Adwords Support Sinks To A New Low

Back in the good old days, when I was doing in-house SEM, we had a dedicated Google rep to help us with our account. While the reps changed pretty frequently, each and every one of them was helpful and knowledgeable. They got to know our business quickly. A few of them even became friends.

About 4 or 5 years ago, Google decided to centralize Adwords support – and they took away dedicated reps from all but the largest advertisers. People have complained about the poor support for years – one guy created an entire blog just for one post complaining about Adwords Support. I’ve done my share of complaining about them, too.

Still, if you work for an agency, sometimes you get lucky enough to have a rep assigned to you on a quarterly basis. Just this week I had a call with someone who I initially thought was our new quarterly Adwords Support rep. As is typical in agency life, we’re really busy and I was hoping to get some help with PPC grunt work.

Wrong.

While the rep I spoke with was very nice, it turns out he deals strictly with new business. He can’t even help me with existing clients at all (despite my repeated requests).

Think about that for a minute. Google’s most proactive reps now are dedicated solely to new business. They can’t even touch existing clients unless they are ready to – get this – increase their spend by 10x. So, if my $25,000 per month PPC client suddenly decides they want to spend $250,000 per month, Google’s all over that. How many clients actually do that? Heck, I wouldn’t even recommend that big of an increase in most circumstances – there’s way too much risk involved. But unless I’m ready to pony up 10 times the cash, I’m stuck with general support.

So, I asked the rep what their “new business” service entails. Since they can’t help me with clients who ALREADY HAVE THEIR CHECKBOOKS OPEN TO GOOGLE, I thought maybe they had some amazing new biz services to offer.

His answer? Are you ready for this? Here’s the extent of their new business offering:

  • Basic education about Adwords. He did admit that for agencies, this usually isn’t necessary. Duh.
  • Initial campaign setup
  • Bid management for the first 90 days – on a daily basis if you’re spending $25,000 per month and up; on an every-other-day basis if you’re spending between $10,000 and $25,000

Yep, that’s the end of the list. No reporting assistance, no strategic insight, NOTHING that would be useful to an agency. Basically, they’re doing crap that I can do in my sleep.

And they’re not doing it as often. Managing bids every other day on a new account? Are they crazy? A good PPC manager will be on top of bids MULTIPLE TIMES PER DAY in a new account, because things can go south that quickly. I don’t care if you’re spending $20 or $20 million – every other day in the early days doesn’t cut it.

Needless to say, I didn’t take the guy up on his “offer.” I told him this whole premise is totally backwards. We need help AFTER launch, not during it. Many clients are just dipping their toes into the PPC waters when they sign on with an agency. Those who have done PPC before are often gun-shy due to poor management by another agency. Does Google really think I’m going to take a gun-shy client, whom I’ve sold on my PPC prowess, and then let Google set up the campaigns? Can you even imagine the disasters those campaigns would be? All broad match, terrible ad copy, targeting search & display together… the list goes on.

Sorry, Google, but in my book your “support” leaves a lot to be desired. What about you? Have you had good luck with Google’s new business team? Share in the comments!

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PPC News in February, Enhanced Campaigns Edition

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you already know that Google’s Enhanced Campaigns are February’s big PPC news. Countless articles and blog posts have been written about Enhanced Campaigns already. Here are a couple that I thought were particularly informative.

A Detailed Look at Enhanced Campaigns by PPC Hero. Great overview and step by step detail on Enhanced Campaigns.

Enhanced Campaigns – New Bidding Opportunities and Challenges As usual, Rimm-Kaufman comes through with a thorough post on the pros and cons of Enhanced Campaigns.

Should You Upgrade To Enhanced Campaigns? by Brad Geddes over at Search Engine Land. This post outlines who should upgrade now, and who should wait.

I’ll be appearing on the Marketing Nirvana podcast on Webmaster Radio in a couple of weeks to talk more about Enhanced Campaigns, so stay tuned for more on that.

Speaking of Webmaster Radio, check out this PPC Rockstars episode  where Marty Weintraub and I talk about using Google Analytics to improve PPC performance. I even get an Eddie Van Halen reference in there!
eddie van halen
Rock on, PPC friends!

