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Archive for 2010

20 Marketing Steps to a Sale

Posted by Bob Dumouchel in marketing

Thursday, December 16th, 2010

A wise person once said “Half of my marketing dollars are wasted; I just do not know which half.” This is actually an optimistic statement because depending on how you measure success the waste could be much higher.  In the direct response business a response rate of 2% is not uncommon and that translates to 98% waste. The challenge with finding the waste is that success and failure are not always clearly visible.

Think about the last time you had a first transaction with a company based on a single impression from that business. Depending on who you listen to each of us is exposed to thousands of advertisements each day so it is incredibly rare that we respond simply on one impression. While a direct response can happen in the vast majority of businesses it takes many impressions before a prospect makes a measureable transaction. Consider the following:

The first time a man looks at an advertisement, he does not see it.
The second time he does not notice it.
The third time he is conscious of its existence.
The fourth time he faintly remembers having seen it before.
The fifth time he reads it.
The sixth time he turns his nose up at it.
The seventh time he reads it through and says “Oh brother”
The eighth time he says “here’s that confounded thing again”
The ninth time he wonders if it will amount to anything.
The tenth time he will ask his neighbor if he has tried it.
The eleventh time he wonders how the advertiser makes it pay.
The twelfth time he thinks it must be a good thing.
The thirteenth time he thinks it might be worth something.
The fourteenth time he remembers that he has wanted such a thing for a long time.
The fifteenth time he is tantalized because he cannot afford to buy it.
The sixteenth time he thinks he will buy it… someday.
The seventeenth time he makes a memorandum of it.
The eighteenth time he swears at his poverty.
The nineteenth time he counts his money carefully.
The twentieth time he sees it, he buys the article or instructs his wife to do so.

The over use of the word he and the last item are probably good clues that this list has been around for a very long time. According to the best information I have this was published in— Hints to Intending Advertisers; By Tomas Smith, London – 1885. While this list is 125 years old you can see that people really have not changed much. When you ask the question where did you hear about us the answer will always be the 19th or 20th step but in reality many areas are never credited with the transaction. Since we are AdWords Experts we would like to point out that the keywords associated with each of these steps are probably different. So if you never advertise for the early stage keywords how are you going to get the majority of the audience to this final step?

I propose that this list is not far off in many situations and it explains why we get the results we get. Were any of these 20 contacts wasted? My position would be that each step was part of the process and it simply took 20 actions to complete a visible reaction. At any point in the purchase process you could have hundreds or even thousands of prospects at the various points and this process is not purely linear. An individual prospect could skip or repeat steps because these are people not machines. I would propose that you can reduce this list by doing a better job of communicating your value and telling your story clearly and with emotion, but your prospect is still going to evolve over time not just instantly transform.

Think of your personal experience today. Studies vary but most indicate that you will be exposed to thousands of advertisements before you close your eyes tonight. Out of those thousands you might respond to one or two. If you are like most people 90%+ of your purchases today will not be based on advertising but on some prior experience or relationship. You will buy your coffee at the same place, get gas for your car at the same station, and buy a sandwich at a place you have been before. We are creatures of habit so the fact that advertising fails at a very high percentage should not surprise us. The challenge is that as a business you must reach out to new people consistently because if you fail to develop new business you will ultimately fail.

At my core I am a systems person that loves impossible challenges and that is why I work in marketing and my goal is to fail less often.

What are AdWords?

Posted by Bob Dumouchel in adwords expert

Thursday, December 16th, 2010

Believe it or not this is one of the most common questions we get. People hear about AdWords, but they are not really sure of what they are or why they should care. This is Google’s fault because they really are not great communicators. Their mission is to organize the world’s information but like the cobbler’s shoes they either struggle with or simply do not care to communicate the value of AdWords. You would think that Google would try harder since AdWords is their golden goose and Microsoft is now in the second position nipping at their heels in the search market. Here is my attempt at a simple description of AdWords:

Adwords is an auction priced self-service advertising system that delivers ad content relevant to the other page content.

Google’s primary goal is to provide advertising that enhances the search experience and, in Google’s eyes, this mission is much more important than your money.

Let’s take this statement apart piece by piece.

Auction Priced: One item that throws people new to the system is that unlike other advertising where the cost is set by the publisher, in AdWords the cost is set by the competitors seeking the same ad space. Because keywords often cross over different industries you will often be competing for ad space with businesses that are not your normal business competitors. Your bid is not what you pay. What you pay is one penny more than the competitor behind you. This is how changes by competitors drive your costs up.

Self-Service Advertising: Adwords is a computer system that requires on-going maintenance and there is no auto-pilot button. Your campaigns use a keyword and bidding model built and maintained by the advertiser. How well it works depends on how well engineered the models are.

Relevant Ad Content means that Google is looking to deliver the best ads associated with the actions of the searcher. They view the ads as an extension of the natural listings and they rank them in a very similar fashion. They want to deliver ads that are likely to be of interest to the searcher based on the keyword match or the content or actions of the searcher. They take this extremely seriously and will not display ads that are a severe mismatch no matter how much you are willing to spend on that position.

Advertising that enhances the search Experience: New advertisers often fail to believe how serious Google is about this.  Other Publishers will sell their soul to close the deal and collect your money; Google is not like these other publishers.  Google places the priority of producing the best quality SERP (Search Engine Results Page) well above your money. Given the option between improving the SERP or increasing immediate revenue they will pick the SERP quality every time. This surprises Advertisers. It really shouldn’t though because the secret to Google’s success is the quality of their SERP. This is a core corporate value and not a marketing slogan.

