Posts by Geordie:

PPC: The Use Of Language

No Comments » Written on March 11th, 2010 by
Categories: Copywriting

Yesterday, we took a look at Google’s related search function. If you haven’t come across this feature yet, give it a whirl, as it gives us a fascinating insight into the minds of search visitors.

More importantly, it reveals the patterns of language people use.

As you drill down through your chosen phrases, you should start to see specific patterns of language. Patterns might emerge in in form of questions, of doubts, of benefits, of price, of availability, and more. You can use these patterns to better understand your audience, and refine your campaign language to suit.

“Listen” Carefully To How People Use Language

How people say things is just as important as what they say.


Because one of the keys to a successful PPC campaign is to talk using the language of the customer. If the customer can see themselves in you, and your solutions, they are more likely to buy from you.

For example, you need to talk to a youth market differently than you would an elderly market. Language an elderly market may see as authoritative, a youth market may see as old fashioned.

It’s a generalization, but the elderly tend to respond well to voices of authority, so quoting qualified professionals is often a good idea when marketing to this group. Youth demographics tend to respond well to the voices of their peers, or people like themselves, or people who they aspire to be. To get the language right, you need to figure out exactly who you’re selling to. If your market doesn’t fit into a clear demographic, then research your competitors, particularly those who rank high on PPC for long periods of time, and see what language they use.

Focus Your Language On Customers Needs

The other important point is to address the customers needs.

For example, can you can spot what is wrong with this example of landing page text:

Our company has been trading for 26 years. We’re the world’s leading supplier of garden tools, and carry an extensive range from our chosen suppliers. Our founder, G R Holding’s motto was “Quality First!”. We’ve stuck to that motto….

Ok, cheesy – but the problem is obvious. The merchant talks a lot about themselves. They do not speak the language of the customer, nor do they speak to the customers needs.

How do we know what language the customer will respond to? One clue is the language used in the search query. Say the search query is “cheap gardening tools”. Would the language in the paragraph above appeal directly to the searcher? Not really. This visitor is motivated by price, not company longevity.

What the searcher needs to see is an ad that includes the words “cheap gardening tools”, and a landing page that features the term “cheap gardening tools” writ large. The language of the page must reaffirm the searcher has found the right place. From here, we could experiment with different layouts, perhaps showing various tools with prices in red crossed out and the discounts clearly visible. The language would orient around savings and bargains. We could add a clear call to action, moving the visitor through the sales process.


Whatever your demographic, these ten guidelines work well in PPC:

Repeat The Search Query – not only is this using the same language as the searcher, it also reaffirms they have found the right place. Repeat the search query in both the ad text and on the landing page.

Use “You” and “Your” – it’s not about you, it’s about them. Speak of their problems, their desires, and their needs. They don’t care about you.

Use A Crystal Clear Call To Action – use the active voice and use precise commands i.e. click here to…..

Be Factual, Not Arty – ad text and landing pages are not the places to get cryptic. Use simple, direct language. The visitor can easily click back if they become confused.

Your First Paragraph Is The Most Important – I tend to use a larger font for the first paragraph. Decide on the one thing you want to get across to the visitor if you only have a five second window of opportunity. Typically, that’s all the time you do have to encourage a visitor to read further! What is your visitors burning need? That’s your first paragraph. Remember to incorporate the word “you” or “your” whenever possible. Keep it short.

Write With The Customers Goal In Mind – this will help you to keep on track, moving logically from one concept to the next. You shouldn’t include any superfluous text or imagery that doesn’t support the customer achieving their goal.

Rewrite – copy is always improved by rewriting it. Two, three or four times…ten times, if need be. The aim is to remove the superfluous. To get across an idea quickly and effectively.

Sometimes, copy can be greatly improved by deleting the first paragraph entirely, and making the second paragraph the first. Chances are, your audience is way ahead of you. They don’t need the obvious spelled out, which often happens in first paragraphs, particularly those of first drafts.

If In Doubt, “Steal” – Ok, not steal, borrow 🙂 Look at the language your competitors are using. Are there similarities between them? What goal are they addressing? Have they clearly identified their target market? How can what they’ve done be improved upon?

Don’t Use Jagon – it tends to confuse. The exception is if your target audience is very familiar with industry jargon.

Be Specific – if the benchtop you’re selling is made of granite, say granite. Avoid vague language, like “a solid, enduring benchtop material”. Search engine activity tends to be specific, as opposed to vague, because people are forced to formulate a search query. That’s not to say all search phrases are specific – your target keywords should give you a clue about how specific the needs of your audience are.

The Other Side Of PPC

2 Comments Written on March 9th, 2010 by
Categories: Marketing

One key to building a winning PPC strategy has little to do with PPC at all.

The business you’re advertising via PPC needs to work on the web.

What are some examples of businesses that work well, and those that don’t?

Items that don’t sell so well include items that are easy, and cheap, to source locally, very heavy items that can’t be shipped easily, and items that need to be seen or tried on for size and fit. Having said that, people can and do sell such items over the net, but the rule of thumb when selecting a good product for selling on the web is to look for some barrier to purchase that the web smooths out.

For example, some people order pills, like Viagra, over the internet, because the internet smooths out the embarrassment factor some people may feel if they go into a store to buy it.

People order items from other countries where the item may be cheaper. The web smooths out the price difference.

Some people order because they live far away from the shops, and want something delivered. The internet smooths out the distance problem.

People will buy something they can’t get easily at their local store, like niche items. The internet smooths out the availability problem.

Select an item or service that smooths out problems such as those mentioned above. All business is about solving problems. Real problems, as opposed to imagined ones. Ask yourself if you’re solving an actual problem people have, or an imagined problem you’d like them to have.

Connect With People

Secondly, you need to connect with people.

It’s easy to get lost in the numbers of PPC, but we must remember that each click represents a living, breathing human being. That person has needs, wants and problems to solve. That person is likely to have objections to buying that need to be overcome.

Is your landing page solving a genuine problem for people? Is it speaking their language? Is it reassuring them that you can solve their problem?

The visitors have all the power. They can back-click. They don’t have to spend any time on a page that doesn’t speak to them, using their words, and addressing their specific problem.

If your landing pages aren’t converting as well as you’d like, make sure you’re solving a real problem for someone. Picture that person in your head. Who are they? How old are they? How do they speak? Why did they click thru on your advertisement?

Of course, there is a lot of guesswork involved, but it’s a good exercise to remind ourselves that maths is only one half of PPC. The other half is about people and language.

How Do You Figure Out The Language?


Test various web pages using different text. Phrase the solution in different ways. Do you get better results if you empathize with a persons problem? Do you get better results if you re-state the problem? Do you get better results if you weave the problem into a story? Do you get better results if you focus on benefits? Do you get better results if you focus on negating risks?

Check out keyword research tools, like Google’s related searches. As you search, Google will present you with related queries. These queries give you a unique insight into the minds of searches. Look for patterns, particularly patterns related to commercial activity.

Collecting Feedback

You can also collect information from your visitors, of course. Via web analytics and your Google AdWords data aggregate feedback can be collected without asking for permission. You can further augment this feedback…

  • many competitive research tools show you where competitors are consistently finding value
  • there are many multivariate tools to choose from
  • specialized tools like CrazyEgg & ClickTale help record how users interact with your page
  • feedback services like UserTesting and Feedback Army allow you to buy reviews from end users for next to nothing
  • Services like 4Q and Kampyle allow you to easily embed feedback forms in your web pages

Want More Visitor Information?

Sell something that requires building significant trust? These days, people are loathe to give out personal information, especially to people they don’t know, so it’s a good idea to give them an incentive to do so.

Can you give them something of value? An e-book, perhaps. A free white paper or report. Even better if you can couple it with an auto-responder which helps you gain repeat exposure and test different sales strategies.

