Posts by Geordie:

The Effect of Brand Building on Search Traffic

4 Comments Written on December 7th, 2010 by
Categories: Behavioral Advertising, Business, Marketing

Every time a site gets nuked out of Google Adwords or ends up penalized in the organic SERPs killing the business entirely, there’s the inevitable side comments that “you shouldn’t base your entire business on Google”.  That’s usually followed by advice to “build a brand” that so many users will search for that Google can’t ignore your site.  The only problem with that bit of advice is no one ever says exactly how you’re supposed to do that, aside from just “building a really word-of-mouth-worthy” product.

That’s a nice thing to say, but it’s not the only way.  I’ve always thought that products marketed through TV infomercials were a great example of building up brand awareness completely out of the blue, and then seeing your brand-building directly reflected in Google keyword search.

Of course, doing late-night infomercials is not the only way to build brand awareness, there’s plenty of guerilla techniques for grabbing attention. That said, when you look at examples of brand search traffic that popped up absolutely out of nowhere, the power of generating your own buzz and traffic is impressive.

Here are examples of some of the top infomercial products from the past few years and the effect that their brand and product TV ads had on their brand keyword search traffic.  It’s noteworthy that all of these advertisers coupled their TV ad campaigns with corresponding PPC campaigns to ensure they captured the brand clicks generated by their TV ads:

Shake Weight

The Ab Circle Pro


Magic Jack

Slap Chop


*Side Note: I think we’re going to hire Vince here to be our PPCblog spokesman:)


*Side note: “Slanket” came out roughly at the same time as the Snuggie with an identical product, but didn’t advertise anywhere near as aggressively as Snuggie, and ended up losing the corresponding brand search traffic boost as well:

The Bumpit

The Perfect Pushup

Cash for Gold

The Biggest Brand Search Winner? P90x

Which infomercial product generated the most brand traffic out of all of these entrants?  P90x. By a huge margin.  (Google trends only allows you to compare up to five brands at once, but these five represent the largest of the above total list of 10):

Concluding Thoughts

Google TV Ads have made even primetime ad slots available to advertisers with budgets as low as $500.  Professional ad spots can be developed by production companies in Google’s database for under $1000 for basic product ads.  This is in addition to Spotrunner and other remnant TV and radio marketplaces that allow you to buy old-media placement for pennies on the dollar.  This kind of offline-to-online branding exercise (even if sales aren’t directly driven by the TV ads) has never been within reach to as many advertisers as it is now.

“Yeah, but a number of those product advertisers had celebrity endorsements to drive traffic to the brand”.  That may be true (RIP Ed McMahon) but even celebrity endorsements can be licensed for under $2000 a month from innovative new companies like Brand Affinity Technologies aka. “Rent-a-Celebrity-Endorsement”.

In short, don’t overlook the offline-to-online correlation, tie your PPC campaigns into larger-scope ad or brand campaigns, and take advantage of some of the revolutionary shifts in traditional media buying that make all of this possible for a fraction of the cost of yesteryear!

Quality Score is Busted Again: Don’t Change Your Bids

8 Comments Written on November 23rd, 2010 by
Categories: Analytics, Google Adwords

UPDATE: Things appear to be returning to normal as of about 10am PDT today (Nov. 24th).  Our members are reporting that their scores and minimum bid amounts have gone from 3’s and 4’s to 7’s and 10’s sometime through the night.  Certainly a relief.  Hopefully the advertisers who jacked their bids as a result of this will bring them back down to earth soon and normalize the auction again.

This is getting kind of ridiculous:

Not only was the last Quality Score “malfunction” not completely fixed (going back all the way to October), but it’s happening all over again, and right before the busiest online sales weekend of the year. Add to that that this has been happening again for over 48 hours now.

Google’s channels for communicating with advertisers on these huge issues is also broken. Why not put an announcement in the Adwords UI? They’re simply tweeting (two days late) and posting randomly in their Adwords support forums, “Adwords Pros” are contradicting one another in the same threads, and then they come back and post stuff like this:

Adwords Pro:

Although I posted with essentially the same message yesterday, I think it’s best that I re-post now – as there have been many posts since then, and the message could be easily missed.

