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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Using Dayparting Effectively in PPC, Part 2: Advanced Tactics

In Part 1, we talked about basic dayparting techniques, such as turning off ads during days or hours where results are poor. But what if you don’t want to turn things all the way off?

For instance, let’s say you get some conversions on the weekends – but the conversion rate isn’t as good as it is during the week. Or maybe you get lots of conversions on a Monday, but it’s really competitive, so your CPCs, and therefore your cost per conversion, are higher than you’d like. In these instances, you don’t want to shut off the weekends or Mondays entirely, because you’d lose sales, right? What to do?

This is where bid adjustment comes in. Bid adjustment is a wonderful feature, available in both Google and MSN/Yahoo, that allows you to raise or lower bids on certain days and/or times. With bid adjustment, you can increase or decrease your max CPCs, using a percentage, during days or times that you choose. Here’s a screen shot of the adCenter bid boost screen, found under Campaign Settings.

Let’s take the “weekends aren’t great” example at the beginning of this post. Let’s say your weekend conversions are only worth half what your weekday conversions are worth. Use the bid adjustment feature to set Saturday and Sunday’s bids to 50%. The PPC engine will automatically reduce your CPCs by half. Pretty slick, huh?

As I mentioned in Part 1, when you’re thinking about dayparting, it’s critical to make sure you’re making the right decisions using good data. To make the right decision, you’ll need to look at a large enough set of data. As I mentioned in Part 1, you’ll need at least 100 clicks in each segment to even begin thinking about bid adjustments.

Google makes it easier to get at this data than MSN, at least the day of week data. In Google, just choose Segment by day of week and export the result. However, adCenter’s reporting by hour of the day includes conversion data, while Adwords’ reports by hour do not. (Google is missing the boat on this one, in my opinion!) If your adCenter campaign gets a lot of clicks, you may even want to review conversion data by hour, and then apply that to your Adwords campaigns, as well.

I can’t stress enough how important it is to use a statistical tool to make sure the difference in results is statistically significant. Even if you just look at conversion rate, check the day or days you’re thinking about eliminating, and compare with the other days. If the difference is significant, then go ahead and adjust your bids. If the difference isn’t significant, don’t do it! Even if you have to set the date range to the past 12 months, it’s worth it to make sure you’re making the right decision. Nothing is worse than reducing bids (and getting less traffic & conversions as a result), only to find out you’ve ended up cutting way into your sales.

When used correctly, dayparting and bid adjustment can really improve campaign performance. Look at your data and give it a try!

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The Yahoo-Microsoft Search Alliance – Here We Go!

This week, it’s happening – the much-vaunted transition of Yahoo PPC traffic to the Microsoft Adcenter platform and the combination of the two programs. Not since the launch of Yahoo Panama back in early 2007 has there been such a momentous shift in the traditional PPC marketplace.

Yahoo and MSN have done a commendable job of preparing advertisers for the transition. It was announced nearly 18 months ago, and both engines have sent out continual communications and progress reports, using email, social media, in-person events, webinars, and information within the respective user interfaces. I attended the Search Alliance Summit in Seattle back in June, just prior to SMX Advanced. It was just a one-day seminar (and I missed the first half due to travel challenges), but it was jam-packed with useful information. Since then, I’ve received countless communications from both MSN and Yahoo, updating me on the change. Kudos to both for the great communication!

All that communication doesn’t mean much until launch, though. Now is the time where the rubber meets the road. We’ll finally get an answer to probably the biggest question on PPC advertisers’ minds: the traffic quality question. Will Yahoo’s historically-lower quality search partner traffic pull down results? Or will adCenter’s more robust matching & relevancy algorithms offset that? I for one remain skeptical – if I had to bet right now, I’d say that we’ll see a 30-40% decrease in results with the influx of Yahoo. I hope I’m wrong.

Another unknown is how well adCenter will transfer Yahoo’s icky Standard and Advanced match types into the more commonly-accepted Broad, Phrase, and Exact match. (Incidentally, I don’t think anyone is sad to see Standard and Advanced finally go away.) adCenter has provided information about how match types will be mapped, but I have my doubts. Even though it was 3 ½ years ago, I still remember how badly Yahoo botched the transition from the Overture platform to the Panama platform, and how long it took me to straighten out my PPC account. I was doing in-house SEM at that time; I shudder to think how arduous that task will be in an agency setting….