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PPC News Around the Web: Top 7 Posts for January 2013

January is nearly over, and as always the month went fast. And as usual, there was a lot of interesting PPC news published this month. Here is a summary of the top 7 PPC news posts and articles I bookmarked this month.

All About Display

A Search Marketer’s Guide To Google Display Advertising, Part 3.  I stumbled across this excellent series by my good friend Matt Van Wagner a bit late in the game, on Part 3 of 3. The entire series is required reading for both new and experienced Google Display Network users; you’ll find links to Part 1 and 2 in this post.

Get On Those Negative Keywords

I don’t believe this was new in January, but it was new to me: World’s Biggest Negative Keyword List, compliments of Clix Marketing and via David Szetela. While there are other good negative keyword lists out there, this one buckets keywords by vertical. I found it immediately useful for a few client campaigns where we’ve been struggling with irrelevant traffic.

Geek Out Posts

Let’s face it – when you’ve done PPC and SEM for a long time, most blog posts are underwhelming in terms of true geeky content. That’s why these next 2 posts made my list for this month: they’re so technically awesome that I need to go back and re-read them, because I was lost the first time around!

Advanced Filters: Excel’s Amazing Alternative To Regex by Annie Cushing, who gets my vote for being the Miss Universe of Excel. Her posts are so full of knowledge and resources that I bookmark nearly all of them (and then go back and try to understand how the heck to replicate what she did).

Google Analytics Tips: 10 Data Analysis Strategies That Pay Off Big! by Avinash Kaushik. Google Analytics is a valuable tool for PPC data analysis, and this post is full of great tips. It starts out easy enough, but quickly moves into custom reports & segments for some serious data crunching. As a bonus, it includes many of Avinash’s unique phraseology.

Girl Power

Marty Weintraub from aimClear takes on gender diversity on search conference speaking panels and backs it up with data in Female Online Marketing Speaker Stats: 13 True Evangelists Discuss The Data. Ever wondered why so few females speak at search conferences? Marty interviews longtime conference speakers and organizers to get at the reasons. Disclosure: I’m one of the Evangelists in the post. But don’t let that stop you! It’s an analysis that’s long overdue.

Conversion Optimizer Case Study

Brad Geddes brings us yet another informative and detailed post with Case Study: Quadrupling A Small Account’s Conversions In Just 90 Days. A fascinating read illustrating how to replicate his results! (And yes, I realize that this was published on December 31. A mere technicality.)

Most-Commented Beyond the Paid Post

While it wasn’t the top in page views in January, my Adwords Search Query Reports: US Versus The World post garnered the most comments of any in recent memory. It illustrates what’s so great about the PPC community: people chimed in with stories of their own and suggestions for additional research to help me get to the bottom of the situation. I’ll be doing a follow-up post soon, thanks to all the great insight shared in the comments.

There you have it – my top 7 PPC news posts for January. What were your favorites?

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Adwords Search Query Reports: US Versus The World

The subject of broad match gone wild is a popular one in PPC, and has been since the dawn of search query reports. Search marketers frequently lament the irrelevant and sometimes downright puzzling queries which triggered their ads. In fact, better search query matching was one of my 2007 PPC wishes that still hasn’t come true.

A few weeks ago, I was doing routine search query report reviews for one of our international clients. We use broad match on their branded terms to cast as wide a net as possible, and we use extensive negative keywords to control the wildness.  Anyway, I pulled a SQR for our Germany campaigns, and then pulled one for the US. Again, the task was all typical – but the report results were anything but.

We’ve created ad groups by match type for control and new search query mining, using the SQRs for not only negatives, but new positive keywords to add to our account.  For both Germany and the US, I looked at just 2 keywords this time: the broad match and phrase match of the client’s brand. I noticed that reviewing Germany’s report took a lot less time than reviewing the US report. This came as a surprise, since our branded campaigns are set to “all languages” and I had to pore over German-language keywords in the SQR as a non-German speaker (Google Translate is my best friend for this). So I decided to compare the two reports.

What I discovered stunned me.

Allow me to illustrate with a few visuals.

search queries

Look at the total number of search queries: the US has nearly 3 times as many as Germany. Remember, this is on the same 2 keywords! That’s the stat that got me started on this in the first place.  I find it hard to believe that people in the US are 3 times more creative than people in Germany when it comes to searching for the client’s brand (or searching for anything, for that matter).

