What’s Up With Bing Ads in 2013?

One of the most-viewed posts on this blog is one I wrote in September 2012 called What’s Up With Bing Ads? In that post, I commented on their constant rebranding, interface and editor issues, and support challenges. That post is consistently in the top 10 most-viewed posts on my blog.

Let’s fast forward 13 months and see what’s changed. I just got back from Bing Ads Next, an exclusive event held at Microsoft’s Redmond, WA campus. About 20 of the biggest names in PPC were there, and we spent a day seeing Bing Ads’ version of the future of search.

The highlights of the event have already been covered elsewhere, so I won’t rehash them here.  Instead, let’s review what’s changed with Bing Ads over the past year or so.

Online UI and Editor improvements.

In my 2012 post, I complained about issues with the online UI: it timed out too fast and, despite its overhaul, was still clunky to navigate.

In my opinion, most of the interface issues have since been fixed. It no longer times out after 15 minutes – I’ve been able to stay logged in most of the workday. The import function from Google seems to work well (more on this in a minute). The reporting interface is very fast, and in some ways is better than Google’s.

All that said, there are still niggling things missing from the Bing Ads online UI. During the Bing Ads Next feedback session, Matt Van Wagner said what we were all thinking: Why doesn’t the online UI show conversion rate? It’s 2013, for crying out loud – this is a must-have metric and why it’s not available in Bing Ads can only be a gross oversight.

I won’t even get into the login and account creation issues. The Bing Ads team has heard the PPC community loud and clear on this one. Let’s hope there’s a fix in place before this becomes mandatory in 2014.

Let’s talk about Bing Ads Editor for a second. I use Editor all the time, and it’s improved a lot over the past year, too. The import from Google function is nearly flawless. Editor stayed on par with Google’s move to Enhanced Campaigns – and I can only imagine what a curve ball that was to the Bing Ads development team. The fact that they were able to offer the same features as Google, with the same timing, is a Herculean feat of engineering.

But Bing Ads Editor continues to have silly bugs in it, too. The most recent one is that changes you’ve posted still show bolded in Editor, as if they didn’t post. And, only some of them show up this way. So it’s not clear whether all of your changes posted or not – you’ll have to go look them up in the online UI to be sure.

Bing Ads Support.

Here’s where Bing Ads really shines – far outshines Google and their joke that passes as support. When was the last time Google invited a bunch of PPC influencers to the GooglePlex to talk about Adwords? Anyone? Bueller?

My Bing Ads rep was at all the social functions held during Bing Ads Next. He’s a true partner in helping us succeed, and is knowledgeable and responsive. The weird support issues that I outlined in my 2012 post have, thankfully, gone away. Bing Ads Next attendees universally praised Bing Ads support, both their assigned reps and those who man the Bing Ads Twitter account.

So What’s Really Next for Bing Ads?

Only time will tell. I liked a lot of the new things we saw at the event. I love the fact that Bing Ads is listening to us.

But one comment I heard this week is that there was a little too much talking and not enough listening at the event. Bing, if you’ve brought in what amounts to the best minds and biggest influencers in search, ask them questions! Spend twice as much time listening as you do talking! Learn from them! Don’t lecture them about stuff that they already know. Show them more new concepts and ask them what they think!

Amid rumors that Yahoo wants out of the Bing Ads deal, I don’t think any of us truly knows what’s next for Bing Ads. At its core, Microsoft is a software developer, not a search innovator. Their pace is too slow and their products too bloated to keep up with Google. But I love that they’re trying. With advertiser support that’s far superior to Google, and with better ROI nearly across the board, I still think they have a chance.

What do you think? Is Bing Ads going in the right direction, or are they doomed? Share in the comments!

 

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Bing Ads Is Like A Second Language

No matter how many languages you speak, chances are you only have one native tongue. Even children who are raised bilingual probably have one language they prefer speaking.  For those who learned a second language later in life, communication and understanding can be challenging at times. You can speak and understand the second language, and as you use it you get more fluent, but it’s still easier to speak your first language. You’ll probably get tripped up on idioms and idiosyncrasies in the second language, too.

Bing Ads feels like a second language to many PPC’ers, with its own idioms and idiosyncrasies. Here are a few that can be hard to understand.