The heart and soul of AdWords is the keyword matching and its simple appearance is misleading at best. The process includes phases of eligibility and ranking. For eligibility there are four positive and three negative forms of keywords used to match to the searchers search query and multiple statuses that create a test for display eligibility.  After eligibility is established quality score and bid are used to determine the ad rank. Assuming the keyword met eligibility and ranked high enough to make it to the page the ad is displayed. This is, of course, a very high level view of this process and the devil is in the details. In the matching process it is important that you fail the eligibility for searches that do not apply to you. In a pay per click world impressions might seem to be free but if you follow the system you will find that you pay for those excess impressions later. They drive down your click through rate lowering the quality score and increasing your cost on future clicks.

Why should we pay you to run AdWords?

The other form of this questions “Why can’t I just run AdWords myself?” and the answer is you can just like you can prepare you own taxes. Businesses that are large enough to have a full time accounting staff still engage CPA firms that specializes in taxes because they know it a full time job just to keep up with the changes and the latest strategies. When it comes to rapid changes in policy and practice the IRS has absolutely nothing on Google. Changes at Google are non-stop and according to spokesman Matt Cutts they average more than one change per day and that is just what they admit to. At least the IRS has Congress to slow them down! After working with Google AdWords since 2003 I can tell you that you are always one click away from discovering some new function or feature that was not there yesterday. It is a rare day in our office when there is not a new discovery for the entire day. While I do not propose that AdWords is as complex as the US tax code, it is certainly not simple. At a basic level almost any business person can set up an AdWords account, put in some keywords, write a few ads, and get results from the system. The problem with this is that the campaign is not going to run at maximum effectiveness and it can leak money and opportunity at light-speed.

AdWords is where marketing, systems, language, and people collide in cyberspace and when played at a serious level it is complex and competitive. It is complex enough that Google has not one but four certification tests for its certified partners.  There are three major networks including Google Search, Search Partners, and Display and each of these networks is complex enough to write a book on. Its competitive enough that businesses spent $22.8 billion in 2009 and its on track to increase 22% for 2010 based on results through Q3 (reference: http://investor.google.com/financial/tables.html). Add to this the analysis of how the traffic acts after it gets to your web site and it’s time to engage serious people for your team.

How SEO works

Posted by Bob Dumouchel in SEO

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

Nobody walking among the mere mortals on Earth, including your humble narrator, knows exactly how the page ranking at Google works in complete detail.  We do however know many of the attributes that count and the basic structure of the formula. The process starts with hundreds of attributes that are scored and then the real magic happens when they blend these scores.

The Magic SEO Formula

  1. Attribute Points * Attribute Weight = Attribute Score
  2. Sum(Attribute Score)
  3. Sort Descending ( Attribute Score) = Page Rank

Attributes come in several different flavors and two common ones we call “the-more-the-merrier”,  “the sweet-spot”, and “Value over time”.  These are far from the only type of measurement but it helps us here with an example of how competing with one type using a strategy of another is a major mistake.

Let’s start by defining how a sweet spot attribute works. For discussion purposes only, let’s say that the sweet spot in keyword density is 2% so at 2% you get the maximum points then as you move away from that point the points decline. The farther from the sweet spot, the lower the points and this goes for over or under the sweet spot. So this is a case where more is not always better.

Another type of attribute is the more-the-merrier and an example of this is the back link. In this case, the more you can get the better. Not all back links are created equal in this world. Some back links are worthless or might even be cause for penalty if they are purchased or grossly off topic. The value of the back link is based on the trust and authority of the source of the link. A front page link from cnn.com is very different than a link on an obscure sub page in some unknown web site. The authority juice from the source flows to the target. It is possible that links from sources that Google does not like such as known link farms could actually be negative but as everyone knows, proving a negative is exceptionally difficult. My guess is that links from bad places have no authority or trust level at Google so they transfer zero to the points.

The process is more complex than just these simple statements and you have to consider the type of site that is being processed. In a simple world we have editorial, reference, commercial, and many others and content is treated differently depending on its type. For example in an editorial site like cnn.com, the older the article the lower its value. After all, who wants to read yesterday’s news. In a reference site like Wikipedia.com, older is often better since it is a well established highly referenced page.  The example of this is Einstein’s theory of Relativity, very old but also well respected.  So older is better in one case but worse in the other.

One thing about SEO that makes web site owners crazy is that most of it is outside of their control. This does not mean that you cannot influence it, but you cannot directly control it. Back links are one of many examples of this in that you probably do not have control over the other site pointing to you but you can influence the link by proactively seeking them.

Themes NOT Keywords are the core of the logic and Google has been working on this challenge for a long time. A theme is a broad collection of related keywords and they cross support each other.  If your site theme is Adwords then terms like PPC, SEO, Adsense, Display Network, and many others are going to support your theme. The more your site is about your theme, the higher you will rank for your keywords.

Nobody knows the exact percentage, but our guess is that 80% or more of the organic score comes from off-site items. This is just like the real world in that your reputation is more about what people say about you than what you say about yourself.

There are a thousand ways to earn the top position in Google, all of them hard. When people get into a discussion of SEO, they desperately look for one thing to grab onto and to run with it. But SEO is about a collection of attributes and in some cases you have to rank low in one to rank high in the other.  Keyword density in your page title is a great example of this. For discussion purposes, let’s say that your page title is worth 10 points and you have 5 words in the title then each word is carrying a weight of 2 points. If you reduce the total number of words to 3 then each word is worth 3.33 points resulting in an increase of more than 50% on fewer words.