Giving people something to read is a useful tool in the sales process. If you tell a convincing story about why your solution is best, and frame the story to lead to your solution, you get people closer to your cash register. Remember, only impulsive people, or those with a very strong, time-sensitive need, buy on the first look. Most people will consider, research, and comparison shop. Having something of yours they can take away increases the chances they’ll return.

Finally, review trust aspects of your landing page.

Why should the visitor give you their credit card number? Are you giving them enough reassurance that you can be trusted to deliver? Cover all the basics – secure payment process, contact details, a clear returns policy, and guarantees.

Also make sure your spelling is purfect 😉

Optimizing PPC Campaigns For Non-US Markets

6 Comments Written on March 1st, 2010 by
Categories: Local Search, The World Around Me

Do you sometimes feel you can’t squeeze any more performance out of your campaigns? You’ve optimized everything, and you just can’t boost performance much further?

Have you looked at your international options?

Articles on PPC tend to focus on the US market. Let’s take a look at the massive opportunities in the international market, from a US perspective.

Untapped Markets

The US, whilst the biggest search market, still only accounts for approximately 17 percent of searches conducted globally.

According to ComScore’s 2010 search survey:

China ranked second with 13.3 billion searches, followed by Japan with 9.2 billion and the U.K. with 6.2 billion. Among the top ten global search markets, Russia posted the highest gains in 2009, growing 92 percent to 3.3 billion, followed by France (up 61 percent to 5.4 billion) and Brazil (up 53 percent to 3.8 billion)

As you can see, there’s a lot of search volume to be had beyond the US, even if you limit your market to the larger English speaking nations, like Australia and the UK.

Also, being a US-based PPC operative, you may have a serious advantage in those markets.

If you’ve been doing PPC in the US for a while, and you’ve mastered intermediate-advanced techniques, you may be able to out-compete international PPC operators in their local markets, because they haven’t had to fight so hard. Lower levels of competition means campaigns may be run a bit looser than what you’re used to. A generalization, of course, but generally true of less competitive markets.

And there’s another advantage: exchange rate.

Given the US dollar is currently weaker against some other major currencies, you can make bank on the exchange rate alone.

For example, the UK pound is, at the time of writing, worth $1.54 US. If you price your merchandise/services in pounds, without converting, you gain a 50% margin. People spend a UK £ pretty much like you spend a US $, so, depending on your market, you may not have to adjust your price figures.

But before you think it might be too easy, here’s where the locals may out-gun you….

The Challenge

Whilst most aspects of your PPC campaign will remain the same – your bidding strategy, CTR, Quality Score etc – there are differences you need to consider.

1. Pitch

Generally speaking, advertising targeted at US consumers is different to the advertising targeted at, say, UK consumers.

US advertising tends to be seen by more reserved cultures as brash and over-the-top. In order to appeal to consumers in the UK, tone down a hard pitch a few notches.

The easiest way to find the right level is examine the landing pages of competitors in your target market. It’s not just that spelling is different i.e. color vs colour – the underlying psychology is different. This is a generalization, but notice that not all cultures are as optimistic and motivated by personal success as the US. Benefit propositions tend not be pushed quite so hard.

An article in the Independent, a UK newspaper, highlighted the differences in the advertising world: Less business, more arts and entertainment:.

In Britain, advertising and its people are socially smart in the wider world in direct ratio to their distance from hard selling and their resemblance to the arts and entertainment. And advertising people definitely take their place in our great world.

In America, advertising isn’t that socially glamorous – they’ve got Hollywood after all – and its practitioners aren’t so famous, but they make millions and it’s an acceptable career choice for a decent MBA graduate who thinks creativity is something best left to window-dressers.

That’s not directly applicable to the direct marketing channel, but it gives you some idea of different underlying culture behind advertising and acceptance thereof. The good news, for US advertisers, is that the web is making everything more American. People are growing more accustomed to the hard sell, online, at least.

Again, study your competitors in terms of pitch, and revise accordingly.

If your budget allows, try to hire a copywriter based in the target market to adjust your copy.

2. and

Having a local domain name, and indicators of local presence, can help.

Just as you are likely to notice domain names that don’t end in .com, people in other countries are typically more comfortable buying from domains with local extensions, particularly when it comes to the delivery of physical items. It doesn’t tend to matter so much for merchandise or services that are delivered digitally.

It also helps if you can provide a local free calling number, and if possible, a local service address.

This is not to say any of this is necessary. People will buy from anywhere, if the deal is right.

3. Price In Local Currency

How do you feel if you see a checkout denominated in a currency other than US dollars? It can be off-putting. It can feel more risky. Same goes for people in local markets.

If you can, provide local pricing information. If not, at least provide a currency exchange widget.

4. Translation English To English

If you’re doing the ad writing and copywriting yourself, don’t forget the obvious stuff – terminology and spelling.

Here’s a useful translation dictionary for different spelling and terms.

With Google AdWords, Is The Long Tail Over-Rated?

16 Comments Written on February 22nd, 2010 by
Categories: Google Adwords

Do you manage too many keywords in your PPC campaigns? Feeling a bit overwhelmed?

There’s a lot to be said for running small, tightly optimized campaigns with short keyword lists instead.

When Chris Anderson, a columnist at Wired magazine, wrote about the Long Tail back in 2004, the concept was seized upon by the search marketing community. The Long Tail outlines a niche sales strategy whereby a vendor can sell a wide range of niche items, in small volumes, which collectively add up to more revenue than their big sellers. Think Amazon. By covering many niches, you make more money.

Search marketers seized upon the Long Tail concept because it dove-tails nicely with search strategy. You can use an infinite numbers of keywords, some of which may only receive one click a year, but added together, they provide a lot of traffic at low cost.

This theory works best in SEO, where there is nothing to manage after you’ve published a page, but in PPC, covering a lot of keyword terms can create management overhead, and affect Quality Score, which drives up your costs.

Which Terms Drive Performance?

Your top 5-10% performing keywords are likely generating almost all your sales. The PPC Long Tail, all those groups of low-traffic keywords, are probably generating nothing but mental overhead. Such campaigns can be tricky to manage well.

Your Quality Score may also suffer if you run long keyword lists. If you’re using an exhaustive list of terms covering areas where there is little buyer activity – the do-it-yourself brigade, for starters – your click through rate could suffer, which can affect your Quality Score. Your minimum bids could rise, so running with the Long Tail could in fact cost you.

Go through your lists and make a note of the low traffic keyword terms. Can any of these keyword terms be covered by broad or phrase matches? What about a combination of broad & phrase match with the addition of some negative keywords? Would you lose anything by doing so? Is the existence of these keywords helping or hindering you ability to meet your sales objectives? Look at the terms that generate your conversions. How many really perform? 20? 50? Would you be better off focusing all your mental energy on these keywords? Are you wasting time testing long tail keywords and ad copy that will take a long time to prove their worth? Is it time for a PPC spring clean?

Running Long Tail Strategy

Of course, some people swear by long keyword lists and running a huge number of groups. This strategy can and does work. Keep in mind that campaigns that receive huge volumes – millions – of clicks at the top end can include a lot of low-performance keywords further down the tail without it affecting the Quality Score too much, but smaller operators may not have this luxury. Few click-thrus, across a wide campaign, can hurt the keyword terms that perform well.

Long Tail keyword terms can also be useful for testing purposes. There might be gold down there somewhere! Again, it’s all about how much time you want to spend on testing and management of terms that deliver limited testing data over long periods of time.


Whatever method you choose, the important factor to look at the return on investment.

When calculating ROI, don’t forget to build in your keyword management time, and the opportunity cost of that time – would you have been better off managing some other aspect of the campaign, such as landing pages? Use of the Google Desktop Ad Manager or the Google API can improve efficiency, but frequently it is best to focus on improving lifetime visitor value and conversion rates before digging too deep into longtail keywords.

Most importantly, is your Quality Score affected by having too many low paying keyword terms?