Different Targeting Methods

I actually like the fact that you can set targeting at the ad group level in Bing Ads. It’s precisely the kind of control that we PPC’ers like. But like a favorite expression in a second language, it’s hard to remember exactly how to put the pieces together.

Also, sometimes targeting doesn’t import nicely from Adwords. And let’s face it – most of us create campaigns in Adwords and then import them to Bing. Adwords is our first language, so we draft everything there and then hit the “translate” button (in this case, the “Import from Google” button).

Different Negative Keyword Matching

Well, negative keyword matching isn’t really different in Bing Ads. We just have fewer options. Bing only has negative phrase match and negative exact match. There is no negative broad match. Since Bing’s traffic is usually more qualified, having fewer negative match options is ok; but we’re just used to having another way to “say” it, if you will.

Those Pesky Parameters

Parameters in Bing Ads remind me of that weird “S” in German that looks like a “B.” (I’m embarrassed to say that I don’t even know what that’s called. I took Spanish in school.)

Parameters are actually really cool and allow advertisers to do things that you can’t do in Google. But they’re so unfamiliar to most PPC’ers that they don’t get used. I’d guess that English speakers writing in German forget to use that funny S, too.

Technical Issues

Nothing is more frustrating than technical problems. Just ask the zillions of people who tried to download iOS7 this week.

Adwords has their share of technical problems, for sure. (Red bar of death, anyone?) But when Bing Ads has them, the community goes crazy.

I’ve seen many examples of people having trouble downloading the new Bing Ads Editor. It’s weird, because I downloaded it earlier this week and haven’t had any trouble with it. Nonetheless, Bing doesn’t get any slack here. In a way, it’s unfair to Bing. It reminds me of a speaker who’s using a second language, complaining that others didn’t understand him. But it’s still frustrating when a new feature or release is announced and then doesn’t work.

But Bing Ads is a language worth learning.

Remember those old Avis ads, where they crowed about being #2 and trying harder? That’s Bing. They know they have a long way to go before they catch Google, and they’re working like crazy to not only catch up, but offer additional value.

First of all, the newly-released Bing Ads Editor is much more like Adwords Editor. They took out all the “foreign language” and it looks and feels more familiar. It’s faster and smoother to use.

Bing hasn’t made the dreadful switch to Enhanced Campaigns, and they’ve promised not to. I can’t tell you how happy I am about that.

And Bing Ads still offers mobile-only campaigns, as well as targeting for different mobile operating systems.

I firmly believe that Bing is a language worth learning and speaking.

What about you? Are you learning to speak Bing Ads? Or is your first language, Adwords, your best friend? Share in the comments!

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3 PPC Wishes – Fulfilled?

google_bing_logosHere we are in 2013, and wow, did 2012 go fast. It seems like yesterday that I was writing my inaugural 2012 blog post on my 2007 PPC Wish List.

Every year in PPC is full of changes and innovations – some needed, some expected, and some surprising. This year was no different. Plenty of posts have catalogued everything that happened, so I won’t bore you with that here.

Instead, let’s see how the search engines did with my 2007 PPC wishes.

Wish 1: More traffic and search leadership from MSN/Bing.

While I can’t go so far as to say Bing hit a home run in 2012, they did hit a long triple. They renamed themselves as Bing Ads, reworked their online UI and desktop editor, and essentially made themselves more like Google. They went a long way towards greater search leadership with these innovations. They also continued to provide the great community outreach and customer support that they’ve been known for. And their PPC search team was ever-present at search conferences, something we’ve seen less and less from Google.

This is all well and good, but what about traffic? If you’d asked me that question in June, I’d have told you they were still languishing in the basement. But by the end of the summer, Bing had reached an all-time high of 25% share. We saw similar increases in our clients’ traffic from Bing Ads, and thankfully the traffic quality, for the most part, remained as good as it’s always been.

Wish 1: Fulfilled!

Wish 2: Better Adwords query matching.

In my 2012 post, I lamented the awful query matching on Google. Throughout the year, Google did make strides in this area, most notably by adding the option for “near match” for exact and phrase match keywords.

In reality, though, this was just Google’s way of changing a default setting (near match is a default) and sponging from newbie PPC advertisers. I know few veteran PPC’ers who choose to have near match enabled – if we want near match, we’ll use modified broad.

