Eliminating Ambiguity in PPC

Time for a pop quiz! What do the following have in common? You have 30 seconds to give your answer. Ready? Go!

•    Tesla
•    Madonna
•    Prince
•    Washington
•    Sam Adams
•    Chojuro

Did you figure it out? If you said “they’re all famous people,” you’re right. But only partially right.

All the names above are ambiguous. They have more than one meaning. Think about it: Madonna could be the singer, or the Mother of Christ, or a college, or a statue.

madonna search

When you say Tesla, do you mean the man, the band, or the coil?

tesla search

Prince and Washington have probably 100 meanings between the two of them. And so on.

In normal conversation, ambiguity is often eliminated by the context. If you’re talking about concerts you saw this summer, and you mentioned Madonna, it’s pretty clear who and what you’re talking about. Same thing goes for Tesla.

In PPC, though, the context is in the mind of the searcher. When we search for something, we know what we mean – but the search engine may not. As a result, especially with one-word queries, you fall into the ambiguity trap. You might be paying for visitors who weren’t searching for Madonna concert tickets – they were interested in information about the local Madonna University.

Celebrity names aren’t the only ambiguous search terms out there. In a recent conversation about ambiguous keywords on the PPC Chat hashtag on Twitter, Bryant Garvin pointed out the fact that all of the Choice Hotel brands have fairly generic names:

•    Comfort Inn
•    Comfort Suites
•    Quality Inn
•    Sleep Inn
•    Clarion
•    Cambria Suites
•    Mainstay Suites
•    Suburban
•    Econolodge
•    Rodeway Inn
•    Ascend Hotels

Now, this is by no means a dig at Choice Hotels. They’ve built great brands that are recognizable and familiar to travelers across the US. Still, every single brand name except maybe Econolodge has multiple meanings – and that’s where the challenge for PPC’ers comes in.

Fortunately, there are several techniques for clearing up ambiguity in PPC.

Don’t Bid on One-Word Keywords

This is going to be your best bet for steering clear of those irrelevant and ambiguous meanings. Just don’t do it!

Make sure you’re bidding on long-tail phrases. Tighten up your match types so you don’t get broad-matched to the irrelevant searches by accident. Don’t give the search engines the chance to show your ad on ambiguous searches!

But let’s do a reality check. I know there are times where bidding on single-word keywords is a must. Maybe it’s your brand name (e.g., Madonna, Tesla, Prince). Maybe your CEO is insisting that you show up for that one word, no matter the cost. Maybe a lot of people really are looking for you when they search for that word. Let’s talk about some ways to rein in the ambiguity.

Find Out All the Other Meanings of Your Keywords

This may seem obvious, but I’d be willing to bet that nearly every PPC professional has stumbled across new meanings for their keywords that they weren’t aware of. Just today, for example, I learned that “spice” is a slang drug term. Who knew?

Here’s where your keyword research tools come in. Scan through the list of results to see if any weird ones show up.

Google the term and see what appears in the SERPs. Ask your friends and coworkers if they’re aware of other meanings for the word. Go old school: get out your good old dictionary (or go to dictionary.com) and look up the word. Urban Dictionary is another great resource for alternative meanings of words and phrases.

Add the Irrelevant Meanings as Negatives

When you’re bidding on ambiguous terms, a huge negative keyword list is a must. Take all the irrelevant meanings of the word you can think of, and add them as negative keywords. Then add more.

A great source of common negative keywords can be found here. Add every single negative that doesn’t apply to you, so you can be sure to capture only the most relevant traffic.

You’ll also want to get into the habit of running search query reports. You may even want to run them daily (this can be automated – here’s how), at least at first. Relentlessly add every single irrelevant search query as a negative keyword.

Make Your Ad Copy Crystal Clear

Clear, concise ad copy is a best practice no matter what keywords you’re using. But with ambiguous terms, it’s vital to the success of your campaign.

