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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Over A Year Later, MSN Still Doesn’t Get It

Back in April 2007, I wrote about MSN not getting it when it comes to PPC and search in general. Here we are almost 1.5 years later and they still don’t get it.

I work for an online marketing agency with lots of clients. Many of our clients use MSN. More clients would use MSN if we could get a dedicated rep. Both Google and Yahoo have agency teams who specialize in working with agencies handling multiple client campaigns, and we’ve had dedicated reps with both for a long time. MSN is another story.

So, at SMX Advanced, I asked the MSN rep at their booth about getting a dedicated rep. He indicated that they have minimum spend levels, but based on our conversation, we should qualify. He gave me a phone number to call.

I called the number and talked with someone who, by the way, has been very professional and helpful during this entire process. He indicated that we’d be getting a rep and began the process. Or so I thought.

This morning, I got an email from him saying that we didn’t qualify for a rep after all. Apparently the minimum spend is per CLIENT, not per agency. Argh. The kicker is, the entire reason we don’t have more clients using MSN and spending more money there is because of the amount of time it takes to set up and manage the campaigns in the adCenter interface, as well as low overall search volume from MSN. We have at least 2-3 clients who would gladly spend $3K/month each with MSN if the volume was there. But the volume just isn’t there. And it’s too time-consuming for us to try to expand their campaigns when it will only get us $50/month in additional clicks.

Again I want to stress that the MSN rep I’ve been dealing with has been helpful and professional, and even offered to try and get the decision reversed. Still, I’m disappointed that MSN doesn’t seem to want to give better service to their customers. They are way behind their competitors in this regard.

I shouldn’t be surprised, given their history. I guess I just want to root for the little guy; and, MSN’s results continue to be good. They just need better tools and more traffic. But at this rate, that won’t happen any time soon.

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Microsoft Walks Away from Yahoo

Well. Looks like there won’t be any Microhoo after all, at least not now. Last night, Microsoft decided to walk away from their hostile takeover of Yahoo. In a statement, Steve Ballmer of Microsoft said, “”We believe the economics demanded by Yahoo! do not make sense for us, and it is in the best interests of Microsoft stockholders, employees and other stakeholders to withdraw our proposal.”

When this whole offer was first announced, I thought it was a done deal. It honestly seemed like a way for both engines to compete with Google. As time went on, though, it became apparent that Yahoo had a little more fight left in them than we thought. So for now, the three engines remain.

It will be interesting to see what Google does now. The Google/Yahoo PPC test has been going for a while, and has gotten mostly positive feedback from advertisers. Will this “test” continue, or will something unexpected happen?

Time will tell. Never a dull moment in the SEM industry!

Discussion continues at Search Engine Watch forums.

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Microhoo: Can Microsoft Get Into The Search Race?

Two weeks have gone by since Microsoft announced their bid to buy Yahoo, which Yahoo rejected (even though we all have a pretty good idea that it’s going to happen eventually). I was catching up on the Daily Searchcast episodes this past week, and Danny Sullivan gave a great analogy that really made me laugh, yet is so true. To paraphrase, he said,

“5 years ago, Google screamed past Microsoft and Yahoo. Yahoo said, “Oh my God, look – they’ve gone right past us!” So they looked around at whoever had the fastest car, threw a lot of money at them, then jumped in and went after Google. And Microsoft said, “Oh, I guess there’s a race going on!” Then they sat down and started building a car from scratch to catch them, saying, “We’re gonna build our car!” And by the time they got into the race, they just couldn’t get there. So, now they are saying, “Hey Yahoo – can we just take the driver’s seat and use your car instead?”

As someone who’s been doing search marketing for almost 6 years, I’ve been around to see all these things happen – and Danny’s description is funny because it’s so accurate. Yahoo, seeing their huge Internet portal brand getting passed up by Google in the blink of an eye, went out and bought Overture. Problem was, Overture’s PPC interface was outdated and clunky. It reminded me of the movie Cars – it was like a 1950s has-been race car trying to go out and catch Lightning McQueen without so much as a tune-up.

And Microsoft – oh my. We were part of the adCenter beta back in 2004, and I said at that time that, instead of taking the best features from Adwords and Overture/Yahoo and building on them, they decided to start from scratch, complete with the bloated code and other annoyances that are typical of MS applications. After using Adwords for 2 years, trying to decipher adCenter was like going from driving a brand-new Porsche to driving a ’99 minivan . (Go ahead, ask me how I came up with that analogy!) AdCenter was, and still is, painful to use – and frequently not worth the effort given the small amount of traffic it generates.

The big question is, will buying Yahoo get Microsoft into the search race? I still say no. Panama is a huge improvement over the old Overture technology, and Yahoo does have a decent-enough market share. But my fear is that MS will go in with their monolithic infrastructure and ruin Yahoo in the process. The only way this will be at all a good thing is if MS combines their tiny market share with Yahoo’s and lets us use the Panama interface to push our campaigns to both audiences. Otherwise, I believe Google will keep on pulling further ahead of the pack, leaving both MS and Y in the dust.

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Microsoft Bids To Buy Yahoo

Huge news that broke late yesterday – this is all over the blogosphere and mainstream media, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention it here – Microsoft has made a bid to buy Yahoo for $44.6 billion.

Of course, this is not yet a done deal, although my opinion is it’s as good as done. The ramifications are yet to be determined, and speculation abounds as to what will happen and what the effect will be on SEM. Some think the impact will be huge – and some, like Marketing Quickee, think it’s, well, not so huge.

Here’s my short wish list: Please use the Panama interface for PPC! Don’t make us suffer with adCenter any longer than we have to! Incorporate some of the good features from adCenter (demographic targeting, for one), but please use Panama! It’s come too far to throw away.

As for the bigger picture, I’ll save that for another post – I am trying to get some “real” work done today, after all!

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MSN To Offer PPC Accreditation Program

Last week, MSN announced the launch of their new adExcellence Accreditation Program. Similar to Google’s Adwords Professional and YSM’s Ambassador program, the adExcellence program offers free training to SEM professionals, along with an accreditation exam. Those who pass the exam will earn Member status.

Training is always a good thing, and it never hurts to get certified in your field. I just wonder if somehow this program will help MSN get more search traffic into their program…

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