Bulk Uploads Get The Job Done

It’s a busy time of year for search engine marketing, made busier for me by the fact that not only am I learning a new job, but I’m now managing SEM for several clients in an agency role instead of one in an in-house role. So, I’m crazy busy right now.

One of the PPC features that’s saving my skin at the moment is the bulk upload feature on Google and Yahoo. Using bulk uploads has allowed me to quickly create or edit campaigns for clients, and get them running in short order. Trying to create campaigns manually via each search engine interface is like trying to write a blog post longhand – it takes forever and is just way too slow.

As usual, Google leads the pack with their offline Adwords Editor. You can create your new campaign in Excel, then just either upload the whole thing, or paste pieces of it into Editor. One feature I’ve used a lot lately is the Draft Campaign. I used this for a new client last week: we had most of the information we needed for the campaign, but we were waiting on a few pieces. I was able to set the campaign up in Editor as a draft, fill in the missing pieces as I got them, then launch the campaign on time. This way, instead of having to crank the whole thing out at the last minute, I could set it up when I had time and just fill in the blanks later.

Yahoo’s bulk upload has also proved useful, not only for creating new campaigns, but for fixing existing ones. I discovered some errors in one client’s campaign, and instead of having to correct each error one by one, I just downloaded the campaign into Excel, did a find-and-replace, and uploaded the corrected version back to Yahoo. It literally took about 15 minutes, versus hours of manual (and potentially data-entry-error-ridden) work. I’ve posted detailed instructions on the Yahoo bulk upload here .

Unfortunately, MSN’s bulk upload is lacking. They have the feature, but it’s hard to use. Couple that with the fact that setting up keyword-level URLs in MSN is a nightmare due to the fact that you have to use their parameters. However, Ogletree SEO has a good tutorial on setting up parameters in MSN – thanks, Dave, I’ll have to give this a try.

Bottom line: use the bulk upload feature whenever possible. If you’re as crazy busy as I am, it’ll be a lifesaver.

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Informative PPC Posts From The Blogosphere

Learning a new job hasn’t left me much time for blogging, but I did want to post links to a few helpful articles from the blogosphere from the past couple weeks.

YSM Domain Blocking:

Now that Yahoo has finally launched this feature, there have been a lot of questions coming in from advertisers. Yahoo does a good job of adressing them in this blog post.

Google Adwords Quality Score:

Google rolled out a new feature within the Adwords interface that gives insight into the reasons for low keyword Quality Scores. I’ve played with this a little bit, and while I don’t always agree with Google’s assessments, it has been a useful tool. More information can be found at Search Engine Roundtable and Traffick.

Once my life settles down a little, I’ll be back to posting more frequently.

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John Marshall Leaving ClickTracks

Via Search Engine Watch Blog, I learned today that John Marshall, founder of ClickTracks, is leaving the company.

This is a big surprise to me. I’ve met John a couple of times at SES, and he is one of the most knowledgeable, open, and honest people I’ve ever met. He knows analytics backwards and forwards, and has an uncanny knack for taking that vast knowledge and breaking it down so the average marketer can understand it. In fact, that’s the beauty of ClickTracks – ease of use, and flexibility. He is one of the reasons we chose ClickTracks as our analytics provider a year ago.

What’s next for ClickTracks? How will their market focus change? What’s next for John? Time will tell.

John, I wish you well in whatever your new endeavor may be!

Edited to add: Avinash Kaushik, the well-known analytics expert and frequent ClickTracks webinar guest, has an excellent tribute to John on his Occam’s Razor blog. Well worth the read.

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Happy Ann’y, Beyond The Paid!

One year ago today, I decided to take the plunge into the world of blogging. 70-some posts and a lot of SEM news later, here we are at the one year anniversary. I’ve learned a few things along the way:

* Blog post titles should be descriptive.
* Putting a feed link on your blog means a few people will actually subscribe.
* You really can change your template in Blogger, and even an HTML hack like me can figure it out.
* Blogging is a great way to meet some great people in your industry.

In scanning through the topics I’ve covered over the past year, a ton has happened – from Danny Sullivan leaving Search Engine Watch, to Google AdWords (and subsequently, Yahoo Search Marketing) implementing Quality Score, to Yahoo’s Panama, to MSN and Ask launching content programs, it’s a different world in May of 2007 than it was in May of 2006.

Here’s to another year of fun and growth in the SEM industry. I can’t think of a better way to make a living.

