Searching Beyond the Paid

Thursday, September 27, 2007

AdWords Expanded Match Continues to Confound

Google's Expanded Broad Match option for Adwords has been the source of much discussion since it launched a couple of years ago. Much of the feedback from advertisers has been less than positive, as evidenced by this Search Engine Watch thread which started almost 2 years ago, yet remains active today.

However, the coupling of Expanded Broad Match with Google's new Search Query Report has put the spotlight on some of its flaws and shortcomings. Further confounding the issue is Google's recent clarification of its Landing Page Guidelines, which has some experts wondering whether Google has gone too far in pursuit of a positive user experience.

On the flip side of that coin comes a lively thread on Webmaster World. A good summary of the thread is at Search Engine Roundtable, but basically advertisers expressed their displeasure with the lack of relevancy in Expanded Broad Match. Adwords Advisor chimed in asking for clarification, with a promise to take the feedback to the powers that be at Google, and the discussion's taken off from there.

I've given some of my thoughts in that thread, and the gist of them is that on the plus side, expanded broad match is one of the best ways to discover tail terms that drive great ROI. Instead of spending hours poring over keyword tools and server logs, why not let Google do the legwork for you via expanded broad match? Well, the downside is that, as evidenced in the WMW thread, expanded match goes too far. Ads are being shown on totally irrelevant searches, as well as foreign language and character queries. I don't think anyone can claim that irrelevant ads provide a positive user experience. A positive experience for Google's pocketbook, maybe, but not for the searcher.

What we need is for Google to bring back the classic broad match, and have expanded broad match as a separate match option. This has been brought up time and again on forums and blogs, as well as search conferences such as SMX Advanced. I think it's time Google gave this idea more than just lip service. Let's hope AWA's meeting moves us closer to that goal.


Monday, September 24, 2007

What If SES and SMX Merged?

No, the two conferences aren't really merging. But if they did....

Two of my coworkers attended the Annual Summit in Vegas last week. By all accounts, it was a fruitful show, with informative sessions and a packed exhibit hall.

That's where the SES / SMX mashup comes in. My coworker was filling me in on her experiences at the show: specifically her conversations with vendors at the expo. Talking with a rep from a search marketing firm, she asked him if he exhibited at other shows like, and I quote, "SEX or any of those?"

Alrighty then!

The best part of the story is, the guy she was talking to didn't even notice the faux pas! He kept right on talking and never missed a beat. Our other coworker, who was standing by, looked on in horror as the two of them talked about "going to SEX."

It's not a bad acronym, when you think about it. Search Engine Xpo, anyone?

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Monday, September 17, 2007

A Day Without Email

Due to our growing business and the need for more bandwidth, we've been in the process of switching IP addresses at work. We ran the old and new IPs side-by-side for a couple of weeks, and finally turned off the old IPs on Friday.

Needless to say, there were a few glitches. That's to be expected when technology is involved. What I personally wasn't prepared for was the email outage that started sometime Saturday.

Like most internet and search marketers, I get a lot of email. Newsletters, forum notifications, account updates, Google Alerts, weekly reports, and more fill my inbox 7 days a week. It usually takes a few extra minutes every Monday to download all my weekend mail. This morning, I noticed that I had very few new messages - and most of them were internal. It didn't take long for me to realize that I hadn't gotten any external emails since sometime Saturday morning.

Our IT staff worked all weekend and all day today to get the issue resolved, and we finally started getting external mail a couple of hours ago. But any mail sent during the outage is, apparently, lost forever.

Which leaves me feeling, well, lost. Much of it I can do without - as a matter of fact, I'd been thinking about paring down my e-newsletter list anyway, since I don't have time to read everything I get. But I really need the reports and notifications from the PPC engines. To make matters worse, some of my Google reports are stuck in "Pending" - even after re-running them and taking out the "email this to me" option. My Google rep is working on it, but since she couldn't email me earlier today, even that process has been slow and inefficient. We've had to actually (gasp!) use the phone! I am really glad I have a rep team in Ann Arbor - I could call them at 9:30 a.m. Eastern instead of having to wait until the Mountain View office opened up.