Now is the time to go overboard with repetition. Repeating your keyword in context will go a long way in deterring irrelevant clicks on your ads.

For example, if you’re selling Madonna concert tickets, your ad could say:

•    Madonna Concert Tickets
•    Get Madonna Concert Tickets Here
•    Buy Madonna Concert Tickets Online

I know it looks and sounds ridiculous; but it will really drive home the fact that you’re not advertising about the Mother of Christ, college, or anything but Madonna the singer.

As with all PPC ad copy, testing is crucial. Test the ad above against another, more “normal” ad. See which performs better. Then test again.

With careful planning and testing, you can indeed eliminate, or at least greatly reduce, ambiguity in PPC.

What techniques have you used?

Author’s Note: Special thanks to #PPCchat participants Dennis Petretti, Bryant Garvin, Chris Kostecki, Luke Alley, and James Zolman for inspiring this post.

Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared on Search Engine Watch on August 28, 2012.

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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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My 2012 End Of The World Post

Image courtesy of www.bizarrocomics.com

OK, I don’t really believe the world is ending on Friday. But I do want to take this opportunity to share some of the highlights of 2012, both in the PPC world and personally.

The beginning of 2012 brought with it a new job for me, and it’s been nothing but rewarding. I’m thankful for the opportunity to work with the fantastic team at gyro and to do it mostly from home!

I also crossed 3 things off my bucket list: seeing Van Halen in the front row, walking a half marathon, and celebrating my 20th wedding anniversary with a cruise. All in all, it’s been a very good year!

2012 has been a good year for PPC in many ways, also.  There were some amazing PPC conferences, including the inaugural HeroConf.

There was the uproar over Google ad rotation, and Bing went from the ridiculous to the sublime.

Every year I’m surprised by posts saying PPC is dead, and by the blatant misunderstandings about how PPC works. In fact, my Adwords Debacle post was one of the most-read posts on this blog in 2012. PPC has been around for well over 10 years now, and yet the lack of understanding amongst many advertisers is always a surprise.

2012 brought some amazing info-sharing around the blogosphere. In June, I listed some of my favorite posts. Since then, there have been more good posts, including this one on testing millions of ads and this one on increasing PPC sales. My bookmarked list of great PPC posts grows by the day!

For a roundup of big PPC news in 2012, check out these Search Engine Watch posts by my friends Joe Kerschbaum and Alex Cohen.

And finally, no 2012 roundup would be complete without a shout-out to my favorite PPC resource, PPC Chat. Founded by Matt Umbro, PPC Chat has become my go-to source for quick answers to tough PPC questions. Someone is always there on the hashtag ready to help! I’ve met so many friends and PPC pros, both online and in real life, as a result of PPC Chat. If you do nothing else in 2013, get in on the PPC Chat action!

Finally, I’d like to wish all my readers a happy holiday season and a prosperous New Year in 2013. Without all of you, I’d be, well, talking to myself. You all rock!

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The New and Improved Beyond the Paid

I know I haven’t blogged much lately. The end of summer always gets crazy for me. Every year, I say “Next year, I’m taking the whole month of August off,” but of course that’s not likely.

This year, though, I did something fun over my summer vacation – redid my blog! You’re probably saying “Duh – we can SEE that…”

Back in 2006 when I started this blog, I didn’t know if I was going to keep up with it. It was really just a fun experiment at the time. There weren’t many free options for blogs back then – really, Blogger was the only one. So that’s who I used.

Fast-forward to 2012, and I’m finally ready to take the plunge into WordPress. I’d used WordPress for client blogs & sites, so I was familiar with it; and I’d had my own domain for a long time, so I was ready.

I couldn’t have done this without the help of my good friend Meg Geddes, aka Netmeg. Not only is she a fellow Michigander, she’s a self-described WordPress mofo. She hooked me up with a great new host, a theme, and all the plugins and widgets I needed to make everything look cool – and she did it over a weekend. I can’t say enough about how awesome she is – even if she is a Michigan fan. (wink)

So, make yourself at home and explore! And let me know what you think!

