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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Using AdWords Segments To Increase PPC ROI

Most of you are aware of the recent improvements to the Google AdWords user interface (UI), including the ability to run reports in the Campaigns tab. These are great time-savers for PPC managers. However, there’s another new and little-known feature called “Segments” that can really take your campaign performance to the next level.

The Segment option allows you to review your campaign performance data in a number of ways:

* Network: Google Search, Search Partners, and Content.
* Click type: URL clicks or Click to Call.
* Device: Computer or mobile device.
* Experiment: Campaign Experiment results.
* Day: Performance by day.
* Week: Performance by week.
* Month: Performance by month.
* Quarter: Performance by quarter.
* Year: Performance by year.
* Day of week: Performance by day of week (Sunday through Monday), regardless of date.

All data is displayed for the date range selected in the AdWords UI. For example, if you’ve selected “Last 30 days” as the date range, segment data will display for that time period.

You’ll find the Segment option just under the Campaign Management tabs (Ad Group, Ads, Keyword, etc.):

So, how do you make the leap from “interesting” to “actionable” when it comes to segment data?

Focus on Underperforming Campaigns, Ad Groups, or Keywords

Sure, you could slice and dice every possible data point in your account, but most of us don’t have that kind of time. Instead, start at a high level.

Do you have one campaign in your account that’s performing worse than the rest? Is one ad group falling behind the curve? Is there a keyword or set of keywords that are highly relevant, yet aren’t converting? Start the segmenting process here.

Use Time-related Segment Data to Spot Trends

Let’s say performance for one of your top ad groups has declined recently, but you’re not sure when the decline began. Start with the “last 30 days” date range, and then segment the data by week. You may be able to pinpoint the week when things went south. You may even be able to associate a particular event that coincided with the decrease.

For example, one of our clients’ PPC campaign results fell off the map over Labor Day weekend. We were able to use segmentation data to discover that performance was steady until Labor Day, when it fell off the map.

We then looked at segmented data for Labor Day 2009, and saw that performance fell off during that week last year, too. Based on this, we recommended staying the course with PPC, rather than making huge changes to ads and keywords.

Sure enough, performance rebounded a week later. Without segmentation, we might have made changes that we’d regret later.

Regularly Review Network and Device Performance to Find Under- and Overachievers

For some of our clients, the Search Partner Network performs better than Google Search. For others, it performs much worse. With the Segment feature, we can find this out in seconds.

The same thing goes for performance on computers versus mobile devices. Some of our clients get great results from mobile; for others, it’s a waste of money. Again, we know in seconds which clients fall into which category.

Side note: It’s a PPC best practice to use separate campaigns for computers and mobile devices. That said, serving ads on all devices for a short time acts as a test bed to determine whether it’s worthwhile to set up a separate mobile campaign.

Review Day-of-Week Data to Find Under- and Overachievers

It takes a little more time to analyze day-of-week data, but it can pay off in a big way. Segmenting performance data by day of week can yield some shocking insight.

It’s common for B2B advertisers to discover that weekends are a complete waste of PPC budget. Not only do the hottest prospects do most of their searching during the week, but most B2B customer service departments work normal business hours. So even if a hot prospect is searching over the weekend and finds your ads, they won’t hear back from you for a couple days — or, they may wait until Monday morning, do another search, and click on your ad again (doubling your cost per conversion in the process). If you’re a B2B advertiser, look long and hard at the weekends to make sure you’re getting your money’s worth.

The same thing goes for B2C advertisers — although the weekends may not be your problem. One of our clients advertises apartment rentals. Their worst day is Wednesday. It makes sense, if you think about it: people go look at apartments over the weekend, and follow up online Monday or Tuesday. Or, they start looking on Thursday and Friday for apartments to visit over the weekend. Wednesday is no-man’s land — and doesn’t convert as well for the client.

Armed with this segment data, you can use Ad Scheduling to turn off your ads on days that don’t convert well for your business.

If you haven’t already tried the Segment feature, go do it now — and watch your ROI increase!

This post originally appeared on Search Engine Watch on September 30, 2010.

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Top 5 Free PPC Tools

It’s December, and around the world the holidays are upon us. For many, the holidays bring a spirit of giving. In keeping with that spirit, I thought I’d list my top 5 favorite free PPC tools. Think of it as my PPC gift to you. (wink)

#1: Adwords Editor

Without a doubt, Adwords Editor is #1 on my list. All the other tools are, well, not useless, but much more difficult to put into practice without Adwords Editor. When I train new Fluency Media PPC staff, the first thing I have them do is “download Adwords Editor.”

If you’re new to PPC, or are a PPC Luddite, Adwords Editor is a downloadable application that lets you edit your Adwords campaigns offline. So if you’re without an internet connection, you can still work on your campaigns, and then post the changes the next time you’re connected.

Adwords Editor is also great for creating campaigns, copying campaigns, ad groups, or keywords, moving keywords or ads from one ad group to another, and making changes in bulk. It was originally developed as a tool for Adwords staff and was built off the Excel platform, so it has many of the features we all know and love from Excel, including find & replace, sorting, filtering, appending, copying….. You get the picture. I literally could not do my job effectively without this tool.