Bottom line, I do not yet have concrete information as to what is occurring, and I have learned never to make predictions or guesses as to what might be occurring, or regarding a time-to-resolution. Going even further, I will typically not say that something is resolved until many hours after I’ve heard a formal ‘all clear’ from the engineering teams.

With all that said, I would again advise everyone to focus on their core metrics (CTR, CPC, and etc) and to not make changes to their account based on an unexpected change to their quality score. In fact, as a general rule I’d say that core metrics are the single most accurate depiction of performance – and the first place one should look if they notice Quality Score changes.

I will certainly keep this thread updated when I have concrete information to report. And, again, I apologize on behalf of Google for the uncertainty and upset.



It might be true that quality score numbers aren’t the be-all/end-all, but minimum first page bid estimates are definitely a major decision point for most advertisers.

Add to that that you’d have no idea that this whole ‘malfunction’ wasn’t your fault and doesn’t demand your immediate action if you weren’t constantly trolling Google’s support forum for news.

Here’s the big problem though: For those who have no idea that this is a Google error, they WILL raise their bids and they WILL screw up the entire auction! Again: right before the busiest shopping weekend of the year.

So whether or not the “system” is serving ads normally, there’s a thousands and thousands of human beings bidding for placement that will most definitely change the reality of ad serving.

The damage is likely already done here, and once again Google ends up on the winning side with what will will amount to a nice bump in holiday PPC revenue.

Review: Google’s Beta Contextual Targeting Tool

Google’s new Contextual Targeting Tool (currently in beta, some accounts have it already, more will see it roll out shortly) is a fantastic way to build out quick and dirty display network campaigns.

Many advertisers build out their content campaigns using variations on the keywords used in their search campaigns, perhaps integrating a few other contextually-related keywords to round out the ‘theme’ of the adgroup, making it easier for Google to figure out where to put your ad, or simply start from scratch using Google’s keyword tool to throw together thematically-relevant keywords into new adgroups.

A Much Easier Approach For Creating Content Campaigns

Google’s new Contextual Targeting Tool however gives you an in-depth look at what types of terms Google thinks are semantically related to your core keywords and also shows you totally new branches of keywords that you might not have ever thought to look for on your own.

Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, the tool allows you to see how Google thinks related terms should be grouped together to make successful content adgroups that they can ‘understand’ in order to place your ads on the right display network pages.

To use the tool, you select a geography and language, then pop in a few sample keywords that are most closely related to whatever it is that you’re selling on Adwords: (click images to enlarge)

The tool then returns a list of pre-made content adgroups and bid suggestions that you can add to your existing campaign, or use to create a new one:

By selecting any of the suggested adgroups, you can edit the keyword phrases Google comes up with: removing keywords that are too geo-specific, or not really relevant to the human eye, or add keywords of your own that you think would round out the adgroup even further.

For instance, in the below highlighted adgroup, you might choose to take out the references to specific states or just have one state mentioned per adgroup:

One of the most important features of this tool is that you can expand out any number of adgroups into an even deeper set of adgroups related to any of the initially-suggested groups.   (Mousing over any of the adgroups reveals an “Expand” button.)

For instance, if we ‘expand’ the initial “Cheap Car Insurance” adgroup, Google suggests a number of additional adgroups they think are deeper derivatives of “Cheap Car Insurance”:

They’ve come up with a number of great ways to expand on “cheap car insurance” including terms like “budget”, “cheap insurance forum”, “cheap auto insurance quotes” and more.  This is MUCH more easier than trying pluck these out of the standard Google keyword tool.

The Contextual Targeting Tool even shows you where, based on these new adgroups, your ads might show up, right down to the exact URL:

Seeing this in advance is equivalent to getting a sneak peek at your Campaign Placement Report before you put the campaign or adgrousp live.  What’s the value of this?  Well, first off you get to see what sites your ads could show on that are NOT appropriate, and should be added as campaign-wide negative site exclusions before these new adgroups are launched.  You may also notice some negative keywords creep in that could be added immediately as campaign-level negative keywords.