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12 Links Every PPC Pro Should Bookmark

Every day, there is a plethora of great PPC info shared across the web:  on blogs, in social media, and in forums.  Most of it falls into the “that’s interesting” category, but nothing more.

Periodically, though, a post or tool is so good that I bookmark it and refer back to it often.  Here is my list of the 12 links every PPC pro should bookmark.

Modified Broad Match Tool from Acquisio: This tool enables you to paste a list of keywords, tell it which ones you want to add the broad match modifier, and spits them out with a keystroke. It’s a huge time saver and I use it at least weekly.

SplitTester: A tool to quickly get statistical significance & confidence levels. Great for PPC ad testing.

WebShare’s split testing tool: This tool combines CTR and conversion rate to tell you the overall winner of an ad test.

145 PPC Must Do’s for 2012 from PPC Hero: This was a New Year’s post that was actually very useful.  I’ve been working my way through the list for the past 6 months.  Not every tip will apply to every PPC account, but if you’re looking for new optimization ideas, this is the place.

Excel Hints for PPC from SEOptimise: PPC’ers live in Excel, so we’re always hungry for more Excel tips. This is a good bunch of hints.

Excel Formatting Tips from Search Engine Journal: If your reports look like they were done by a 5th grader, this post will help you fix that.

Excel Tips & Tricks from PPC Associates: Yet more awesome Excel tips for PPC’ers.


Ion Interactive’s Landing Page Checklist: I refer to this often when advising clients on landing page best practices.

PPC Task Checklist from PPC Hero: A great list of PPC tasks that will help all PPC pros, from novice to expert.

Google Analytics Advanced Segments Shares from Jill Whalen: A neat list of advanced segments that you can copy and use in your own Google Analytics accounts.

Google Analytics URL Builder: A good way to make sure your custom URLs for Google Analytics are formatted properly.

Auditing PPC Accounts Without Account Access from Fathom: A recent blog post to help PPC’ers over a common stumbling block: auditing a PPC account when you don’t have access to the account itself.

And there you have it – 12 must-have PPC bookmarks! I know there are more out there, so share your favorites in the comments!  I’ll compile them into a future blog post.

Editor’s Note:  The link to the Ion Interactive Landing Page checklist was incorrect and has now been corrected. Thanks to commenter Max Miller for pointing out the error!

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A 12-Step Program to Improve Your CTR

It’s common to hear veteran search marketers at conferences and in social media talking a lot about PPC conversion rate — so much so that those new to PPC may think that conversion rate is the end all.

Conversion rate is important, to be sure. I’d even say it’s very, very important. But before a PPC ad can generate a conversion, it needs to generate a click. PPC ads are no good if no one clicks on them.

If you’re new to PPC, or if you want to improve your click-through rate (CTR), here’s a 12-step program to help you.

Step 1: Bid on Relevant Keywords

PPC beginners are often tempted to bid on high-volume keyphrases that are only marginally related to their business. Take, for example, a hotel/casino that wants to bid on “Texas hold-em.” While people indeed play this game at a casino, it isn’t relevant if the goal is to sell hotel room nights.

Don’t fall into this trap. Searchers have gotten sophisticated. If your ad isn’t relevant to the search phrase, they just won’t click on it and your CTR will suffer.

Step 2: Bid on Specific, Not General, Keywords

This is related to Step 1, yet is slightly different. Taking the hotel/casino example, you might be tempted to bid on “hotels.” While this term has significant search volume, it’s too general and is unlikely to drive many, if any, clicks.

Step 3: Use 2, 3, or 4 Word Keyphrases

Years ago, one-word searches like “hotels” were common. Nowadays, searchers have become more specific in what they search for, and it’s common to see search queries with four or more words.

Jason Tabeling wrote an informative article with research showing that CTR was highest on keywords containing two, three, or four words. Our experience has been similar: one word is not specific enough, but more than five shows diminishing returns.