Furthermore, judging from my search query reports, even when you do opt out of near match, you’ll still get “close variants” that aren’t closely related at all. It’s frustrating.

Add to that the continued annoyance of “session based broad match”, and Google has completely failed on this.

I’m actually working on a blog post that will further delve into the miasma that is Google keyword matching. Stay tuned for that in future weeks.

Wish 2: Unfulfilled.

Wish 3: More accurate PPC traffic estimates.

On this wish, both Google and Bing made significant positive changes.  Google completely revamped their keyword tool, offering several new options.  My favorite is the “Ad Group Creator,” which groups keyword suggestions by theme. While some have complained about the suggestions made by the tool, I like them – it saves time slogging through thousands of keywords trying to weed out the irrelevant terms. You’ll still need to slog through, but it’s much faster to eliminate entire buckets of keywords than to pick them out one by one.

Google’s traffic estimation tool also has improved geotargeting capabilities, and from what I can tell, they’re fairly accurate. This is huge for advertisers who want to expand into new markets, or who only serve certain cities, states, or regions.

While the Google improvements were good, Bing’s were awesome. I’m not talking about their online keyword tool, either. I’m talking about Bing Ads Intelligence.

I’ve written before about the tool, and am finishing up another post about it. For now, suffice it to say that Bing Ads Intelligence is now my go-to keyword research tool. It’s faster, easier, and more accurate than Google’s, and it offers features that Google does not.

Wish 3: Fulfilled!

Wow, that’s 2 out of 3 PPC wishes. I’d say 2012 was a pretty good year!

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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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Bing Ads – The Latest

Lately there’s been a lot going on with Bing Ads.  As I’ve said before, one of my favorite things about Bing Ads is their responsiveness to the community.  After my last post about them, one of their community reps actually reached out to me personally, and we had a great conversation about recent changes to social media policy within Bing.  And, in case you haven’t noticed, they’ve started responding to tweets directed their way. Thank you, Bing Ads! The community really appreciates it!

This week, the PPC community love went even further, as Bing Ads participated in a PPC Chat interview.  Can you imagine Google doing that? Or Facebook? Yeah, me neither.

Anyway, the chat was informative – as always, there are several new things on the horizon for Bing Ads.  I’m sure some will prove highly useful, and some not – but that’s ok.  It’s the innovation we want.

One thing I really appreciated about the chat was the honesty that the Bing Ads reps showed.  For example, one of the questions asked of them was (I’m paraphrasing here) “it seems like many of your new innovations have been copies of things Google has done already.”  The response was (paraphrasing again), “well, we keep hearing that people want us to be like Google, and we want to give our users what they want.”  I love it! Instead of feeding us some corporate PR BS, they told it to us straight.

Take a look at the streamcap, if you missed it on Tuesday.  It’s worth a read.

That was the good stuff. Now for the not so good stuff.

After a nice run with the latest incarnation of Bing Desktop, I ran into a brick wall yesterday.  I had gotten all excited and decided to build out a bunch of new campaigns in Bing by importing some Google campaigns.  But alas, it wasn’t in the cards.  I started getting all kinds of “duplicate ad” errors again, even on ads that weren’t duplicates.  I’d had this issue with ads with the same title, so I was prepared for that.  But yesterday, I started getting errors with ads that were completely different!  I have no idea why that happened, but it was annoying.

I was finally able to fix the issue by deleting the ads that Bing told me were duplicates, and then re-typing them by hand. Not cool.  And so, I didn’t get to upload as many campaigns as I had wanted to.

This is really the crux of the issue.  It’s like we can’t spend money on Bing if we try.  In this case, our client is looking for additional traffic & exposure, and I was hoping to use Bing for some of that – but no dice.

On the plus side, the Bing Ads folks on Twitter were helpful and responsive when I complained about the trouble I was having.  I’m crossing my fingers in hopes that the issue can be fixed soon. I’ll keep you updated!

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What’s Up With Bing Ads?

Frequent readers of this blog, along with my friends on Twitter, know that I have a love/hate relationship with Bing Ads, formerly known as Microsoft adCenter.  I’ve heaped ample praise on them at times – recently, in fact.  I’ve also been quick to applaud their community reps’ involvement on Twitter.