Given that we’re looking at car insurance-related adgroups you can likely spot a few sites here that don’t exactly match up to that theme:

So now we’ve got a list of nicely expanded adgroups, that can be exported directly from here into Adwords Editor where you can add text or image ads etc…

WARNING: This export to Adwords Editor feature is handy, but notice that the suggested bids from Google are also exported, and they might be a) higher than is really necessary and b) more than you’re able or willing to pay.  When you import these adgroups into Adwords Editor, be sure to go in and update the Max Content CPC you’re willing to pay so you don’t end up with a bigger than expected spend.

The Value for Search Campaigns, Quality Score & Ad Text

I’ve put together a completely new training module for our PPCblog community members that includes tips and examples on how to use this new Contextual Targeting Tool to expand search campaigns, pump up Keyword Relevance Quality Score, and tweak ad text for higher CTRs.

If you haven’t joined yet, what are you waiting for….?

Has Adwords Gotten Too Damn Complicated?

2 Comments Written on November 15th, 2010 by
Categories: Analytics, Google Adwords, Marketing

When I was speaking a couple of weeks ago at BlueGlass Florida, just out of curiosity I asked the audience of marketers and business leaders if how many used Adwords every day.  About half of the several hundred attendees put up their hands.  Then I asked how many felt that Adwords had gotten too complicated for its own good?  About 30% put up their hands…

Who Benefits From PPC Platform Complexity?

I’ve long wondered why Google keeps front-loading so many practically insignificant levels of feature complexity into the Adwords interface.  Granted, some of these are somewhat interesting to look at, but maybe one reason Google does this is to create so many comparison points as to ensure that you as an advertiser are less inclined to spend time and money on competing ad platforms that don’t have all of these features and data points.

Making competitors’ platforms (*cough*Adcenter*cough) look hopelessly behind means Google wins the ‘feature war’ by ensuring they end up with the lion’s share of advertisers’ attention and ad spend.

Another side benefit: Google’s competitors also spend more time chasing their tails to develop reports and functionality that really won’t make much difference to the lives of their clients, but will tick off a box in the feature-for-feature competition with Adwords.  While they’re spending time trying to match Adwords UI features instead of, for instance, growing their content network partnerships to increase marketshare, or something else that will actually make a difference for their advertisers, Google ‘drinks their milkshake’.

What About the Little Guy?

What about the flip side?  What about the small business that opens an Adwords account and tries to make a go of it?  They’re not professional marketers, nor do they have time to spend every waking hour servicing Adwords’ insatiable need for attention.  No matter how blogs or books they read or how many Google small business seminars they watch, they have no idea why they can’t just pay for their damn ad to show.  It’s almost as if Google is saying to them, “Hey, this is really complicated…just let us manage your bids and budgets for you.”  Oh, and remember:  If you’re having a problem getting Adwords to show your ads, the answer is always “increase your bid”.  Umhmm…

In the quest for the “beautiful” algorithms that will ensure they never have to actually talk to their customers in person, Google has created a monster.  A monster of complexity and “quality” that obfuscates the only data that really matters: “Is my damn ad being shown on to the customers I’m looking for, and am I making any money?”

Other less sophisticated ad platforms pretty much do just that:  take the money, show the ad,  kind of a refreshing idea.

Of course there are challenges with ad quality.  Of course there’s a lot of competition to manage, but quality score in particular is often unnecessarily harsh to honest advertisers who just want to show an ad to their potential customers.  They’re not running business scams, or promoting deceptive products, they just want to sell eaves troughs to people who need eaves troughs.

What’s All This Data Really Worth?

For Adwords professionals, the pertinent question is what metrics are worth poring over and which are simply distracting noise?  There’s no doubt that between Google Adwords and Google Analytics there are enough data and measurement points to keep you buried for eternity.  But there’s also the possibility that you start to lose sight of the forest for the trees…

Adwords isn’t going to get any less complex going forward.  In fact, it’s likely to get even ‘data-noisier’ as 2011 unfolds.  But it’s interesting that in the case of funnel analytics and split testing for instance, the data firehose of Google Analytics has opened up room for new companies such as KISSmetrics to differentiate their analytics offering by making things simpler.  Will the same thing happen to PPC advertising platforms in the future? Very possibly.  Facebook (Google’s biggest real competitor going forward) has shown some promise in this area conceptually, trying to help advertisers connect with actual people rather than just queries.

