PPC In A Not-Provided World

not providedEarlier this week, Google dropped the bomb that we were expecting, but hoped wouldn’t come: Google will no longer pass search query strings in the referrer URL string. What this means is that the “search query” reports in Google Analytics and other packages will no longer contain data from Google.

First, let’s quell the still-persistent rumor that Adwords search query reports are going away. That’s false. Google has stated that SQRs will remain intact. Using search query reports for PPC keyword research is still an option.

Some are saying that the “not provided” announcement is no big deal because we can still get data from SQRs, or from the Google API. Even George Michie of RKG, normally a skeptic, isn’t too worried about not provided.

Others, though, are more upset.  Brad Geddes of Certified Knowledge is rightfully concerned with the dwindling amount of transparency coming from Google. He goes so far as to say that “all new hires should start working in Bing before AdWords so that they can learn how different users react per device so new marketers can be trained properly about setting up and managing campaigns and site flows by device.” That’s a pretty bold statement.

Bryant Garvin shares Brad’s concern, and surfaces another problem: advertisers with long sales cycles, or those who are using the search query in dynamic landing pages, are now out of luck. They won’t get as clear a picture into what queries are ultimately driving sales, and they’ll be forced to use keywords, rather than search queries, on dynamic landing pages. Anyone who’s done PPC for a while knows that search queries and keywords are often very different.

We knew this was coming eventually. As soon as Google took away search query data from SEO, we knew it was only a matter of time before they made the same move for PPC. At the time, some were unconcerned, saying we were relying too much on search queries to begin with.

And yet others lamented the fact that keyword research had already taken a hit with the new Keyword Planner – “not provided” was yet another blow to good search marketing.

The fact remains that we’re stuck with this whether we like it or not, just like we’re stuck bidding on tablets and lacking separate bids for search partners. For better or for worse, Google is the market leader and can do whatever they want.

But I’m dismayed at this recent turn of events. While I’m glad we’ll still have our search query reports, and I understand that there are privacy (and therefore, legal) issues at stake, I am not excited about the trend toward less, rather than more, transparency.

Bing, on the other hand, just keeps chipping away at the Google behemoth. They still allow mobile-only and tablet-only campaigns. They pass search query data in the referrer. They have visitors who never use Google and can’t be reached by Adwords. And they cost less – a lot less in many cases.

Is it time to give Bing Ads more of our money? I’m thinking yes.

For a nice roundup of articles about not-provided in PPC, check out Bryant Garvin’s blog or this post by Luke Alley over at Avalaunch Media.

What’s your take on “not provided”? Is your life ruined by it, or will it be business as usual for you? Are you thinking about moving money to Bing? Share in the comments!

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Google Guest Blogging Smackdown: Lessons Learned

This week, the SEO world was rocked when Google slapped a penalty on MyBlogGuest, a guest blogging network. The news shocked many who felt that MyBlogGuest was running a reputable content marketing and sharing service. I’ve been acquainted with Ann Smarty, the owner of MyBlogGuest, for years, and have followed her in social media. Everything she was doing seemed above-board – until the penalty brought that into question. (I still think she did nothing wrong, but Google begs to differ.)

Then yesterday, Google put the beatdown on Portent, a SEM firm based in Seattle. This news was even more surprising – I’ve been acquainted with Portent’s work for some time, and I count their PPC director, Elizabeth Marsten, as a friend. Their company does much more than SEO, and yet they were penalized. Mind-boggling.

I’m confident that both of these organizations will emerge from the fray stronger than before. Still, it’s a lesson we should all take to heart:

Don’t put all your eggs in the Google basket.

I’ve talked to several business owners over the years who were getting 90% or more of their business from Google, often from organic listings. Then suddenly, a Google update hits, and their business vanishes. Or they were using Adwords and doing fine, and then their sales tanked. While I never enjoy hearing these stories, I always wonder about the soundness of counting on one entity for most of your business leads.

In investing, the rule of thumb is to diversify your portfolio. Smart investment advisors will tell you that it’s never a good idea to invest all your savings in one place (Enron, anyone?).

PPC and SEM are no different. At a minimum, I recommend using both Google and Bing for PPC. Performance often varies widely, and Bing is frequently cheaper than Google. So if your Google results tank, hopefully Bing can keep you going until you figure out what’s wrong.

And that’s why businesses should use an integrated approach to marketing. Advertising in multiple channels, investing in landing page optimization, and measuring success are crucial components to long-term success in online marketing.

What do you think about the recent Google penalties? Too harsh, too soft, just right? What baskets do you put your online marketing dollars in? Share in the comments!

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Adwords Search Query Reports: US Versus The World

The subject of broad match gone wild is a popular one in PPC, and has been since the dawn of search query reports. Search marketers frequently lament the irrelevant and sometimes downright puzzling queries which triggered their ads. In fact, better search query matching was one of my 2007 PPC wishes that still hasn’t come true.