In the last 16 years, I have seen the calculations evolve from very simple to today’s nuanced logic and over that time I have noticed that most successes have been accidents but with a common theme. The people that rank well for their keywords are largely good communicators that are passionate about their topic. So write and publish what you love and do it consistently over a long period of time and you will eventually win the game.

Can I prove what is written here? Absolutely positively no. Anyone who tells you that they can tell you exactly how the Google Search Algorithm works is lying to you.  I do believe that there is a preponderance of evidence supporting the statements in this article and that it this is generally correct but certainly not absolutely accurate.

Dear Saint Google,

Posted by Bob Dumouchel in adwords expert

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

The virtual stockings are hung by the SERP with care, in hopes that Saint Google soon will be there.  The AdWords Experts are nestled all snug in their beds while visions of new features danced in their head and I am sure you know all the rest.

Every year in the fine tradition of the Christmas letter, I write an open letter for the things I want to see in Adwords.  Before I get started with the details I would like to note that many of the things I asked for in prior years I actually got, so maybe this letter isn’t as silly as it seems.

Group the Changes

This year St. Google gave us lots of new features. Working with Google is a lot like having Christmas every day because you are often only one click away from finding the newest and latest changes.  Google rolls out hundreds of updates each year and it makes managing Adwords a difficult task. We would like to see them slow the process down and batch the changes together with reasonable documentation. We could have a few major releases each year rather than 300 small ones. It is actually a rare day when we do not find some unknown change that sneaked in under the radar.

User Defined Data (UDD)

This has been at the top of my list for a long time and it’s so simple that it amazes me that it was not done a long time ago. Almost every system provides for UDD to cover things they simply did not think of, or that vary from customer to customer. In fairness to my friends at Google, they did roll out labels which addresses this a little bit but those are like putting band-aids on a shark bite.  We need actual numbers and codes with simple validation ability. We need this at all levels in the database including the campaigns, adgroups, keywords, and ads.

Advanced Keyword Matching

Google Adwords has only the most basic of keyword matching controls and this really needs to get better. We need the ability to express more powerful rules for the matching and I am not really talking about anything innovative here. Things like wildcards, phrase and broad combinations, capitalization and punctuation expressions and so on. All I am asking for is the same level of ability that we find commonly in Microsoft Excel, Access, or even Word. Surely, Google can beat Microsoft in this area.  Maybe the problem with this is it just is not complicated enough to get an engineer’s attention. The rules already exclude symbols and special charters so all the normal ones are available for this use.  I would be glad to spec this all out if anyone at Google is interested.

Negative Search Query Report

The search query report that is near and dear to any professional needs to have a negative counterpart. This report would show us search queries that were qualified by the keywords but then were lost to either rank or because they were excluded by a negative keyword.  What surprises me about this one is that it would be good for Google’s revenue yet they seem to resist disclosing this. In the logical flow of a search query, there must be a point where this data is simple to grab.

Move, Copy, and Paste

Last year, I asked for this and we got some of it but it still needs help. The ability to download into csv files and then push it back into the system made this area much better but it still is missing some very basic functions such as copying a campaign online. The Desktop Editor does this with no problem but for some reason this functionality never seems to make it to the online editor.

Centralize the Ads

This one kills me because it would save both advertisers and Google a ton of time and fixing it is just a simple relational database concept. Sometimes, especially with image ads, I just want to create an ad once and use it many times so there is a many to one relationship between the ad and the adgroup. I do not want a separate ad for each ad group and I certainly do not want to have to upload the same image ad for every ad group. On Google’s side, this would reduce the number of ads that have to be reviewed saving time and money.  This is especially important for image ads, which can take a week to get approved depending on the backlog.

Interactive Change Log & Alerts

Let’s call this one Twitter for Adwords. I manage well over 60 accounts and all my clients have full access to their accounts, as they should. I would like an alert when someone changes something or a campaign runs out of money without having to sign into an account and run a report. Google already logs the changes and all they would have to do is feed it to a secure application modeled after something like Twitter. Sometimes clients accidentally change things and did not even realize it. Some clients run out of money every day so the alerts have to be at least reasonably controllable with an on-off option by account. The alerts and change log need to be across the entire client center and subordinate client centers not per account.

Budget Controls

We would like to have full budget controls that do exactly what they are told.  Controls that allow us to set an Account, Campaign, and Ad Group budget distributions that do exactly what they are told to do. To reduce a budget for the month takes two changes and is subject to lots of error. You first have to reduce it to a pace that will come in where you need it and then you have to remember to change it on the first of the month to the new full month budget.

Clean up the Filters

The new interface has been in production for a few years now, yet the filters still have problems. There are very common combinations that are simply not available. The classic of these is that you cannot filter your active ads from the paused ones because the only options are Approved, Pending, and Disapproved. Here is a newsflash; there is a Review and Paused status.  Consistency would also be nice to have. All numbers should have the basic value test plus a range of values. Some fields like Avg. Position have better than or worse than, while Avg CPC has ><,  while clicks have <= and >=.  We also need to have filters work for all the data, not just the level we are at. For example, I should be able to filter ad groups with words in their name and positions for the keyword.  The rules should be if I can see the data on the screen, I should be able to filter by it.

Dataset Filters

We often find datasets we want to work with but there is no way to keep the dataset intact. For example, it is very common to filter high position keywords for this month and look at how they look year to date. The problem is as soon as you reset the date range, it changes everything. We need a function that says keep this dataset but show me a different time period.

We know this list is long but Saint Google gets to pick the ones we get. We will just wait with baited breath for the opportunity to shake the boxes under the tree next to the fireplace with cookies and milk.

Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night

The AdWords Monster

Mobile Marketing

Posted by Rob Dumouchel in Mobile Marketing

Friday, October 15th, 2010

Smart Phones are changing how marketing will be done in the future and in case you’re curious the future is today. If you have not been paying attention to trends in marketing for the last decade the process has shifted from product presentation to a strategy of engage and educate. This change in basic strategy results in a shift in where your marketing dollars are invested in engaging content rather than slick ads. Mobile marketing takes this evolution to the next level.

Everyone I know is trying to figure out how mobile marketing will impact their business and I believe that it will force a higher percentage of your marketing investment to be put into the material creation rather than the delivery vehicle. We will pay less for the ad delivery but much more for the creation of the content we deliver. In mobile marketing all of the old world product pitches are simply considered spam and mobile marketing will be driven by the opt-in list and very few will subscribe to your list if all you do is pitch your product. You have to give them meaningful value that is of interest to them or you will find that they have a very short attention span and a low tolerance for your message.

It’s the list stupid!

Mobile marketing is all about the list. How you gain new subscribers and how you develop your relationships with them are the critical success factors. For most small businesses the infrastructure of mobile marketing will be an SMS service provider. These businesses make it possible for small businesses to use this marketing channel without the huge overhead involved in short codes. Short codes and keywords are the gateway to the SMS process and setting this up is not cheap or easy. Just to get started a short code costs $1,500 per quarter and if you want a special vanity code the cost increases to $3,000 per quarter and this is a long way from delivering your first message. The SMS service providers leverage this by providing a shared short code from which they sell specific keywords. This is how texting a specific word to a short code gets you on the SMS list you want. The big advantage here is that without getting into all the technical challenges and costs a low cost relationship with a SMS service provider you can get your mobile marketing up and running in just hours.

The challenge to all of this is to get people on your list and then treat them so they value the relationship enough that you keep the permission to communicate that they granted you. You do this by clearly articulating the value they will receive and then deliver that value to them. Beyond this you have to get that message out into the market. And of course you have to perform this magic with 140 charters or less.

Talk to those who care about your message

Opt-in marketing has at its core the concept of talking to people that care about your message and quit trying to interrupt people who frankly do not care. People are understandably concerned with the messages that they receive because text messages are an interruption so what you say has to have value or your list will shrink and quickly die. Value is not just a routine discount for the day or a rehash of your print coupon. It needs to be something special that the person is likely to be interested in. Different audiences are going to value messages in different ways but the bottom line is they, not you, need to value the message.

Use QR Codes to Make Subscriptions Easier

The typical subscription process is a small word sent to a short code but even that can be a barrier for people and to the rescue in this is the QR Code. These are the square codes that you are starting to see in the market that look like this. The person simply uses their phone to scan this code and it sends the word and short code. When done like this the length of the keyword and the short code are no longer an important part of the process because it is all contained within the code and the person never has to interact with it.
There are several competing technologies to provide this functionality to the user but so far the QR Code appears to be the leader. Within these codes there are all sorts of interesting things you can do such as embed the identification of the source of the subscription by using different keywords. QR Codes can be used to connect to a web site, send a text message, dial a phone number, or just enter text.

Caution: Not everything works in all combinations

Mobile is rapidly evolving and like any newer technology there are consistency problems. Not everything works in all the combinations of apps, phones, and services. In our testing the code above worked on some combinations but not others. The iPhone failed to handle this properly with 3 of 4 apps we tested, but it finally did work with one. The DroidX worked the first time and we have no clue if we just got lucky picking the right reader or if the phone is just more open. What we are sure of is that the URL coding seems to be 100% supported but when you get into the other processes your success rate is at risk. Failing to set up the SMS message is either a program bug or a security feature depending on your perspective. The technology has the ability, but delivery may be inconsistent.

Opt-In or Spam – There is No Middle of the Road
“Consumers must ‘Opt-in’ to a short code program from their mobile device before they can be sent anything. Even an initial message that asks for permission is considered SPAM.” Unlike email the carriers have no problem identifying the senders of spam and taking immediate and decisive action for a rule violation.
In mobile marketing you either get them to opt-in or you are a spammer. There are lots of services that will rent out lists that were built in many different ways including contests and other offers. The key is they did not opt-in to hear from you so you better make sure that the value promised matches your message value or you will get a very negative response. If the list was built by offering discount meal coupons and you are going to offer a discount meal coupon then the list is golden. If however the list was built by a win a free trip offer and your offer is a discount for an oil change you need to run not walk away from that list. People do not just dislike being off message, they HATE it, and they can transfer that hate to the business that interrupted them with a message they did not want. Getting people to opt-in to your list is hard work and keeping them is even harder but it is the only way you can play this game.

Deliver Value or Die

I have already said this several times but it is worth repeating. If you want a relationship that allows you to communicate with your market you need to treat them with respect and talk about what they are interested in.

How this relates to Adwords

Building subscriptions is a common goal for Adwords and a subscription offer is a great way to get the relationship started with a low impact transaction. Lowering the commitment level of your conversions almost always increases the percentage of response and is an excellent way to find people interested in what you have to say.

Improving Google Adwords Quality Score

Posted by Bob Dumouchel in adwords, Quality Score

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

Quality Score is real money to an Adwords Advertiser. So it is no surprise that improving this is a common topic of conversation with our clients. We have studied this extensively over the years and we have watched it evolve. In this article, we are going to look at the history and where we think the future of Quality Score is going.