(I have to give credit to ESPN’s Around The Horn for the title of this post. It’s a great show if you’re a sports junkie. I usually end up catching it while I’m at the gym and therefore with the sound off, but it’s good even without sound. Ranting sports writers are almost as much fun as ranting SEM writers….)

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When Exact Match Isn’t Exactly Exact

One of the most basic elements of PPC is keyword match types. Each engine has slightly different options available: Google and MSN have Broad, Phrase, and Exact; Yahoo has Standard and Advanced; and Ask has Exact and Broad. All four also have negative match, which essentially is keywords you DON’T want your ads to appear on.

Google’s Adwords Help Center defines the match types, and these definitions are pretty standard across all the engines. Exact match, in particular, is defined this way: “If you surround your keywords in brackets – such as [tennis shoes] -your ads will appear when users search for the specific phrase tennis shoes, in this order, and without any other terms in the query. For example, your ad won’t show for the query red tennis shoes. Exact matching is the most targeted option. Although you won’t receive as many impressions with exact matching, you’ll likely enjoy the most targeted clicks, because users searching for terms in this manner typically want precisely what your business has to offer.”

Pretty straightforward, right? Makes sense, right? So, by way of example, let’s say my keyword is, oh, Redbook. If I have Redbook set to exact match, for Google, MSN, and Ask, then my ad will only show when someone types that one word into the search box, right? I mean, Google says so, so it must be true, right?

Wrong.

Let me give an actual example from our analytics. One of our more popular magazines is TV y Novelas. One of my PPC keywords for that magazine is [tv y novelas] – exact match, with the brackets and all. So, according to Google’s definition, the only search that’ll trigger that ad is those three words, in that exact order. Not true. Here are some of the other search terms that drove clicks to our site for that keyword:
* tv y novelas magazine (which is also a keyword in the same ad group, and even has a higher CPC attached to it!)
* univision novelas (sorry, not even close)
* www (dot) tvinovelas (dot) com (dot) mx (huh??)

There are others, but you get the point. I don’t know about you, but in my book, these are anything but exact match. They’re not even phrase match, which according to Google means “your ad will appear when a user searches on the phrase tennis shoes, in this order, and possibly with other terms in the query.”

I find that, in general, the search partner sites are bigger offenders than Google.com. The worst one is AOL. On the exact match keyword [martha stewart living], we get 2-3 clicks per day from AOL on www(dot)marthastewart(dot)com. Not only is that not exactly the keyword, it doesn’t even have all the words in it! I purposely don’t have “martha stewart” as a keyword – hello, probably 99% of the people searching for that aren’t looking to subscribe to her magazine. And I even have “www” and “.com” as negative keywords. Apparently AOL doesn’t understand the whole “www” thing. (Why am I not surprised?)

I have to stop picking on Google for a second to say that this problem is worse on MSN, and worse yet on Ask. Some of our highest-volume referrals in the Ask program are www dot whatever dot com. Needless to say, these don’t convert real well.

Here’s my opinion. I’m fine with the engines showing my broad match keyword ads on stuff like this. That’s the risk you run when you use broad match, and often you get the benefit of capturing those tail searches that would be missed by phrase or exact match. But, Dear Engines, you can’t have it both ways. Don’t tell me that exact match means my ad won’t show if there are other words in the query, when clearly my ads DO show in that case, especially on AOL. Either make the match options work the way you say they work, or change your definitions. When I’m paying top dollar for [martha stewart living], I don’t want visitors that typed in something else. And when I start getting visitors that typed something else, I have to reduce my bids to account for the untargeted (and un-converting) traffic.

Hey Google et al, next time you’re at a restaurant and you order a root beer, I hope you don’t mind if I bring you a Bud Light instead. After all, it has “beer” in its name, too.

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MSN Says “Carpe Diem” to adCenter Advertisers

I promised myself I wouldn’t turn this blog into an “MSN bashing” blog. But last week’s boneheaded move and the resultant fallout just can’t be left un-blogged.

On Monday, April 30, MSN adCenter advertisers were greeted with the news that MSN had changed the Terms & Conditions for adCenter, as follows:

“We’re writing to notify you that your Microsoft adCenter Terms and Conditions are updated. The changes take effect on April 30, 2007. Some of the key adjustments to your Terms and Conditions include: Microsoft may use matching criteria other than keyword searches to display your advertisements. Microsoft may display your advertisements on its network of advertising channels operated by the Microsoft network of participating websites and other distribution outlets. The payment and reporting terms in your adCenter agreement have been clarified to describe your rights. To review the new Terms and Conditions online, follow these steps: Sign into adCenter: https://adcenter.microsoft.com/ Click the Advertiser Terms and Conditions link on the footer of the page. Review the document. If you do not consent to these revised Terms and Conditions, you may cancel your adCenter program relationship with Microsoft at any time through our Microsoft adCenter support team. Your continued use of the Microsoft adCenter program will be deemed your consent to the new Microsoft adCenter Terms and Conditions. Please contact our adCenter support team if you have any additional questions. Thank you for using Microsoft adCenter. Sincerely, The Microsoft adCenter Team.”

