Searching Beyond the Paid

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

PPC Gone Wild: If Ya Got It, Flaunt It

Back in July, I wrote about Britney Spears' naked escapades in Harper's Bazaar Magazine, and how they briefly caused an unwanted surge in our PPC traffic. Then, in early August, Janet Jackson caused an even briefer stir with her decision to pose for Vibe Magazine. Now, it's Eva Mendez who's gotten on the bandwagon, posing nude for Flaunt Magazine.

Ever hear of Flaunt Magazine? I wouldn't have either, if I didn't work for a magazine subscription agency. They publish 10 issues per year, and a 1-year subscription costs a staggering $55 - and that's our discount rate. Since no one has heard of this magazine, everyone's running to the search engines to get the scoop. Since we advertise magazine subscriptions, they're clicking on our ads.

This story is mostly good news, though. First off, I'm wise to this game since it seems to happen on a monthly basis now. I watch out for headlines touting nude hotties posing for magazines.

Second, we've got Clicktracks up and running. Their "What's Changed" report alerted me to the fact that, starting yesterday, we got 40-some clicks on the term "flaunt magazine" when, the day before (and probably most days before that) we got 0. I immediately started digging for the reason. I did a Google web search, which turned up no breaking news, other than the fact that we rank #10 for that keyword. Good news - our SEO is working, and we're not paying for those clicks! Then I went to Google News. Bingo. Less than 24 hours ago, the story broke about Eva's photo "spread" (so to speak). Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner.

Finally, since no one was searching for this magazine, no one was buying it either - so I had already taken down most of our PPC ads for it. So this little blip cost us literally pennies - all but a few clicks came from our organic listings. I lowered our bids to the minimum on the few remaining PPC ads, and there we are - all set. I'm fine if people want to click on our organic listing - maybe one of them will even buy something. Probably Playboy, which, according to Google News, Eva turned down in favor of Flaunt. Ironic, eh?

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Danny Sullivan's Departure from Search Engine Watch

Barry at SERoundtable has a great summary of the Reaction from the Search Community on Danny Sullivan's Departure: "This morning I wrote that Danny Sullivan To Leave Search Engine Watch :: Search Industry Shocked (someone dug the story), I promised to let the search community digest this information and then summarizing that buzz."

I have to admit, I was shocked and surprised, as well. If you've ever heard Danny speak, or read his blog posts, or articles, or forum posts, you can't help but like him. Even the "extremists" of the SEO community have a lot of respect for him and the things he's done to advance the search world. As I said in my comment on Danny's blog, who else could bring Barry Diller, Eric Schmidt, Matt Cutts, Tim Mayer, and every other big name in search to one conference? No one but Danny can do it - and do it in such an enjoyable, personable way. Rand Fishkin says it well: "our industry is one of the most friendly, unassuming, cordial and welcoming in the professional world. Without Danny, I fear for the survival of our culture." Indeed. At my first SES back in 2003, I wasn't expecting a lot beyond the typical sales pitches and surface information one usually finds at industry conferences. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that SES was totally different. Real information was presented at the sessions - information I could immediately take back to the office and act upon. Representatives from the various consultants, vendors, and even the engines themselves shared information openly, without a hint of a sales pitch. After-hours events and parties were not a gathering of cliques or of sales reps trying to sell me - they were true networking events with people getting excited about the industry and sharing free advice all around. It's become the only business trip I actually look forward to every year.

Much of this is thanks to Danny. His keynotes, and even the sessions he moderates, foster the attitude of sharing and friendliness. He deftly quells detractors and those who stray from the message with skill, tact, and aplomb. He seems so at ease on that stage, in front of thousands of people - in the audience, you feel like he's just chatting with his friends! Few people can pull this off, and Danny does it expertly.

I don't know what lies in store for SEW and SES. I can only hope they continue to be the wealth of information they are now. If not, I know Danny can create a fitting substitute. I have no doubt he'll have the support of the search community.

Danny, we wait with bated breath and hang on your every move! We know you'll do it and do it well.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Searchers Can't Spell, And Other Musings

I have to agree with this article by David Berkowitz in MediaPost's "Search Insider" column today, which was prompted by the infamous leak of individual searcher data by AOL late last week. What's so interesting about the AOL data is the fact that you can drill down vertically by individual. Web logs and search tools such as Overture, WordTracker, et al let you know what people are searching for in aggregate, but never before has the data been so readily available to allow us to drill into the path individuals take when searching. It's fascinating stuff.

My favorite of Berkowitz's observations is this one: "No one can spell." How true! And in the PPC world, this is the gold mine of the long tail. I am continually amazed at how few PPC marketers take advantage of common misspellings, which often are out there for much cheaper CPCs than the correct spellings. For example, "glamor magazine" (the correct spelling is "glamour magazine") is one of our most popular, and inexpensive, keywords. Even better is this example, which I ran across yesterday, for Rachael Ray's magazine. Rachael is one of my favorite Food Netword hosts, so naturally I follow her magazine with interest. Her mag's site is running their own PPC ads, as is the usual cadre of agents like us. But, Rach's marketing folks apparently don't know that only one in 10 searchers knows her name is spelled Rachael, not Rachel. They're not using "rachel ray magazine," or any form thereof, as a keyword. Which is fine with me! Ha ha! Note to Rachael's (or is it Rachel's?) marketing team: We'll discuss my fee later, thank you very much.