But as many of my online PPC friends can tell you, there are plenty of frustrations with them, too.

In fact, one of the things I kind of hate is that they can’t settle on a name for their product!  They went from Microsoft Search Featured Sites, which I participated in during another lifetime, to MSN Search, to adCenter, and now to Bing Ads.  To read more about the latest incarnation, check out this Search Engine Watch article.

During each incarnation, Google Adwords has been Google Adwords – no rebrand needed.

So why can’t Microsoft make up their mind on a brand?  It’s a mystery to me.

Let’s talk about the new Bing Ads for a minute.  It’s getting a lot of press, even meriting a writeup in Forbes, of all things (although their article is pretty lame).

The new Bing Ads has several improvements, earning praise from me:

  • Both the interface and the new Bing Ads Editor have a clean, easy-to-use feel.  With every relaunch, Bing gets closer to Google Adwords, which is what many of us have asked for all along!  Tabs, features, and common tasks are all where you’d expect them to be in the new release.  That’s great, and it saves time.
  • Bing is finally moving towards using “normal” keyword-level destination URLs, instead of those confusing Param1 parameters!  Actually, the parameters were one feature that Microsoft has had for a long time that Google lacks – but it was so confusing that few advertisers took advantage of it.  Now, it’ll be easier to understand.
  • “Import from Google Adwords” functionality built right into the interface.  Imports were already easy with the Desktop tool, but now you can import from the online UI, too!

Bing Import from Adwords

These improvements are welcome, to be sure.  But of course, with the good comes the bad:

  • The online UI times out too fast.  I’ve noticed it timing out in as little as 30 minutes, whereas in the old UI, I could stay logged in nearly all day without it timing out.  Also, there’s a bug in the new UI that logs you out if you click on the “Home” tab.  More on this in a few.
  • Both the online UI and the Desktop/Editor tool are still slow, especially on first load.  The Editor tool takes probably 20 seconds to open the first time, although once it’s open, tasks load quickly.  Still, it’s frustrating to sit there and wait 20 seconds just to look at one keyword, or budget, or bid.
  • The Editor tool, while improved over previous versions, still has weird error messages and quirks.  Copying an ad still returns an error.  And making changes to said ad without tabbing to another field results in the loss of all the changes you just made.  Not good.

Now for a rant.  Brace yourselves.

What the heck has happened to Bing Ads support?!?  As I mentioned earlier, great support was one of the huge positives about using the old adCenter.  They were active on Twitter, they responded quickly, and they generally seemed to care.

Since the release of Bing Ads, things have changed.  Take a look at their Twitter feed now:

Bing Ads Twitter

It’s all just the party line – more like a typical corporate “content pushing” Twitter account than an interactive, “we care about our customers and are here to support them” Twitter account.

In fact, I tweeted to them about the Home link issue I mentioned earlier, and the response I got was “Sorry, we can’t troubleshoot via Twitter – please contact support.” Boo!

I didn’t contact support.  And I’ll tell you why.

About 6 weeks ago, I had several problems with the old Desktop tool:  issues with spreadsheet imports, duplicate ad errors, and other problems.  I contacted support, and they were very responsive.

Too responsive, in fact.

The interaction began with the rep asking me to send screen shots of the errors I was seeing.  OK, I can understand that – once.

But it didn’t stop there.  Not only did the rep ask me to take additional screen shots of nearly every action I was taking in Desktop, they also wanted me to:

  • Uninstall and reinstall Desktop (an hour-long process, at least)
  • Remove and re-add all of our clients
  • Run an error diagnostic process and send them the resultant export file

I mean, come on.  Really?  I appreciate their efforts in fixing the issues, but I felt like I was the technician here.  Why should I have to create umpteen screen shots and run diagnostics?  Maybe this would make sense if I was the only person with this issue, but I can’t imagine that’s even possible, given all the comments I’ve heard on Twitter about Desktop frustrations.

But wait, there’s more. It gets worse.

Not only did I have to do all this work, the adCenter/Bing rep called or emailed me every day.  Every. Day.  Wanting to know if I’d made those screen shots yet. Or if I’d uninstalled and reinstalled.

Seriously?