Finally, I would like to know when we will be able to set separate bids for Bing vs. Yahoo traffic. Frankly, I was stunned to discover that this option wasn’t baked in to the original Alliance plans. Advertisers have begged, pleaded and cajoled for more control in setting bids across networks since PPC first started. Why on earth this wasn’t part of the deal from day one is a mystery to me, and one that smacks of a money grab. (The official word from both Microsoft and Yahoo is that there were too many technical difficulties with building this functionality into the initial Alliance launch, but I’m not buying that. C’mon – you are Microsoft, aren’t you?)

We need this granularity in bidding. Traffic quality varies so widely from Yahoo to Bing, it’s not even funny. And it doesn’t always go the same way. We have a large B to B client who gets fantastic results from Yahoo – better than Google, even (higher traffic and a better CPA). However, their MSN campaign was a complete flop. They’re the only client we’ve ever turned off in MSN and left on in Yahoo. On the other side of the coin, we have clients who’ve flopped royally in Yahoo, but had huge ROI in MSN. And there are others who get consistent results across all 3 search engines. Regardless, I need the ability to bid appropriately based on traffic quality. Really, we all win when this happens!

What are you seeing so far with your Yahoo and MSN traffic?

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The Microsoft-Yahoo Alliance – 3 Things I’ll Miss

The search marketing world was buzzing last week over the Microsoft-Yahoo Alliance and what it means to PPC advertisers. Marketers lauded the Alliance, celebrating the impending demise of the aging Yahoo Panama user interface. My friends David Szetela and Joe Kershbaum discussed the Alliance during the latest episode of PPC Rockstars. (Side note: If you’re a PPC advertiser or account manager, and you’re not already subscribed to the PPC Rockstars podcast, do yourself a favor and go subscribe right now. You’ll thank me later.)

Overall, I agree with the sentiment out there – Yahoo Panama is clunky, and outdated, and was flawed from the start. That said, there are 3 things I’ll miss when the Alliance finally rolls out.

#1 – Lack of competition on MSN/Bing. It’s well-known that conversion rates on Bing are far superior to conversion rates on Yahoo. In my experience, if Google’s conversion rate is X, Bing converts at 3X and Yahoo converts at 0.6X. One of the reasons Bing converts better is the lack of competition.

The Alliance puts advertiser ads on the best PPC engine AND the worst one. We don’t yet know whether advertisers will have the option of creating separate campaigns for Yahoo and Bing. If that’s not an option, we’re all going to see lower conversion rates.

Even if this is an option, I’m betting more people will opt in to Bing when they can do so through one interface (as opposed to two currently). That’ll increase competition, thereby splitting the conversion pie into fewer pieces – resulting in lower conversion rates.

#2 – The quality of Bing traffic. While this is related to competition, it’s not exactly the same. PPC traffic comes not only from the search engine domain (e.g. Yahoo.com or Bing.com), but from search and content partners as well. Partners almost always dilute the quality of traffic from a PPC engine – especially in Yahoo’s case, where poor performance from search partners is well-documented. We don’t know whether Bing will add search partners to the mix; but if they do, we’re in trouble.

#3 – Yahoo’s Bid Slider application. OK, so it’s a minor feature in the overall scheme of things. But I use that slider a lot when managing client PPC bids. It’s a great visual that helps advertisers estimate ad position and bid quickly and easily. It beats Google’s Bid Simulator by a mile, even though the Bid Simulator is 2.5 years newer. It’s one of the few things Yahoo got right with Panama.

Under the Alliance, PPC management will happen in the adCenter interface, and Yahoo’s Panama will go away. For the most part, I’m glad, but I’ll miss that slider.

What will you miss when YSM goes away?

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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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Early Results from Bing PPC

The SEM world is still a-buzz over Bing, Microsoft’s new search engine. While it’s still way too early to tell whether it will be a Google killer or even an improvement over Live.com, early results for one of our adCenter PPC clients are encouraging.