A few weeks ago, I was doing routine search query report reviews for one of our international clients. We use broad match on their branded terms to cast as wide a net as possible, and we use extensive negative keywords to control the wildness.  Anyway, I pulled a SQR for our Germany campaigns, and then pulled one for the US. Again, the task was all typical – but the report results were anything but.

We’ve created ad groups by match type for control and new search query mining, using the SQRs for not only negatives, but new positive keywords to add to our account.  For both Germany and the US, I looked at just 2 keywords this time: the broad match and phrase match of the client’s brand. I noticed that reviewing Germany’s report took a lot less time than reviewing the US report. This came as a surprise, since our branded campaigns are set to “all languages” and I had to pore over German-language keywords in the SQR as a non-German speaker (Google Translate is my best friend for this). So I decided to compare the two reports.

What I discovered stunned me.

Allow me to illustrate with a few visuals.

search queries

Look at the total number of search queries: the US has nearly 3 times as many as Germany. Remember, this is on the same 2 keywords! That’s the stat that got me started on this in the first place.  I find it hard to believe that people in the US are 3 times more creative than people in Germany when it comes to searching for the client’s brand (or searching for anything, for that matter).

This goes a long way towards explaining why our US CPCs are so much higher than other countries for this client. I know that the PPC market in general is more saturated here than elsewhere. If nothing else, there are more US-based advertisers. And our population is 3 times bigger than Germany’s (82 million for Germany vs. 311 million for the US), so I might accept the notion that if every person in each country conducts one unique search related to these 2 keywords, we’d see 3 times as many SQs in the US as in Germany. I think it’s a stretch, but it’s at least plausible.

But let’s look at search query distribution across match types. Remember, we’ve segmented our ad groups by match type, so there are no exact matches. What’s left in the SQR is broad, phrase, and session based broad.

A couple of visuals will make this easier. Let’s look at Germany first.

germany sqr

Half of the queries were broad matched, and the rest were pretty evenly distributed between phrase match and session-based broad match. I’m not thrilled about the high percentage of session-based broad matches, but that’s another post.  Still, the fact that over 1 in 5 matches were phrase match isn’t too bad.

Now let’s look at the US.

us sqr

Are you as speechless as I am? Fully 84% of the matches in the US were broad match (and remember folks, there were 860 of them, compared with 193 in Germany). There were virtually no session-based broad matches, so at least we have that going for us.  But only 15% phrase matches, vs. 22% in Germany? Why, Google, why?

And here’s the kicker – you know this is coming – the US SQR is loaded with totally irrelevant queries.

Methinks something is rotten in the state of Denmark. (It’s close to Germany, right?)

Have you seen similar behavior in your international campaigns? Are we Americans really that much more creative in our searches? Or is Google showing their patriotism by fleecing us? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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Bing Opportunities Tab Beats Google

Sometimes we PPC managers just need quick ideas for new keywords and bids. We don’t want to spend a lot of time doing keyword research and calculating keyword-level ROI. We just need to ramp things up in a hurry.

Google has had an Opportunities Tab for a while now. It’s ok – not great, but ok. Not to be outdone, Bing Ads also added an Opportunities section – and they’ve done Google one better.

Bing Opportunities are in both the online interface and the Desktop Editor.

I’ve often wished that Google had an Opportunities section in Adwords Editor. Using Editor is so much faster than poking around in the online UI, so we’re there anyway – why not show us keyword & bid suggestions? But alas, it’s not there.

Bing, however, has Opportunities in both places: the online UI:

And in Bing Editor:

Since Bing’s online UI is even slower and more painful than Google’s, I rarely log in except to check stats. For real PPC work, I’m in the Desktop tool. It’s great to have Bing Opportunities right there.

Keyword Suggestions are More Relevant

Just this week, I was working on keyword expansions for a client. This client recently launched a new product line, so we’ve been actively adding new keywords for a while now. The client is in the B2B space, so we invest pretty heavily in Bing because their CPC is about 40% lower than Google’s. But that’s another post.

As I was updating bids in Bing Desktop, I noticed a green bar at the top:

I will say here that I loathe the red “error” bar in Desktop, mostly because it flags stuff that’s not even errors and/or that’s unfixable. But that’s another post.

Anyway, the green bar got my attention, so I clicked “View.”

The optimizations were new keywords. Curious, I downloaded the list.

It consisted of 100 keyword suggestions for the client’s new product line.  The suggestions actually looked relevant and promising, unlike most of the recent Google Opportunities I’d looked at. So I began reviewing them in detail.

