Searching Beyond the Paid

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Google Adwords Pay-Per-Action: Early Thoughts

Google Adwords seems to have all the bases covered in online marketing. They have the core product, Adwords, going strong on a CPC model. They have site targeting for Adsense advertisers on a CPM basis (and CPC too, currently in beta). And now, they've announced that they're beta-testing a pay-per-action (PPA) program via Adsense, as well.

Coverage of this new move abounds: Barry, Ben, and Chris discussed it in Search Pulse, and Barry also has screen shots and some good reader comments at Search Engine Roundtable. Brad Geddes, aka eWhisper, has posted a step-by-step guide to creating PPA campaigns. Discussions are happening on all the major search engine forums. Some people are ecstatic about this program, and some are fearful that it'll unseat the current leaders in affiliate marketing and lead to further world domination by Google.

All speculation aside, here are my thoughts on the program initially. We've been part of the beta for a while now, but I've just started setting up campaigns and ads. One thing I learned from my Adwords rep is that I have to get out of the PPC mindset when choosing keywords. I've worked with PPC for so long that I instinctively stay away from high-volume, generic-type keywords that I know will drive tons of traffic and few conversions. In PPC, obviously, this doesn't work. But PPA is a different animal: since we don't pay for clicks, why not fill the bucket with as many visitors as possible? Even if only one out of 1,000 converts, we only pay for that one!

So, with that in mind, it's been fun creating these ad groups. For example, for our Playboy Magazine PPA campaign, I've been able to pick keywords like "playmates, bunnies, girls next door, centerfolds" and a myriad of other fun keywords that I've actually negatived-out in our CPC campaigns! Same thing with high-volume keywords for other, tamer magazines like Family Fun, Birds & Blooms, and Guns & Ammo. (OK, maybe Guns & Ammo isn't tame, but you get the point.)

I will say that traffic from these campaigns, so far, has been underwhelming to say the least. We've had a few impressions, but no clicks yet. Unlike a traditional affilate program, I have no way of knowing which sites, if any, have picked up our ads. I don't so much care about specifics, but I'd at least be curious how many sites are showing our ads.

This lack of transparency, at least initially, is one reason why I don't think traditional affiliate programs are doomed. Google's program is a great way for advertisers who might want to try out this type of advertising, since it's self-serve and runs on the familiar Adwords platform. For advertisers like us that already have affiliate programs, it will (hopefully) provide a good source of incremental business. For the affiliates, it's another way to monetize their web sites. But I don't see it replacing the giants like Commission Junction, LinkShare, or even Adsense's CPC program. It's just one more option for advertisers to choose.

I'm curious to see what other beta testers' experiences are. Is anybody getting decent traffic? Is any of the traffic converting? Post your comments!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

SMX Advanced Agenda Announced

As reported at Search Engine Land, the agenda for SMX Advanced (Seattle, June 4-5) has been announced.

There are still a couple sessions listed as TBA, but wow, what a lot of meat in there already. It looks like Danny has outdone himself, putting together a conference that is truly geared toward the advanced searcn marketer. The agenda is packed with deep-digging sessions on advanced SEO and PPC strategies and tactics, as well as provocative roundtables and panels that should prove interesting at a minimum, and "lively" at best!

Networking hasn't been forgotten, either. The conference kicks off on Sunday night, June 3, with the "SMX Bash," a networking reception at the Bell Harbor. Then, on Monday night, there's a networking reception at the show (most likely on the exhibit hall floor), followed by "SMX After Dark," where the networking continues. These after-hours events are always highly anticipated by search conference attendees - in addition to being a great place to have a drink and relax, they're the source of some of the most productive networking at the show. I've made many of my best contacts at these type of events in the past, and I'm sure the same will be true at SMX.

So, even though SMX officially only lasts two days, you'll want to get there early enough on Sunday to catch the Bash. And you won't want to miss any of the Tuesday sessions, which end at 5:45 p.m. - so unless you're nearby, you'll want to wait till Wednesday to fly home. Either way, it promises to be a great few days of search talk!

Disclosure: I was lucky enough to win a pass to attend this conference. That said, I really, truly, honestly believe the show will be a great one - I'm not just trying to butter up Danny and crew. Really!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Trademark Trials and Tribulations

A trademark is defined as "A name, symbol, or other device identifying a product, officially registered and legally restricted to the use of the owner or manufacturer." Trademarks are a good thing. They allow businesses, manufacturers, and others to protect the names of their goods and services, without worrying about other people using the name illegitimately. Many companies trademark their business names, as well as the names of the products they manufacture.