What strategies do you use? Do you go for the short, focused campaign in terms of keyword lists and groups, or do you like to cast a very wide net?

The Ultimate Guide to PPC Affiliate Marketing

37 Comments Written on February 16th, 2010 by
Categories: Affiliate Marketing

You may have come across get-rich-quick books telling you how you can make a fortune in affiliate marketing. Hand over $97, and you’ll get “the secrets”.

We’ve decided to give you “the secrets”, and charge you $0 instead. We’re good like that 🙂

This article is aimed at those who are new to affiliate marketing with PPC.

What Is Affiliate Marketing?

Affiliate marketing is a sales process.

Like a salesperson working on commission, the affiliate marketer links a prospect with a merchant and receives a commission if the prospect takes a desired action. This typically involves buying something.

The attraction for the affiliate is that they can focus entirely on marketing. Unlike the merchant, the affiliate doesn’t need to hold stock, handle orders, or deal with customer issues and complaints.

Many affiliates are attracted to PPC because it is a channel that allows people to start selling immediately. Set up a few ad groups, direct visitors to the merchant site, and watch the cash roll in.

Sounds easy, right?

Most Affiliate Marketers Don’t Make Money

It’s not as easy as some people, particularly those selling get rich quick schemes, like to make out. Even some of the better affiliate blogs tend to make it sound easier than it is (because they want you to sign up for lots of tools and networks so they get commissions). It is probably one of the hardest markets to get good information in because the answer to every question is on the other side of an affiliate link. Literally. 🙂

Whilst it is true that top affiliates make a lot of money, there are very few top affiliates. The top affiliates don’t just earn a little more that those people further down the curve, they earn a lot more. The curve falls away very quickly in terms of income.

Why does this happen? Why do most people fail to make money at affiliate marketing, and some people make so much? How can you ensure you succeed where others fail?

How To Do Well At Affiliate Marketing Using PPC

Affiliate marketing requires two key pieces of know-how.

  • Step One: Develop a sound knowledge of PPC technique
  • Step Two: Develop a sound knowledge of the market you’re targeting

If you’re new to PPC, then it is a good idea to split these tasks up. It will make it much easier to isolate and fix problems i.e problems relating to execution, as opposed to your choice of market, and vice-versa.

Step One: Develop A Sound Knowledge Of PPC Technique

Focus on learning these skills:

  • 1. How to use your chosen PPC system
  • 2. Keyword research
  • 3. How to write effective PPC Ads
  • 4. How to construct effective landing pages and sites

How To Use Your Chosen PPC System

For this article, we’ll focus on Google Adwords, the most popular PPC network. Most PPC systems work in a similar way.

If you haven’t already done so, sign up for a Google Adwords account here.

Next, go through the process of becoming Adwords Certified. Even if you don’t need the certification badge, the training process to certification level is excellent.

Best of all, it is free (well everything but the test).

Here is the tricky part: Google is saturated with competition and Google hates most affiliates, so it is typically easier to make money as an affiliate on other ad networks (like Bing or FaceBook).

And even when successful with Google, affiliates tend to have better luck on contextual/AdSense ads than with ads on the search results/AdWords. The Google content network is not policed as heavily (largely because brand advertisers don’t understand it & Google has to show something) AND it is much harder for competitors to clone your campaigns than with search targeted ads.

Keyword Research

Much has been written about keyword research, so rather than re-invent the wheel, here are five top instructional pieces that tell you what you need to know.

You want the quick summary? Put together lists of keywords your prospective audience is likely to use to find your product and service and place them in small, tightly focused ad-groups.

A few more tips:

Pay close attention to the type of query. For example, some queries indicate a person is ready to buy i.e. coupon searches and shipping options queries. Check out this article on the Three types of searches

This is one of the most important points concerning affiliate keyword research. Not all terms relating to your product or service are equal.

For example, you can’t tell much about visitor intent if the keyword is “Paris Hilton”, however “Paris Hilton watches” hints at an intent to purchase, as it directly relates to a product.

Look for keyword terms that reveal an intent to purchase.

How To write effective PPC Ads

Study headlines in magazines and newspapers. Headlines are hooks that entice people to read further, which is exactly what you want people to do when they see your ads.

  • Offer a clear call to action and make the offer compelling.
  • The landing page must closely match the offer in your ad and use similar words and phrases.
  • Differentiate your offer from those of your competitors.
  • Use keywords in Your Ads.
  • Try to use a URL that contains the keyword.
  • Use capital letters in your ad title, and, where permitted, in your ad text. They stand out more.
  • Use an active verb in the title, where possible.

A deeper look into writing effective ads can be found in the members area at

How To Build Effective Landing Pages And Sites

Landing pages need to get the message across quickly and effectively.

  • Steal 🙂 Well, not really. Take a look at the top advertisers landing pages. Pay close attention to how the pages are laid out, the wording they use, and how they are presenting the offer. Can you go one better?
  • Remove clutter. If you offer choices, people will get confused. Figure out the one thing you need to say, and stick to it. If you say three things, you say nothing.
  • Bullet lists, headings, subheadings, testimonials, pictures are all good. It’s easy for the eye to scan the information. A big block of dense text, less so
  • Reinforce the idea that visitors have found the right page. Place the words they searched for in large text at the top of the page. This confirms to the searcher they have found what they were looking for

Here are some great landing page resources.

Are you having trouble writing effective landing pages? There’s a book every affiliate marketing should read called “Tested Advertising Methods“. It’s a direct marketing bible about writing sales copy written in the 1930s. It looks at the psychology behind direct response advertising which is still valid today, even if most of the examples are rather outdated.

Part Two: Develop A Sound Knowledge Of The Market You’re Targeting

Understanding The Market

You may have already tried your hand at affiliate marketing using PPC. Were you frustrated by few sales? Did you run well-researched keyword campaigns that you then turned off in order to stop hemorrhaging money?

These are common experiences.

The main skill that separates good affiliate marketers from poor ones is the ability to understand and test a market.

How To Test A Market

Whilst there is a lot of trial and error involved in understanding a market, the good news is that you don’t need to understand all these aspects before you start. By doing, you’ll see things you’ll never see by standing back.

Treat your first few weeks as a training period. Accept that this training period will likely cost you money in the form of bids – but you are buying data cheaply. It need not cost you much, and you may well make a profit, but try not to put pressure on yourself to achieve this goal during the training period. Your first goal is to understand the tool and the PPC environment.

Did you know that a lot of affiliate marketers aim to break even on new campaigns?

Yes, you read that right – break even!

By breaking even, it signals that the area being targeted has potential. Affiliates then refine campaigns until they move from break even to profit. Chances are if a merchant is paying $50 per lead, they know that is costs around $50 for you to get that lead, too.

When choosing a product or service to trial whilst you are learning, look for low payouts – say, $3. Why? It’s far cheaper to make mistakes! Remember, the merchant is signaling that they think they can get the lead for around $3 if they did it themselves.

Your aim is to break even at $3. If you go over – say to $9 – without getting a conversion, you haven’t blown too much money. The same cannot be said if you were targeting a lead that pays out $100!

If you spend $50 on a $3 dollar per lead pay out and have a cost per conversion of $5, you can pause the campaign and examine what went wrong. Were you getting click-thrus, but losing people at the landing page? Your landing page and offer needs work.

Were you receiving few click-thrus? Refine your bidding and ad text. Re-nenable the campaign.

This time around, you may get down to $4 before you get a conversion. Refine, then re-enable.

Down to $3 yet? Great! You’re at break even, and you’ve still spent less than $100 testing a market. Get down below that $3 and you’re making money.

If you can’t get down to break even, even after a lot of tweaking, quit and move on. The market for that product might be so saturated that the margins are virtually non-existent.

Look for sweet spots – areas in which it is easy to break even, and then refine into profit quickly.

Market Knowledge

How well do you know the market for the service or product you are marketing?