I don’t hear from my boss this often.  It was like a crazy work assignment.  A work assignment just so I could use a tool that’s supposed to – yes indeed – help me DO MY WORK.

Why, Bing Ads?!?

Why did a simple call to support have to turn into a huge assignment for me?  All I was trying to do was add a few ad groups to Bing Ads – ad groups which have since spent maybe $3 total.  Was that really worth the hours of effort on my part?  Is $3 really worth daily calls and emails from the tech person at Bing Ads?

I know I’m not alone here.  I’ve heard from people who’ve given up on Bing Ads entirely because it’s just not worth all the effort it takes to spend $3.

The frustrating part is, I do like Bing Ads.  We get good results for our clients that use Bing Ads.  I meant everything I said in that SEW post.  I really like their community reps, too – I genuinely do.  But this experience has soured me on Bing Ads again.

What about you?  Do you have a love/hate relationship with Bing Ads?  Or do you just love them or just hate them? How can they improve?  Share in the comments!

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3 Unfulfilled PPC Wishes from 2007

Ah, January: the month when everyone makes resolutions and looks at their holiday wish lists to see what gifts people failed to give them. (C’mon, admit it: we all do this!) In the spirit of gifts not received, I got to thinking about my PPC gift list from 5 years ago, and the gifts I still haven’t gotten after all that time. Here are my top 3.

More traffic and search leadership from MSN/Bing.

Back in early 2007, in the early days of MSN’s PPC program, I found myself wishing that MSN (now Bing) would catch the big guys of search, but wondering if they ever could. In that post, I observed, with chagrin, the fact that “MSN falls down on volume and ease of use. Traffic and order volumes are about 10% of what we get from Google.” The post goes on to say that “I don’t even know which I’d like MSN to address first: increasing volume, or fixing the UI.”

Sound familiar? While the latest release of the adCenter UI is a HUGE improvement, it still leaves a lot to be desired, especially given the fact that adCenter now includes Yahoo traffic. In fact, I think traffic from adCenter might even be lower in 2012 than it was in 2007. There certainly isn’t any increase in market share – which is pathetic given the fact that market share is now Bing and Yahoo combined. It’s sad, really.

Better Adwords query matching.

Match type issues have plagued PPC advertisers from the beginning. Novice PPC’ers make the mistaken assumption that match types actually work the way Google says they do. News flash: they didn’t work that way in 2007, and still don’t in 2012. One merely needs to run a search query report to see all the crazy query matches to exact and phrase match keywords to realize that match types are more of a suggestion for Google, as opposed to an instruction.

I do have to give Google credit for adding modified broad match to the arsenal, though. I’ve had good results with this, and I know others have as well.

More accurate PPC traffic estimates.

Back in 2007, I was an in-house PPC’er, which meant that part of my job was budgeting and forecasting. On a regular basis, I had to estimate how many orders we’d get from PPC, along with traffic, cost, and profit. This was a huge challenge back in 2007, and it’s still a challenge today.

In fact, it can be an even bigger challenge for search agencies. Not only do we need to forecast revenue for the agency, we need to provide forecasts and estimates for clients. And clients often take the estimates as gospel: “Great, we’re going to get 20,000 visits per month from PPC!” In reality, it’s a crap shoot: you might get your 20,000 visits; or you might only get 2,000; or you might get 200,000.

Estimating traffic outside the US, or for geotargeted campaigns, is even more of a joke. To see a nice analysis of just how big a joke it still is, check out this post from PPC Northern Ireland.

In the search world, 5 years is an eternity. Back in 2007, I was writing a lot about Yahoo Panama, click fraud, and garbitrage – all of which are non-factors in the 2012 PPC world. So it’s a bit of a surprise that some things haven’t changed.

Will 2012 bring the gifts of more Bing PPC traffic, better keyword matching, and accurate traffic estimates? Will I be writing this same article in 2017 (God help me)? I guess only time will tell, but I wouldn’t bid high on it.

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Top 3 PPC Stories from Beyond the Paid

Ah, the end of the year: the time when we all sit back and reflect on our accomplishments over the past 12 months. Or not, because most of us are way too busy. But I digress.

In the PPC world, there’s never a dull moment, so I can’t say that 2011 was the most eventful year ever. But there were definitely a few stories worth reviewing as we head into 2012. With that, here are my top 3 stories from 2011 – a la David Letterman.