If you are new to quality score and have not seen the Quality Score Video by Hal Varian Google’s Chief Economist watch it before reading this article. Hal does a great job of explaining the conceptual basics of quality score.

Quality score actually started life as a keyword status of “Inactive for Search” where Google would simply stop the word if the CTR (Click Through Rate) got too low. The exact percentage was never disclosed but it was somewhere around .5% in the Google search network. The partner and content network were never part of this process. In those days you either gave up on the word, or you moved the keyword to another adgroup and tried to improve the CTR.

The next stage in Quality Score evolution was the static score where the system would periodically pass through your account and update your quality score. In those days, your account would have a default value that it gave to new words and then the routine maintenance would update it for changes. During this time, the Quality Score was fixed and you could see the almost direct impact on your ad positions. In the static version the system looked at the keyword CTR, ad copy, and landing page but no session values. We estimated that in the early stages before historical CTR was available to the system that ad copy relevancy was 80% of the score and the landing page was 20%. As CTR history came available, the score would become more and more based on CTR and by the time the keyword had a couple of months of history it was all about the CTR.

The current Quality Score is calculated on the fly allowing lots of new attributes to come into the formula and this is where it really gets to be fun. Unlike the static version, this one posts back to Adwords the resulting quality score. When Google says that your bid is money times quality score discounted to .01 greater than the bid behind you this is NOT the quality score you see in Adwords. When this change was made the relationship between quality score and organic score got a lot closer because they shared many of the same attributes. If you think like a programmer for a minute this makes perfect sense because Google simply repurposed the organic ranking objects and used them on the keyword, ad copy, and landing page. There are still differences between quality and organic score but your quality score is what Google thinks of the relationship between the search and your keyword.

“How do you improve your Quality Score?”

Glad you asked and actually there is a lot you can do. Quality Score is driven first and foremost by the CTR and best estimates puts this factor at about 65%. Your CTR is driven by the keywords you select and the relationship between them and the ad copy. There is no hard and fast rule but if your CTR is under .75% then you have some work to do. First decide if you care about the word and if you do not then get rid of it. Otherwise look for ways to improve the relevancy between the intent of the keyword and the headline of the ad. You can play with the body all you want but the headline is what drives this world. If people read the body at all they do so only if the headline got their attention so spend lots of time thinking about your headlines. In most cases we find that repeating the keyword concept is critical and connecting a benefit is the second big thing. With only 25 spaces this is not an easy task! I will tell you that we have seen hundreds of tests where a single word in a headline can more than double the CTR.

CTR is not the higher the better so you have to be careful with this. Like many things in Google the calculation appears to be weighted towards a sweet spot. We cannot prove this is exactly what’s going on, but what we see time after time is that a 3-4% CTR is the optimal CTR. Going above this range is probably caused by some trick on the user and Google knows that. If you have an exceptionally high CTR, you should not be surprised if your quality score dips. We are certain that this sweet spot varies by keyword and that it is relative to the CTR of the others in these searches, but in most cases 3-4% is where you want to be. There is one effect that we see commonly and that is a low CTR with a good quality score or a good CTR with a bad quality score. This happens because quality score is relative to the competition not an absolute measurement so you just have to be better than the other guy.

After CTR the next big thing is relevancy and this is estimated at 30% of the quality score. This factor is closely related to the organic score and it has at least 147 attributes that we know of and probably another 300 that we will never figure out. We know most of these attributes because they are on patent filings from Google. The interesting thing about this list of attributes is that over two thirds of them are not directly controlled by the page source. Just like in real life, your relevancy is more about what others say about you than what you say about yourself.

The last major part of quality score is landing page quality and the rule here is “Do no harm.” Landing page quality is about what Google does NOT like. You do not earn points in this area but you can sure lose them. You can have a 10 score coming into this section and violate one of the prime directives and end with a 1. Things like pop-ups, hidden text, and other tricks are a quick way to destroy all your hard work.

Quality scores can tell you certain things:

Score 1: You have done something very wrong. You must confess your sins and request forgiveness.

Score 2-5: Below average look to your CTR and Relevancy.

Score 6-7: Good Solid Scores you are doing most things right.

Score 8-10: Incredible score but probably a very short list of words. Most of the time these are things like your name or major brands that you own. For some reason the 8 score is very rare except in international campaigns.

The key to managing your quality score is to look for patterns in your score ranges. You will often find that 2-5 scores just need to be split out to a new adgroup with ad copy more connected to the search. Consider getting rid of keywords in the 2-5 range that are not really that important to your business. This will improve your adgroup, campaign, and account average quality score and will improve your overall reputation within the system.

We get calls all the time from people looking to get all their keywords to a 10 score and it is simply impossible. A 10 score is the top 0.5% of keywords and Google is not going to give that score out to several words in any one account and it certainly is not going to give that without other words at the lower levels. Simply put the bottom 99% is what makes the top 1% possible!

The other frequent question is how to trick the system to improve their scores beyond what they deserve. Tricks do exist from time to time but taking advantage of these has some very real risks. Google has a department headed up by Matt Cutts that is dedicated to finding and closing holes in the algorithm. When they find these they correct the logic and you can suddenly find yourself going from 10 to 1 instantly.

Quality Score Rule Number 1: Never try to trick Google unless your Engineering Staff is smarter than theirs!