I saw this, and didn’t think much of it. I figured it was written to cover the Content Network which had come out of beta and to the masses over the previous weekend. We’d opted out of content weeks ago, so I went on my merry way.

However, some advertisers on the forums were concerned. My friend Discovery started a thread at Search Engine Watch questioning MSN’s line of thinking, and others began to chime in.
The very next day, I was reading one of my Google Alerts. This one happened to be about The Source Magazine, which is folding. We used to carry The Source, and it was a big seller for us, so I was curious what was up. I saw that the page had IntelliTXT ads on it. One of the highlighted words was “magazine.” Hovering over it, I saw that the ad was for Live Search, and the search was: magazine.

Let me stop here and say that “magazine” is one of our top 5 PPC keywords. I was now beyond curious. Continuing on…

So, I clicked on the IntelliTXT ad, and was taken to, yes, a Live Search page for the keyword “magazine,” and there was our ad. OK, now my curiosity has flipped to anger. I immediately went and checked my stats for that keyword. Not surprisingly, clicks were way up – and conversions were not. I went and posted in the thread at SEW that MSN was now in the garbitrage business.

That’s when all hell broke loose. By Friday, it was all over the blogosphere, and Kevin Newcomb from SEW had contacted me wanting more info for his blog post. PPC bloggers came out in force, decrying this latest faux pas by MSN.

My intention was not to slam MSN. I found out about the IntelliTXT campaign by accident. And I didn’t get too worried until I checked my stats. Once I saw the damage, I had to say something.

Incidentally, those stats are pretty damning. Clicks on the keyword “magazine” for last week (4/29 through 5/5) were more than double what they were the previous week; yet conversions were the same from week to week. So essentially, conversion on that term was cut in half by this. Other keywords were affected too, although not on the same scale. None of them saw an increase in conversions. Things seem to have settled down this week, but it’s still early. I’m still not happy about all this. MSN calls it a “promotional campaign,” which I guess it is, in a way – but it’s a campaign financed by MSN’s advertisers, who are stuck with it under the new “like it or lump it” T&Cs.

I’ll close with this summary of links to some of the blogosphere coverage of this debacle that weren’t mentioned earlier. If you know of others, post them in the comments so I don’t forget anyone.

Search Engine Roundtable
John K’s Got Ads? blog
Coopreme
Threadwatch
and the best one of all so far, this Search Engine Watch post by Tony Wright of Dexterity Media. Rock on, Tony.

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Google PPA: Beta Testing At Its Best

I mentioned earlier that we were part of Google’s Pay Per Action beta test, and that things were off to a slow start. That continued to be the story – up until yesterday.

First, a little background. Discussion about the PPA program was on all the major search engine forums, including Search Engine Watch. Member abbottsys and I posted there that we weren’t getting any impressions on our text link ad formats. Barry from Search Engine Roundtable jumped in and said he’d use the text link ads.

Long story short, I had an ad set up for Search Marketing Standard Magazine – a great fit for SE Roundtable’s audience. Problem was, the text link didn’t appear to be available for publishers – Barry could only find our regular Adwords-type text ads, not the links. He got the Google PPA beta team involved, and it turned out there was a bug in the system that prevented the text link ads from being approved – basically, they were stuck in an editorial purgatory. Google fixed the problem late last week.

Yesterday, Barry posted an example of the PPA text link format on SE Roundtable. I knew his site had a lot of visitors, but wow. Overnight, SE Roundtable has leapfrogged to the top of the heap as our #1 referrer for the PPA program.

I have to thank Barry, along with Rob Kniaz from Google, for persisting and figuring out why the text link ads weren’t showing up. This is what a beta test is all about – finding holes and patching them. More importantly, it’s about advertisers, publishers, and Google all working together to find and fix the problems. When that happens, everybody wins. This is what I love about search engine marketing – the sense of community and willingness to share and work together. It makes it fun to come to work every day!

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Does “GoogleClick” Spell The End For Bid Managers?

Does “GoogleClick” Spell The End For Bid Managers?