Out of the 100 keywords, 30 were relevant to the campaign for which they were suggested. Not bad. Only 5 keywords were totally irrelevant to the client; the rest were applicable to other campaigns (just not the one they were suggested for).

I don’t think I’ve ever gotten 30 relevant keywords from the Google Opportunities tab. On a good day I might get 3 or 4. So, I decided to hop on over there and see what they were suggesting for this client and campaign.

Google actually returned fewer total keywords: only 80 were suggested. But yikes, those keywords! Only 2 out of the 80 keywords were relevant to the campaign. Ouch.

That’s not the worst of it. Out of the 80 keywords, 42 of them were irrelevant to the client. Let me say that again. More than half the keywords that Google said were “opportunities” were totally irrelevant!  Worse than that, the majority of them were very broad, very high-volume consumer-focused keywords.  The only opportunity here is the opportunity to line Google’s pocketbook.

So Who’s More Relevant?

Here’s a visual showing the breakdown of the relevance of the keyword opportunities for the 2 engines.

So whose Opportunities do you plan to take advantage of next time?

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Search Plus Your World – Good or Bad for PPC?

A short while ago, Google rolled out with Search Plus Your World, where search results for those logged in to Google Plus incorporate social content from Google Plus connections. Some say this is Google’s answer to Facebook and the social graph. And apparently Google Plus is here to stay, according to Larry Page.

Putting aside the fact that I find the whole SPYW thing to be a bit creepy and pointless, what effect is this going to have on PPC ads?

Little has been said so far about SPYW and PPC – the focus has been on organic listings. However, the fact remains that Google has been showing personalized search results for a long time; PPC ads can be served based on search history, and impressions decrease if someone performs a lot of repeated searches and doesn’t click on any ads.

Furthermore, organic results and PPC ads work hand in hand. It’s been well documented that having a PPC ad and an organic listing drives more traffic than having one or the other, but not both.

We also know that ads can be “+1’d” – another social signal affecting PPC, but exactly how is unclear.

What do you think about all this? Is SPYW going to ruin PPC for the rest of us? How much will things change? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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Is Adwords Turning Into Big Brother?

Over the past few weeks, Google has rolled out a few changes that seem to imply that they know what’s best for all of us. (I know this isn’t new, but bear with me…) There’s Google Plus, with its +1 boxes on search results & ads that you can’t opt out of; and the SSL fail that’s masking as much as 20% of organic search query data.

Earlier this week, there was a post on the Inside Adwords blog, announcing that all Adwords campaigns using Enhanced CPC and Conversion Optimizer would have ad rotation automatically switched from “optimize for clicks” to “optimize for conversions” – unless you opt out by filling out a form.


Thing was, the link to the form went to a 404 page.

And then the post was pulled down shortly after it went live.

It’s back up now, and the form actually works. But what the heck was that all about?

Let’s set aside the fact that Adwords obviously jumped the gun on a blog post that wasn’t ready for prime time. Anyone who blogs has probably done that once or twice.

The bigger issue is that Google is once again taking choice out of the hands of marketers and advertisers, opting instead to decide what they think is best for us.

In some ways, this makes sense. The whole point of using Enhanced CPC and Conversion Optimizer is to try to improve the conversion rate and cost per conversion of your campaigns. Therefore, using the “optimize for clicks” setting is at odds with the Enhanced CPC/Conversion Optimizer algorithm. In fact, it’s likely that this factor alone has led to less-than-stellar performance for campaigns with these settings – leading advertisers to say that Enhanced CPC and Conversion Optimizer don’t work. That’s bad for Google.

Also, remember that Optimize for Clicks is the default campaign setting. This means that many novice advertisers are using this setting unwittingly. Consider a scenario in which these same novice advertisers read a blog post touting the benefits of Enhanced CPC or Conversion Optimizer – so the novice says, “Hey, let’s try that,” and then sees poor results because their campaign is still set to “optimize for clicks.” That isn’t good for Google either.

But here’s the thing: The blog post said that all campaigns would be switched over unless you opt out by filling out a form. This implies that advertisers won’t even have the option of choosing “optimize for clicks” for Enhanced CPC and Conversion Optimizer campaigns.

And this is why I have a problem with it.

I’m fine with changing the default for these campaigns to Optimize for Conversions. That’s totally ok. What I’m not fine with is taking the choice out of the hands of the advertiser and putting it in the hands of Google. That’s akin to the fox guarding the hen house.

I find this move even more puzzling in light of the flap over the SSL thing. Ever since that announcement, SEMs have been raising holy hell, asking for more data and transparency. It seems like a bad move to decide to make this change now, on the heels of all the furor – and right before the holidays to boot.

I recently spoke with our Adwords reps about some of our client campaigns. It was one of those “let us make optimization suggestions for you” conversations, so I always take those with a grain of salt. They actually had several good suggestions, so it wasn’t all bad. But they really pushed me to switch all of our client campaigns from “rotate” to “optimize for conversions.”

