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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

How Google Suggest Changes Paid Search

On August 25th 2008 Google announced the death of long tail in paid search. Of course they didn't come right out an say it but I doubt anyone reading here is surprised about that. Google called the post, "At a loss for words?"...which when I first the news was an accurate description of my state of mind. The death of the long tail in paid search was not something that happened overnight and the full launch of Google Suggest is not the sole reason, it's just the final nail in the coffin. Lots of little things have got us to where we are today but in my opinion two major events over the past 12 - 24 months are primarily responsible for killing of the tail in paid search.

Reason 1: Google cranked the dial on EBM (expanded broad match) to a whole new level in 2007.

As recently as 2005 - 2006 you could set up a new campaign with 10's of thousands of long tail exact matched keywords and reap the benefits of your precise targeting via an extremely low cost per click. Odds are most of your keywords would have little to no competition and as long as you could maintain a decent quality score your ad would stay live and your bids would stay low. Each term would not produce many clicks but cumulatively the clicks/traffic for your 100,000 keyword account would add up to numbers that most would consider "significant".

For example maybe one of your exact matched keywords was something like "1997 honda accord replacement left mirror". Odds are you wouldn't have much competition on that specific phrase so even though it may only be handful of queries a year you could still capture that traffic at a very low cost. All those big name advertisers bidding $20 a click on broad matched terms like "cars" and "auto parts" wouldn't be an issue, they were not chasing the tail. Google realized they were leaving a ton of $$ on the table and loosened up EBM. Once that happened all those advertisers spending big money on broad matched terms started showing up in the space and driving up costs for everyone else. Whereas before you may have been 1 of a few ads showing on the page, Google decided via EBM that people bidding on "cars, "auto parts", "mirrors", "autos", "honda", etc should start showing up for a wider variety of terms that they deemed relevant.

That was major event #1 that contributed to the death of the tail in paid search. The cost efficiencies gained from massive keyword lists and low bids were essentially wiped out over a few short months. Why try and manage hundreds of thousands of long tail keywords when you could just punch in your top 20 terms and let Google do the rest?

Don't get me wrong - there's still efficiencies to be realized by utilizing exact matched long tail keywords but those efficiencies have been greatly reduced.

Reason 2: Google Suggest "suggests" shorter queries which from what I've seen in most (all???) cases have sufficient ad inventory to fill the page.

Why search for "used red hybrid cars in illinois" when Google suggests "used cars" instead? Which query do you think stands to make them the most $$$?

Google acknowledges this feature will "help formulate queries"...I would say a better description would be to "help formulate the most valuable queries". While not everyone searching will use the suggested terms I'm sure a fairly high % of people will...enough so that it will make a difference in search volume for both long tail and shorter terms. While I think just about everyone would agree that Suggest will drive up keyword costs on certain terms I do think this opens some new opportunities and efficiencies within the paid search space.

At minimum, look at what Google Suggest is "suggesting" for your base terms and make sure you have visibility for those terms. If you have a very extensive campaign in place already you're likely covered already but I have seen some some interesting suggestions for keywords I watch. You can also use the suggest feature to further refine your negative keyword lists.

I also think this is a great opportunity to rethink the structure of your account(s). I've taken "long tail" accounts with thousands of keywords and consolidated them down to a few hundred keywords. This became more of a common practice for me in 2007 as expanded broad match kept expanding. Why try and manage 20,000 keywords when you can get the same (or better) with 200 keywords? The time savings alone is huge and almost without fail I've been able to maintain or improve ROI using a smaller set of keywords.

As paid search professionals we're use to big changes from Google with little or no advanced notice that can change the way we do business overnight. This is one of those changes and I'm sure we'll see even more changes in the coming months. I think with this particular change there's an opportunity for paid search pros to do more with less...I guess we'll see how it plays out over the coming weeks.

Others are commenting on this change as well, here are some links to other discussions that you may find useful:

How Google Suggest Suggest Will Affect Search
~ Bigmouthmedia Finally Gets Google Suggest Feature ~ Search Engine Land

New "Google Suggest" Tells You Where to Go ~ PC World

Google Suggest(s) a New Reputation Management Nightmare ~ Martin

Google Suggest - Long Tail Killer or New Opportunity? ~ 5 Star Affiliate Programs

9 Ideas How Google Suggest Could Change Search Marketing ~ Scott Clark

Google Suggest to Change the Ways of Search Engine Optimization

How do you think Google Suggest will impact paid search and paid search marketers?

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Friday, August 22, 2008

Quality Score: Changes Coming

- Quality Score will now be more accurate because it will be calculated at the time of each search query.

- Keywords will no longer be marked inactive for search.

- First page bid will replace minimum bid in your account.

Here's a link to the FAQ that covers these changes.

I'm excited to see these changes pushed live, especially the real time calculation of the quality score:

"Most importantly, we are replacing our static per-keyword Quality Scores with a system that will evaluate an ad's quality each time it matches a search query. This way, AdWords will use the most accurate, specific, and up-to-date performance information when determining whether an ad should be displayed. Your ads will be more likely to show when they're relevant and less likely to show when they're not. This means that Google users are apt to see better ads while you, as an advertiser, should receive leads which are more highly qualified."

