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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Healthcare Search, And The Art Of Slowing Down

It’s been a while since I’ve posted here. And it’s not just because I’ve been busy. I have been busy, but that’s not the only reason.

Thursday, August 6, was a pretty typical day. I drove 80 miles to our Ann Arbor office for the day, where I had a client meeting. After the meeting, a couple co-workers and I walked several blocks through downtown Ann Arbor to get cupcakes to snack on. I drove home afterward and had a normal evening with my family, and worked on last-minute plans for our summer vacation, for which we were to leave 2 days later. Then, tired, I went to bed.

I woke up a couple hours later feeling terrible. Fever, aches, muscle cramps, etc. I tried to go back to sleep, but by 5 a.m., I knew I was really sick. My chest hurt and I was coughing badly. My husband took one look and said, “We need to go to the doctor.”

Later that morning, I was diagnosed with pneumonia. I’ve never had it before, although our daughter did when she was 6, so I knew how scary it could be.

Luckily, I wasn’t hospitalized – with a blood oxygen level of 94, it wasn’t hospital-serious. However, the doctor told me that it takes 6-8 weeks to recover from pneumonia.

“Pshaw,” I thought. “I’m in great shape, and if I just rest for a week or so, I’ll be fine.” But just in case, I turned to the Internet to see what I could find about pneumonia recovery. I searched on both Google and Bing, partly because one of Bing’s primary verticals is health care searches. I wanted to see if, indeed, this was “better than Google.”

I wasn’t disappointed in Bing. A Google search turned up a mish-mash of forum threads, blog posts, and informational articles – and it was hard to sift through it all. Bing, on the other hand, turned up highly relevant and credible articles about exactly what I needed: information on how long it really takes to recover from pneunomia.

Even though the online information backed up what the doctor said, I still blew it off – much to my detriment. 3 weeks into my recovery, I came down with bronchitis. While it wasn’t severe and I caught it early, it was the wakeup call I needed. Yes, even pneumonia wasn’t enough of a wakeup call for me to realize I needed to slow down.

I’m 43 years old. I’m told I don’t look it, and most of the time I don’t feel it, either. I’m proud to be able to successfully juggle a full-time career and be a good wife and mother – and still go to the gym twice a week and participate in a few extra-curricular activities of my own. I eat healthy and have kept off a 35-pound weight loss for 10 years. I think I’m doing pretty well for my age.

But that doesn’t make me infallible. Being a busy working mom can be stressful, and I wasn’t doing a good job of slowing down and resting when I was tired – I just kept soldiering on. I sort of had the attitude that I’d sleep when I’m dead.

No more. Now, I make sure to get at least 7 1/2 hours of sleep a night (as opposed to the 6-7 I was getting before I got sick). I take frequent breaks during the work day instead of pushing through 8 hours without stopping. And if I’m too tired to work out, I don’t – even if it means missing a day.

I heard recently that, for many moms, “the slowing-down process is not something we’re good at.” That’s for sure. But in the past 2 months, I’ve gotten a lot better at it. I’ve learned to say, “No, I can’t do that just now,” even to my boss. I think I’m worth it. I *know* I’m worth it.

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More Google Trademark Insanity

This has to be one of the nuttiest things I’ve ever seen. Via Marketing Pilgrim, it appears that a firm called Ascentive is suing Google for not showing them in the organic results. They claim that “consumers expect to see the trademark owner in organic search results for the trademark and therefore consumers will be actionably confused if the trademark owner doesn’t appear there.” Apparently Ascentive claims that this is a violation of a legal statute called the Lanham Act.

Are they kidding?!? Since when does a search engine have a legal obligation to list your website in their free organic results? And since when does the absence of said listing lead to consumer confusion?

I agree there is plenty of consumer confusion when it comes to the SERPs. But that has nothing to do with obligation on Google’s part.

What about your obligation as a website owner to make sure your site is optimized? Hmm….

