Searching Beyond the Paid

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Happy Memorial Day Weekend, and Andrew Goodman's PZCast

Who can argue that a long weekend is almost always a good thing? That one extra day makes a difference, at least in our house! The weather is nice here in Michigan - sunny with highs in the 80s. Today, we're going golfing.

One quick work-related topic I wanted to comment on: Andrew Goodman's first "PZCast" on PageZero Media. Andrew's the preeminent expert on Google Adwords, and his book "Winning Results With Google Adwords" is considered *the* manual on the topic. He's a regular speaker at Search Engine Strategies, and publishes an e-newsletter that's always a great read. He and PageZero's resident Yahoo expert, Mona Elesseily, put together their first audiocast on Yahoo Search Marketing earlier this week, and I listened to it yesterday. If you're a Yahoo advertiser, this is a must-listen. They touched on everything from account setup, to creative & landing page tips, to a basic SEO overview. Prior to the PZCast (so called because it's an mp3 download for their members, not an actual podcast), they took email questions from newsletter subscribers to address in the cast. They even read and answered one of my questions! Too cool.

PageZero has ebooks on both Adwords and Yahoo SM, and I highly recommend them. Purchasing the books automatically makes you a member, and you can download the PZCasts from their web site. Hats off to Andrew and Mona!

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Search Marketing Sweatshop, Indeed!

Great article by Gord Hotchkiss on MediaPost today. He's criticizing a Business Week article called "Life On The Web's Factory Floor," which likens search engine marketing to factory grunt work. Like most other SEMs, I'm outraged to see our profession reduced to this level of simplicity and banality. We're certainly not just typing keyword combinations and poring over data minutae all day long. Anyone who thinks that has a very narrow view of what SEM is.

That said, the article makes some admirable points. Companies that are digitizing print information, including Google Books, MenuPages, and ProQuest (where my aunt works, thank you very much) are performing a tedious, data-intensive job - but a job that, in the digital age we're in, is a necessary one. People expect to find online content for books and magazines, restaurant menus, and newspaper articles. Heck, I depended on Google to find the original Business Week article online so I could read it for myself! Without someone digitizing this stuff, we wouldn't have it at our fingertips, and we certainly wouldn't be blogging about it.

So, I guess you can say there are some aspects of SEM that really are somewhat akin to "factory work," but don't for a second assume that everyone who does SEM for a living is working on the "digital factory floor." Far from it. SEM can be challenging, exciting, fun, and lucrative if you know what you're doing.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006 PPC - I'm Impressed!

This morning, I was performing my usual routine of poring over our Atlas campaign reports, when I noticed a spike in non-converting traffic on one of our Ask PPC keywords. I immediately went to work gathering the usual data to ask for a refund for poor quality clicks. Turned out the clicks were from one of their partners, who'd been sending us crappy traffic all along - but in small pieces, so I couldn't pinpoint it easily like I could today. I sent the info to my rep at Ask, not expecting to hear anything right away.

In 1.5 hours, he emailed me back. And it wasn't just to say "hey, I got your email and I'm working on it." Nope - he had already talked to his product team, pulled our ads from this partner's site, and processed the refund! I was stunned. The refund didn't surprise me (it wasn't a huge sum of money), but removing this partner from our distribution was a huge bonus that I wasn't expecting - I thought we were just stuck with them. Over 2 months ago I had the same issue with Yahoo - and I'm still waiting to hear something, anything, from them.

Ask just won major brownie points with me. I was having trouble keeping our ROI at a decent level, and in fact had considered shutting the whole program down. Now, I have renewed faith that we can make this work after all. It's an all-too-rare feeling in PPC, especially for an engine that's still considered second-tier. I'm starting to believe the stuff I've been reading about Ask's quiet move towards becoming a viable alternative to "the bigs" in search.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Google, Yahoo, and Click Fraud

The details of Google's much-discussed click fraud settlement have been officially released to Adwords advertisers. Google's attorneys have set up an info and claims site,, and they're sending advertisers there for info. Too bad the site can't handle the load - I tried to access it several times yesterday, and got a "server too busy" error every time.

On the whole, we've experienced far less click fraud with Google than with Yahoo. Up until about 6 months ago, I would have said that we didn't really have a click fraud problem at all on the major engines (not to be confused with the second and third tier PPCs, however). Around the holidays, we started seeing pockets of Adsense fraud. No problem - Google was good about refunds, and we just blocked the offending sites with Site Exclusion. Problem solved. Yahoo, however, is another story. They don't have site exclusion - it's all or nothing with them. In February, we dropped the content network entirely. Prior to then, we'd gotten low volumes, but decent conversion. Suddenly, we started getting huge volumes of non-converting clicks. Dumping Content stopped most of the fraud, but there was still the ExactSeek problem (see this IHY thread for more info).

