using it, as well as some pitfalls to watch out for. Let’s look at an example to illustrate.

ACE Details

One of the highly touted ways to use Experiments is to try new keywords, and with good reason. Maybe there’s a broad match keyword you’re not sure will generate the results you want, or maybe there’s a keyword that is marginally relevant to your campaign, but you’d still like to test it out.

Pre-Experiments, your only option was to add the keyword and watch it like a hawk while hoping for the best. Now, you can use Experiments to display the keyword on as little as 5 percent of your total traffic. Great news, right?

Yes and no. First of all, using Experiments requires at least a rudimentary understanding of testing principles. If you haven’t conducted controlled tests before, even the terminology in the Experiments documentation will be confusing.

It’s also a little tricky getting your head around the “control,” “experiment,” and “control + experiment” categories. Basically, the “experiment” will only run on the percent of traffic you specify.

So if you only want your test keyword to run 10 percent of the time, you’ll need to set it to “experiment only.” Conversely, if you don’t want a particular keyword or set of keywords included in the experiment, you’ll need to set it to “control only.”

Remember, Experiments run at the campaign level, so if you’re only testing keywords within one ad group, be sure to set the other non-experiment ad groups to “control,” as well.

It gets confusing, to be sure.

ACE Pitfalls

One big shortfall of Experiments is that it can’t be applied to campaign settings. For example, it would be great to test dayparting, networks, devices, daily budgets, and other campaign-level settings, and Experiments would be ideal for this. Unfortunately, it isn’t an option at this time. I’m hoping it will be, eventually.

There are also some pretty big pitfalls to watch out for when using Experiments. The biggest one I’ve discovered has to do with launching changes fully.

So, you’ve run your experiment, and it works great and you get great results. The logical next step would be to roll out the changes to all traffic, right? Yes, but rolling it out involves more than just clicking that button in your campaign settings.


I ran into this unfortunate pitfall in a client campaign recently. I ran an experiment on match types: I wanted to see if modified broad match performed better than regular broad match. But I wasn’t testing all the keywords in the ad group — only some of them.

I added a few modified broad match keywords and set them to “experiment only.” I set the broad match variations of these terms to “control plus experiment.” I set all the remaining keywords to “control only.”

The test worked great: the modified broad match terms, as expected, generated a better cost per conversion with an acceptable loss of traffic (traffic did go down, but not enough to justify the higher cost per conversion). So I clicked “Apply: Launch Changes Fully.”

The next day, when I checked on the campaign, traffic and spend had fallen through the floor. It didn’t make sense: the experiment showed a nearly negligible difference in traffic, but the rolled-out results were more like an 80 percent decrease in traffic.

When I dug into the campaign, I realized that most of my keywords were paused! What happened? Turns out, all the keywords that were set to “control only” were shut off when I launched the experiment fully.

After thinking it through, it made sense. In hindsight, I should have set all the keywords to “control plus experiment” instead of “control only,” and then the test keywords to “experiment only.”

Once I realized the issue, I was able to fix it quickly, and luckily the client lost less than a day of traffic. But the result was unexpected and really caught me off guard.

With these caveats in mind, make use of Campaign Experiments, and you’ll reap the rewards without stumbling!

This post originally appeared on Search Engine Watch on February 22, 2011.

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6 Reasons to Love Adwords Editor

From time to time, people on Twitter or in search marketing forums ask: “What’s your number one must-have PPC tool?” While some people answer with bid management tools or the Google keyword tool, I always say Adwords Editor.

If you’re a PPC marketer and are not currently using Adwords Editor, put this article away and go download it. Now. You’ll thank me later.

If you are using Adwords Editor, I hope you’ve discovered the power and ease with which you can create new campaigns and ad groups. Editor is especially useful if you need to append tracking URLs or are building out a large set of keywords in Excel. All you need to do is copy and paste into Editor, click Post, and you’re done.

Here are 6 more features you should be using, but may not be. These are the reasons I love Adwords Editor.

Quick bid adjustment by percentage with rules.

I use this one all the time. Let’s say you have a handful of keywords that are converting, but the cost per conversion is too high, so you’d like to reduce the bids. Let’s say further that the keywords all have different keyword-level bids. Sure, you can edit them one by one in the Adwords interface, but why do that when you have Editor? Just highlight all the keywords and click Advanced Bid Adjustment. From this screen, you can increase or decrease bids by a percentage. So all those high cost-per-conversion keywords I mentioned earlier? You can decrease all those individual keyword bids by 50% with a couple of keystrokes.

