Searching Beyond the Paid

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

SEM Word of the Day

Crapulent: adj., low quality; lacking substance; emulating crap; e.g. "This is a crapulent content network site - we didn't get a single conversion." Usage: commonly occurs with "fraudulent," e.g. "we didn't like the content network because of fraudulent or crapulent publisher partners."

Hat tip to Andrew Goodman at Traffick for the best laugh I've had all day!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Adwords Fiasco #2: Geotargeting Problems

In the midst of the $10 minimum bid fiasco, SEW Forum moderator Discovery discovered another problem: Geotargeting seems to be broken in Adwords. I had noticed this too, but hadn't had time to dig into it.

Well, now I have. And the news isn't good. All our campaigns are set to US only, since we can't sell outside the US. Prior to this month, we'd gotten virtually no foreign traffic from Adwords. However, as of early this morning, we've gotten over 1,000 clicks from non-US countries, and the percentage is rising. Yesterday, only 90% of our Adwords traffic was from the US - the rest was foreign, or "unknown." Hmm.

I've emailed my rep about this, and haven't heard back from her yet, so I don't know if we were actually charged for these clicks. However, this traffic throws off our analytics metrics - conversion rates look worse than they actually are. And we shouldn't be getting this traffic if we've asked not to - right? Cmon Google, you're wearing me out with all this stuff! How 'bout a little break?

I'll post an update once I hear what's up. In the meantime, Barry at SE Roundtable has a writeup on the issue.

The Biggest Adwords Fiasco Yet

If you're an Adwords advertiser, you must know about Friday's technical glitch that caused minimum bids to go to $10 for many keywords. This "glitch" was devastating to some accounts - although the full effect is still unknown.

For us, it looks as though impact on orders was minimal - although we had over 300 keywords with $10 minimums on Friday, many of which were our top traffic and conversion-driving keywords. I did hear that Google was showing ads for some of the keywords despite the $10 minimums, so maybe that's what happened to us. I am very glad we didn't lose significant business as a result of this "glitch." Today, we only have 11 keywords at $10 - and they were $10 before this whole fiasco happened.

All that said, communication from Google throughout this crisis was very poor. I discovered the issue at about 9 a.m. Eastern on Friday. Knowing that Adwords customer service doesn't come in till 10 a.m. Eastern, I immediately emailed my Adwords rep with the news. Then I started running reports to assess the damage. Then, at the stroke of 10, I got on the phone. My rep wasn't sure what was going on - understandable, since it was still early in Mountain View. She emailed me a couple hours later, asking for time to investigate. Fair enough.

At this point, I checked Search Engine Watch and Webmaster World. Everyone was abuzz - people were freaking out, saying they'd be out of business by the end of the weekend if something wasn't fixed. (Note to those folks: if all your eggs are in the Google basket, I suggest you diversify immediately.) AdwordsRep finally chimed in around 4 p.m. Eastern to confirm that it was a technical glitch. I finally got an email from my rep at 6:30 p.m. - long after I'd left for the day.

Let me make it clear that I'm glad this got fixed, and I'm glad we didn't get hit in the pocketbook as a result. However, I'm disappointed in Google's relative lack of communication on the issue. The Inside Adwords article didn't post until late this morning - 4 days after the issue popped up. Couldn't something have been said sooner? I know it's not good practice to talk out of turn without having all the facts, but people on the forums were going nuts. Throwing them a bone as soon as the problem was fixed would have been nice, instead of waiting till we all figured out on our own that the storm had blown over.

Let this be a lesson to all of us:
* Check your accounts daily for oddities. If you find them, start asking questions.
* If you're Google, please keep advertisers posted when something like this happens. We pay you a lot of money and it's not acceptable to keep us in the dark for days, or even hours in a case like this.
* Don't put all your eggs in one basket. If you were waiting to try Yahoo, MSN, or any of the other PPCs, now is the time.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Will MSN Ever Catch The Big Guys of Search?

Much has been said in many different forums and blogs about search engine market share, and it's all pretty much the same story: Google's the biggest, by far, with anywhere from 50% to 70% of all searches. Yahoo is next, with 20% to 25%. Then, there's MSN. Despite the fact that Internet Explorer comes with MSN as its default home page, few people seem to be searching there. (As an aside, our stats for non-PPC search traffic are as follows: Google 65%, Yahoo 20%, MSN 12%. At least we're average!)

As a PPC marketer, though, market share isn't everything. Everyone talks about the long tail - those low volume keywords that provide such a great return on investment. Bigger isn't necessarily better. Or is it?