Not-so-coincidentally, Yahoo was slapped with their own click fraud lawsuit a couple of weeks ago. And even more not-so-coincidentally, traffic from ExactSeek disappeared! Since then, Yahoo has been our most consistent performer in the PPC arena - something I wouldn't have dreamed of 3-6 months ago.

Click fraud in general, I think, is going to continue to be a hot button in the paid search space.

Where'd I get the name for my blog?

Well, it hit me as I was driving to work one day. As usual, I was listening to Bob & Tom, and they had Jim Gaffigan as a guest. Jim is a really funny comedian, and he was talking about his latest CD called "Beyond the Pale." In thinking about my work, which is 99% paid search, the play on words came to me. I'd been thinking about fiddling around with a blog for some time, and in doing so, I wanted to move beyond the confines of paid search - into things like SEO, analytics, developments, and other aspects of searching. I'm covering paid stuff here as well, but didn't want to limit myself to paid - thus, the blog goes "beyond the paid."

Friday, May 19, 2006

Danny Sullivan's Matt Cutts Interview

This is a great interview. I wasn't sure what to expect, but it's extremely informative yet entertaining at the same time. My favorite part? The "t-ball vs. steroids" analogy! And, Matt's laugh. Great job, guys!

Daily SearchCast, May 16, 2006: Special Edition, Live From The Googleplex With Matt Cutts: "This special edition of the Daily SearchCast covers Danny Sullivan talking with Google's Matt Cutts during a visit to the Googleplex. Tune-in by listening to this MP3 file. Below are links to items discussed:... "

ClickTracks Rocks!

In broader terms, I should say "analytics rock!" Analytics are an increasingly important component of internet marketing, and something no e-commerce site should be without. Google rocked the SEM world when they rolled out Google Analytics (formerly Urchin) for free a while back, and now ClickTracks is on board with Appetizer: a stripped-down-but-still-cool version of their analytics package.

ClickTracks Appetizer is unique in that, in any given week, different feature sets are enabled. Users get to sample some of the features of ClickTracks' paid Analyzer, Optimizer, and Pro packages. At the moment, the Campaign Report and Search Report from Analyzer, their entry-level package, is live. The Campaign Report lets you analyze your PPC and other marketing campaigns, and the Search Report shows visitor stats broken down by keyword and search engine. The Search Report is a great snapshot full of actionable data. I can't get the Campaign Report to work for our PPC stuff yet, but that's the other great thing - ClickTracks has awesome support. I've been working with one of their reps on and off since SES Chicago in December. He's been very patient and helpful, assisting me and others here in wading through the complex web that is our site (no pun intended). I'm sure most other reps would have given up on us by now, but he's sticking with it. In fact, I think the challenge energizes him - a trait which seems to be common among the ClickTracks staff I've met over the years. They love to try to crack a tough problem and break through to a solution. Seems like John Marshall, their CEO, is that type of guy, and it definitely permeates throughout the organization. John is very hands-on, and it's a really good thing for ClickTracks - he understands first-hand what they're trying to do and how to do it.

Anyone who's looking for a little insight into what's happening on their web site should try ClickTracks Appetizer. It rocks!

Thursday, May 18, 2006

This can get to be a habit...

All day, since I've set up this blog, I've thought of things to talk about. So much happens every day in the SEM space, as well as just things that happen in everyday life, I can see how this blogging thing can get out of hand quickly.

I'm gonna try to post one or two interesting tidbits per day. We'll see how this goes.

MSN Ads Reappear!

Well, MSN confirmed that they had a "brief outage" this morning where no ads were appearing. Funny! All's normal now.

Also, MSN updated their "performance thresholds" for ads, which basically means they upped their CTR requirements. Time to tweak ad copy and bids...

Where have all the MSN ads gone?

Over the weekend, a bunch of our MSN ads went haywire and stopped showing for no apparent reason. Yesterday, they returned, as mysteriously as they had disappeared. This morning, I'm seeing *no* ads on MSN searches! None! To be certain, I even searched on big-ticket keywords like "search engine optimization" and "mesothelioma." Nothin'. Just organic results. (Which, btw, weren't that great in the case of "search engine optimization," in my opinion.) We've had a whopping 9 impressions served since 7 a.m. today. What's up with that? Only MSN knows....

My very own blog!

Well, here goes - my attempt at jumping on the Blog bandwagon! I hope to post musings both work and non-work related, as time allows. Stay tuned!