Who is the buyer? What are their needs? Why are they buying over the internet rather than from a store? Why are they seeking out an unknown site as opposed to going to a big internet retailer, like Amazon?

These may seem like obvious questions, but the reality is that not everything sells well over the internet.

Any product or service that requires a high level of trust, or high levels of “touch” – a car, for example – will be difficult to sell online. Look through direct marketing trade journals and catalogs for clues. What types of products are services are selling well via mail order? What services and products are telemarketers selling? Chances are these products and services will sell well on the internet, too.

Put yourself in the position of the buyer. What would make you buy from a previously unknown web site? Typically it’s due to reasons such as convenience and scarcity. If your chosen merchant doesn’t meet the criteria, then pass and move onto another who does. If a merchant offers something a buyer can easily get elsewhere, then you’ll be exposed to a great deal of competition.

But Aren’t I Too Late To Do Well At PPC?

You may hear stories about how the market was back in, say, 1999, or 2003, or 2005. Low hanging fruit was everywhere, and the Adwords system -introduced in 2000 and heavily revised in 2002- didn’t have a lot of the complexity and bid competition wasn’t what it is now. People were making a lot of money relatively easily.

Whilst things have changed, it’s never too late to start.


New opportunities pop-up every day. New markets are emerging continuously. People are heading online to solve more of their problems. Whilst there are problems to be solved, there is money to made.

How do you find new, emerging markets? Top converting offers on affiliate networks and affiliate managers tell you what is working.

Further, Google Trends is a useful tool for predicting rising interest in keyword areas. Google Insights For Search allows you to drill down into the data, including by date, by region, by category and by source.

Microsoft Ad Intelligence and Google Adwords provide seasonal trends.

Paid research tools, such as Keyword Discovery, provide historical data, as do and WikiRank.

For a longer article on trend spotting, check out How To Spot Keyword Trends.

The internet is still a baby taking its first steps. PPC is even younger.

Jump in 🙂

The Importance Of Google’s Rater Document

Google employs teams of quality raters. A quality raters job is to manually review search engine result sets and web sites to ensure the algorithms are selecting the sites Google favors.

Obviously, it pays to have a site that Google favors.

The Google quality raters follow guidelines provided by Google. These secretive guidelines have sometimes found their way onto the web.

Of particular interest to affiliates is Google’s stated dislike of thin affiliate sites. Thin affiliate sites are sites sites that offer no value to the searcher, other than providing another “door” for the merchant site. These types of sites typically replicate the catalog of the merchant site.

Google regards these sites as spam.

From the quality rater document:

State your reason for assigning “Spam”, “Maybe Spam”, and “Malicious” flags. For example,
– Sneaky redirect to eBay
– Amazon thin affiliate”

“Major cosmopolitan cities are preferred targets for spammers, especially hotel affiliates. Such results should be labeled as Spam, even if they have relevance to the query – e.g. a hotel affiliate page with a list of Chicago hotels may be Relevant”.

Whilst this criteria applies mostly to SEO pages, a similar Google philosophy applies to PPC. Google doesn’t want identical, low value PPC pages and will punish them.

To get around this problem, beef up the value of your page and/or site to the user. Provide context and extra information. For example, you could offer side-by-side product reviews.

Become “fat”.

The quality rater document offers the following specific suggestions:

Pages should generally not be marked Spam if they provide added value. Added value refers to original or other useful content on the page, regardless of whether there are PPC ads. Examples of content that provides added value include:

  • Price comparison functionality: Even though the user has to go to another site via the affiliate link to place
    an order, there is value to have price comparisons right there on the page.
  • Product reviews: Pages that provide original reviews offer added value. Items that are commonly reviewed are books, electronics, and hotels.
  • Recipes: Pages that provide recipes offer added value.
  • Lyrics and quotes: Pages that display lyrics or quotes offer added value.
  • Contact information: Pages that provide contact information, especially physical addresses and phone numbers, offer added value.
  • Coupon, discount, and promotion codes: Affiliate pages that provide coupon, promotion, or discount codes for the consumer offer added value.

The Downsides Of Direct Linking And Campaign Cloning

Direct linking is when you place Adwords with links directly to the supplier site. A lot of get-rich-quick schemes recommend you take this approach, because it is “easy”.

You can make a KILLING on the web WITHOUT a website today!!!!!!!!! Wow. Buy my super insider secrets to automated eternal wealth generation system program now.

It’s only easy to set-up. It isn’t easy to execute well.

Direct linking is when the visitor clicks on the ad, is passed through to the sellers site, and if the visitor buys something, or takes a desired action, you receive a commission or payment.

This type of affiliate marketing was common when Adwords started, but Google makes this approach difficult by means of their quality score and internal editorial reviews.

The Google quality score is a metric assigned to each of your keywords. It is calculated using a variety of factors and measures how relevant your keyword is to your ad group and to a user’s search query.

People are still using direct linking, but it’s a hard road battling both established competitors and Google using this approach.

Direct linking campaigns are very easy to clone. Want to see which keywords your competitors are bidding on? Tools such as SEMRush and KeywordSpy reveal competitors bidding patterns.

Some unscrupulous affiliate networks could also steal your data to clone your campaigns. This is particularly true for the affiliate networks that push scams. If their entire business model is based on scamming people with hidden prices, rebilling fraud, and such then why would they treat you any differently?

Check out this illuminating interview in which Jeremy Schoemaker (aka Shoemoney) talks about campaign cloning:

Many affiliate networks are known for spying on their affiliates and cloning their accounts. How do you prevent that from happening?

There is nothing you can do to prevent it. I have seen it happen with my accounts a lot… the funny thing is they still can’t do what I do…. even with all the data right in front of their face. I have had affiliate managers tell me they cloned my exact keyword campaign on Google adwords with same adcopy and everything and got 1/2 the earnings per click.

In the affiliate game lots of people clone each other’s work, causing returns to race toward 0. What do you differently that allows you to see success after success with affiliate marketing?

Great follow up and glad you asked it since I almost went into this in the previous question.

First and formost testing. We spend 10-30k a day on ppc networks (and have for a long time). This testing gives you an education that you need to make it work. I can honestly give you my exact landing page and keywords/adcopy for something that is working for me right now and guarentee you can’t make it work. You don’t know what targeting we are doing… what kind of day parting… etc etc. Its not like it was 7 years ago.

This is why a lot of people are so bitter on forums. They spent a full day copying everybody elses shit and cant make it work so they whine. They dont want to actually do any real work testing stuff on their own or being creative.

It is NEVER a good idea to give your keyword data to affiliate networks. They are higher on the revenue chain than you are and have fatter profit margins, thus they can bid you out of the market. Some tools like Prosper202 allow you to host your own data.

Cost Per Action

Cost per action is when you receive a payment if a visitor takes a specific action i.e. filling out a contact form. CPA is popular because the affiliate doesn’t have to close the deal with a sale.

The problem with CPA offers is that the good ones are tightly controlled and may disappear at any time, and without notice. If a visitor only has to fill out a form, as opposed to hand over a credit card, there is plenty of scope for abuse in the form of junk leads.

Merchants aren’t stupid. When this happens, they will either cut the payout, or more likely pull the offer and work only with a small group of trusted affiliates who have demonstrated they can deliver quality leads.

In addition, some (perhaps most?) of these offers (particularly in weight loss, health, and fitness) are usually for something where the person unknowingly gets billed to their phone, or gets a free trial with a recurring subscription, etc. And eventually the FTC or other organizations step in and close down the offers.

One of the more interesting approaches to pushing legitimate CPA offers was mentioned by ShoeMoney in this interview, where he mentioned how he created a Nebraska Cornhuskers quiz where people who got a high enough score “won” a free trial to Netflix (available through his affiliate link). 🙂

Selecting Merchants

You can sign up at major affiliate networks, such as Google Affiliate Network, PepperJam and Commission Junction. Or you can scout out individual merchants by typing “[keyword] + affiliate program” (in this case: loans) into a search engine.