#3. 10 PPC Experts to Follow on Twitter

Like Letterman, people seem to love “Top 10” lists. I agree that they’re fun – but usually they’re pointless, too. I wanted to create a list of PPC experts that would actually help the community get connected.

#2. Google’s SSL Change: A Bad Deal for PPC

So much has been written about this huge misstep by Google, you’re probably sick of seeing it. But it continues to annoy people, so it bears repeating. This is a bad, bad deal, and I hope 2012 brings the return of our organic search query data in Google Analytics.

And now, for the top story of 2011…..

#1. Microsoft adCenter Ignores Advertiser Feedback

I’m sure some of you think I love to beat up on adCenter, like they’re my favorite punching bag. Not so. There are many things to love about adCenter: quality traffic, helpful reps, features that Adwords lacks, and more. They even have an online suggestion box for advertiser feedback, unlike Google.

This seemed pretty cool to me, so shortly after it launched, I posted the suggestion to give us separate bids for Yahoo and Bing. After all, we PPC’ers are all about transparency and control.

At the time, this suggestion was the top vote-getter by a landslide. But did adCenter take it to heart?

Nope. They shot it down and put it on the “completed” list. So much for advertiser feedback.

What are your top PPC stories from 2011?

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Microsoft adCenter Ignores Advertiser Feedback

As most search marketers know, a few months ago Microsoft adCenter essentially absorbed Yahoo Search Marketing in the US and created the Search Alliance. Before the Alliance went live, advertisers expressed the desire to have the ability to set separate bids for Bing and Yahoo traffic. After all, most of us have experienced widely varying success between the two engines – and it’s not always the same engine that performs better. It depends on the advertiser and the campaign.

Well, we didn’t have the ability to set separate bids in the beginning. OK, fine, we get that there are a lot of technical issues with combining two very different platforms, as well as training the Yahoo staff to work with adCenter (all the adCenter reps were eliminated in the Alliance). We get that not everything can go live in the beginning. We PPC’ers are a patient bunch.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago. adCenter does a big push in their blog and on their customer forums, asking advertisers to share their feature requests. Not only did they ask for feature requests, they gave advertisers the ability to vote on the requests. Each individual participant in the request forum was given a total of 25 votes. You could assign 1, 2, or 3 of your votes to any given request – and you could submit your own request for votes. On the surface, this seemed like an innovative way to prioritize customer requests. I was intrigued and excited.

Well, I immediately went in and asked for separate bidding for Yahoo and Bing. People immediately jumped in and added their votes to the request. Then I posted the following on Twitter: “Want separate bids for Yahoo and Bing traffic in adCenter? Vote now!”

Things really went fast after that. Within an hour the separate-bid request had more than twice as many votes as any other request. I was encouraged – while I’d heard rumblings from a few people in the know that indicated we wouldn’t be getting separate bids any time soon, I thought that the show of support from the PPC community would sway things. After all, according to the request site, Microsoft is actually considering making adCenter compatible with Chrome! (By the way, in case you didn’t know, Chrome is a Google product, so this is pretty big.)

Alas, my hopes were dashed early this week, when I received the following response from adCenter:

“We understand that you would like to bid on Bing and Yahoo! sites individually; however, we’ve made the decision to not allow bids on just Bing or just Yahoo! Search at this time. One of our goals is to provide advertisers with the benefit of a combined marketplace through a single platform, creating a competitive alternative in search. Allowing separate bids counteracts that goal. However, there are options you can investigate including the Enhanced Search Network Distribution feature and URL exclusion controls that create separate ad groups for ads that show exclusively on Yahoo! + Bing sites versus our syndicated search partner sites. This allows you to be more specific about where you’d like your ads to display. You can find more information about this and other options in our Search Alliance FAQs and in our Community blog. Thank you for your input. We appreciate it and your business.”

What a load. Nice try, adCenter, but spewing 150 words of PR BS and throwing us the bone of bidding separately for syndicated search is lame at best. Just so you know, adCenter, we didn’t ask for separate bids for Yahoo & Bing vs. search partners – we asked for separate bids for Yahoo and Bing.