Asking "what did we do before X technology?" is a common question, and I'm not nearly as plugged-in as a lot of my SEM peers are. I don't have a Blackberry or an iPhone, I don't Twitter or Stumble or Digg, and I rarely check email on my cell phone. In fact I rarely use my cell phone. But spending a day without email has been challenging. I do remember life before email, and I'm even (double gasp!!) old enough to remember working without it - but not as an internet marketer. Email is definitely in my "can't live without it" category.

Update, 9/18/07: Turns out the issues with my pending Google Reports are unrelated to our email outage. Apparently this is a known Adwords issue, and Google's tech team is working to resolve it. For once, I'm glad this is a Google glitch and not something we caused!


Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Challenge of Estimating Paid Search Volume

There's a good thread at Search Engine Watch Forums that's been going for a month now about estimating search traffic, specifically paid search traffic. So far, the consensus is that it's really difficult - some would say even impossible - to do this accurately.

I've been struggling with this issue ever since we started in paid search over 5 years ago. Early on, it wasn't a big deal. I could just say "well, it's a new program with no history, so we really don't know what's going to happen" and that was good enough. Besides, the programs were small enough that they didn't hit the management radar screen too hard.

Now, however, paid search makes up about 50% of our total acquisition volume. It's definitely on the radar screen. And I've got a problem - albeit a good problem. Our fiscal year began July 1. Google volume has exceeded my forecasts by over 50% for the first 2 months of the fiscal year. And management wants to know why, and whether this will continue.

I know, I know - many of you would just say "take the money and run!" and not worry another second about it. But, realistically, forecasting is important - it affects how we run our business. Company priorities, income, expenses, cash flow - they all depend on reasonably accurate forecasts.

And therein lies the dilemma: How does one estimate search traffic with any amount of accuracy?

Do you look at your own history? We've been a Google advertiser for over 5 years, yet clearly history isn't an accurate predictor. I started with last year's results when I forecast this year, and it's not even close.

Do you use traffic estimation tools? Well, such tools might give a more accurate picture of the current search landscape - and then again, as pointed out in the SEW thread, they might be really, really inaccurate. Furthermore, how do you use these tools to forecast impressions, clicks, and conversions on 8,000 keywords? We use Google, Yaho9o, MSN, and Ask. 8,000 keywords on 4 engines is 32,000 different estimates. Unless you have an API with one of the tools, there's no way to go through and manually estimate traffic at this level of volume.

I've toyed with the idea of forecasting by gut feel - you know, look at current trends, close my eyes, and pick a number. I've stayed away from this before, because of course management wants to know how I arrived at my forecast numbers. But now that I'm being asked why we're up so much, maybe it's time to see how much of a PPC guru I really am!

How do you forecast paid search?

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Thursday, September 06, 2007

YSM Custom Reports

Yesterday, I was catching up on my news and blog feeds after last week's vacation, and I ran across a brief blurb in the YSM Blog about their "new custom reports." It's at the end of this post.

Well, needless to say, I was very excited to hear that Yahoo had finally gotten on the custom report bandwagon. The lack of any kind of custom reporting has been one of the big failings of the new Panama interface. Alas, however, my enthusiasm was severely dampened when I logged in to my account to set up custom reports.

As a matter of fact, I'm not sure I'd even call the new features "custom reporting." "Enhanced," maybe, but not custom. You're still stuck with the 8 pre-built reports - there's no way to add or delete columns to create a truly custom report. So, if you're like me and currently have to run two or three different reports, upload them to Access, and run a query to get the data you need, well, you'll still have to do that. The only real enhancement is that now you can save your report configuration. For example, if you always want to look at daily performance for the past 30 days, you can save a report that will do that, instead of having to manually select that date range every time you run the report. This is nice, but certainly not earth-shattering.

Custom reporting is one area where Google just kicks their competitors' collective back sides right out of the park. Not only do you have almost total control over what data appears in your Google reports, but you can use parameters such as "only keywords with greater than 100 clicks" and things like that. You can run reports for only Active ads. You can set a specific start day for the week, such as "the week starting last Wednesday." This particular feature is huge for me, because our fiscal weeks start on Wednesdays. With Google, I just set up a recurring report that runs for Wednesday through Tuesday, and I'm good to go. With the rest, I have to manually put in the actual dates. It wastes valuable time, especially when I'm running the same report week after week.

I'm glad Yahoo has made the improvements they did, but for those of us who are used to Google's Custom Reports, Yahoo still has a long, long way to go.

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