Step 4: Create Small, Tightly-Themed Ad Groups

Tightly-themed ad groups make it easy to write relevant ad copy that will generate clicks. A common rule of thumb is 10-15 keyword phrases per ad group.

This ensures that your ads will be relevant to the search phrase, and increases the chance of a click. This in turn will help drive a good quality score.

Step 5: Include the Keyphrase in Ad Copy Whenever Possible

If you’ve set up your ad groups as described in Step 4, this should be relatively easy to do. Search engines bold the search phrase in both organic and paid results, so including the keyphrase or keyphrases in the ad copy ensures they will be bolded, which helps your ad stand out. Ads that stand out get better CTR.

Step 6: Use Dynamic Keyword Insertion

Dynamic keyword insertion (DKI) is a feature that automatically inserts your bidded keyphrase into your ad text. It’s a great way to make sure Step 5 above happens.

That said, use DKI with caution: make sure you’re not inserting misspellings or other awkward phrases into your ad copy!

Step 7: Include a Price in Your Ad Copy

An old adage in classified advertising says that if you don’t include a price in your ad, people will assume you’re selling something expensive.

Calm those fears by including the price in your ad upfront. Even better, include the price in the ad headline — it’ll attract attention and clicks.

Step 8: Include Action Words in Your Ad Copy

Including action words (e.g., exclusive, limited time, online only, 1-day sale, etc.) adds a sense of urgency to your offering. Adding urgency encourages click-throughs.

Step 9: Include Symbols in Your Ad Copy

If applicable, include symbols such as ©, ™, ®, and even the plus sign (+) or ellipses (…) can make a significant difference in CTR. Symbols make your ad stand out on the page.

Step 10: Use Ad Extensions

Google offers several different types of ad extensions: Location, Phone, Products, and Sitelinks. Take advantage of them. While these don’t display on every search, you’ll take up valuable screen real estate when they do show up.

Step 11: Be Creative With Your Ad Copy

Let’s face it: There’s not a lot of space in PPC ad copy. With only 25 characters for a headline and 70 for a description, it’s tempting to put “just the facts” in your ad copy and forget about being creative.

Don’t! When I’ve tested ad copy that I thought was too “wacky” to be effective, I’ve often been surprised by the results.

Remember, PPC often generates results in a short period of time, so if an ad isn’t working, you can always pause it. You might even try an ad like this:

Step 12: Engage in Ad Copy Testing

Ad copy testing is one of the biggest benefits of PPC, yet I’m always surprised by the number of advertisers who don’t take advantage of it. The most successful PPC advertisers are continually testing and refining ad copy — take a page from their book and set up your own tests now!
Go ahead — give a few of the 12 steps a try!

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in Search Engine Watch on March 23, 2011.

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Personalized Coupons and the Science of Demand

As marketers gather more information about their customers, direct marketing gets more interesting. The amount of customer purchase data available nowadays is staggering.

I’m sure you’ve all seen the personalized coupons that print out along with your receipt at the grocery store. And many of you have probably received personalized coupons in the mail, as well. I know I do – I’ve started to get coupons in the mail from Meijer, where I buy most of my groceries.

On the one hand, this is really cool – no more clipping coupons from the newspaper inserts! Personalized coupons for stuff I actually buy – how awesome is that?

But there’s a problem. The coupons are clearly based on past purchase behavior.

Why is this a problem, you ask? After all, don’t you WANT coupons for stuff you’ve bought before?

Yes and no. Here’s an example. A few weeks ago, I bought a new laundry basket for my son. I’d guess most of us buy laundry baskets only once every few years. But what shows up in my mailbox last week? A coupon for $2 off a laundry basket – and the coupon expires in 30 days, no less. Nice try, but no dice.