Additional coverage is at TechDirt, where I agree with the first commenter who says, “Google is not a RIGHT. They OFFER a service, they are not OBLIGATED to include you in it.” Indeed.

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Why All The Hype Over Trademarks in PPC?

Last week, there was a flurry of news covering Amazon being sued over using trademarked terms in their PPC ads. In a nutshell, a company called Video Professor was unhappy that Amazon was bidding on their name, but the landing page had competing products featured on it.

At first pass, I thought “fair enough.” But then I read the details and discovered that the landing page on did indeed include Video Professor products. While it is a best practice to send PPC searches for “video professor” to a landing page on showing only Video Professor products rather than a broader category page with multiple product lines, the fact that other competing products also appear on the search page does not make this a trademark infringement.

I am continually surprised and perturbed by these type of complaints and lawsuits. If this were an ad in traditional media, no one would bat an eye. For whatever reason, search is under the microscope for frivolous trademark complaints. Further, I believe that Google’s trademark policy only exacerbates the issue. By allowing companies to file trademark complaints, Google encourages lawsuits such as this, and hurts the advertisers who are legitimate sellers of the trademarked product.

I wrote about this 2 years ago, so I won’t rehash the whole argument here. My take on the Amazon suit is that, especially in tough economic times, companies are lawsuit-happy and perceive successful online organizations such as Amazon and Google to have deep pockets. In reality, all they’re doing is making things difficult for all PPC advertisers.

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Google Testing AdSense Fonts?

As I was checking my Gmail this morning, I noticed that the AdSense ads showed up in a smaller font than normal:

Usually, the ads are in the same font size as the “Seattle, WA” font above the ads. And usually there are about half as many ads as I saw this morning.

Is this just a routine Google test? Or is the big G trying to find a way to eke out every penny of AdSense revenue this holiday season?? I wonder…

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A Visit from Google AdWords

On Monday, five staffers from the Google AdWords Ann Arbor office paid us a visit here at MagazineLine. It’s always exciting to get visitors – being in the Midwest, we don’t get a lot of them (grin), and once again, Google is way ahead of the pack by offering to make the (quick) trip. For the better part of the day, members of our marketing and IT staff talked about search and internet marketing with the biggest hitter in the space.

I was really impressed with the amount of training and preparation the Googlers brought with them. We talked mostly about holiday marketing plans, and they had some great ideas on expanding our reach, as well as new testing ideas we haven’t tried before. We also talked about some of the Google products, including Checkout and Analytics.

The conversation also uncovered some gaps in our current Google strategy. For instance, we discovered that although we’re regularly submitting a feed to Google Base for Product Search, we’re basically nowhere to be found. The Googlers didn’t even know we were listed there. The discussion brought the issue back onto our radar, and with the help of Google, we’ve found some fairly easy ways to improve our feed and get better visibility.

All in all, it was a productive day on both sides of the table. As I’ve said here before, it always helps to have a face to put with the voice at the other end of the phone; and we were able to accomplish so much more in person than we ever could by phone and email.

We’re very lucky to have the Google office so close by. It’s definitely bolstering an already-strong relationship.

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Google-Free Friday Has Me Asking For Google, Please!

Danny Sullivan and crew at Search Engine Land have come up with a way to add some spice to those Fridays in July when we’d all rather be doing something other than working. They’re calling it Google Free Friday, where searchers try using search engines other than Google. Actually, today’s suggested Free day has been moved to Monday, due to the launch of Sphinn, the new social networking / forum / Digg-like venture. (Which, by the way, is – well – I don’t even have a word for it. Unique, fascinating, huge, maybe even crazy? But that’s another post.) Since I had planned to go Google-Free today, I decided to give Ask a whirl anyway.

I was looking for some information for a friend on retirement plans and annuities. The information was relatively specific, so I went to Ask and entered a multi-word search, complete with quotes around a couple of the terms for specificity. I got back, in a word, garbage. Well, in the organic results, anyway. Actually, the ads were well targeted – if I had been looking to invest, which I wasn’t. I was looking for information, which is usually best found in the organic SERPs. Ask left me asking more questions. In fact, the #2 result was some senseless splog. Ugh.