#2: Google Keyword Tool

While the Google Keyword Tool has undergone several recent changes, and is notoriously inaccurate at times, it’s still my go-to tool for finding keywords. I like to start with the “website” feature, entering a URL and letting the tool tell me what keywords it thinks are relevant. Not only does this give you a lot of keyword ideas for your PPC campaigns, it alerts you to potential issues with the page that could negatively affect your PPC and SEO results. In other words, if you think the page is about one thing, but the keyword website tool tells you it’s about another, you’ve got a problem – and you’ll need to address it if you want to earn the best Quality Score and organic rankings.

#3: Acquisio Modified Broad Match Tool

I just discovered the Acquisio Modified Broad Match tool about 2 weeks ago, although it’s been around since July. The guys at Acquisio are awesome – I consider Marc Poirer, their co-founder, to be a great friend in the SEM industry – and this tool is simply incredible.

Earlier this year, Google introduced Modified Broad Match and SEMs all said, “Finally!” It’s long overdue, and is easy to implement if you’re only modifying a couple of keyword or keyphrases. However, applying modified broad match to a long list of keywords is daunting. Excel’s Concatenate function won’t do it, Adwords Editor won’t do it, and the thought of typing that “+” sign over and over is enough to make my stomach hurt.

Enter the Acquisio tool. Just copy and paste your keywords into the box, indicate whether you want all words modified or only specific words, and click “generate.” Voila! It’s that simple. I recently created a huge holiday campaign with several hundred modified broad match keywords in a fraction of the time it would have taken me otherwise, just by utilizing this tool.

#4: SplitTester and SuperSplitTester

If you’re running ad copy tests (and you should be), you’ll need a tool to tell you whether your test results are statistically significant or not. There are several good tools out there that fit the bill, but I like SplitTester and SuperSplitTester.

If you’re just looking at one metric, i.e. CTR, conversion rate, or whatever, use SplitTester. Enter the number of clicks (for CTR) or conversions (for conversion rate) and the CTR or conversion rate percentage, and it tells you whether the results are significant, and at what confidence level.

SuperSplitTester takes it a step further and incorporates CTR, conversion rate, and cost per impression. It runs all those metrics through its super-secret algorithm, and tells you which variation will make you the most profit over time. We use this free tool for almost all of our clients’ PPC tests, and the results speak for themselves.

#5: Twitter

Twitter? Yes, indeed – Twitter is one of my favorite PPC tools. It’s not a tool like the other 4 I’ve listed, in that it doesn’t take in data and spit out a result. Nonetheless, Twitter is my go-to place when I’m having a PPC problem that I can’t solve, or when I want to get quick feedback on something. It’s also become my news reader: I get breaking PPC news from Twitter before I see it anywhere else, and it aggregates everything into one place. Not only is it a great way to keep up with friends in the industry, it’s really become a valuable PPC tool.

Bonus Tip:

Since I’m feeling especially generous, here is a bonus tip: My good friend Alex Cohen from ClickEquations wrote an article for Search Engine Watch not long ago on 43 Paid Search Tools. It’s long, but as always, highly educational. Check it out!

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Modified Broad Match – The Good and the Bad

Earlier this year, our PPC prayers were answered: Google finally rolled out their Broad Match Modifier, also known as Modified Broad Match. For years, we complained that broad match was just too broad. Our PPC keywords were matching to “silly synonyms” along with relevant terms – and our ROI went in the tank as a result.

Now, with Modified Broad Match, we can stop the hemorrhaging. We get all the benefits of broad match, but none of the junk.

Or do we?

The Good:

Getting rid of the junk. I wrote about this in one of my recent Search Engine Watch columns. In summary, one of our clients is a law firm specializing in aviation accident law. Even though we use negative keywords extensively, broad match is just too broad at times. Just prior to the US launch of modified broad match, our law firm’s ad for the broad match term “aviation lawyer” was displayed on this search phrase: “what the laws of flying with glass bongs”. This is an obvious case of broad match gone wild – and one that won’t happen with modified broad match.

Improving cost per conversion. By its very nature, modified broad match reduces the wasted impressions and clicks, and hones in on the right queries – without restricting impression the way phrase and exact match do. We’ve seen large improvements in cost per conversion for several clients who found that phrase match didn’t give them the traffic they wanted, but traditional broad match didn’t get good ROI.

Offering flexibility. On multi-word keyphrases (which you should always be using for PPC, by the way), the broad match modifier can be applied to one word in the keyword phrase, or many. For example, let’s say your keyword is “discount running shoes.” You could put the modifier on just the word “discount,” like this:

+discount running shoes

This will ensure that your ad only displays when the word “discount” is part of the query, but will still allow you to appear on queries like:
• Discount jogging sneakers
• Discount shoes for running
• Running shoes at a discount
• Etc.

But you might also show up on:
• Discount basketball shoes
• Discount athletic socks
• Used running shoes at a discount
• Etc.