I’ve gotten tons of coupons like this. Coupons for cereal I just bought – and I have to buy 4 boxes to get the savings. Even with teenagers in the house, we don’t eat THAT much cereal. Coupons for zip-top bags that I just bought by the hundreds. You get the picture. I don’t have enough storage space for all the stuff these retailers expect me to stock up on.

So what does this rant have to do with search? One of the things I love best about search is that it fulfills customer demand at the right time. No one searches for laundry baskets AFTER they just bought one – they search BEFORE they get ready to buy. THAT’S when I want the coupon. I want it before, not after!

It seems to me that it wouldn’t be that hard to do. I know Meijer has years of purchase history on me, because I’ve shopped there forever. And honestly, as big brother-ish as it seems, I’d rather they review my purchase history, figure out the patterns, and send me coupons at just the right time. How hard can that possibly be? Until retailers figure this out, we search marketers have it made.

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Local Paid Inclusion, aka SEM Industry Histrionics

For whatever reason, the SEO and SEM community loves a good scandal. 7-8 years ago, when I was relatively new in the industry, it seemed as though there was a scandal every week: black hat SEO, cloaking, forum catfights…. it was crazy.

As the industry has matured, the kids have settled down. The daily shouting matches between SEOs have been reduced to a couple times a year.

This is one of those times.

A couple weeks ago, Bruce Clay, an industry stalwart and well-known white hatter, announced a new service called Local Paid Inclusion. In a very brief nutshell, this was going to be a service that, in partnership with Google, Yahoo, Bing, and major directories, would offer advertisers guaranteed paid placement at the top of local search listings.

Seriously? Who, in this day and age, would fall for this?

Anybody remember the old Real Keywords scam? Where advertisers could supposedly pay this shyster company thousands of dollars per year for “guaranteed #1 listings on up to 30 keywords,” when in reality the Real Keywords scamsters were just buying PPC ads?

No respectable SEM fell for that back in the day, and I’m honestly beyond shocked that Bruce Clay fell for something like that today. I’ve met Bruce several times over the years, and he has always been the pinnacle of reason, intelligence, ethics, and professionalism – almost a paragon that others could only hope to imitate.

Why, then, did he let himself and his company get involved in this huge kerfuffle???

And the bigger question, at least in my mind: Why are SEOs so dramatic? When’s the last time anyone in the PPC industry caused this kind of stir? Can you even think of one time where a PPC industry luminary got involved in something so shady that it caused all their peers to start hanging them out to dry on Twitter?

Don’t get me wrong – I still have a lot of respect for Bruce and the things he’s done for SEO and SEM. I have a lot of respect for the work most SEOs do. And it sounds like there may have been some substance to Bruce’s announcement. But clearly he jumped the gun, which is shocking given his experience and business acumen.

The way the SEO industry reacts to stuff like this never ceases to amaze me. What do you think about all this? Share in the comments!

For another interesting take on this issue, check out this Wordstream Blog post.

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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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I’m Dreaming Of Separate Bids for Search Partners

Seems like everybody has a PPC wishlist at this time of year. Earlier this week, my good friend Matt Van Wagner published a great post on Search Engine Land called 7 Things On My Google AdWords Wishlist For Santa. I agree with everything on his list, and hope that all of us PPCers find those fine gifts under our tree next weekend.

Yesterday, there was another fun SEL post from Conrad Saam called A Letter from Santa To The Search Community, which was also fun. Give both of these posts a read, if you haven’t already.

All these wishes are fine and good, but the one thing I’m wishing for this holiday is the ability to set separate bids for Google Search Partners. Why this hasn’t rolled out already is a mystery to me. If I had to guess, I’d say that Google doesn’t want to lose the revenue from search partners when people bid less for them. But partners don’t always perform worse than Google – in fact, I’ve seen many instances with our clients where partners actually perform better than Google.

We already have the ability to opt out of partners entirely – why not give us a chance to opt back in with separate bids? C’mon, Google – you quit sending out great holiday gifts years ago; can’t you at least grant us this one wish?

What’s on your PPC wish list this year?

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