This goes a long way towards explaining why our US CPCs are so much higher than other countries for this client. I know that the PPC market in general is more saturated here than elsewhere. If nothing else, there are more US-based advertisers. And our population is 3 times bigger than Germany’s (82 million for Germany vs. 311 million for the US), so I might accept the notion that if every person in each country conducts one unique search related to these 2 keywords, we’d see 3 times as many SQs in the US as in Germany. I think it’s a stretch, but it’s at least plausible.

But let’s look at search query distribution across match types. Remember, we’ve segmented our ad groups by match type, so there are no exact matches. What’s left in the SQR is broad, phrase, and session based broad.

A couple of visuals will make this easier. Let’s look at Germany first.

germany sqr

Half of the queries were broad matched, and the rest were pretty evenly distributed between phrase match and session-based broad match. I’m not thrilled about the high percentage of session-based broad matches, but that’s another post.  Still, the fact that over 1 in 5 matches were phrase match isn’t too bad.

Now let’s look at the US.

us sqr

Are you as speechless as I am? Fully 84% of the matches in the US were broad match (and remember folks, there were 860 of them, compared with 193 in Germany). There were virtually no session-based broad matches, so at least we have that going for us.  But only 15% phrase matches, vs. 22% in Germany? Why, Google, why?

And here’s the kicker – you know this is coming – the US SQR is loaded with totally irrelevant queries.

Methinks something is rotten in the state of Denmark. (It’s close to Germany, right?)

Have you seen similar behavior in your international campaigns? Are we Americans really that much more creative in our searches? Or is Google showing their patriotism by fleecing us? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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Adwords Support Needs A Better Bra

I know I’m probably starting to sound like a broken record.  Over the past couple weeks, I’ve written about the less-than-optimal changes to Adwords, including near match and the rotate ads fail.

I started this week thinking things couldn’t get any worse.  Surely we’d hit rock bottom and were on our way up.

I was wrong.

Last week, I was hard at work on my first-of-the-month to-do list:  client reporting, and updating ad copy tests.  For as long as I’ve been in agency PPC, I’ve evaluated and updated ad copy tests on at least a monthly basis.  It’s a good practice, right?  Especially in view of the recent “near rotate” fiasco?

Not so fast, bad guy.

We have a global client with campaigns for every country and region of the world.  Although the basic message for their ads is the same, I’m sure it won’t be surprising to hear that minor nuances in ad copy can have different results in different parts of the world.  Anyway, I updated all their ad copy tests and moved on.

Or so I thought.

When I checked the campaigns the next day, I noticed that the US campaign traffic was down a bit.  Well, I didn’t get too worried – after all, we all know that .

A few more days went by, and I checked the campaigns on Monday.  I was in for a shock.

US campaign traffic had screeched to a halt.  Mind you, this is a branded campaign for a long-term advertiser with an average quality score of 10.  At first, I thought the new ads might be stuck in editorial review, which seems to be happening more and more lately.

But alas, the ads were just stuck on the “other” ad position, instead of the top where they had been.  And CTR & traffic tanked as a result.  Quality scores and everything else were still ok, so I figured there must be something else going on.

Well, of course we don’t have an Adwords rep for this client, for whatever reason.  (Eliminating agency reps is yet another tear in the elastic of Google’s support.)  So I called the general support number.

What a nightmare.

I related my story to the rep right off the bat – basically telling her the exact same thing I said here.  She agreed that something was amiss, and promised to get back with me.

Later that day, I got an email reply.  It said, and I paraphrase:  “I took a look at your account, and it looks like your ads are mostly appearing in the Other position, which is why your CTR is down.  Here’s a report illustrating this.  I suggest you raise your bids to get things back on track.”

Seriously?!?!?

One, I told her that I’d already run that report.  I knew that’s what had happened.  But I didn’t know WHY it happened.  Two, how in the h-e-double-hockey-sticks can my quality score drop that much overnight??  The ad changes were very minor – just a tweak to the second description line – and this is a long-standing branded campaign for the brand owner.  I smelled a rat (or something even stinkier).