Bad move.

I good-naturedly told them that they just hit a hot button (and they obviously don’t read my blog and have never heard me speak at conferences), and they quickly backpedaled. But still – why is Google all of a sudden pushing “optimize for conversions” rather than letting us make the choice ourselves?

Has 1984 arrived a couple decades late?

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Google is the Scrooge of SEM

Back in October, Google changed the way search queries were passed to web analytics, and not in a good way. I wrote about this at length at the time, so if you’ve been away from the web for a while and aren’t aware of this, go give it a read.

When the announcement was made, Google claimed that the percentage of searches performed by logged-in users was small, in the low single digits. But the data is showing otherwise. SEMs across the web are claiming that the percentage is much higher: as much as 20% in some cases. Think about that for a minute: You’re now losing organic search query data for 1 out of every 5 visitors to your website. Ouch.

However, as I said in my earlier article, the percent will naturally vary across websites, depending on the vertical, customer base, etc. So how does that make Google a Scrooge?

Well, shortly after they launched this hugely unpopular change, they rolled out Google Plus pages for businesses. Previously, the lack of business pages in Google Plus was a big hole in the service – businesses were clamoring for the ability to have a page for their business in Google Plus. And now they have that ability.

And how do users connect with businesses on Google Plus? Well, they have to have their own Google Plus account – and they have to be signed in to Google to connect. And most users, once logged in to Google, don’t bother to log back out before they start performing searches.

Uh oh. Do you see where this is headed?

And that, my friends, is a great big BAH HUMBUG to everyone who cares about search query data.

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Google’s SSL Change: A Bad Deal for PPC

Earlier this week, Google announced a sweeping change to the way they pass referrer data to analytics. In a very brief nutshell, users who are logged in to Google will be routed to an https version of the Google search engine, and search queries from these users will not be passed in the referrer string to analytics packages for organic traffic.

This decision has rocked the search community more than anything I can remember in recent years, and the reaction is almost universally negative. Anyone who’s successfully done search for any length of time will tell you that one of the great things about search marketing (and I’m talking PPC and SEO here) is the amount of data you get. And Google just removed a big chunk of that data. (Google claims it’s not a big chunk, but that’s debatable.

The kicker is, this change only affects organic traffic. PPC referrals will still contain the referring query data. And this is what has SEOs really upset and crying “conspiracy:” the implication is that Google is trying to encourage websites to use Adwords, so they can get all their referrer info instead of only part of it.

Why should PPC’ers care about this? After all, we’ll still get our data. So who cares if the SEOs of the world are out of luck?

I care. And here’s why.

PPC and SEO work hand in hand.

I’m a firm believer that no marketing channel should operate in a vacuum – especially search channels. For best results, PPC and SEO should work hand in hand. I often talk about PPC informing SEO, and Google’s change won’t affect that aspect of your integrated marketing strategy.

However, the information flows both ways. SEO can and should inform your PPC efforts, too. Search pros often recommend mining your organic data for new PPC keyphrases. With this change, your organic data is going to be less complete.

Transparency is key.

From day one, search pros have been asking for more transparency from the search engines. We want as much data as possible to inform our decision making process. We want to know what sites are driving traffic to our site, and whether those sites are converting. We want to know what search queries people are using to find us, and whether those queries are converting. We want to know where those searchers are located, what browser they’re using, and anything else we can learn about them.

This is not to say that we want this data down to the individual level, which is the basis for Google’s change. Google is claiming privacy concerns as the driving force behind their decision.

That’s a bunch of BS. Google has never shared individual user data in referrer strings. And even if they did, who cares? Looking at user data on an individual basis is a waste of time – it’s not statistically significant, and isn’t useful. Data is only useful in aggregate. I don’t care if one guy searched on “what is the best ever ppc blog written by some chick in Michigan” to find my site – but I do care if 100 people who were logged in to Google searched on that term to find me.

With this move, Google has decreased transparency, not increased it – thus going backwards in terms of providing useful and informative data.

PPC’ers should be very concerned about this move. I for one am wondering what they’ll take away from us next. How does this change affect you? Share in the comments!

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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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Google Instant – The Apocalypse of SEO?

Unless you’re still on summer vacation, you’ve probably read plenty about Google Instant – the fun new feature that serves up search engine results pages and PPC ads as you type, and changes them as you go along. The Twittersphere is abuzz with predictions about Instant marking the death of SEO.

Hold on. Not so fast. In my latest post on the Fluency Media Blog, I discuss why we need to just keep doing what we’ve been doing all along: choosing relevant keywords, link building, publishing relevant content….. Give it a read and let me know what you think, either here or on the Fluency blog.

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