Bulk find & replace.

This is a great feature for updating destination URLs, changing prices, and making other edits in your account in bulk. If you’re using keyword-level destination URLs in your ads, you’ll find this to be an invaluable feature.

Finding duplicate keywords.

Anyone who has added a bunch of keywords to an ad group, or moved keywords from one ad group to another, will appreciate this feature. Using the “Find duplicate keywords” feature, Editor will tell you if you have duplicate keywords in the same ad group, campaign, or account. Trust me; you’ll love this when you’re trying to make sure you’re not bidding against yourself!

Moving or Copying campaigns, ad groups, and keywords.

I’m sure you’ve had this experience: you have a campaign with complicated geo-targeting options, and you want to add a second, different campaign to your account with the same geo-targeted settings. You can go into the Adwords interface and re-enter those settings a second time. Or, you can just copy the campaign in Editor – and retain the complicated settings with a couple keystrokes. Then you can make edits from there.

It’s also common to move keywords from one ad group to another – maybe you’ve created a new, more targeted ad group for a subset of keywords that you just want to move. Just select the keywords in Editor and drag them to the new ad group, and you’re done!

Making changes offline.

As I write this post, I’m at the MSU Community Music School, waiting for my kids to finish their music lessons. Unfortunately, there’s no wifi here. Fortunately, I can still edit my Adwords campaigns and bids offline, using Editor. I do this all the time – make edits offline, and then post them the next time I’m online.

Sharing edits between multiple users.

In an agency setting, and even in-house, it’s common for more than one person to work on a PPC account. We all know that two pairs of eyes are better than one, and it’s always good to have someone else check your new campaigns before they start accruing clicks (and costs). With Editor, I can have new marketing staff, or our marketing assistants, create new campaigns in Editor and upload them as Paused. I can then grab them from Editor and check them – all before they go live. It’s a great way to do campaign quality assurance!

What’s your favorite use of Editor?

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Google’s Display Network, Part 1: Best Practices & Myths

Just last week, I had a call with one of our Google reps. He was quite knowledgeable, and made several helpful suggestions on Adwords features we could try for our Fluency Media clients. While I was aware of most of the features already, he explained them in detail, and suggested which clients should try which features.

One of the features he brought up was the Google Display Network. The conversation with our rep reminded me that many new advertisers don’t know how to use the Display network, which then prompted me to outline some of the best practices and myths.

When Google launched the Display network about 7 years ago, it was like the Wild West: the network was full of MFA sites, and there were none of the great features like site exclusion that we have now. It was a huge gamble to even thinking about running ads there.

Thankfully, Google listened to advertiser feedback, and made huge improvements over the years. Still, though, the Display network can be a money pit for advertisers who don’t follow best practices.

Best Practice #1: Realize that Display isn’t search.

The first concept to understand is that Display isn’t search. Ads aren’t served based on keywords typed into a search engine. Instead, ads are served on websites where the content matches the content of the ad. Because of this, Display campaigns should always be separate from Search campaigns. Although Google allows advertisers to run ads in both Search and Display in the same campaign, don’t be tempted to take this shortcut. It’s not unusual for ad groups & campaigns to perform very differently in the two networks, so you’ll want the control you get with separate bidding for Search & Display.

Best Practice #2: Use small, tightly-themed ad groups.

This is good advice for search campaigns, too, but is critical for Display. It’s your job as an advertiser to make it abundantly clear to Google what your ad group’s topic is, so Google can show it on appropriate pages. Using tightly themed ad groups will accomplish this.

Best Practice #3: Make heavy use of the placement performance report & site exclusion.

Probably the best thing Google did to enhance advertiser performance in the Display Network was to create the placement performance report. I remember literally whooping with joy when this launched – finally, advertisers would have the transparency to see where their ads were being served, and what the results were on a site-by-site basis! Use this feature to your advantage. The report is easier than ever to run in the new Adwords interface – just go to Networks, set your date range (I use All Time to give the largest data set, and start excluding.

There are a few myths out there about the Display Network that advertisers should be aware of, as well.

Myth #1: Display is an inexpensive source of traffic & conversions.

OK, so this isn’t a total myth. Frequently, Display is a great incremental source of conversions at a very low cost. However, this is by no means always true. Click costs can rival those in search – in fact sometimes CPCs are higher in Display than in search, depending on the vertical. So if you’re looking for a quick way to grab incremental conversions, Display is definitely not the answer. You’ll get traffic, but it may not be inexpensive, and it may not convert.

