Searching Beyond the Paid

Friday, July 28, 2006

More on Google AdWords' New Landing Page Algo

I have to agree with Jennifer Laycock of Search Engine Guide, in her article Is Google Shooting Itself in the Foot? She points to a DigitalPoint forum thread (disclosure: I haven't read that thread yet) where an advertisier with a CTR of 8% and a conversion rate of 23-24% has been slapped with a huge minimum CPC. As Jennifer says, "With that in mind, I'm personally finding it hard to believe that Google can justify the charge that he's delivering a poor 'user experience' to his visitors. A poor user experience coincides with lousy conversion rates, not with higher than average rates." Exactly what I've been saying all along.

Again, for the most part, we've come out of this whole experience relatively unscathed. With a few notable exceptions, as I mentioned in my last post. Some (not all, but some) of the exceptions were producing the bulk of clicks and conversions for their ad group. So, what Google has done in those cases is cut off all their revenue from us for that particular ad group. And not only was that ad group producing large volumes of clicks, it was producing large volumes of conversions for us. But $5 or $10 per click won't cut it, even with a good conversion rate.

I love the newspaper ad analogy quoted from the DP thread. Great, great, great points made there. Everyone needs to remember that newspapers, just like any other media, reserve the right to refuse or accept any advertisement. In my experience, though, unless an ad were an out-and-out scam, it was accepted for publication - whether the paper thought the store was "worthy" or not. Unless the advertiser was cheating the public (or the paper, by not paying their advertising bill), the ad ran. No one would argue that scam ads in newspapers provide a poor user experience - just like MFAs and other arbitrage ads on Google provide a poor user experience. But a legitimate advertiser, with a legitimate site selling a legitimate product, and converting one out of 4 site visitors, obvously isn't providing a poor user experience at all - no matter what Google may think of their site!

I also must refer to my post on letting Google have our conversion data. I have to believe that if Google could see for themselves how well these ads were working, they'd loosen the leash. Then again, maybe not.

As Jennifer says, "Google's zeal to force advertisers into delivering better 'content' to visitors may result in those same advertisers seeing enough of a drop in ROI that they're forced to leave the PPC system. Ultimately, that means less money for Google and more money for it's [sic] competitors." Yup.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

I'm quoted on SE Roundtable!

I replied to a post on SEW about PPC ad lengths, and SE Roundtable is quoting me on their blog! Market Trends: Conformity Of PPC Search Marketing Creatives - Short vs. Long?: "There is some interesting discussion over at SEW Forums you might want to check out. It is discussing the trends of the major PPC providers in terms of the lengths of their ad creatives and how over time they have gotten shorter or even longer at times... "

Here is my quote: "Our advice to advertisers was always "the more you tell, the more you sell." This is true for PPC as well. Yahoo's longer ads definitely do a better job of getting targeted clicks. But it's hard to compare apples to apples, because the audiences for the two engines are so different, and the programs keep changing in terms of distribution partners, "quality score," and so on." I was relating my experience in the classified ad dept. of a mid-size newspaper. Glad Phoenix liked my quote!

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Random Thoughts

Summer... those lazy, hazy, crazy days, right? Hazy, yes - the weekend was hot and humid here, although it's nicer now. Lazy? Maybe tomorrow - more on that later. Crazy? Definitely! It took me a half-hour to get through my Google Reader reading list on what's going on in SEM - and that was with skimming only the summaries of 3/4 of the items! So much happening - where to begin?

Hot off the press is Yahoo's announcement that the launch of the new Panama PPC interface will be delayed from the 3rd quarter until the 4th quarter of this year. Great job, Yahoo - just in time for the holidays. My bet's on "sometime in first quarter 2007." Maybe. Methinks Yahoo stockholders are with me. More on that at ClickZ.

Google AdWords' new Quality Score has advertisers up in arms. MFAs are still out there, legit sites with good CTRs and even better conversions are getting hit, and now there's a rumor that affiliate sites are disappearing. With a few notable exceptions, we're still in the clear on this one, but time will tell. More on this in this monster Webmaster World thread.

Not to be outdone, MSN has been experiencing reporting delays in the AdCenter interface. They were behind by 4-5 days, but when I ran a report at around noon Eastern today, they were only behind 3 days on daily reports. Only. Kinda sad. More on this at SEO Roundtable.

Finally, 2 fun things. First, the Google Mini-Frig eBay auction. Seems the thing sold for $180! Maybe I should put mine up for sale.... but, I really like it and we do use it, so maybe I'll wait till the going rate equals the price of a share of Google stock.

Last, but certainly not least, the kids are going to Grandma's house for the next 5 days. Woo hoo! I'm off work till next Tuesday, planning some kid-free fun and frolic. I'm allotting about 2 hours to catch up on Google Reader on Tuesday...

Friday, July 14, 2006

SEW: Many Advertisers Are Frustrated With Google's New Quality Score & Pricing

Interesting post by Barry on the SEW blog: Many Advertisers Are Frustrated With Google's New Quality Score & Pricing: "On July 7th Jennifer Slegg reported that the new Google AdWords landing page quality score algorithm has been updated. Since then, the effects of the new algorithm have been rippling through Adwords campaigns..."

He refers to a Webmaster World thread that sounds really intriguing. Too bad the thread is currently unavailable "pending administrative review." I'll post more later if I can get access to the thread.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The Googlers Are Coming!