One of the biggest problems with affiliate marketing is the low barrier to entry. Because it is easy for anyone to sign up, then the level of competition can be huge, especially if you’re using the same big affiliate networks as everyone else.

All sounds too hard?

Well, that’s a good thing! Because if something is hard to do, it means most people won’t put the effort in that is required to succeed. The difficulty creates a barrier to your competition, too. The winners overcome that barrier to reach the other side. I recommend reading The Dip, by Seth Godin, for a good analysis of this point.

Evaluate the seller as you would any supplier you buy from. What is their position in the market? Is their offering competitive? Would you buy from them? Is their offer compelling and do they execute well? You can tell a lot of this information by looking at their website. And if you buy + test out the product you will have knowledge that 99% of lazy affiliates do not, yielding a real competitive advantage.

If the seller doesn’t look that great, skip them. They aren’t worth your time. There’s not much point advertising a high payout percentage if their offer isn’t competitive.

Affiliate nirvana is when you find a great company that has few other affiliates.

How do you find such companies?

Plenty of these companies exist, but they may not be aware of affiliate marketing, or even internet marketing. They may have a very limited web presence. Perhaps no one has ever approached them. One of the best ways to do this is to help market local businesses online.

If you know of such companies, or you can make an effort to seek them out, this puts you in an excellent position if you can sign them up to an exclusive or semi-exclusive deal. The strongest business case for an affiliate, by far, is this type of white label, exclusive arrangement.

Your protection is that no other affiliate can directly compete with you by offering the exact same products or services.

If the merchant ends the term, you retain the data and knowledge. You can then make similar offers to their competitors.

The next best thing is having a direct relationship with the merchant. Often, the affiliate network forms a barrier between the affiliate and the merchant. However, if you can get a contact at the merchant company, you’re in a better position to negotiate better deals.

Building An Audience

This approach requires the most upfront work, but it’s a model that can pay off well over time.

The affiliate builds a site that attracts a particular audience demographic. The affiliate then picks affiliate programs to suit that demographic.

Whilst this approach fits nicely with SEO, it can also work with PPC. You can use PPC to get visitors to sign up to the site, join your forum, or subscribe to your RSS or e-mail newsletter. Typically, you don’t aim to make a sale at this point as the payoff comes later. These visitors can attract more visitors, especially if you blend in viral marketing techniques i.e. make it easy for them to invite friends.

You may get to a point where you can attract the same audience the top affiliate PPC bidders attract, but at much lower cost as you don’t have to build a new audience each time. You sell different products to the same audience you already have.

Another problem affiliates face is that they do all the marketing work, but the merchant keeps the customer list.

This is why building an email list or a web site is a great approach. You can capture buyers details, as opposed to letting the visitor disappear once you’ve passed the prospect along to the merchant. Once you have these details, you can build up a buyer list that you can leverage to offer related goods and services at a later date.

Also remember that people often do not buy on the first visit, no matter how interested they are in the product or service. They may click through to the merchant – on your dime – then go off and do some price comparison, perhaps leaving their buying decision for a few days, forgot who they went to a few days earlier, and end up buying the product elsewhere.

This is why it is important to capture a prospects details. At least you retain something – the details of an interested buyer.

You can then use auto-responders to keep your name in front of the buyer. People often need to hear your name a number of times before they make a buying decision, especially on big ticket items.


Learn the PPC environment. Test and learn about the market. Run short, low-cost campaigns to start, and work your way up. Try to discover market trends early to avoid competition. Try to establish close contact with merchants. Try to keep as much visitor data and contact details as possible in order to sell at a later date if an immediate sale doesn’t occur. Make sure your site is adding value, in the true 2010 sense of the word!

Negative Keyword Tips

2 Comments Written on February 14th, 2010 by
Categories: Google Adwords

One of the easiest ways to optimize your Pay Per Clicks campaigns is to use negative keywords.

Negative keywords are search keywords you wish to exclude.

For example, if you target the term “cars”, and you sell new cars, you may not wish to appear under queries such as “used cars”, “classic cars” or “Best Friend’s Girl by The Cars”.

You can create a negative keyword list, like so:

  • used
  • vintage
  • old
  • second hand
  • classic
  • friends girl

By using negative keywords, you can cut down on unwanted impressions. These unwanted impressions can lower your click-thru rates and quality scores, thus increasing your cost per click. Trimming out that fat can save a lot of money as you are effectively gaining a discount on the rest of your impressions.

You can achieve something similar using a keyword list generator tool and exact match, however this match type means you may miss out on keywords you hadn’t considered, but may well be valuable. For example, you might exact match “cars”, or “new cars” but then you’d miss out on phrases such as “latest model vehicles”.

Look at your search query performance reports to find this data. Keep in mind that most keyword searches are unique, further underscoring the disadvantages of an over-reliance on exact match. There will be many keyword combinations you will never have considered. Part of your early phrase or broad match ad budget can be seen as an expense of buying market data & finding related keyword ideas to inform your future AdWords strategy.

A well constructed keyword list, including negative terms, can result in significant cost savings, as you can bid less than competitors who may not be focusing heavily on unnwanted queries.

Common Search Phrases To Exclude

The problem you’ll likely face is that your keyword reports might contain thousands of terms. There might be many irrelevant terms you need to exclude.

Here are a few short-cuts.

Think about the type of query people are making. Does the query indicate an encyclopedic-style search? Examples include “diagram”, “”map”, meaning of”, “what is”, etc.

Whilst you may be able to sell goods or services using such keywords, it’s most likely such terms indicate the searcher is looking for reference information.

“Free” is another obvious one, unless giving away free stuff is part of your marketing strategy. Closely related terms include “cheap”, “bargains”, “low price” and “sales”. These buyers are buying on price considerations, or wanting something for nothing. Again, unless you’re targeting this end of the market, exclude such terms with a negative match. Also consider excluding those people who want to “do it for themselves”, or seeking methodologies, unless, once again, these are your target markets.

Think carefully about what stage of the buy-cycle you are targeting. For example, you may be targeting people who are seeking information about your products or services. You want a lead, but may wish to close on the phone, or after a meeting. You may not want someone who wants to close a deal online. In these circumstances, terms relating to ordering online, price comparison, etc may be good candidates for negative match.

The Google Keywords tool can be useful for finding these terms. Search on your keywords and see what comes up. The associations can be revealing, especially when evaluating them in terms of of what you don’t want.

You can learn a lot about your demographic, especially if you can pick recurring patterns. For example, people searching on “software” might be looking to “burn” software, or “download free software”, more often than not. Are you seeing a lot of reference queries? A lot of “do it yourself” queries? Look specifically for patterns that indicate buying behavior, or lack thereof.

A high frequency of keywords that don’t indicate an intention to buy might make you rethink your keyword strategy around that term.

Numerous attempts have been made to create comprehensive negative keyword lists, but sometimes you have to go against conventional wisdom and test what works. However the numbers don’t lie. If you have chronic under-performers and/or irrelevant exposure then block them. And if you operate in parallel markets then many of the general themes from one campaign can help give you a stronger starting point for the next ad campaign.

Google AdWords Quality Score Factors

8 Comments Written on February 8th, 2010 by
Categories: Google Adwords

An aspect that often confuses those new to PPC – and many of those not so new -is Google’s quality score.

The quality score is a test of your keywords worthiness. The quality score is used on all your keywords, and is used by Google as a test of your campaigns relevance. The more relevant your campaign is – some would say “relevant to Google’s bank balance” – the more likely you’ll appear in prime position on Adwords.

It’s reasonable to think Google would want the highest bidder to appear at the top, but Google actually makes less money this way. What Google wants is to display the ad that both has a sufficiently high bid and gets clicked most often by searchers. Google is asking users “is this ad relevant to you?” In this respect, the quality score can be your friend, as you can get higher ad placement using lower bids than your competition, by being more relevant.

So it really pays to have a high quality score.