Myth #2: Display is for everyone.

Again, this isn’t a total myth. We have several clients who get as good or better results from Display as from search. But it’s not a given. For every client who gets great results in Display, we have at least 2 who got horrible results, despite our best efforts to optimize. I firmly believe that there are some businesses for which display is just not a good fit. But you wouldn’t know this from talking to Google – every time I talk to a Google rep, including the conversation last week, they try to pitch me on trying Display for every client.

Myth #3: Site targeting in the Display network is easy.

First, a brief explanation. There are a few targeting options in the display network: keyword targeting, interest category targeting, and placement, or site, targeting. With site targeting, an advertiser can choose exactly which sites they’d like their ads to appear on. So if you want your ads to appear on about.com, you can target that site using site targeting.

Sounds simple, right? It’s not. First of all, there are thousands upon thousands of sites in the display network, so choosing the right sites is a daunting task. Secondly, advertisers tend to gang up when site targeting – everyone wants to target the same popular, high-traffic sites. And what happens when inventory is short and demand is high? You got it – the price goes way, way up. So not only is it challenging to figure out what sites to target, it can be challenging to get conversions at a good cost when the bids are so high.

In Part 2, I’ll share some display network resources that will help you make the most out of the network.

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Adwords Finally Adds “Optimize for Conversions” Option

Ever since the dawn of Adwords, advertisers have had the option to run more than one ad variation per ad group. This is one of the features that makes Adwords so attractive – the ability to test different ad copy and landing pages against a set of keywords and learn which performs the best.

Until this week, though, there was always a problem with the definition of “performance.” For Google, and for a handful of advertisers, “performance” is defined as “click-through rate” – the ad that generates the most traffic. But for most advertisers, “performance” is defined as “conversion rate” – the ad that generates the most desired actions, commonly known as conversions.

Until this week, Adwords offered 2 options for serving multiple ads: Optimize or Rotate. Rotate is simple to define: your ads will rotate evenly among impressions, with each variation getting approximately the same number of impressions. So if you have 2 ads, each will display on about 500 out of 1,000 impressions.

By default, the Optimize setting is turned on – changing it requires editing your Campaign Settings. And “Optimize” sounds great: after all, everyone wants to optimize their campaigns, right? Ha, wrong. Optimize (until this week) rotated ads based on click-through rate: the as with the highest CTR would, over time, be displayed on a larger proportion of impressions. It’s not uncommon to see as much as 80-90% of impressions going to one ad with “optimize,” meaning the ad with the lowest CTR barely gets shown. It’s also not uncommon for the ad with the best CTR to be the ad with the worst conversion rate – so you end up spending a lot of money for not very many conversions. Not good.

But what if you were an advertiser who wanted to drive traffic, with conversion optimization as a secondary goal? What if your ad test is just starting out? What if you’re a new advertiser and you don’t even realize you have a choice?

Good testing principles indicate that all test variants should be shown to test samples that are relatively equal in size and demographic. For instance, if an ad only shows to females age 18-34, there’s a good chance the results won’t translate to men age 45-54. So you want to divide up your sample 50/50, and make it random. But if your Adwords ads are set to “Optimize,” that’s most likely not going to happen.

Never fear, though – Adwords to the rescue! This week, Google launched a third option: Optimize for Conversions. Finally, after years and years of advertisers asking for a way to serve the best-converting ad more often, Google came through! Right?

Sort of. As with many Adwords features, there are a few caveats. First, note in the documentation this important caveat: “If there isn’t sufficient conversion data to determine which ad will provide the most conversions, ads will rotate using ‘Optimize for clicks’ data.” Yikes. It’s pretty obvious that most ads will amass a statistically significant number of clicks long before they reach a statistically significant number of conversions. So really, any new test is doomed to start Optimizing for CTR – thus messing up your conversion test results from the start.

Also, the word on the street (or at least on Twitter) is that Optimize for Conversions will optimize based on conversion rate, not number of conversions. So you may have an ad that gets a great conversion rate, but not many clicks; or vice versa. Either way, the system could be making the wrong decision about what’s working for you.

So for now, I’m sticking with “Rotate,” even though Google warns me every time that it’ll ruin my results.

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Using Dayparting Effectively in PPC, Part 2: Advanced Tactics

In Part 1, we talked about basic dayparting techniques, such as turning off ads during days or hours where results are poor. But what if you don’t want to turn things all the way off?

