Busy Week In The PPC World

It’s been a busy 7 days in PPC land, at least for me. One of the things that’s kept me busy is the Adwords Professional exam. My certification was set to expire at the end of this month, so I needed to re-take the exam. I’ve been using Google Adwords since its inception in 2002, so the exam wasn’t difficult, but it did take time. (By the way, I passed with 97%!)

Speaking of the Adwords exam, I wrote about why you should become a Google Adwords Certified Professional at Search Engine Watch last week. If you’re not certified, check it out.

Also keeping me busy this week is reading about the approval of the Microsoft-Yahoo Search Alliance. While nothing’s changed yet, the alliance could prove to be interesting over the next 12 months. I for one am looking forward to saving time and effort managing campaigns in the two very different interfaces.

For more on the merger, take a look at John Lee’s post on the Clix Marketing Blog. He pretty much took the words out of my mouth with that post. It’s great stuff!

And with that, I’m off to the rat race!

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PPC Happenings Around The Web

If you’re not currently participating in online SEM forums and/or reading SEM blogs, I strongly suggest you start doing so! Here are a few hot topics around the web this week.

Google Account Issues: There are a couple of threads on the Adwords Help forum dealing with some pretty serious issues with advertiser accounts. First is a thread about people having trouble canceling their accounts and getting refunds. Theoretically, one can cancel an Adwords account at any time, but apparently it’s not that simple

In another thread, an advertiser acting in an agency capacity got into a dispute with their client, and to make a long story short, Google handed their account over to the client – leaving the agency guy in the lurch with a lot of unpaid client work. It seems as though whoever pays the Adwords bill is considered the account owner, but it’s still unclear. I’m hoping Google clarifies their policy soon.

PPC Budget Strategy: The Search Engine Watch Forum is one of my favorite SEM forums. It’s been around for a long time, and I met a lot of my best friends in the industry there. There’s a thought-provoking thread going on now that started out as a discussion of budget strategy, but is morphing into more granular territory. Discussion continues on how to get the best ROI, match type bidding strategies, and other gems.

Changes To The Adwords Certification Exam: Google is apparently changing the Adwords Professional certification exam, turning it into four exams instead of one. Coverage is at Search Engine Roundtable.

Make a point to read up on these news items, and add your thoughts!

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The Top 3 PPC Innovations of 2009

Well, the New Year is here and believe it or not, it’s 2010. I know, everybody makes “top” lists around this time of year, but there were some great PPC innovations in 2009 that I can’t let go by without mentioning.

#1 – The New Adwords Interface. Around mid-year, Google released a beta version of a very different Adwords user interface. Early on, it was much maligned for issues such as horizontal scrolling and instability. Google, in its usual fashion, took the criticism in stride and gradually made improvements (I guess that’s the point of a beta, right?). At the end of July, the interface came out of beta and everyone was ported over whether they liked it or not.

I was one of the early detractors of the new interface, but I have to say that now that I’m used to it, it’s one of the greatest PPC innovations not only of 2009, but of the past 5 years. I love the graphs that show trends in impressions, clicks, conversion rate, and/or a number of other metrics – enabling users to spot issues instantly. And many functions that once required running and poring over multiple reports now can be performed right in the interface. Placement performance reports are nearly a thing of the past – I can see how individual content sites are performing right in the interface. Search query reports also can be run in-line. You can even segment by day of week, network, or device – right in the interface. I sound like a broken record, but it’s really cool and a huge time saver.

#2 -Bing. While Microsoft’s rollout of their new “decision engine” isn’t strictly a PPC move, it’s definitely had a ripple effect on PPC. While market share for Bing is still paltry compared to Google, it’s growing – and PPC advertisers are seeing increased traffic as a result. While some of our Fluency Media advertisers haven’t seen a lift, others have – especially those in the travel vertical. Bing is really a pretty good search engine, and I expect big things from them in 2010.

#3 – Yahoo’s so-called auto-optimization debacle. Way back in January 2009, Yahoo changed their Terms and Conditions, allowing them to “auto-optimize” PPC accounts. The PPC engines have offered optimization recommendations for years. Our Google reps regularly provide optimization suggestions for our clients’ accounts. The difference with Yahoo is that they (1) created new campaigns without input from the account manager, and (2) implemented the campaigns live without permission, or even knowledge, of the account manager.

This caused a huge stir in the SEM industry, with recognized experts denouncing the practice. While Yahoo tried to defend themselves, no one was buying it.