What makes up the Quality Score?

The key metric is relevance, combined with your bid price. Are you bidding enough, is your ad exactly what the searcher is looking for, and can you prove that fact over and over again?

Google lists the following factors:

  • The historical clickthrough rate (CTR) of the keyword and the matched ad on Google; note that CTR on the Google Network only ever impacts Quality Score on the Google Network — not on Google
  • Your account history, which is measured by the CTR of all the ads and keywords in your account
  • The historical CTR of the display URLs in the ad group
  • The quality of your landing page
  • The relevance of the keyword to the ads in its ad group
  • The relevance of the keyword and the matched ad to the search query
  • Your account’s performance in the geographical region where the ad will be shown
  • Other relevance factors

Hal Varian, Google’s chief economist, explains quality score in this introduction video

In practice, focus on your click-thru rate over time, on elements such as your keywords, groups, and campaigns. Click-thru rate, or CTR, is still the heavy hitter (it is the big piece of the above pie in Hal’s hand).

You also need to be bidding close to your competitors. A high quality score won’t necessarily get you a high position if you’re only bidding 5% of what your competitors do. Bidding too low just means you are wasting time not collecting feedback from the marketplace. Get in the game 😉

There are other less obvious factors, such as Google’s perception of relevance, which is a little harder to measure, and truth be told – only known to Google. Google looks to see if the AdWords ad copy wording matches the intent of the query. You can use keywords in your ads and Google may do semantic analysis which approves, but the bar might be higher. Google also employs quality raters which do manual reviews to look at perceived value add and other such fuzzy factors which change with market conditions.

When thinking about your keywords and ad copy, examine the wording of successful competitive ads, defined as ads that have been occupying top positions for a length of time. Do they hint at a clear buyer intent? Are they more commercial than non-commercial in nature? What angle do they take? Interview customers and find there pain points. Are there other market pain points that are not well represented in the ad copy of competitors?

How Do you Find Your Quality Score?

Up until recently, Google has been rather secretive about their quality score, offering only vague descriptions such as “Poor/OK/Great” . However, now you can see it for yourself.

  • Sign in to your AdWords account at
  • Select the appropriate campaign and ad group.
  • Click the Keywords tab.
  • Click Customize columns, under “Filter And Views”
  • Select Show Quality Score from the drop-down menu.
  • Click Done when you’re finished. Each quality score will be shown as a number of 1-10.

How Can I Improve My Quality Score?

Once you know your quality score, you can then optimize it, just as you optimize your ad groups and other variables. Focus on the terms that have the weakest quality scores.

Make sure your text ad closely matches the keywords you’re bidding on. Are your keywords with a low quality score only vaguely related to your copy? Either change the copy, put the keyword in new group with specific ad copy.

Your ad groups should all be tightly focused. You don’t need to use exact match on all keywords, but if broad or phrase match isn’t working maybe you should look to tighten it up. Also pay close attention to negative matches. Negative matches help relevance and should help your CTR, thus improving your quality score.

Next, review all poorly performing text ads by CTR (click thru-rate). Can you rewrite the ads to tighten the focus? Rewrite and test. If this doesn’t improve your quality score, keep rewriting, or dump the ad. Be very careful making changes to ads that perform well, however, as this will also effect your score.

After conducting this optimization, remove any poorly performing keywords in terms of quality score. Low quality keywords can drag down your entire campaign, as Google looks at historical averages across your campaign and account, not just specific keywords. However, the higher your overall quality score, the more you can get away with some underperforming keywords.

Review your landing pages. Don’t sweat this too much, as landing pages don’t really have much affect on you quality score, unless they are god-awful. They can certainly do you harm if you stray too far outside Google’s Adwords Landing Page Guidelines. Be relevant, clear, don’t trap users or try to fool them, and focus on usability.

The content network won’t affect your quality score, so don’t be afraid to use it. You might also like to read our Google Content Network Guide.

The Ultimate Google Content Network Advertising Guide

7 Comments Written on February 3rd, 2010 by
Categories: Contextual Advertising

With Adwords bid prices going through the roof, and competition more fierce than ever, is it time to revisit the Google Content Network?


Google’s Content Network distributes PPC text and graphic advertising publishers sites, in the form of Adsense.

The content network differs from search PPC in that you aren’t bidding on search terms, at least not directly. You’re bidding to appear on certain sites that Google relates to groups of keyword terms. It’s the banner ad model, with a few clever tweaks to ensure relevance.

Why should advertisers pay any attention to the content network in 2010? Isn’t it rife with click fraud and under-performance?

Last year, Google released a study [PDF] showing the difference in performance between the two networks.

Turns out the CPA performance is pretty close:

“In November 2008, the median advertiser running on both the Search and Content Networks had a Content Network CPA
within approximately 2% of their Search Network CPA, suggesting that these advertisers were able to drive Content Network
conversions that were as cost-effective as Search Network conversions.”

Of course, Google would say that 🙂

However, the important metric in web advertising campaigns is ROI. If you achieve a good return, then some level of click fraud, garbage traffic and reduced control may not matter, especially when compared to the difference in click price on Google Search.

If your ROI is positive, you win. ROI is one of the key metrics you need to pay close attention to on the content network.

Besides having lower click prices, the content network also has extensive reach, appearing on millions of websites. The majority of web activity, by far, occurs at the content level.

As for issues such as fraud and low performance, the content network has certainly matured from where it was a few of years ago. Google do appear to be ironing our issues, and with better reporting, conversion is easier to both measure and retain.

Let’s take a look at how to approach advertising on the content network.

The Content Network – A Different Way Of Thinking


The advertiser picks a visitor demographic by grouping Adwords themes, as opposed to appearing under a particular keyword term. When people see your ads, it’s not because they are hunting for something specific, as signaled by a keyword search, they tend to be engaged in reading or browsing.

This fundamental quality requires that you use a different approach that you use in your PPC campaigns.

So, the first step is to split your campaigns between the search network and the content network, so you have a basis for comparison. Whilst it can be more work setting it up, the split allows you to test different wording and approaches on both networks.

A Strategy For The Content Network

Placement on third-party sites can be a little hit and miss.

Google’s algorithms try to figure out where best to place your ad and do so by crunching numbers based around historical performance of ads similar to yours.

It is reasonable to assume that Google rewards the ads that are clicked on the most.

You can hand-select sites, which is also a legitimate approach. However, you might end up making worse guesses than Google, who at least have some content network data to crunch.

With this in mind, one effective strategy is to cast a wide net, then refine your campaign once you have some data to work with. Let Google decide placement, no matter how weird and wonderful, monitor your data, then cut the losers and run with the winners.

Step One:


Download Google’s Adwords Editor, if you don’t have it already. You can also use your Google Adwords web-based account, but I find it easier to manage these campaigns with the desktop version.

Step Two:

Setup conversion tracking. Google Analytics is free to use, and there are various third-party tools available.

Step Three:

Open the Adwords Editor and import an existing Adwords campaign.

Step Four:

Change search network to “none”

Step Five:

Change content network to “anywhere on the network”

Step Six:

Set your daily budget. A good rule of thumb at this point is to slash your bidding by 50%.

You now have a basis for comparison of the content network vs your PPC campaign on the search network. It’s a good idea to separate the two different networks out, as you likely find your advertising needs tweaking in order to work well on the content network. We’ll look closer at this aspect shortly.

Step Seven:

Get rid of negative keywords, keyword bids and any other variable used to hone and optimize your Adwords PPC campaigns as these may affect your placement on the content network. You may end up having to replace some of the specific negative keywords with broader irrelevant keyword modifiers and themes.

One important aspect of placement on the content network is keyword themes. More on this shortly.

In this exploration phase, you want to cast a wide net as possible, as you may find good traffic in places you never considered, or knew existed. It matters little if that a site Google places you on doesn’t appear to be appropriate. That site may have the target demographic you’re looking for, and that target demographic may exist on a sub-page of that site that isn’t immediately obvious at first glance. Once you’ve had a chance to evaluate performance, you can then go through and optimize by removing sites.