Local media here in Lansing are abuzz with the news that Google is coming to Ann Arbor, bringing 1,000 jobs with them. This is huge news for Michigan - finally, a decent-sized and high-profile employer for the area that's not related to the auto industry!

Barry Schwartz over at SEO Roundtable blogged about this in his blog and at SEW. He's got some good links to the Free Press story and the Google Jobs board in his SEO Roundtable post. So far, the jobs on the Google board are for Adwords positions - CS reps, basically; and a CS supervisor / call center supervisor.

I'll be watching this with great interest. As an East Lansing resident, it's nice to see our boy Larry bring some of the love back home.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Google AdWords Updates Landing Page Quality Score

Good overview and commentary by JenSense, in her blog, on the new Adwords Landing Page Quality Score. She points out that, by all appearances, Google is trying to weed out the Made-For-Adsense (MFA) web sites. She says, "Depending on where you sit on the issue, this decision could be the best thing AdWords could have done, or the worst thing they could have done to your profits."

Indeed. When I first read the email from the Inside AdWords team, I was pleased. Our ads have shown up on a few of these MFA's, and needless to say, the clicks don't convert. It's doubly frustrating to see the MFA's competing with us for AdWords positioning, as well. All in all, I think this is a good thing for both the advertisers and the searchers.

I'm a little (and for now, only a little) concerned about the fringe effect of this change, though. Many of our high-volume keywords, for both clicks and conversions, are also really high-traffic terms that tend to be somewhat generic. CTR's are relatively low on these terms, which hurts our Quality Score. But the overall volume of clicks is high, and so is the conversion percentage. I want our ads to show on these keywords. On the other hand, some of these keywords have garnered really high keyword minimum CPCs of late - and the list has grown (slightly) longer since this new announcement by Google. I'm seeing a lot more $5.00 minimum CPCs, and even one $10.00 minimum, for the keyword "discover". Yikes. For a $19.95 subscription, it doesn't take a math whiz to figure out that we can't afford to pay $10 for every click on that keyword. Thing is, though, that one-word keyword converts! In this case, and most of the others, Google is passing up some decent click revenue from us.

It goes without saying that, suddenly, most of our Harper's Bazaar keywords have gone inactive, too. See my previous post on that fiasco.

Nonetheless, I'm cautiously optimistic about the new Quality Score. MFAs aren't good for anybody except the MFA site owners, and I'd love to see them disappear. I've been testing some workarounds for the high minimum CPCs, as well, with a bit of success. Let's see how this all plays out.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Pay Per Click Gone Wild

OK, so I manage the PPC campaigns for Magazineline, and we sell popular consumer magazine titles, including Harper's Magazine and Harper's Bazaar. Those two aren't top sellers - not tiny, but not top sellers. So, around June 29 , I notice that our top PPC keywords are "harpers bazaar," and "harpers" and "harper bazaar" and various misspellings thereof. Huh?

Well, then it hit me. I had a vague recollection of seeing a news item about Britney Spears appearing nude in some magazine. "Some magazine" turned out to be - you guessed it - Harper's Bazaar. So of course half the world's population wants to see the pics online, and they're typing in the name of the magazine. Or something close, but not quite (hello, people - Harper's Magazine ain't the same thing as Harper's Bazaar!). And a few of those millions are clicking on our PPC ads. Never mind the fact that the ads make it clear we're selling SUBSCRIPTIONS to the magazine - naw, why bother reading an ad when I can just click on it?

The good news is, I realized this right away and was able to minimize our losses by adding a ton of negative keywords, and in most cases, pausing the ads entirely until the storm blew over - which took less than a week, by the way. Many lessons to learn here:

A. Watch your PPC campaigns like a hawk. Note and investigate any anomalies immediately. Sometimes you have to do a little digging - trust me, it's worth it.
B. People don't read. I know, news flash, right? Well, generally, the wording of our ads deters the "happy clickers" who are looking for content and/or photos - but these were more than happy clickers. The hot pursuit of Britney naked (and pregnant, no less) apparently blinds even the usually savvy searchers to ad copy.
C. People can't spell. I had no idea how many variations of "bazaar" there are out there. I'd thought of a few, but I got a lot more ideas from the search terms in this frenzy. My favorite? "Harpers Bizarre." Bizarre, indeed.
D. What looks like click fraud, might not be click fraud after all. When I saw the volume of clicks on these terms, my mind immediately went to "Fraud." Looking at the referral data, though, quickly indicated otherwise - referrals were from the engines themselves, not crummy partners; and all 3 of the bigs experienced spikes at almost the exact same time. That's almost never fraud. More likely, it's a naked pregnant famous person.

Still, the amount of money this cost us left me looking for someone to blame. But who?
A. The engines? This time, it really wasn't their fault. They were serving up ads that matched the queries people were entering.
B. Me? Never! Seriously... these were tried-and-tested ads and keywords with a track record.
C. The searchers? No. Although they may be foolish, or stupid, or just plain, well, curious, it's not their fault either (except the aforementioned "I can't read ad copy" issue).
So, who's left? Britney? Yep, I blame Britney. That's it. It's her fault. Shame on you, Brit, for trying to revive your flagging career (did she even have a career in the first place?) by posing naked and pregnant. And just so you know, it's already been done - by Demi Moore in Vogue, years and years ago. But that didn't slow the curiosity of the masses, did it? Sigh. I guess people have short memories, too.