So I wrote back, basically telling her all that, and also telling her that I’d tripled my bids as soon as I saw the problem (BEFORE I even called Google), and still traffic was nil.

Two days later, I hadn’t heard anything.  So I called support again.  The rep I spoke to that time told me that the original rep had gotten my email and was looking into it further.

Yet another day went by before I heard back.  The reply?  “There might be a temporary drop in quality score due to the ad changes.  Just give it a few more days.”

ARE THEY KIDDING??

Here’s a client whose traffic from their most important region of the world has gone to crap, and they want me to wait?  And does quality score really drop with minor ad changes?  Does that mean that our quality score is reset every time we change ads?  Does historical quality score count for nothing? And how is that going to work now that we have to change our ads every 30 days just to keep them rotating evenly?

After I got this reply, I decided to try a crazy ACE test.  I set the test to 50/50 and set the experimental bids at $108 per click.  Yes, over $100 per click.  And this is for brand terms with an actual CPC of well under $1 prior to this disaster.

Guess what?

Traffic is back!

And no, we’re not actually paying $108 per click, but the average CPC is up about 10x from what it was before.  It’s still early days, and I’m hopeful that I can back the bids down to a more reasonable level in a short period of time.

There’s a nagging voice in the back of my head, though.  And it’s shrieking “MONEY GRAB!”

Postscript:  I just got an email from Adwords Support.  It says “I see that the number of clicks this campaign received today has increased quite a bit from days past.” Nothing like stating the obvious…. Wow.  I’m speechless.

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Preparing for the Adwords Fundamentals Exam

Many professional careers have certification programs, and PPC is no exception. Both Google Adwords and Microsoft adCenter offer certification programs for PPC professionals. In this post, I’m going to talk about preparing for the Google Adwords Fundamentals exam, which is the first step to becoming a Certified Professional.

First of all, if you’ve been actively managing PPC accounts for at least a year or two, you should have a good chance of passing the Fundamentals exam without even studying. But if this is your first time taking one of the Adwords exams, or if it’s been a couple years since you’ve taken it, there are a few things you should be aware of:

• The test costs $50, non-refundable. So if you’re not feeling confident about your Adwords knowledge, don’t take the test.
• You have 90 minutes to complete the exam – and once you start, you have to finish in one sitting. Make sure you have that big a block of time available to take the exam uninterrupted.
• Once you start the exam, the testing interface locks out your computer so you can’t access browsers or other programs. It wasn’t always this way with the Adwords exam – you used to take the exam in one browser, and could have another one open to search for the answers! (Of course I didn’t do this, wink wink!)
• You can mark questions for review later, so if you don’t know an answer or aren’t sure, mark it and go on – you can come back to it later.

If you’re relatively new to PPC, though, you’ll want to study a bit before you take the exam. The best way to study is to review the training materials in the Google Learning Center.

The Learning Center is your home base for preparing for the exam. It contains detailed written documentation on all the topics that will be tested.

That said, there are a LOT of topics. If you’re a complete beginner, you’ll want to take the time to go through all of the lessons; you can do this while you’re actively managing a PPC account or shadowing someone else during training.

However, if you have some Adwords experience, read through the lesson description first. If it covers something you feel pretty confident about, skip it. Focus on the lessons on topics that are new to you. If the lesson includes any case studies or examples, pay particular attention, as a lot of exam questions are in the form of case study-type examples that you’ll need to analyze and answer correctly.

Remember that all the rules for taking standardized tests apply to the Adwords exam, too:

• Skip questions you’re not sure of and come back to them
• Your first impression is usually correct
• On true/false questions, you have a 50/50 chance of getting the answer right
And so on

With careful preparation, you’ll be able to pass the exam and become a Certified Professional!

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Modified Broad Match – The Good and the Bad

Earlier this year, our PPC prayers were answered: Google finally rolled out their Broad Match Modifier, also known as Modified Broad Match. For years, we complained that broad match was just too broad. Our PPC keywords were matching to “silly synonyms” along with relevant terms – and our ROI went in the tank as a result.

Now, with Modified Broad Match, we can stop the hemorrhaging. We get all the benefits of broad match, but none of the junk.

Or do we?