Some people do it the opposite way, of course. They have certain sites in mind, and only target those sites. Both methods are legitimate. The advantage is that you retain tight control from the outset. The disadvantage, as noted above, is that you may miss lucrative traffic streams from sites you don’t know about.

Once you’ve got some data, you can run a third campaign on only the content sites that convert well. The bids for this campaign can be set higher.

Use Google’s Placement Algorithms To Your Advantage

Like with any Google algorithm, there is a lot of conjecture about exactly how Google decides where to place your ads.

Essentially, the same factors as Adwords apply, such as bid pricing and the relevance of ad text, with the addition of theme matching.

Google matches the theme of your adgroup to the theme of the content page on which it appears.

What this means in practice is that your should ensure your ad groups are tightly focused around a thematic idea. One way of doing this is to pay close attention to the terms Google associates with your keyword research in Google Keyword Tool and the ~ command i.e. place a ~ before your keyword search in Google to find associated terms.

For example, “Ford Mustang, Mustang, Used Mustang, Classic Mustangs” is an example of a tightly focused thematic group. “Cars, Sports Cars, American Cars”, less so. Google may place you on sites related to cars, but not specific cars, which may lower every positive metric relating to ad relevance.

Bidding occurs at the ad group level. Be sure to adjust your bids down on the content network – 50% is a rough guide – as content clicks tend to be worth less than search clicks, especially in the experimental phase.

Google’s content pricing is per click, however you will be charged different rates per click, depending on the site your ad appears on. Google attempts to work out where
in the buy cycle a visitor might be, based on the type of content a page displays, and the closer that person is to buying, the higher the price charged. However, the conversion rate is likely to be higher from such a page, than from a vaguely related page not related to strong buyer intent.

Think carefully about the context of your ads. Ads aren’t appearing as a result of a specific keyword search. Someone will be reading a page, perhaps on a site they are very familiar with, and they probably aren’t in hunting mode. It’s more a form of discovery, of stumbling across something.

Experiment with your ad text, as what works on the search network may not translate to the content network. Bear this in mind when creating your ads.

Google offers placement reports. These can be found under Report Type section, select Placement Performance.

These reports show you where your ad is shown, number of impressions, and other data you’d normally expect to see in you Adwords reports. You can determine which sites offer you the best bang for you buck, and which sites are not converting. You can block the low converting sites with the Site Exclusion tool. Even if a site which is getting you a lot of ad impressions is not yielding many clicks it can still pull down the overall quality of your campaign. Each layer of inefficiency that you block makes your remaining account that much more potent because your clickthrough rate and ad quality are improved.

Branding & Image Ads

A final note about branding. You tend to get a lot of impressions on the content network, which can help drive brand awareness. If branding is important to you, then consider placing image ads, or writing your text ads with this aim in mind. You may rack up a lot of exposure and awareness before having to pay much in the form of click-thrus! In many cases image ads will require higher bidding since you are blocking out competing ads.

Here are a few popular image ad strategies

  • the well branded image which aims to not only drive traffic directly, but also aims to create awareness to fuel online or offline conversions. many of these types of ads contain an interesting offer like some interactive quiz or goal
  • the coupon ad which aims to drive direct conversions
  • the affiliate “1 secret” ads where they have a cartoon character which makes it seem like anyone can do _____ (by over-promising and under-delivering)

No matter what ad strategy you use it helps to test multiple variations. Right now is using at least 3 different ad formats to help keep them fresh. Image ads may need to be refreshed every few weeks to every few months to prevent a nosedive in CTR. What was once a successful strategy become less effective as people see the same ad over and over again, and as other advertisers copy a particular strategy it may become less appealing (this is especially true in the fast moving affiliate market).

And if a specific site performs well for you then you might want to create an ad just for it…though sometimes one can go too far with the blending…the goal should not be to anger the publishers! 😀

Adwords & Affiliates in 2010: The Way Forward

23 Comments Written on February 1st, 2010 by
Categories: Google Adwords, Landing Pages

Warning:  This post is a long one, but it’s worth the read:)

The Great Adwords Affiliate Massacre of 2009 will be forever remembered as a dark and confusing time for advertisers with affiliate relationships as the heart of their business model.

Educated estimates indicate Google culled over 30,000 advertisers during Q4 of ’09.

“Google’s Gonna Miss My Money!”

Asked about this seemingly unprofitable move during Google’s Q4 analyst Q&A session, Jonathan Rosenberg, Google’s VP of Product Management indicated just how little banning this many advertisers effectively mattered to Google’s financials:

Aaron Kessler – (Kaufman Bros):

I think there were some reports that you may have filtered out some of your advertisers this quarter on the ad sense side. Can you provide any more details about that?  – ED. Note:  Obviously the analyst is referring to Adwords not Adsense

Nikesh Arora (Google):

Obviously we are constantly looking at our advertisers to see whether there is an extraordinary [expand] that is happening. We have thrown in those advertisers who repeatedly attempt to scam users. So we went through one of our regular processes of looking at advertisers and seeing which ones of those we though weren’t adding quality or adding sort of value to our users. In those cases we chose to suspend them permanently.

Jonathan Rosenberg (Google):

This was happening this quarter with the approach we took to suspend the repeated scam users as opposed to before where all we were doing was disabling certain bad ads.

Aaron Kessler – (Kaufman Bros.)

Does this have any material impact on the quarter numbers? It sounds like it could have had a slight impact from what I was reading.

Jonathan Rosenberg (Google):

No the impact is slight. It is a relatively small number.

In short, the 30,000 banned advertisers didn’t make much of an impact on the Adwords cash machine at all. So the screams of affiliates bitterly pointing that they ‘spend millions on Adwords’, fell on deaf ears.  By all accounts, so did affiliates’ appeal requests to Google for reconsideration.

Who Was Cut & Why?

It’s pretty fair to say that aggressive affiliate marketers pushing fraudulent re-bill offers could likely have seen this coming.  However, the wide net that was cast “disabling” the accounts of affiliates who hadn’t promoted “get-rich-quick-with-Google” or re-bill diet offers crushed a lot of affiliates’ primary revenue channel, while they begged for an exceptions to their bans.

Subsequent forensic analysis on what metrics Google could have used to algorithmically cull the herd points to a couple of primary factors:

  • Repeated “slaps” of across-the-board ‘poor’ landing page quality scores against one or more domains used in affiliate campaigns.  In retrospect, it looks like if you’d been “slapped” in the past more than once and just reloaded your campaign to a new domain, you were permanently disabled instead of bring ‘slapped’ again.
  • If you had ever promoted any products associated with using Google’s brand to sell information products or business schemes, you were toast.

By and large, direct-to-merchant affiliates or ‘direct-linkers’ were pretty much untouched.  There were a number of merchant-of-record Adwords accounts that were disabled as well, likely false-positives in the automated sweep.

Google’s New Affiliate Guidelines

Google denies the charge that they don’t want affiliates to use the Adwords system, and have updated various sections of their Adwords’ TOS in several places to supposedly clarify what exactly it is that Google wants from affiliates.

Google has added a definition of an “affiliate” that looks like this:

An affiliate is an individual advertiser or website owner who has a business relationship with a merchant to promote the merchant’s product or service. The affiliate earns a small commission from the merchant for each referral that results in a sale; the merchant handles payment and fulfillment.

Their updated Site Quality Guidelines add additional details on one of the main sticking points affiliates have constantly been chastised for by Google: “unique” or “value-add” content:

Non-unique Landing Page: Google won’t show multiple ads leading to identical or similar landing pages at the same time, even if the pages have different domains. This means that if another advertiser’s ad leads to a landing page that’s similar to yours, and his keyword has a higher Ad Rank, his ad will show instead of yours.