The Future

Google is not done with quality score and just like the search results page it is constantly being tweaked. We think that ad placement will continue to become more and more like SEO and that the major factors are going to be off-page items. More and more it will be what people say about you not what you say about yourself that will drive your quality score. Money is not a factor in SEO and never will be but it will always be the ante to the table in Adwords. Google will continue to value the quality of the search engine results page above your money and they want every link paid or organic to be a meaningful contribution to the search experience. Quality content is King, and it’s going to stay that way if Google has anything to say about it.
In summary:

• It’s about CTR – target 3-4%
• Using a baseball metaphor: .75% is the warning track and .50% is the wall.
• Look for patterns in your scores – deal with keywords in groups
• Get most keywords to 6-7 before worrying about 10 scores. Hit consistent singles before swinging for the fence.

If you really want to get into the painful details of this send me your email address and I will send you a list of 147+ things that go into the Quality Score calculation. bob@smsrd.com

Google Instant

Posted by Bob Dumouchel in Google_Instant

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

As a technician I have to say I was awed by Google’s technical prowess when I first saw Google Instant in action! The ability to do a predictive query list was not that big of a deal since word processors have been doing that for over a decade. Even the ability to run the multiple queries required is not that big of a deal since Google has been writing scalable distributed processes for a long time. But their ability to get all that content down and across the last mile of copper at that speed – that was impressive. Now the big question:

What impact this will have on Advertisers?

Any time you make this level of change to the user interface there will be changes in behavior and our bet on the first impact will be the decline of the long tail keywords. We are already seeing studies that 60-70% of searchers are using the recommended keyword searches and others are stopping with the search result they see. Both of these outcomes have the potential to shorten the search query from the user.

Google has published a small specification on how these searches will be handled from an impression and CTR basis and this potentially could change how we read the data. Here is their official posting within Adwords:
When someone searches using Google Instant, ad impressions are counted in these situations:

1. The user begins to type a query on Google and clicks anywhere on the page (a search result, an ad, a spell correction, a related search).
2. The user chooses a particular query by clicking the Search button, pressing Enter, or selecting one of the predicted queries.
3. The user stops typing, and the results are displayed for a minimum of three seconds.

Reference: http://adwords.google.com/support/aw/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=187309

We believe this will increase the total number of impressions since all it takes is a 3 second delay in response from the user to create the impression. In the past item 1 was not possible but it is also unlikely to create more impressions. What is very likely however is that it will shorten the search query.

When I first saw Google Instant I was impressed by the speed of the query execution but I suspect this is a programming illusion created by pre-calculating all or part of the results page. By doing this they have more control over the computing power demand to execute the query. Pre-calculating intensive operations is a well proven method for improving response time in interactive systems.

Not all of Google’s volume comes from Google.com so the impact of Google Instant is only some percentage of their overall volume. Bringing this to the entire market will require changes to browsers and many different pages to get to a high percentage of all the users. What we know at this point is that this is an important change that will change the way people interact with Google results. Search technology is where people, language, and systems collide and it is an incredibly complex process with inconsistent outcomes. It is time to watch carefully and start to rethink some old beliefs.

I would like to close with a broad prediction. My guess is that if you have a long-tail strategy you will find the volume in that tail falling as Google Instant implementation share increases. If your strategy is more of a broad term high volume keyword model you are likely to see more traffic, but with increasing competition based on the visibility of the predictive keywords. It will take the market about two seconds to realize that these predictive words are going to benefit from being on the list. There will be a whole new world of SEO created to chase optimization of the predictive list. The quest will become how do these predictive keywords get set and what is the algorithm doing to select these words.

Conversions are Event Based

Posted by Bob Dumouchel in adwords expert

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010

My conclusion is that conversions are driven by events, not advertising.  The role of Adwords isn’t to make a sale. Adwords acts as a conduit for the transaction when the searcher has been driven to action by an event. Now, let’s look at some facts to see if you agree with how I got there.

Recently a client had their industry mentioned on Oprah and the traffic and leads exploded. We have another client that does snow removal and snow storms drive their business, not advertising. Advertising has a role in the process but it is the event that creates the demand. The event is followed by the interaction with the advertisement which can lead to the conversion. It is a chain of events and advertising is not the creator of the demand, but rather the conduit of the demand.

People shift into procurement mode because some event moved them to action and it is very rare that the event is advertising.  Most businesses ask a new customer “How did you find us?” but they rarely ask the real question of “What caused you to start looking?” We look to measure performance of advertising based on responses, but in reality it is the events experienced by the person that puts them into procurement mode.

The Event Circle of Influence

Events come in many forms; some are widely shared while others are within a much smaller circle of influence.  At one end of this spectrum would be an event like September 11th which was a shared event with most of the population of the world, while a smaller event might be a snow storm in rural Wisconsin. When we look at events in the market we have to consider the circle of influence and adapt our advertising strategy to accommodate this reality. A snow storm in Wisconsin does not create demand for Snow Removal in New York.

The Oprah Effect is an event created by Oprah mentioning a product or service on her show.  Recently we had a client that experienced the Oprah Effect and the lead generation was incredible. There was no change in the keywords or ads but there was no mistaking the lead generation impact. The event did impact the bids because competitors are smart and they quickly realized that the demand was going to be responsive so they bid up the positioning in a big way and we had to react to that. It was a thrilling ride while it lasted, but events do not age well.

Another client sees this frequently but at a much smaller scale. They will have zero response from a specific part of the country followed by a flood of leads. Our guess is that there is a local event that causes people to think about issues related to their business. These events create demand that morphs into searches and ads that people click on to get to the landing page where the sales lead is created.  The ad did not create the event but it was part of the pipeline that allowed the lead to flow to the business.