All the PPC engines have policies concerning the use of trademarks in advertisements. There's a good summary of them here. These policies, as far as I can tell, are written to prevent deceptive use of trademarks: for example, to keep out ads like "Looking for Pontiac? Honda's Better! Find Out Why at" or, worse yet, "Pontiac - Great Automobiles Here -". Clearly, ads of this nature are a deliberate attempt to mislead the consumer and draw clicks away from competitors. I think most people would agree this should be prohibited.

But what about authorized resellers? Distributors? Legitimate businesses selling trademarked products?

Well, if you want to advertise on Google Adwords, and the trademark owner has filed a trademark restriction, you're out of luck. In the US, you can have ads on trademarked keywords, but you can't use the keywords in your ad.

So, for illustration purposes only, let's say you're a Honda dealer, and you want to advertise the Honda Odyssey on Google. Let's say Honda has filed a trademark restriction on "Honda Odyssey." Guess what, Joe's Honda? You're screwed. You're relegated to ad copy like, "Reliable minivan from a top manufacturer, see it here." How lame is that? How many people are going to click on that ad?

Not many. I can tell you from experience. We've got almost 50 magazines whose names we can't use in our Google ads, due to trademark restrictions filed by the publishers. Click-through rates on the ads we've tried, without the name of the magazine in them, are pathetic. And of course, what's one of the biggest factors in the Adwords Quality Score? CTR. So it's a double whammy - your ads look and sound stupid, and your Quality Score gets hammered. Not a good combination.

What I don't understand is why this is such a big deal in the search space. I mean, can you imagine JCPenney running a newspaper ad for Levi's or Carter's or Samsonite or any of the hundreds of other brands they carry in their stores - without using those names in the ad?? How silly would that look? And how many people would be compelled to shop for "great brand name jeans" or "cute brand baby clothes" or "super durable luggage" after seeing such an ad? Where would all the grocery store circulars be without using brand names and logos? What about TV ads for just about anything? What about magazine ads??

There are already laws on the books which prevent bait-and-switch and deceptive advertising. As I said earlier, everyone agrees this is a bad thing. Why not just enforce these laws? Why hamstring legitimate advertisers with this silly trademark policy?

Lawsuits and deep pockets, that's why. Google has been sued over this, and therein lies the difference between search engines and traditional media. Traditional media have huge sales staffs who oversee the ads placed there. I sold radio and newspaper advertising for over 7 years. It was at least partly my responsibility to make sure the ads I sold were accurate and the businesses actually sold the products they were advertising. Google's self-serve Adwords platform makes it impossible for them to oversee every ad that runs there. So, it's probably easier (and definitely cheaper) for them to just enact this policy rather than subject themselves to lawsuits every day.

So really, the bottom line lies in our legal system and litigious society. Instead of invoking FTC guidelines and going after the advertisers themselves, people go after the Google Googlianaires. Sad.

I don't know what the right answer is, but I know that legit advertisers like us are getting squeezed by this short-sighted policy - and the short-sightedness of the trademark holders who fear what they do not understand.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

SMX, Here I Come!

I guess I can't say I never win anything. I won an iPod nano at SES Chicago in 2005, and it's earned a permanent spot in my purse (or, in my pocket/ears while I'm working out). And now, I've been lucky enough to win a ticket to the inaugural Search Marketing Expo, commonly known as SMX, in Seattle in June.

First off, I have to thank the crew at SMX and Search Engine Land for allowing me the opportunity to attend the show. I was hoping to go, but it wasn't in our budget, so I figured I'd have to settle for reading about it on the forums. But now, between being the lucky winner and moving a few dollars around, I'll be able to be there after all.

Being the first SMX, I'm not sure what to expect. However, I know Danny Sullivan and his crew are more than capable of putting on a great event - after all, Danny's been chairing SES for a number of years, and we all know he has the best connections in the search marketing industry. On top of that, this is SMX Advanced - with sessions aimed at those already well-versed in search marketing. As the SMX site describes it, "If you're fluent in search marketing, SMX Advanced is where you can converse with others who speak your native language."

I can't wait to go "speak SEM" in Seattle. It should be a great show. Thanks again to everyone at SMX for allowing me this opportunity. See you all there!