I ran a quick analysis of visitors & conversions for this client, whose business is in the travel vertical, comparing the first 11 days of May to the first 11 days of June. Their PPC campaigns were unchanged during this time as far as budget and strategy.

Growth in visitors from Bing PPC is 25% higher than average. Even more exciting is that Bing/MSN’s traditionally-good conversion rate is continuing: conversion rate from adCenter is 58% higher than average for PPC, and actually increased since the Bing lauch – whereas overall conversion rate from PPC is down slightly.

Is this proof that Bing’s a Google killer? No. Is it a good sign for overall client ROI? Absolutely.

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Microsoft Search Summit 2009: Bing, adCenter, and More

Last Wednesday through Friday, Microsoft held their Search Summit, where approximately 80 search experts gathered in Bellevue, WA to hear about and discuss the latest and greatest about Microsoft’s search products. In previous years, MS had two separate conferences, with organic / SEO represented at Search Champs and advertisers at Ad Champs. This year, they decided to combine the two for a super-power-search experience.

Of course the biggest buzz out of this conference was over Bing, MS’s new search engine. I have to say, initially I’m impressed with the functionality of the engine, especially in certain verticals like travel and shopping. Instead of a mish-mash of results, Bing returns an organized SERP with sections for reviews, price, features, etc. It’s pretty cool.

On the advertising side, a lot of discussion focused on the adCenter spring upgrade, including the new and improved adCenter Desktop, which is close to coming out of beta.

Most of the advertiser sessions included plenty of time for questions & discussion, which is always the best part. Controversy over trademark protection continues, with lots of debate over Google’s recently announced trademark policy change. It seemed as though half the attendees favored the new policy, and half were up in arms over it. I guess we’ll see how it all shakes out.

All in all it was a useful and informative conference, with networking that was second to none. I’m honored to have been a part of it. I hope that Bing gives MS the traffic boost it needs to make all their efforts worthwhile.

If you’re interested in reading more news from the conference, WebProNews has a good summary of interesting tweets from those in attendance.

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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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5 Feature Requests for MSN adCenter Desktop

Back at SMX Advanced in June, a pleasant conversation with the adCenter rep at their booth led to an invite for me to try the adCenter Desktop tool. This is a feature that SEMs have been requesting for a long time, and I was excited to try it out.

I’ve been using the tool for a couple of months now, and overall, it’s a big timesaver. It helps me update campaigns quickly and easily, and actually has gotten me to include more clients in MSN. Yahoo is now the lone major PPC without a desktop editor.

That said, I have a couple of major feature requests:

1. Please, please, please get rid of the “save” requirement in the “manage” section where we make all our updates! I cannot count how many times I’ve made a bunch of changes, and forgotten to hit “save,” only to lose all my work when I navigated away from that screen. UGH! I guess I’m just used to working in Adwords Editor, which doesn’t require a Save, but it is cumbersome and unnecessary. adCenter Desktop already has the “revert changes” feature, so there is no need to make us save our work as we go along. Please!

2. Include a “help” section within the tool. We’re all new to using this – don’t make us guess what “deep copy” and other functions will do, please.

3. Warn users when accounts cannot be downloaded because the user is not logged in with the correct adCenter user name and password. We recently changed our password due to staff turnover, and it took me several tries to figure out why the Desktop tool stopped working. It just wouldn’t download changes – there was no message telling me why.

4. Allow us to change ad group status from “draft” to “active” within the desktop tool. If this is possible, I can’t figure out how to do it (see #2 above). I had to log in to adCenter to activate an ad group I set up in Desktop, which defeats the whole purpose of using a desktop editor.

5. Allow mass delete of {param1} keyword destination URLs. Again, if this is possible, I can’t figure out how to do it. I needed to remove keyword destination URLs for a client’s ad group yesterday, and it should have taken 5 minutes in Desktop. Alas, no such luck – I had to log in to adCenter, download the ad group to Excel, make the change, and re-upload the file – again, defeating the purpose of using a desktop editor.

I started a thread on Desktop at Search Engine Watch, but so far, I’m hearing crickets. Am I the only one out there who’s using this? Am I the only one using adCenter?? If you’ve tried Desktop, post your feedback at SEW, or in the comments here!

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