So, on this pseudo Google Free Friday, I turned to Google. Within a minute or two, I’d found exactly what I was looking for, and more. Folks, this is why Google is the #1 search engine, and why their share keeps getting bigger every month. It’s called relevancy.

I’ll still keep trying different search engines on Google Free Fridays, just for fun, but if this experience is any indication, I’ll be running back to Google every time.

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Google AdWords’ Search Query Report: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Recently, Google added a new report to the AdWords arsenal: the Search Query Report. In a nutshell, this report gives advertisers a list of all the actual search queries on which their ads appeared, along with useful statistics such as impressions, clicks, conversions, average position, and average CPC. This is data advertisers have been requesting for a long time, but until recently had to pull from other sources, such as log files or other analytics tools.

The Good: It’s pretty obvious. This report is a great way to discover new keywords, especially those oft-ballyhooed tail terms that are so hard to find, yet convert like crazy. It’s also useful for discovering negative keywords. I just added over 170 negatives to one campaign after poring over this report! (Thank goodness for AdWords Editor!) Best of all, if you’re using Google’s Conversion Tracker or Analytics, the report includes conversion stats, so it’s easy to see which keywords are converting and which aren’t.

The Bad: The report makes it plainly obvious that there are serious issues with Google’s Broad Match. These issues have been widely publicized in the search marketing forums and blogs, so this isn’t news. However, I found some really crazy stuff in my report. All our campaigns are set to US-only and English-only, since we’re not authorized to sell overseas. Yet our ads are showing on all kinds of non-English keywords, according to the Search Query report. I even found keywords in Russian and Arabic character sets! Not only are these keywords not relevant, we shouldn’t be showing on these searches at all.

The Ugly: First, a little refresher. Most SEMs know about Google’s Quality Score, which is supposed to reward relevant ads, keywords, and landing pages. Google makes several suggestions as to how keyword Quality Score can be improved, including the following: “You can also narrow your targeting options (ie, using regional targeting) or matching types (ie, use exact keyword matching). We also suggest adding your keyword to your ad text.”

Now, a little story to illustrate just how ugly this is in reality. I have generic ads running for keywords like “magazines” and “magazine” and such that go to our home page. I also have more targeted ads for specific magazines such as “newsweek magazine” with specific ad copy, that go to the page for the magazine in question (the Newsweek Magazine page, in this example).

In the Search Query report, I noticed the keyword “self magazine” (phrase match) in my Search Query Report for my generic ads. Avg position = 1.2, avg CPC = $0.51. OK, that’s all fine – we have “magazine” as a broad match keyword in that ad group. Here’s the ugly part. I also have an ad group in a different campaign for Self Magazine. The ad has that exact phrase in the copy and that keyword in the ad group as exact match, with a landing page for that magazine (as opposed to our home page for the generic ad).

Minimum CPC for [self magazine] in that ad group? $10.00.

I’m sorry, but I just don’t get it! Google tells us that to help our Quality Score, we should use targeted keywords, ads, and landing pages. So I’ve done that. Yet, in this example, I’ve been rewarded for following the rules with a $10 minimum CPC. Yet, Google shows our generic ad on “magazine” as a broad match keyword for that same query – and charges us 1/20th of the price.

The ugliest part of all is that the visitor has to then search on our site for the magazine they TYPED INTO GOOGLE in the first place. Making searchers search multiple times is one of my big pet peeves. If they are asking for something specific, we as SEMs should make every effort to give it to them, and the engines should help us out, not hamper our efforts!

Just to back up a bit… All in all, I am thrilled with this report and with the fact that Google is providing us with such great granular data. I’m just a little frustrated by the obvious glitches in the system that are now really, glaringly obvious.

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