Personally, I was able to get our rep to opt us out of auto-optimization, but it was a terrible experience all around.

Well, those are my top 3 of 2009 – what were yours? Share them in the comments!

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Google Revises Adwords Trademark Policy

Well hallelujah and the saints be praised – Google has finally come to their senses and modified their Adwords trademark policy to allow the use of trademarked terms in ad copy. It’s about flippin’ time!

I’ve written about this a couple times, most recently just over a month ago. This trademark thing has bordered on the ridiculous many times, as anecdotes about people not being able to use the words “target” or “daddy” or “next” or other common terms abounded on forums, blogs, and Twitter. Now all that silliness has been laid to rest. From the Inside Adwords blog post:

Imagine opening your Sunday paper and seeing ads from a large supermarket chain that didn’t list actual products for sale; instead, they simply listed the categories of products available – offers like “Buy discount cola” and “Snacks on sale.” The ads wouldn’t be useful since you wouldn’t know what products are actually being offered. For many categories of advertisers, this is the problem they have faced on Google for some time.

Hey, that sounds familiar. In my post Trademark Trials and Tribulations, I wrote (emphasis added):

What I don’t understand is why this is such a big deal in the search space. I mean, can you imagine JCPenney running a newspaper ad for Levi’s or Carter’s or Samsonite or any of the hundreds of other brands they carry in their stores – without using those names in the ad?? How silly would that look? And how many people would be compelled to shop for “great brand name jeans” or “cute brand baby clothes” or “super durable luggage” after seeing such an ad? Where would all the grocery store circulars be without using brand names and logos? What about TV ads for just about anything? What about magazine ads??

I won’t go after Google for paraphrasing me. I’m just glad they’ve finally seen the light and modified their policy – it’s long overdue.

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Google Conversion Optimizer Observations

Back at SES Chicago in December, I heard a lot of good things about Google’s Conversion Optimizer, which (in a nutshell) allows you to set a desired cost per action instead of cost per click on your PPC campaigns. You only pay for conversions (not clicks), and theoretically, Google’s algorithm adjusts your ad serving in order to show the ad at times when it’s most likely to convert. Sounds great, right? Why aren’t we all using it, then?

Well, I tried it a few months ago on a client campaign that wasn’t converting as well as I thought it could. To me, this is the ideal campaign for Optimizer. However, it totally bombed. Campaign trafffic dropped to next to nothing, and we got 0 conversions – that’s right, 0 – in over a week of testing. I canceled the test and decided Optimizer was flawed.

But I’ve been mulling it over in my head ever since. That particular client had a limited PPC budget which was well below the available search volume on their keywords. And the recommended cost per conversion that Optimizer suggested was about double what their daily budget was! I had to set the cost/conversion at their daily budget limit, which severely limited Google’s ability to generate conversions & traffic. I suspected this was the fly in the ointment.

So, last week I decided to try again with a different client. This client has been doing PPC for years, and they get very high conversions (both volume-wise and conversion %-wise) because their goal is lead generation (email signup). But there was one campaign that I thought could do better. So I decided to try Optimizer again.

It’s only been a week, so the jury is still out, but early results are promising. Here are some early observations:

  • The campaign is getting higher impressions, clicks, and CTR with Optimizer.
  • Average ad position is slightly higher (but only very slightly).
  • Conversion rate is 10% worse with Optimizer, and cost per conversion is 22% higher.

I know, you’re thinking “Cost per conversion is 22% higher? Stop the test!” That’s what I thought, too. But there’s a caveat. The client drastically reduced their budget for this campaign earlier this week (a planned reduction). The lower budget has been in effect for 2 full days. (Yes, I know my test is now skewed. Keep reading…) Observations over those 2 days:

  • At the lower budget level, CTR and conversion rate are nearly double what they were at the higher budget level.
  • Cost per conversion is about half what it was at the higher budget.

Of course it’s too early to draw any real conclusions, but what I suspect is going on is that now that the budget is lower, Optimizer is forcing ad serving on only the best-quality searches. Impression volume is about 1/6 of what it was before, but I don’t care about that. I care about conversions.

Conclusions?

  • Optimizer seems to work best for campaigns with lots of conversions (i.e. way above the 30 per month minimum required to use Optimizer) and a decent conversion rate (i.e. 10% or better).
  • If your budget is enough to max out impressions & clicks, you may not get as favorable a cost/conversion with Optimizer as you do with a more limited budget. However…
  • If your budget is too restrictive (i.e. impression share less than 50%) and your conversion rate is low, Optimizer is unlikely to work well for you.