That's followed by an example that does a nice job of explaining how that would work:

"Nancy's Dairy advertises on the keyword 'milk.' Nancy's ads perform better on the keyword 'milk' in the U.S. than in Canada. Her ads also perform better on the query 'milk delivery' than on 'milk,' and better on certain search network sites than on others. Instead of one static Quality Score and minimum bid that determines whether the keyword 'milk' is eligible to trigger an ad for all search queries, we will now determine eligibility dynamically, based on factors such as location, the specific query, and other relevance factors. For that reason, Nancy's keyword 'milk' will be able to trigger an ad for search queries where it's likely to perform better, i.e., in the U.S., on 'milk delivery' and on certain search network sites."

In theory Nancy's account should be more efficient, even if she didn't change a thing after these quality score changes are rolled into her account. Assuming she's just broad match bidding on the term milk this change should essentially prevent her ad from showing for unrelated (low ctr) terms...unless there's an extremely shallow pool of advertisers and Google's stretching the expanded broad match envelope in order to keep some ads on the page.

It should also be interesting to see if these changes have any noticeable impact on the local space. I know a lot of local advertisers who are frustrated with vast escalation in average CPCs they have seen over the last two years. When Google "expanded" it's broad matching technology a lot of high bid deep pocket general keyword buying advertisers starting appearing in and dominating local results, relevant or not. The update indicates that factors such as "location" will be one elements used to determine ad eligibility. Maybe, just maybe, this will let the local advertisers reclaim some of the ground (positioning) they have lost over the past two years.

In any even it should be exciting to see these changes roll out in the coming weeks. Here are a few posts on this update from fellow bloggers:

Apogee ~ AdWords Quality Score Overhaul: First Page Bids
Merjis ~ Quality Score Changing
Click Equations ~ Quality Score Changes (Bid Taxes Going Up?)
Dave Martinez / PPC Fool ~ AdWords Quality Score Now in Real Time

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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Sometimes the easy answer is the right answer

I was speaking with an associate a few weeks about a small AdWords campaign they had been running themselves for the past 2 years. When I say small I mean small - a dozen keywords with daily spends in the $2 - $4 dollar range. They primarily bid on their business name - it's a small local business and there' not much search volume associated with their name. The campaign has basically been on autopilot for 2 years. They added a handful of keywords but that's about it.

They called me when one day they noticed that they were not getting any impressions and all of their keywords were inactive for search. The AdWords interface indicated they needed to double their bids to reactivate their keywords even though the visible quality score showed "ok". They were pissed. I'm paraphrasing here but the basic feeling was how the hell can Google say they are "not relevant" or need to bid more when the name of their business is unique, no one else ever shows for it and their current bid had been fine for years. They were honestly ready to just shut off AdWords. It wasn't bringing them a ton of business (although it was bringing some and was showing a great ROI...just on a really small scale) and as a small business owner with 1,000 things going on at once he had neither the time or patience to fight with system that to him made no sense.

I took a quick look at his account and did a little research. It looked to me like his local listing was pulling the lions share of clicks for queries based on his company name. Nothing wrong with that...those clicks are free. The issue was, in my opinion, that since he set up his local account (about 2 months ago) the CTR of his AdWords ad tanked. Because of that AdWords reduced his quality score and deactivated his keywords/ads.

My solution...just create a new ad and add it to the rotation. Sometimes simply introducing a new ad can get your keywords activated again while your quality score is being reevaluated. Guess worked like a charm. Hours after adding the new ad all of his keywords were activated again with the same minimum bid requirements he had enjoyed for years. It's been a few weeks and the campaign is still running...and in a lot of cases the quality score has improved from "ok" to "great". A few of the keywords actually have lower minimum bid requirements now than they ever have and account wide his average CTR is up 3% while his average CPC is down 16%.

AdWords, actually paid search in general, can be complicated. The take away from this experience was that even though paid search can be complicated, that's not always the case. Sometimes the easy answer is the right one.

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Thursday, August 07, 2008

New AdWords Content Network Features Announced

A post over at the Google Blog today announced new features that are coming to the AdWords content network in the coming months. Click over to the post to read the full list...the one I'm most anxious to use is frequency capping.

For those unfamiliar with frequency capping it's a feature that will allow you to control how many times a user is shown your ad within a certain period of time. It's a great feature for a number of reasons. Within the content network I can this feature opening up impressions for a larger base of advertisers, improving CTR (which ties into an improved quality score) for savvy advertisers, and a better overall experience for both publishers and site visitors. A great feature that's long overdue in my opinion.

These improvements should help advertisers continue to build on the success they are seeing with current content campaigns and may encourage some others to jump back in the content network.

Update: here are some links to posts/articles about the new content network features:

- Awesome New AdWords Content Network Features ~ Clix Marketing
- Google is Adding New Features to Its Content Network Advertising Platform ~ PPC Journal
- Google to Update Content Network as Part of DoubleClick Integration ~ SEW
- Google to Add AdSense Features with DoubleClick Cookies Technology ~ SEL


Monday, August 04, 2008

AdWords Keyword Tool on Vacation?

I just came home from a week long vacation (with no Internet access!) and was planning to do some light work on a personal AdWords account this morning. I hopped over to the AdWords keyword tool and started running a few queries to get some keyword ideas.

For this project all of my queries/keyword ideas were local so I was expecting some "insufficient data" listings in the keyword suggestions but not at the level I was seeing. I tried a few broad terms and am still getting the same thing - 100% "insufficient data".

Hopefully what I'm seeing (I pinged a few people on messenger and they are seeing the same) is just an anomaly and the tool will be back to normal in no time. People get vacations. Keyword tools do not:-)

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