What the guidelines don’t point out is that if your site is repeatedly determined to be “low quality” as a result of insufficient amounts of “unique” content, it’s possible that you’ll likely to get swept out of the system altogether, or “disabled” as an advertiser, as you’re clearly (according to Google) egregiously violating their landing page -and by extension- affiliate guidelines on a repeated basis.

Google even warns merchants who have affiliate programs of the danger that their affiliates can place them under as a result of this unique content enforcement policy.

So What Exactly Does Google Want from Affiliates?

There’s been a lot of speculation on this point, particularly since the Adwords ban hammer cleared the decks in Q4.

For instance, some feel that direct-linking to a merchant’s site is all “Google really wants” to allow as far as affiliates on Adwords are concerned.

Other PPC marketers feel that white-labeling products or somehow ‘rolling your own’ version of products or services you’ve previously promoted as an affiliate is the answer.

What’s the real answer?  No one knows, and there’s likely plenty of internal debate at Google as well as to what is acceptable and what isn’t.

That said, in 2010, it’s safe to say that the key to long-term affiliate marketing on Adwords lies in the “unique content” itself…

Show Me, Don’t Tell Me!

NFL coach Mike Singletary made that phrase famous, and most affiliate marketers just wish Google would “just show us what is OK” instead of subjective guidelines that make affiliates guess at exactly what kind of “unique content” they need to somehow generate in order to stick around on Adwords long-term.

It’s obvious at this point that slapping together a bunch of ‘how-to’ articles or unremarkable wiki-style content about the topic you’re advertising on isn’t going to cut it, and Google isn’t about to cough up a list of their ‘favorite affiliate sites’ that you can run off and replicate.

So we figured we’d put forward three examples of sites in different affiliate verticals that ‘get’ the unique, value-added content proposition in general.

Hopefully they’ll provide some clear clear quality markers that even Google couldn’t possibly argue with.  Not all of these sites use Adwords, but the principles apply nonetheless.  Lead-Gen Affiliate Marketing Done Right

Mint is a personal finance and savings site, basically an online version of Intuit’s Quicken.  The biggest portion of their revenue model is credit card, insurance, and financial products lead generation paid out on an affiliate CPA basis.

Their calculators, configurators, and search filters add tremendous unique, value to the end-user:


Of course, Mint has a lot more going for it than just calculators and the like, they also have reams of in-house generated, useful content covering a huge range of topics from personal finance and budgeting to investments and more.

They also have a detailed section on user privacy, including videos from the founder on how they handle user data in a vertical where users are clearly sensitive to privacy.

Ask yourself: Even if Mint had no corporate brand, when you look at this site, would it look like a “thin affiliate”?  If Mint was using Adwords to promote credit card or auto insurance leads, would you consider them as providing a “value-added” affiliate experience?

Trip Advisor: Affiliate Travel Referrals on Steroids

At its core, makes money on affiliate booking referrals for hotels, flights, car rentals, and the like. How do they add value in such crowded space?

Note the yellow-highlighted portions here:


There’s some solid quality markers here:

  • Segmented user reviews. Not just regular user comments, but ratings, and review segmentation that allows other page visitors to read reviews from people traveling for a similar purpose (business, family etc…)
  • A system-wide rating and comparison engine, enabling customers to easily compare the popularity and quality of this particular hotel to others in the same hotel vertical (in this case business hotels).
  • User-submitted photos. Customers can view and compare actual on-site photos from the hotel that other users have submitted to get an idea of what the hotel rooms really look like.

Does this mean that your affiliate review site needs to have 247+ reviews to indicate a ‘quality’ site experience?

Hardly.  Obviously the more reviews and ratings the better, but if you work hard to populate your site with real user feedback (not fake comments!) over a period of time, you’re going to send similar signals to Google.

Ask yourself: Even if your site was smaller than TripAdvisor, if you provided this kind of end-user value, would you look like a “thin affiliate”?  Could Google say you’re not adding “unique content” when advertising hotel or flight bookings with Adwords? e-Commerce & Then Some

Granted, CrutchField is an online reseller and not strictly an affiliate, but the differentiators they’ve implemented hold a plethora of ideas for e-commerce affiliates to move beyond the straight-up product feed.


Every electronics reseller is pitching basically the same thing, no doubt fed from a reseller product feed.

Crutchfield however separates itself from the pack by incorporating a number of unique, value-adds like these:

  • The Learning Center. Crutchfield has gone to the trouble of strategically placing helpful, expert advice on the products genre being viewed, and placing a drop-down list of other “shopping guides” and “need-to-know” pointers specifcally applicable to the products listed.  The pictures and names help add a personal, trust-enhancing aspect to the additional content.
  • The Popular Questions and Helpful ideas portion of the page also helps hook the visitor on the page longer by answering common questions that shoppers have.  Note that these portions of the page aren’t hidden, buried in light-colored footer links.  They’re front and center, and can no doubt help improve conversions for the highly technical products being advertised.
  • The Shopping Tools feature in the left nav provides custom tools that Crutchfield has taken the time to develop to help set them apart from competitors and enhance conversions.

If you’re promoting affiliate shopping feeds on your site, with Adwords or without, you have to read Rae Hoffman’s outstanding article on how to make your feed site unique.

Ask yourself: Would Crutchfield’s e-commerce site be easily classified by Google as a “duplicate-content, affiliate feed site”?  Would it be fair to say Crutchfield has earned the right to have its ads shown right up against the Amazon’s of the world in the Adwords auction?

But That’s Way Too Hard!

Is it?  How many man-hours would be required to thicken out your site enough to be secure as an Adwords affiliate advertiser in 2010?

Would you make your money back on the work involved if you were able to take advantage of the fact that thousands of competitors have recently been removed from the platform?

Who Says This is What Google Wants?

This question is broken.  The bottom line is that no one knows what Google wants now, tomorrow, or 3 years from now.  The answer lies in what the user wants.

The Adwords affiliate game is now dramatically harder.  If you’re not a publicly recognized brand advertiser, auto-generating 25 pages of crap article re-writes, stripping out all site nav, and squeezing visitors too hard into a lead form or cart is just not going to work in 2010.

As always, there will be some affiliates that continue to fly under the radar for a month or two here and there, but if you’re looking to be around on Adwords long enough to make all the additional heavy lifting cashflow-positive, you’ve got to up your game.

In the startup world, venture capitalists look to invest in companies that have a “defensible business model”.  The same is true for affiliate sites on Adwords going forward.  Your site needs to stand on its own two feet by embodying the spirit of Mint, TripAdvisor, and Crutchfield:

It’s not what you think is “enough for Google”.  It’s about unique site features actual users would give a crap about.  If your site was removed from the web, would anybody notice? Would anybody care?   If you didn’t own your site, would you visit it or buy anything off of it?  Why would you recommend your site to a friend?

Some say SEO and PPC are converging into a Quality Score black hole.  Maybe if we could honestly find good answers to questions like these, Google’s quality team wouldn’t seem so scary.

Are You Paying the Google AdWords Tax?

2 Comments Written on January 24th, 2010 by
Categories: PPC Tools

Many experienced advertisers realize that there are many gotchas in the AdWords system…optimization tools and default setting which optimize to boost Google’s yield at the expense of unsuspecting advertisers, who don’t yet know what match types are or that their ads are syndicated to content sites by default.

To help new advertisers get past many of the gotchas we created the Google AdWords tax calculator – a free utility which highlights many stumbling blocks that catch new AdWords advertisers.

AdWords tax calculator.

Given that each keyword market is unique it would be impossible to make a tool that was 100% accurate in every situation, but the goal of this tool was to simply highlight common issues, and help new advertisers address them. Individual efficiency gains may be greater or smaller than the rough initial estimates the tool provides.

Please let us know what you think, as we will gladly iterate this calculator to make it better if you have some great ideas you think we should include in it. Like all of Google’s products, our calculator is starting out in beta 😀