Another real world example is a client in the moving industry. We are always looking to create more leads with less money, but in reality Adwords is not causing people to need moving services. There are lots of reasons to need a mover but none of them are created by Adwords text ads with 95 letters and spaces. Change of job, spouse reassignment, foreclosure, and many other personal events are what drive this business and create the traffic.  Some  advertising can create an event but that ability varies by format and I think it fair to say that an Adwords Text Ad is about as weak as you can get in this area.

The next logical question is can you create events for your business and the answer is yes, but creating events is not like running an advertisement.  In advertising, we pay for the placement so we have some degree of control over it but events are different. First, they require much more creativity and in most cases they require the involvement and engagement of other people. Developing events is way beyond the scope of this article, but the reality is you can create events. We talk with clients about this all the time because you need to have your advertising in sync with your event initiatives to get the entire marketing ecosystem working together.

People are the sum of their experiences and we are all driven by events in different ways. What motivates one person can and does leave others unimpressed. The key to your Adwords strategy is to recognize the events that drive your business and make sure you are in position to be found when the prospect is moved to action by the event.

Awesome Adwords Performance

Posted by Bob Dumouchel in adwords

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010

More is not better, better is better. This is true in Adwords as it is in most things. If you want awesome performance from your Adwords account, and your idea of awesome performance is a better conversion cost, then you need to embrace this concept.  We often hear from businesses after they have violated this rule by throwing more and more keywords at Adwords and their performance is in the toilet. The cure is always a return to quality.

When people first start with Adwords, they often throw every keyword they can think of into the system, they wonder why the system crumbles at their feet.  The problem is that more is not better. The first words they thought of are probably their best words, so it only goes downhill from there. Keywords are not as simple as Boolean good or bad. Words exist in a range of quality so they slowly degrade and you have to decide when to stop. It is never clear cut. Keywords typically have a structure to them that includes a base keyword, keyword qualifier, and Keyword Intent.

Base Keyword: Drywall

Keyword Qualifier: Contractor

Keyword Intent: Quote

The example for this would be if your business did drywall installation. A great keyword would be “Drywall Contractor Quote”.  When you have a base, qualifier, and intent it is often a home run keyword. The challenge is that it is probably a low volume keyword because every word you add to the keyword reduces the number of searches it will match to.

When going after awesome performance, one thing you have to examine is the click through rate (CTR) and its cousin quality score. Look at your average CTR and then create a filter to look at your keywords that drag this down. Normally I start with half of the average so if the account has a CTR of 1% then I look at keywords that have some level impressions that are less than or equal to 0.5% CTR. Then, I start asking myself questions about why the CTR is low:

  1. Is there a relationship between the keyword and the ad?
  2. Is the position where it needs to be?
  3. What do the competitive ads look like?
  4. What is the quality score?
  5. Do you really want this word?
  6. Does the keyword have a good base, qualifier, and intent?

If you cannot get at least average performance out of the keyword, then you need to consider deleting it from the account because it will pull down the overall quality of the account.  Many people think that just because you pay by the click that you should not be concerned with the impressions or the CTR but the system does care. A low CTR will lower your quality score. Since your bid is really bid times quality score, a low CTR will ultimately result in a higher bid to hold the same position. Quality Score and Money are the same thing to Google and you need to respect that fact.

The general rule of thumb is that the higher the quality, the lower the quantity and this is what makes people crazy. They always want more but they have to realize that they are sacrificing quality for quantity. If you want quantity simply do away with the qualifier and the intent and you will get the maximum volume, but your quality score will fall and your bids will have to be increased to keep your ad showing. If your quality score or CTR gets too low no amount of money will make your ads show.

The next area in your keyword strategy is the conflicting uses of the keywords. The most common of these is the conflict between service, product, DIY, and research.  If you are selling a product, then you have to be careful about how much service, DIY, and research traffic you attract with your keywords. This gets much more complex because words are not good or bad, they are better or worse. If we are selling Gold Widgets then we probably want to avoid traffic seeking to have their widget serviced or seeking information on how to build their own widget. Again these words are not clearly in one area or another but rather in a spectrum between the different concepts.

My favorite example of this challenge is Drywall because it plays into all these different areas. Consider the following searches: (Click on graph for better detail)

Awesome Adwords Performance

This data is from Google Insights and it gives us some idea of how these keywords play with each other in search. The top line is Drywall How To, which indicates to us that 75% of the total search of all these keywords is in the DIY category. If we are selling a drywall service or product, we really need to get rid of the how-to traffic. The Chinese Drywall shows how an event can impact your keywords. Prior to late 2008, the term Chinese Drywall was not even on the chart but then a media event broke on this term and the traffic went through the roof. If you were in the Drywall business and did not go in and remove Chinese from your traffic then the quality of your traffic would have fallen like a rock.

The other observation of this data is that the more qualified terms like price, cost, and contractor are only a small percentage of the overall traffic. Let’s look at just how insignificant some of these terms really are. (Click on graph for better detail)

In the chart above, the broad keyword of Drywall is the top line and you can see that terms like price and cost only get 1-2% of the searches. If you qualify your words to this level you are only seeing 1-2% of the searches however if you stay with the overly broad term then only 1-2% of your impressions actually mean anything to you.

Drywall is an interesting example because it can be a service, product, DIY, or research term. When qualified by cost, it is probably a product but quote is just as likely to be a quote for service as a quote for product even though both of these terms are price class qualifiers.

Keywords also change based on the point in the purchase cycle and the life experiences of the audience. The purchase cycle typically includes research, qualification, purchase, experience, and referral. The keywords change as the audience moves through each of these stages.