I’ll be running the test for another week or so to see if these observations hold true. I’d love to hear other observations about Optimizer – post them in the comments!

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Uploading PPC Campaigns Quickly

If you’re like most PPC marketers, you start a new campaign by setting it up in Google, most likely using Adwords Editor. Editor is probably the single most useful Adwords tool Google has released yet, and it’s one of the first things I teach new PPC hires at our agency. But I digress.

Even though Google has by far the largest market share in the search world, you’re missing 20%-30% of searchers by putting all your eggs in that basket. To take your PPC campaigns to the next level, you need to expand to Yahoo and MSN. But how? MSN has adCenter Desktop, but it’s still in beta and not everyone has access to it. (Plus, it’s not the most user-friendly tool out there, but again, I digress.) Yahoo doesn’t even have a desktop editor. What to do?

Lucky for you (and for them), both Yahoo and MSN have made bulk uploads much easier than they used to be. The days of creating a massive spreadsheet, copying, pasting, and hoping, are over.

Yahoo makes a decent effort to make up for their lack of a desktop editor with their “Convert Third Party Campaigns” function. You’ll find this in the “Import” menu of the YSM interface. Here’s how to use it:
1. Export your Adwords campaign from Adwords Editor using the Export function. Save the file as is.
2. If your Adwords campaign has any negative keywords, open the CSV file and delete those rows – you’ll need to manually add those negatives to Yahoo later.
3. If your campaign status is anything other than Active, Paused, or Deleted (such as Pending), change it to either Active or Paused. Yahoo doesn’t understand Pending and your conversion will fail.
4. Go to the “Convert Third Party Campaigns” page in YSM and follow the steps to convert your file.
5. Once the file is converted, download the conversion file, make any edits (such as updating tracking URLs) and save the file as a Unicode Text with a .csv extension.
6. Then go to the Import Campaigns tab and follow the steps.
7. Pray you didn’t get any errors.

If you do get errors, it’s not easy to figure out what to do. If the only error is “this keyword was not added because it is a duplicate of another keyword,” you’re fine – Yahoo’s match driver means fewer keyword variations are allowed in Yahoo than in Google. If you got other errors, you can either try to fix your upload file and re-upload, or just go into the interface and fix them manually.

It’s even easier to bulk upload to MSN. You can do it via the online interface – simply follow the instructions outlined in the adCenter Blog. The sticking point of this is when you use keyword-level destination URLs – these are not carried over into your import, because MSN decided to use that horrid “param1″ function. You’ll have to add those manually later, or use this workaround: In your export file from Adwords, change the ad copy destination URLs from whatever they are to “{param1}” (without the quotes). This will bring in all your keyword-level destination URLs – but not your ads. So you’ll still have to do some manual work, but usually campaigns have far fewer ads than keywords!

Uploading via adCenter Desktop is even easier. You can import your file from Adwords without even converting it. Just make sure to edit your ad copy destination URLs as described above if you’re using keyword-level URLs. Entering ad copy in Desktop is much easier than in the online interface.

If anyone knows a better way to import campaigns with keyword-level URLs in MSN, please post it in the comments! Also post your questions, tips, and tricks – when we share our knowledge, we all improve.

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Google Adwords No Longer Allowing Multiple Display URLs Per Ad Group

This has been out in the news for a while, but on Monday I received an email from our Google rep confirming that ads with different display URLs within a single ad group are going to be disapproved.

Here is the email from my rep:

“In an effort to provide more relevant results and a higher quality experience for our users, we have made the decision to no longer allow multiple domains within a single ad group. Starting in mid-February, all display URLs within an ad group must be for the same top-level domain. Please note that this amendment to our policy applies to all advertisers, regardless of previous exceptions or acceptability of any campaigns. While we understand there are legitimate use-cases for multiple domains within one ad group, we ask that separate ad groups be created for any given domain.

In order for your ad(s) to be approved, please edit your display URLs within your ad group(s) so that the top-level domains are consistent. For instructions on editing your display URL, please see https://adwords.google.com/support/bin/answer.py?answer=6272&hl=en_US.”

I don’t have a problem with this policy – I’m sure it’s intended to stop unscrupulous advertisers from gaming the system. I’m just honestly not sure which of my ad groups have different display URLs! This is not a common practice for me, and now I have to comb through my client accounts to figure out which ones I have to edit….