What really grinds my gears is the fact that adCenter gave the community a fantastic opportunity to provide feedback and ask for the features we really need to actually start using adCenter more – and then ignored it. It’s clear to me now that they really don’t want our feedback if it’s something that they don’t like for whatever reason. Instead of taking the opportunity to give advertisers a great feature that not even Google has, they chose to give us platitudes.

And why bother asking people to vote if you’re going to reject the top vote getter? That’s like saying “hey Michigan, cast your vote for Governor today! We’re going to pick who we want anyway, but come on out and vote!”

As my kids would say, “FAIL!”

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Microsoft’s AdCenter Continues to Flounder

The Microsoft/Yahoo Search Alliance has been live for a few months now here in the US, and frankly, I’m unimpressed with it. Our Fluency Media clients are not getting nearly as much traffic from adCenter post-Alliance as they were getting with adCenter and Yahoo Search Marketing combined; we’ve ended up spending significantly more with Google just to keep volumes up to their pre-Alliance levels.

Back in October, I expressed concern over traffic quality losses with the launch of the Alliance. Luckily, that hasn’t happened – conversion rates and cost per conversion are nearly the same as what we saw with adCenter, so that’s a positive. But the kudos end there.

Jonathon Hochman wrote a great article for Search Engine Land yesterday about missed opportunities in adCenter, where he outlines a number of billing and customer service issues – all of which we have experienced, as well.

The troubles don’t end there, though. Did you know that if you set your PPC account credit card billing to “auto fill,” it will automatically charge your credit card even when the account is paused? Yep, that happened to us just last week.

Did you know that if you’re using auto-fill, and you experience problems with your credit card (which is not uncommon), adCenter won’t bother to notify you, but will just deactivate your account? And when you resolve the card issues and re-enter your billing information, the account is still inactive and you have to call your adCenter rep to reactivate it? Yes, this is an actual issue that keeps advertisers from spending money with adCenter.

Did you know that if you’re an agency, and you get a new client that wants to use adCenter, you can’t just open a new account yourself under your agency’s umbrella account? Oh no, you’ll need to again call your adCenter rep to do this for you – and wait a week or two for them to call you back, and then another week or two for them to actually do it, and then call them again after you’ve entered your payment info to get them to activate the account, and….. well, you get the picture.

Add all of these issues to a slow, un-intuitive, user-unfriendly online interface and an equally slow and user-unfriendly desktop editor (which, by the way, takes about an hour to download because it has to install Silverlight and SQL and a bunch of other insane peripherals; compared with a 5 minute download for Adwords Editor), and the pathetically low traffic levels, and you end up with virtually no desire to waste your time and effort.

Here’s another example. (Warning: Rant Ahead!) Back in October or so, we received an email from Microsoft about a holiday promotion they were running, offering a certain amount of free clicks for advertisers who set up a new holiday campaign. We were quick to take advantage of this for one of our e-commerce advertisers who does a brisk holiday business. This advertiser was already getting significant traffic on their Adwords holiday campaign, but the CPCs were high – so we jumped at the chance to try adCenter, with their lower CPCs and cost per conversion.

Guess how many clicks we got from adCenter? 10. Yes, 10. I am laughing as I type this – I honestly didn’t think it was possible to get that few clicks on ANY PPC campaign, much less a holiday campaign! I’m not a PPC newbie, as most of you know, and in the 9 years I’ve been doing this I don’t think I’ve ever seen a campaign get that few clicks. What a joke.

Even though the campaign didn’t cost us anything CPC-wise, we spent significant time setting it up. As an agency, we’re paid to work on the client’s behalf, and we pride ourselves on using our time on the most highly-leveraged aspects of their online marketing campaigns. To spend time setting up a campaign, only to see it get 10 clicks, is downright embarrassing.

I find this very sad. I truly like and respect everyone I’ve met from the adCenter team – they’re a conscientious, dedicated group of professionals, and they really do know and understand search. But for whatever reason, adCenter isn’t delivering the goods. It’s a shame, really. To quote Dr. Seuss, “what a shame, what a shame, what a shame shame shame shame!”

Updated at 9:45 a.m. EST:

It looks like adCenter is on everyone’s mind today; check out this post from the good folks at Rimm Kaufman for more on adCenter’s woes.

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