The other cool point Berkowitz makes is how many people use the search bar for direct navigation. I think this practice is actually increasing, although I don't have data to prove that. I know I have to make "www" and ".com" negative keywords in our PPC campaigns, or we'll get lots of non-converting clicks for people who are looking for a magazine's web site. (One more observation for ya, Mr. B - "No one can read," since our ads clearly state we are SELLING the magazine, not serving content from it.) I even find myself using the search box this way more and more. Just today, I was doing a little prep for our family trip to Chicago next week. I couldn't remember the address of the hotel we're staying at, so I typed "hotel name chicago" into Google. Voila - there's the hotel web site at the top of the SERPs, along with a handy map pointing it out, and links to related locations such as restaurants and attractions. Google must figure that lots of folks like me want this info, and there it is with one click of the mouse. Great for the user.

When the AOL story first broke, I thought, "so what?" Now that folks have had a chance to wade through the data, I'm much more intrigued by the impact this could have on the search industry in general.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Pay-Per-Click Customer Service

Pay-per-click customer service (commonly known as PPC CS) varies widely amongst the engines. As of today, here's how I'd rate each major engine on their service on a scale from 1 (worst) to 5 (best).

Google: 5. They have consistently gone above and beyond to make sure I'm happy with my account. They take the time to listen and learn about our business and what works. They're extremely responsive to my inquiries (usually same-day - if not, it's usually because the time zone difference gets in our way). Reps are patient and customer-focused. The only negative I can think of is that every 3-6 months, we get a new rep. That said, each time that's happened, the new rep has taken a lot of time to review our account and talk to me about our goals. Thumbs up. Plus you can't beat Google swag.

Yahoo: 2. I would give them a 1 except that on a couple occasions, I've had decent results from calling them and speaking with a Platinum rep. However, despite the 5 figures we spend with them monthly, we don't get a dedicated rep - we're stuck with whoever we get on the phone. And forget emailing - they never reply. Forget, too, about click fraud refunds - in May we were promised a refund for bad traffic we got back in February and March. It never happened. Terrible.

MSN: 3. Two weeks ago, I'd have given them a 4. Now, it seems, we've been downgraded from a dedicated rep with a direct email and phone number to their "US Ad Services" area, with a generic phone number and email address. We've been with MSN since the old Search Featured Site program, and IMHO this is no way to treat an advertiser who's stuck by them through that program, plus the beta and startup of the new one. And, the well-publicized problems with their interface and the lack of understanding of it on the part of the reps doesn't earn them points, either. Sorry, MSN - everybody there is super nice, but nice just isn't enough.

Ask: 0. When I wrote this post, I'd have given them at least a 3. I'd fetched myself a rep with a direct phone number and email address, and he was understanding and responsive to my queries. Even got us a click fraud refund in less than 48 hours. Huge brownie points. Then - poof! - he left the company. Now, I've got no phone number (his direct line dead-ends with a voice mail saying he's gone) and an email address that I think just goes to a junk mail folder, judging from the responses I've received (none). Ask removed us from one crappy network (Findology) but then put us on another (abcsearch, the famed IP that folks on the forums are complaining about). They didn't charge us for clicks from that IP, but those clicks throw off our tracking stats. No amount of emailing or complaining on the boards has brought a reply. Guess what, Ask: when that happens, I just pull keywords and reduce my CPC with broad strokes.

Suffice it to say that CS in the PPC world leaves a lot to be desired. Yes, PPC is still a really new field, and everyone in it still has a lot to learn. However, responding to advertiser queries in a timely fashion is just CS basics - in fact, it's not even PPC-related. It's just good customer service, period. Oh, and some nice swag goes a long way, too.

Search Engine Strategies San Jose 2006

I have to join the other SEM bloggers out there pointing to SE Roundtable's live coverage of the San Jose SES. These guys work very hard to blog as many of the sessions as they can - meaning people like me who are stuck at home, wishing they were there, can still hear the latest news, gossip, and discussions on SEM. Just reading the teaser below makes me jealous! Maybe next year....

Search Engine Strategies San Jose 2006 - Day One: "This morning, when walking towards the conference area, you can smell the excitement in the air for this SES event. San Jose is believed to be the SES event of the year. The conference center is very fitting for the event, the distance from the hotel lobby is very close, the rooms are large enough to fit the large crowds and the search engine companies live just around the corner. Today, the volunteers are the Search Engine Roundtable provided next to real time coverage of the event. Below are links to the 14 sessions Benjamin Pfeiffer, Chris Boggs, Lee Odden and I covered during the day. "

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

eWhisper's Landing Page Case Study

Brad Geddes, aka eWhisper, has been kind enough to publish details of a landing page case study he's been working on recently. It's a long post, but worth reading if you're an AdWords advertiser affected by the new Quality Score.

My takeaway from this is that wow, it's a whole lotta work to "fix" something that wasn't broken to begin with. His client's site was converting well and the ROI was excellent. So far, he's succeeded in lowering the CPC from $10 to $0.12 - but conversion has dropped over 1 percentage point. And it took a lot of effort in the form of designing new pages and revamping an entire section of the client's site. Ouch. Scary stuff for small businesses with limited site development and testing resources.