Life experiences change the way that the audience interacts with your keywords and it does make a difference if Vietnam was a life experience or a history class lesson.  If you are to get awesome performance from your Adwords, you must become one with the audience and see the keywords and the ad copy through their eyes.

If you want maximum volume, you go after Drywall but you should not be surprised when you get Google Slapped on your quality score for being lazy.

Sex, Lies, and SEO

Posted by Bob Dumouchel in Uncategorized

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

Over the years we have noticed that clients either swear by or swear at their SEO Expert and there is no middle of the road on this one. With over a decade working on the SEO side of web sites I understand and deeply appreciate the value of SEO and I am a strong advocate of competing on both sides of the search engine.

SEO and PPC advocates often do not play well with each other because they have very different fundamental beliefs. These conflicting inputs from the business manager’s advisers cause great confusion in the manager’s strategic decision process. This is because the conversation is framed as one being better than the other. SEO and PPC are not better or worse, they are simply different. The secret to success is to use the right tool for the right job at the right time. Sometimes that is SEO and sometimes it’s not.

Google’s top priority is the best possible SERP

SEO is what Google thinks, and to understand how Google thinks you have to consider Google’s personality and the source of their success. Google’s number one unquestioned top priority is to produce the best Search Engine Results Page (SERP) for the query posed by the searcher. Google knows that if they produce the best SERP the searcher will have a positive experience and they will return to use Google again and again. It is their dedication to the searcher’s experience and the Quality of the SERP that is the essence of their success. Here is a flash of the short term thinkers in the world – Google values the quality of the search above money!

Lie #1: We can get your site to the top of Google Guaranteed.

One thing that makes me crazy about the SEO industry is that there are a fair number of people representing themselves as SEOs that have little or no understanding of what is really going on. Like the amateur magician they have learned a few simple tricks and they go from client to client selling the fast, simple, and “guaranteed” way to the top of Google. This is not to say that there are no good SEOs, there certainly are, but for every good one that we run into there seems to be ten that are less than honorable.  They falsely represent what SEO is and they propose that they have some magical skill which will instantly get you free traffic to your web site.  The rule here is that if it sounds too good to be true it probably is, and anyone who guarantees anything specific in search is lying.

Lie #2: We will optimize your page to get to the top of Google

One sure clue that the SEO is lying is when they say that they will optimize your web site or page. This statement can be a partial truth but it is never fully truthful. The majority of the organic page score is not in the page source so you cannot optimize it by changing the page. Nobody outside of a small circle inside Google knows the exact formula and in reality no one person knows the whole thing. Our guess is that 80% of the organic score comes from items not on the page.  A top position in Google is earned by being an expert resource on the search query. An expert is defined not by what they say about themselves, but by what others say about them and this is the fundamental concept of the Google Search Model. This does not mean doing the basics on your page isn’t important, a good foundation is vital to the search-ability of your site. However on page search factors won’t get it done by themselves.

Lie #3: We will get you to the top of Google easily, simply, and quickly

Another clue that your SEO is lying is the statement that they will get you to the top of Google easily, simply, and quickly. There are a thousand ways to get to the top of Google and all of them are hard work conducted over a long period of time by very smart people. One trick is to create a page and show the client that it is in fact first on Google. Unfortunately this is not difficult to do but the page will not stay there. The trick works because Google values fresh content so when it finds fresh content it moves it up in the ranking to test it. However this freshness factor wears out quickly and if people do not click on your listing and get engaged by your content you will very quickly find yourself in position 5,000. The challenge here is that the highly optimized page is often horrible copy that nobody would read.

Lie #4: You just need more back links no matter where they are from.

We recently had a client that engaged an SEO to work on their site. The SEO set out to generate lots of inbound links, which normally would be a good thing except they were not concerned with the quality just the quantity.  The final termination to the relationship happened when they told the client that the quality of what was on the page was not important. The client intuitively knew that poor content pointed at his site would end up hurting his professional reputation and he was absolutely correct.  Like most things in life more is not better, better is better. Poor quality content will never get picked up by highly reputable sites and one link from a highly authoritative site is worth much more to your reputation online than links from poor quality sites. The risk here is that this approach might actually backfire on you.  Google has a whole department headed by Matt Cutts dedicated to finding these tricks and fixing them. Often the way that Google “Fixes” these tricks is by removing the pages from the index. The advice we give to clients all the time is that you should only try to trick Google if believe that your SEO is smarter than Google.  Google hires the best engineers on the planet who fanatically dedicated to the mission of creating the best possible SERP. So you have to ask yourself, do you really want to take that on?

Lie #5: People search for this keyword

Often times we find SEOs that have optimized for keywords that nobody searches for. They target what they call long tail traffic and they get great position because nobody cares.  One of the great tricks is to optimize for these words so the client sees the results and the SEO walks away the hero. This is until someone comes along and adds analytics to your site and shows you how many visitors you have for that keyword and how engaged they become with your web site.  Analytics is the way to measure your investment in SEO and make sure that the words you optimize for are also ones that you would be willing to purchase.

The Truth

We have many clients that are wildly successful with their organic keywords and they share a common trait. They are all people who are passionate about their business and they share that passion and expertise freely with the world. They write articles, white papers, books, speak to groups, answer questions in social media sites, and many other things. They are Evangelists for their business and the second they open their mouth or touch a keyboard you know it. These people are the resources that Google is looking for because they will provide the searcher with the most positive web experience and that is how you get to the top of Google in the long term.

The secret to a great organic position in Google is:

To consistently create meaningful content that is valuable to your visitor and contributes to building the best SERP. Help Google create a great SERP and they will be your best friend.