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Joe The Plumber Does PPC

I know I’m not the only one writing about this, but it’s too much fun to pass up: All the buzz over Joe the Plumber from Wednesday’s presidential debate has spilled over online in a very interesting way. Since lots of writers are covering the Google Trends aspect, I wanted to comment on the PPC side.

Before I get into that, let me say that, as most of you know, this thing is evolving and will continue to evolve. I’m reporting on what I’m seeing in my office in Michigan on Friday, October 17 – not to be confused with what I may see tomorrow, or what any of you might be seeing right now! Isn’t search great that way?!?

Anyway… here is a screen capture of my search on “joe the plumber”:
The ads are all brilliant (even if I don’t agree with all of them, wink wink). At the top is the GOP. Good for them – they’re promoting their online poll and the ad copy really encourages people to join in the conversation. Great social media angle – points for that. Too bad whoever is doing their PPC doesn’t know how to use keyword insertion properly! Sorry, gotta give you a point deduction for an ad title without a single capital letter.

Then there is John McCain’s site. Whoever Senator McCain is using for his SEM has been doing a great job throughout the campaign of getting relevant ads onto a wide variety of searches. Big points to you, McCain’s SEM! Interestingly, despite all the hype about McCain conceding Michigan to Obama and stopping ads here, they’ve obviously got a geo-targeted PPC campaign still running. Not a bad strategy – if indeed it is a strategy, and not just an oversight.

Oh, and McCain’s SEM? You lose points for not using keyword insertion correctly either.

Following the McCain ad is an ad for Network Solutions that appears, at first glance, to be totally irrelevant. That is, until you read in the news that the guy who owns the joetheplumber.com domain has been offered up to $800,000 for his domain. Pretty sneaky, Network Solutions! Bonus points for creativity.

Of course, Barack Obama’s SEM can’t let McCain get all the attention, so next you’ll find a brilliantly worded ad for Obama’s campaign. Well done! Bonus points for correct usage of keyword insertion.

Finally, no liquid-hot search would be complete without the totally irrelevant PPC ad. Today’s contestant is Holiday Autos, with a non-sequiter ad for international getaway cars. Huh?? How did that get there? Points to them for getting visibility on “joe the plumber;” major point deduction to Google for actually allowing this ad to appear.

So there you have it. I’d like to thank today’s contestants for playing. Come back in an hour, when a new cast of PPC ads will undoubtedly be running…

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The End Is Near for Inactive Keywords

As announced on August 21 on the Inside Adwords Blog, Google is rolling out some fairly major changes to their Quality Score. Much talk has focused on the new dynamic Quality Score, but I think this part of the announcement is just as big a deal:

“The new per-query evaluation of Quality Score affects you in that keywords will no longer appear as ‘inactive for search‘ in your account. Instead, all keywords will have the chance to show ads on Google web search and the search network (unless you’ve paused or deleted them). Keep in mind, however, that keywords previously marked ‘inactive for search’ are not likely to accrue a great deal of traffic following this change. This is because their combined per-query Quality Score and bid probably isn’t high enough to gain competitive placement.”

Despite what Google says, I think this could be huge for some advertisers. While inactive keywords are often the result of poor keyword selection and lack of relevancy, sometimes very relevant keywords get marked inactive for other reasons. When I was at MagazineLine, we frequently had inactive keywords which were the name of the magazine we were selling – for instance, “cosmopolitan magazine.” Click-through and conversion rates on these keywords were great – but sometimes we got slapped with trademark restrictions by the magazine publisher, and I believe that is why the keywords were marked Inactive.

I’ve seen similar things with some of our current clients. I’m anxious to see how this all plays out. Will these theoretically low-position keywords get any traffic? Will bids still need to be crazy-high in order to show up earlier than Page 10?

I haven’t heard from anyone who’s seeing the new “First Page Bid” info in their Adwords account yet – if you are seeing this, post a comment here, or at this thread over at Search Engine Watch.

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Google AdWords Shuttering PPA Program

Just saw this notice in one of our clients’ AdWords campaigns this morning:


Pay-per-action beta is ending
The pay-per-action beta will be discontinued the last week of August 2008. After this date, your pay-per-action campaigns and ads will no longer be active. If you wish to retain permanent records of your pay-per-action data, please export it from the Report Center before all pay-per-action campaign data is removed the last week of October.

Apparently, Google will be using the Performics’ affiliate program instead.

I’m not sure this is a big deal – I heard from very few advertisers who were happy with the PPA program – volumes were low, and fraud was surprisingly high. Still, it’s an interesting move.

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