For instance, let’s say you get some conversions on the weekends – but the conversion rate isn’t as good as it is during the week. Or maybe you get lots of conversions on a Monday, but it’s really competitive, so your CPCs, and therefore your cost per conversion, are higher than you’d like. In these instances, you don’t want to shut off the weekends or Mondays entirely, because you’d lose sales, right? What to do?

This is where bid adjustment comes in. Bid adjustment is a wonderful feature, available in both Google and MSN/Yahoo, that allows you to raise or lower bids on certain days and/or times. With bid adjustment, you can increase or decrease your max CPCs, using a percentage, during days or times that you choose. Here’s a screen shot of the adCenter bid boost screen, found under Campaign Settings.

Let’s take the “weekends aren’t great” example at the beginning of this post. Let’s say your weekend conversions are only worth half what your weekday conversions are worth. Use the bid adjustment feature to set Saturday and Sunday’s bids to 50%. The PPC engine will automatically reduce your CPCs by half. Pretty slick, huh?

As I mentioned in Part 1, when you’re thinking about dayparting, it’s critical to make sure you’re making the right decisions using good data. To make the right decision, you’ll need to look at a large enough set of data. As I mentioned in Part 1, you’ll need at least 100 clicks in each segment to even begin thinking about bid adjustments.

Google makes it easier to get at this data than MSN, at least the day of week data. In Google, just choose Segment by day of week and export the result. However, adCenter’s reporting by hour of the day includes conversion data, while Adwords’ reports by hour do not. (Google is missing the boat on this one, in my opinion!) If your adCenter campaign gets a lot of clicks, you may even want to review conversion data by hour, and then apply that to your Adwords campaigns, as well.

I can’t stress enough how important it is to use a statistical tool to make sure the difference in results is statistically significant. Even if you just look at conversion rate, check the day or days you’re thinking about eliminating, and compare with the other days. If the difference is significant, then go ahead and adjust your bids. If the difference isn’t significant, don’t do it! Even if you have to set the date range to the past 12 months, it’s worth it to make sure you’re making the right decision. Nothing is worse than reducing bids (and getting less traffic & conversions as a result), only to find out you’ve ended up cutting way into your sales.

When used correctly, dayparting and bid adjustment can really improve campaign performance. Look at your data and give it a try!

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Google’s New Display URL Policy Is BS

The PPC community has been abuzz over the latest Adwords policy change: advertisers can no longer use capitalization in the root domain of display URLs. Subfolders can still have capital letters, but the root domain can’t. I haven’t seen one person say they like this change – and I’ve seen plenty who think it’s BS (myself included).

I wrote about this for Search Engine Watch yesterday, and there’s a good conversation going on in the comments there. What do you think about this change: boon, bust, or BS? Go to SEW and post your thoughts!

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PPC Predictions – A Look Back

Yep, it’s cliche – everyone is blogging about their predictions for 2011. It happens every year. Last year, I had the privilege of sharing my predictions on David Szetela’s PPC Rockstars podcast, along with several other PPC luminaries.

To be honest, I’ve never been a fan of New Year’s resolutions or predictions (I know, that goes contrary to me participating in a podcast on just that topic, but whatever). So this year, rather than postulate on what will happen, let’s look at whether I was right last year.

On the podcast, I predicted that the rate of growth in PPC would slow in 2010 vs. previous years, due to social media and other factors such as increasing CPC in search. I also predicted that the Microsoft/Yahoo merger would happen, but it would make no dent in Google’s market share. On the show, David politely disagreed with me. (David’s always polite!)

Well, guess what. I was wrong on the first one. According to Efficient Frontier, year-over-year growth from 2008 to 2009 was 6%, and Y/Y growth from 2009 to 2010 was 10-15%. I attribute this to the economy, which rebounded in 2010. It’s actually a good thing for PPC that I was wrong on this – it indicates that advertisers still see a high value in this channel.

On the second prediction, about Microsoft & Yahoo, I was right!!!!! (Nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah, David!) According to Efficient Frontier yet again, Google’s click share in Q3 2009 was 72.0%. In Q3 2010, it was 78.3%. So, despite all the ballyhoo surrounding Microhoo, Google continues to win the search click wars – at least for the time being.

So, I’m batting .500 for 2010. Not too shabby, I’d say!

As I like to say, to thine own self be true – I won’t be making any predictions for 2011. If you’d like to see some good ones, though, check out the Search Engine Watch article from John Lee – who, not coincidentally, works for David over at Clix Marketing. Here’s to success in 2011!

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