I look at a few key factors when evaluating a PPC program: ease of use (I'm talking about the user interface here, not the engine itself), volume and quality of traffic, and, most importantly, ROI. As far as ROI goes, MSN is leading the pack - most likely due to the fact that ads only appear on MSN, not garbitrage sites lumped into the "search" partner network. I don't have to worry about click fraud or bad keyword surprises when it comes to MSN.

Where MSN falls down is on volume and ease of use. Traffic and order volumes are about 10% of what we get from Google; and about 25% of what we get from Yahoo. That alone puts the program way down the priority list. It's just not a leveraged use of my time. Couple that with the massively clunky, slow, user-unfriendly adCenter interface, and I barely even want to log in to my account, much less spend time fine-tuning keywords and ad copy.

I don't even know which I'd like MSN to address first: increasing volume, or fixing the UI. I do think they're trying to increase their traffic, by promoting Live Search and running contests. But why did they rebrand as Live Search anyway? What does that even mean? As far as I can tell, they lost whatever brand identity they might have had when they did that.

Fixing the UI will be a major undertaking. I've been using the newer "beta" UI for several months now, because we were one of the first advertisers in the Content program. Well, from where I sit, it's barely discernable from the old UI. Most of the really annoying problems from the old came riding along into the new: slow page loads, confusing tabs for managing ads and keywords, poor reporting capabilities, no account search function to speak of, etc. And then, recently, there's been the rash of editorial rejections for very inconsistent reasons. All of which adds up to monumental frustration every time I try to do something in the UI.

On the plus side, MSN's customer service reps are really nice people who, I believe, genuinely want to help their customers. But they're hamstrung by the same system issues I'm grappling with, along with constant "reorganizations" and shuffling of personnel, which doesn't help.

So, does MSN have the stuff to compete, or are they destined to bring up the rear? Unless they can work through some of these problems, I see them lagging behind for the foreseeable future.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Yahoo Search Marketing's New Ad Ranking Algo

Yahoo's new PPC interface, Panama, has garnered much attention in the PPC space recently. The latest big news is the change from ranking ads solely by bid amount to ranking by a formula which takes ad quality, among other things, into account. Details at the YSM Blog.

The new ranking system launched Monday afternoon, Feb. 5. What's the word on the SEM street? Not much, so far. Barry at SE Roundtable wonders why there isn't more buzz in the forums about it. In fact, he's "shocked" by the relative silence on the issue. I'm shocked, too, but I do think there are valid reasons for the quiet:

* It's still early. Yahoo hasn't said exactly what time they flipped the switch, but most accounts put it at around 3 p.m. Eastern time on Monday. That's late in the work day for us Eastern time zone folks; and, it means the first full day of the new system was yesterday. It's hard to draw any major conclusions from one day's worth of data.

* Yahoo's advertisers aren't tracking their positions and/or results. Yahoo doesn't make it easy to check ad position - there isn't a column for "average position" on any of the campaign or ad group summary screens. To see that info, you have to drill down into each ad group, or run a URL Performance report. Neither is a great option. And as far as tracking results, well, we all know that many search marketers don't track their conversions at all, or don't do so very accurately. Even those of us who do track probably don't look at this on a daily basis.

* The new system didn't have much effect on advertisers' positions or other key metrics. I did check both our average position and conversion % for yesterday. Average position was exactly the same as it was on 1/30, the previous Tuesday. Conversion was actually slightly higher than our average. I spot-checked several of our highest-traffic keywords, and with only a couple exceptions, we were in position 1 or 2. However, many of these keywords were in those positions BEFORE the switch - so, overall, this hasn't had a big effect on us. I suspect the same can be said for many other Yahoo advertisers.

* Yahoo is just too small for marketers to care about. I have heard from at least a few advertisers that in comparison to Google Adwords, overall sales and ROI from Yahoo is so small that they barely spend any time on their account. Now, one could argue that there was a big forum buzz when Panama first launched, which is true. However, a new interface is different from a new ranking system - we work within that interface every day, so when it's not what we were used to, it throws us off! Furthermore, the old Direct Traffic Center was so awful for so long, Panama was bound to create some buzz just because of how different it is.

I suspect all of the above explain the relative silence. Speaking for myself, I would have posted something if I saw anything dramatic either way from the new ranking algo - but since nothing really changed for us, I didn't have anything to say about it!

Of course all eyes are on Yahoo and this new algo, and we'll all be watching the various forums for feedback and comments.