The Challenges of Google AdWords
By Shari Worthington
With close to 60% share of the search market, Google is the dominant force in the world of search marketing. Search engine optimization campaigns focus on getting to the top of Google's rankings. Pay-per-click advertising through Google AdWords is used as a way to get onto the first page of results quickly.
The challenge is that while AdWords looks like a simple bid-your-way-to-the-top system, it is, in fact, extremely complicated. We were one of the first companies to run Google ads, back in the days of pay-per-impression, long before Google turned the advertising world upside down with its pay-for-performance ad system. We know Google about as well as any outside company can and we're still making new discoveries.
So it was with much interest that we read a fascinating article in The Register (who's superb tagline is "Biting the hand that feeds IT"!), referred to us by Calum Morrison, master of all things IT at Intense Ltd. Entitled "Google's Riches Rely on Ads, Algorithms, and Worldwide Confusion," the article digs into several of the not-so-obvious ways Google controls the AdWord system, often to your detriment.
What started people wondering were a few hiccups in AdWords. Periodically, Google installs updates to the software. Usually we see no obvious difference in ad performance before and after the upgrade. But over time, click-throughs and/or conversions will improve. One of the recent upgrades was different. The first day after the upgrade, one of our most active client accounts immediately saw both click-throughs and conversions drop precipitously. We queried Google and they insisted all was right with the world, it must be that our ads needed work. Mind you, these were the same ads that were performing beautifully the day before the upgrade. A few weeks later, we noticed ad performance returned to prior levels.
According to The Register, "On February 25 , the online researchers at comScore unveiled a new report detailing Google's 'paid click rate.' According to the report, already the stuff of legend, seven per cent fewer people clicked on Google advertisements from December to January. Then comScore 'clarified' its report, presenting the vanishing clicks as part of Google's master plan to improve the 'quality' of ads and therefore increase revenue."
The reality is that Google is doing a lot of finagling behind the scenes, and not all is good for its advertisers. Take this surprise. In February, Google quietly beta'd a new feature called "automatic matching." With this, Google automatically grabs an advertiser's excess daily budget and uses it to post ads against keywords other than those the advertiser is actually bidding on!
A Google e-mail stated, "Automatic Matching automatically extends your campaign's reach by using surplus budget to serve your ads on relevant search queries that are not already triggered by your keyword list. For example, if you sold Adidas shoes on your web site, Automatic Matching would automatically crawl your landing page and target your campaigns to queries such as 'shoes,' 'adidas,' 'athletic,' etc. and less obvious ones such as 'slippers' that our system has determined will benefit you and likely lead to a conversion on your site."
You're kidding me, right? If I'm selling sneakers, there is no way I want to waste any of my ad dollars on someone doing a search for 'slippers.' I may also not want to compete for the highly competitive word 'adidas,' instead opting for more targeted phrases like 'women's adidas' or 'adidas running.' Google is free to make suggestions (and they do through their free ad optimization service), but there is no way I want them actually controlling which phrases I target.
What Works: We tell all our clients they should not be paying for all available impressions for their AdWords program. If you do, you're more likely to pay for all the window shoppers, the students, and the accidental clicks on your ad. The quality of the clicks drops significantly when you get down to the last 10-20% of available impressions. By restricting your daily ad budget to something less than all available impressions, you put the Google system to work, doing what it's algorithms do best -- finding the higher quality clicks that will more likely lead to conversions. And, as an added benefit, by restricting your daily spend, you won't leave money lying around that Google feels compelled to spend!
Not So Good Changes to Broad Matching
Google allows you to run several matching options – exact match to your phrases only, phrase match for your phrase used exactly as is but within a larger query, and broad match. Broad match used to mean your exact keywords, but in any order in a sentence. For example, a broad search for the phrase 'flow meter' would match searches for 'flow meter' or 'measuring flow with a meter' or 'meter fluid flow.'
Unfortunately, broad match now means that Google will serve ads for keywords it decides are somehow related to the terms, not necessarily the exact terms you've specified. According to The Register, "When a company bids on a word like 'mule,' Google may broad match on 'muele,' 'mula,' mula spain,' 'mulapelada,' 'riding mules for sale,' 'trainer mules,' and 'yamaha mules.'"
What Works: Be careful with broad match terms. Try to focus your campaign on exact match or phrase match terms.
Within the last year, Google changed AdWords from a straight bid system – bid the highest price per click and you'll be the top ad – to a bid + Quality Score system. According to Google, "The Quality Score is determined by your keyword's click-through rate on Google, relevance of ad text, historical keyword performance, the quality of your ad's landing page, and other relevancy factors."
The good news is that this approach lets Google weed out bad guys, the proverbial insurance salesman who wants his ad in front of you whether you're searching for insurance or not. The bad part is that this makes things tough for new and small advertisers. If your quality score is poor, your minimum bid will be high. If you want to improve your quality score, you have no choice but to fork over the minimum bid and hope good things happen.
What Works: Create highly relevant ads and landing pages. Make sure you're focused on your keywords. Stay away from highly competitive terms in the beginning, like 'PLC' or 'automation.' Start small and work your way up. As your Quality Score increases, you'll get better bang for your marketing bucks.
For more information on how to get the most out of your pay-per-click advertising program, see Telesian's e-Business Services.