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More Examples of MSN Not Getting It

I know I’ve been picking on MSN lately, but I just can’t help it. A couple things crossed my desk as I was catching up on some industry reading on this quiet Friday afternoon that I just can’t let go…

From the New York Times via Search Engine Guide, “What do you do if you’ve spent tons of money over the last few years attempting to build a product that will compete with the recognized leaders of the industry only to find that no one wants to use it? If you’re Microsoft, apparently you start writing checks….” Apparently, MSN has resorted to paying companies to install their search tool on their desktop computers. This made me laugh out loud. Paying people to use your product is even more lame than giving away your product for free, which I’ve said for years is not a sound marketing strategy. Talk about devaluing your product! My favorite quote from the SE Guide article: “What it ultimately boils down to is this… if you’ve got to pay someone to use your product or service, it’s probably not a very good product or service. ” Reminds me of Philipp Lenssen’s comment in my earlier post about MSN.

And another goodie, which I’ve seen several places, including Search Engine Guide and Search Engine Roundtable, is MSN’s announcement that they’re shutting off advanced queries like link: and inurl:. Any SEM worth their salt knows what these are. They’re basic research tools that are critical for doing research on your own site, as well as those of competitors. Well, MSN can’t handle the load, so they just shut the features off. Stoney deGeyter’s comments on SE Guide are the best: “It must really suck to be a third place search engine and have people actually using your site to gather research.”

And finally, this gem from my own research on my adCenter ads. I’m trying to figure out why we’re not getting any traffic on some popular search terms. I typed in “childrens magazines” (no quotes) to Live Search, just for grins. I got this:

(OK, I know it’s kinda hard to read, but humor me.) What a joke. We’re in 7th place. Look at the garbitrage sites in spots #1-#5. How are those ads even relevant to this query??? The “good” ads don’t start till #6 – everything above that is just pure junk. How can MSN claim they have an ad ranking algo that takes CTR into account? Who on earth is clicking on those crappy ads??? How are these garbitrageurs getting away with this? Who even searches on MSN, anyway? By the way, this very same ad is a top performer on both Google and Yahoo, so it’s tried and true. So I’m really not crazy. Is it just me, or is MSN falling further and further behind the curve here? With results like this, they’ll never be able to catch the big guys.

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Is Panama Really Better?

At the end of February, comScore published data showing that CTRs were up with the new ranking model in Yahoo’s Panama sponsored search. Mind you, the report compares one week to two weeks, the week before the new ranking model vs. the two weeks after. I contend that this comparison is not totally statistically significant. Variations such as this can occur from week to week even without changes in ranking models or other major factors, and does not necessarily indicate a trend. With Valentines Day falling in there, I contend that the numbers are even further skewed.

All that said, most experts are agreeing with the statistics. Mona Elesseily from Page Zero Media has a good writeup of their experience at Search Engine Land. Everybody seems pretty happy with Panama and the new model.

Everybody except me. I am happy with the new interface – it’s light years better than the old Direct Traffic Center, with features that even Google doesn’t have, such as the Alternate Text for keyword insertion. However, our stats since the new ranking algo don’t look so rosy.

Looking at our data for the same time frame as comScore, our CTR is actually down 20%. There’s a caveat to that, though. We enjoyed almost a 50% increase in CTR when we converted to Panama from the old system. CTRs post-new-algo are better than they were under the old DTC. Mona claims there were problems with CTR calculations in the DTC, though, so who knows. All I know is, our CTRs plunged with the new algo.

Mona also talks about improvements in average CPC. Again, looking at the comScore time frame, our CPCs are up, not down. They’re up from DTC levels, too. Cost per conversion is up significantly, as well. I attribute this to the loss of the auction and rules-based bidding. Many of our competitors weren’t bidding very intelligently in the auction, which allowed us to use bid management tools and rules to get good positions at very low costs. With that gone, we’ve had to pay a lot more to maintain our position in the landscape. This is one reason why I wasn’t in favor of the new algo in the first place!

Let me end by saying that I don’t dispute the claims made by comScore or by Mona. I met Mona at SES Chicago – I’m the one who asked her how we could get rid of Canada – and in addition to being a really, really nice person, I think she’s one of the top experts out there on Yahoo Search Marketing. I just think the new system isn’t all roses for every advertiser or every sector.

I also realize by crunching our numbers that it’s probably time for some creative testing. We’ve done extensive testing in Google, but not Yahoo, since it wasn’t available pre-Panama. Now that it is, it’s time to make use of it.

In that vein, Yahoo, when will you launch your own version of AdWords Editor? (wink, wink)

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