The Good:

Getting rid of the junk. I wrote about this in one of my recent Search Engine Watch columns. In summary, one of our clients is a law firm specializing in aviation accident law. Even though we use negative keywords extensively, broad match is just too broad at times. Just prior to the US launch of modified broad match, our law firm’s ad for the broad match term “aviation lawyer” was displayed on this search phrase: “what the laws of flying with glass bongs”. This is an obvious case of broad match gone wild – and one that won’t happen with modified broad match.

Improving cost per conversion. By its very nature, modified broad match reduces the wasted impressions and clicks, and hones in on the right queries – without restricting impression the way phrase and exact match do. We’ve seen large improvements in cost per conversion for several clients who found that phrase match didn’t give them the traffic they wanted, but traditional broad match didn’t get good ROI.

Offering flexibility. On multi-word keyphrases (which you should always be using for PPC, by the way), the broad match modifier can be applied to one word in the keyword phrase, or many. For example, let’s say your keyword is “discount running shoes.” You could put the modifier on just the word “discount,” like this:

+discount running shoes

This will ensure that your ad only displays when the word “discount” is part of the query, but will still allow you to appear on queries like:
• Discount jogging sneakers
• Discount shoes for running
• Running shoes at a discount
• Etc.

But you might also show up on:
• Discount basketball shoes
• Discount athletic socks
• Used running shoes at a discount
• Etc.

Ugh. So maybe you’ll want to tighten things up a bit more:

+discount +running +shoes

Now, you’ll eliminate those crazy examples above, but can still show on:
• Running shoes at a discount
• Shoes running discount
• Discount shoes for running a marathon
• I want to find running shoes at a discount store
• Etc.

These are queries that you won’t get with phrase or exact match, but they’re still relevant and likely to convert.

The Bad:

It’s still too restrictive at times. We’ve seen the modifier shrink impression volume by as much as 80%, with no improvement in conversion rates. While this could be due to other concurrent issues, it’s hard to explain to a client why their volume on a top keyphrase suddenly disappeared.

It results in higher CPCs. We’ve also tried running modified broad match phrases side-by-side with traditional broad match. CPCs on the modified phrase have been 20-25% higher than the traditional broad phrase – again, with no difference in CTR or conversion rate.

Sometimes, it performs worse than traditional broad match. Yes, we have actually seen this happen: the modified broad match phrase ended up generating a good amount of impressions, but CTR and conversion rates were actually WORSE than the traditional broad match term. What gives?

What’s your experience been with the broad match modifier?

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AdWords Expanded Match Continues to Confound

Google’s Expanded Broad Match option for Adwords has been the source of much discussion since it launched a couple of years ago. Much of the feedback from advertisers has been less than positive, as evidenced by this Search Engine Watch thread which started almost 2 years ago, yet remains active today.

However, the coupling of Expanded Broad Match with Google’s new Search Query Report has put the spotlight on some of its flaws and shortcomings. Further confounding the issue is Google’s recent clarification of its Landing Page Guidelines, which has some experts wondering whether Google has gone too far in pursuit of a positive user experience.

On the flip side of that coin comes a lively thread on Webmaster World. A good summary of the thread is at Search Engine Roundtable, but basically advertisers expressed their displeasure with the lack of relevancy in Expanded Broad Match. Adwords Advisor chimed in asking for clarification, with a promise to take the feedback to the powers that be at Google, and the discussion’s taken off from there.

I’ve given some of my thoughts in that thread, and the gist of them is that on the plus side, expanded broad match is one of the best ways to discover tail terms that drive great ROI. Instead of spending hours poring over keyword tools and server logs, why not let Google do the legwork for you via expanded broad match? Well, the downside is that, as evidenced in the WMW thread, expanded match goes too far. Ads are being shown on totally irrelevant searches, as well as foreign language and character queries. I don’t think anyone can claim that irrelevant ads provide a positive user experience. A positive experience for Google’s pocketbook, maybe, but not for the searcher.

What we need is for Google to bring back the classic broad match, and have expanded broad match as a separate match option. This has been brought up time and again on forums and blogs, as well as search conferences such as SMX Advanced. I think it’s time Google gave this idea more than just lip service. Let’s hope AWA’s meeting moves us closer to that goal.

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