Ugh. So maybe you’ll want to tighten things up a bit more:

+discount +running +shoes

Now, you’ll eliminate those crazy examples above, but can still show on:
• Running shoes at a discount
• Shoes running discount
• Discount shoes for running a marathon
• I want to find running shoes at a discount store
• Etc.

These are queries that you won’t get with phrase or exact match, but they’re still relevant and likely to convert.

The Bad:

It’s still too restrictive at times. We’ve seen the modifier shrink impression volume by as much as 80%, with no improvement in conversion rates. While this could be due to other concurrent issues, it’s hard to explain to a client why their volume on a top keyphrase suddenly disappeared.

It results in higher CPCs. We’ve also tried running modified broad match phrases side-by-side with traditional broad match. CPCs on the modified phrase have been 20-25% higher than the traditional broad phrase – again, with no difference in CTR or conversion rate.

Sometimes, it performs worse than traditional broad match. Yes, we have actually seen this happen: the modified broad match phrase ended up generating a good amount of impressions, but CTR and conversion rates were actually WORSE than the traditional broad match term. What gives?

What’s your experience been with the broad match modifier?

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How Not To Use Dynamic Keyword Insertion

As you know, I work from home most of the time. I love it – I’m able to minimize interruptions, focus, and get tons done, and still greet my kids when they get home from school. I’m saving the environment and my gasoline bills, too.

There are down sides, though. Our next-door neighbors have 2 young German Shepherds. These dogs BARK AT EVERYTHING. I mean EVERYTHING. They bark at me even though they see me every damn day. They bark at the mailman. They bark at the other neighbor’s dog that’s in its own yard EVERY DAMN DAY. As you can probably tell, it’s beyond annoying. And they bark at my son when he goes out to shoot hoops, which is not only annoying, it kind of scares me.

I heard someplace (radio? newspaper? I honestly can’t remember) that there are devices that generate high-frequency sound that humans can’t hear, but dogs can – and it makes the dogs stop barking. So, I turned to my good friend Google to try to find this miracle product, thinking we could try it at least when the kids are outside attempting to play basketball without listening to barking dogs the whole time.

I found tons of options in both the paid ads and the organic results, as you can see below. But I also found a gross misuse of dynamic keyword insertion (DKI).


See the third ad at the top of the page? “Stop Dogs Barking Neighbors”? Seriously? Folks, remember: DKI does NOT insert the keyphrase that was typed into the search box – it inserts the keyphrase you’re bidding on. While “stop dogs barking neighbors” is a perfectly fine keyword to bid on, it looks kinda silly in the ad title.

The moral of the story? Use DKI with discretion. Be careful which keywords you include in your ad groups that use DKI. Actually read through each possible title, out loud if necessary. Eliminate the ones that don’t sound right, and move them to an ad group where you’re not using DKI.

Oh, and please teach your dogs not to bark at every moving thing. Please.

Oh, and by the way – I didn’t buy a “stop dogs barking neighbors” device yet. Any recommendations?

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New Stuff From Google Adwords

The innovative team at Google Adwords has been busy of late. This week’s announcement of Modified Broad Match has SEMs pretty excited. For a detailed-as-always rundown, check out Andrew Goodman’s post on Traffick.

Google recently rolled out another feature in the Content Network that’s had surprisingly little fanfare: Interest-Based Advertising. We’ve been testing this successfully for a few weeks now, and so far, we’re seeing great impression volume and conversion rates. I wrote about this in today’s Search Engine Watch Experts column.

What do you think of these?

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PPC Campaigns on Mobile Devices – Good or Bad?

Yesterday afternoon, I listened to a Search Engine Watch Webcast presented by my good friend David Szetela from Clix Marketing entitled “Segmenting Your Way to PPC Success.” It was Part 2 of a 2-part series on advanced PPC segmenting, and it was highly informative, which I’ve come to expect from David.

I have to disagree with him on one point he made, though. He advised all Google PPC advertisers to opt out of showing their ads on mobile devices with full internet browsers. I don’t agree with that blanket statement. My take on this, as it usually is, is “test it.”

Most of our PPC clients get poor results from mobile devices, to be sure. However, it’s not true across the board. One of our clients is an apartment property management firm with properties in 10 states. This client makes extensive use of PPC to drive leads for apartment leases. And they get great results from mobile devices in Adwords.

To be specific, click-through rate for this client from mobile devices is 118% higher than click-through rate from computers. (And no, the client doesn’t use Content Network advertising, so CTR isn’t deflated by content impressions.) On top of that, conversion rate is 7% better on mobile devices than it is on computers, and the cost per conversion is better.

Of course, this seems logical to me, based on the client’s target market. Their apartment communities appeal to a young adult demographic, and young adults are more likely to use mobile internet browsing. Also, it seems logical that someone searching for an apartment may be out driving around an area looking at apartments – and using their mobile browser to conduct searches and contact properties – thus generating a lead.

This client would have lost low-cost conversions had they opted out of placing ads on mobile devices. Like I said, this isn’t true for most of our clients, but I think it’s worth testing.

Have you placed your PPC ads on mobile devices? What kind of results are you getting?

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