Times Are a’ Changin’

I think it’s ironic that while Microsoft spends their precious development resources trying to match Adwords feature for feature, Google is rushing to make their search engine look more and more like Bing.  If Microsoft can properly align Adcenter’s functionality with Bing’s future direction, they’ll have an opportunity to differentiate from Google instead of simply playing copycat.  Given Microsoft’s historical internal silo-like structure, this isn’t too likely unfortunately, but one can dream:)

The other day my eight-year-old asked me to “look up a video on”.  I asked him why he wanted to look at ‘’ instead of Youtube? He said he didn’t know, but he thought ‘Bing was newer’.

The next generation of searchers growing up now won’t have brand loyalty to Google alone. They’ll be using whatever’s new, neat, built into their favourite web service or social network site, or more likely, whatever is preset by their mobile device carrier.  No report in Adwords is going to show you that you should really be spending some time buying ads on other platforms.   In fact, Google will make sure you keep thinking the alternatives are simply too immature to be worthy of your ad dollars.

Smart marketers will keep their ears to the ground and ensure they’re looking at signal rather than noise, following their customers and not simply Google.

Was the Recent Quality Score Display Glitch Really Fixed?

9 Comments Written on November 12th, 2010 by
Categories: Analytics, Google Adwords

On the morning of October 27th, a huge percentage of Adwords advertisers woke up to a nasty surprise:  Their Quality Scores had absolutely tanked and their minimum first page bids were horrifyingly high.  10/10 and 7/10’s were now 2/10, or 3/10.  My Quality Score alerts were pinging all over the place.

The weird part was that traffic seemed to be coming in normally and the actual CPCs being charged were apparently normal.  Word spread on Twitter and search marketing sites that Google was experiencing a “display issue” with Quality Scores and minimum first page bids showing up in the Adwords UI and that Google was “looking into it”.  They then came back and said they figured it out, ad serving wasn’t affected, and the issue was fixed:

“This issue was limited to the reporting of Quality Score, and the fix should be live for all within the next 24 hours. For those keywords with a status of Low search volume, the fix should be live within the next few days.”

Too bad for you as an advertiser if you freaked out (understandably so) and changed all your bids…

That aside, there’s still one small problem:  It doesn’t appear that the glitch is fixed for everyone and it’s starting to get really annoying.

A number of days later after the “fix” some of the members in our PPCblog community started commenting on the fact that they still had not seen their Quality Scores return to where they were before the display issue.

I’ve noticed it personally as well.  This is what it looks like, relatively high first page bid estimate with a low QS, but normal traffic levels and average CPCs well below the Max CPC:

Google’s support forums (pretty much the only way for non-big-brand advertisers to get any official Adwords support) are also lighting up with reports again that advertisers are still seeing the issue as well…

If you’re struggling to figure out recent drops in your Keyword Relevance Quality Scores, and you’re one of the blessed, reach out to your rep.  If you’re rep-less, but have been deemed worthy of being allowed to email support, it’s worth the time to ping them on the issue.

Alternatively, if you’re stuck with sending Adwords support smoke signals, keep loading threads into their hosted support forum, maybe they’ll finally give it a second look.

Google Siderail Ads Get the Shove

6 Comments Written on November 9th, 2010 by
Categories: Google Adwords, Marketing

The ‘Bing-ification’ of Google marches ever forward and the little spyglass that showed up this morning in Google’s organic SERPs has a little side effect on ad placement:

(+ click image to enlarge)

If you’re in ad position 4+, you might as well not even be there when a user hits the spyglass.

Of course, this is likely just another test that may not ultimately stick, but they’ll have to do something about the impact on the right siderail ad visibility.

One more reason for Google to herd you into the top ad positions.

Double Serve Google Ads Like a Boss

When I grow up I want to be a big brand.  You can double-serve Adwords ads to multiple domains and likely get away with techniques smaller advertisers would get insta-banned for:

Even if you eventually get caught double-serving ads, just blame it on your various agencies’ not properly communicating with each other in scheduling campaigns.

But hmmmm: they might just be onto something here if you’re a big-swinging brand: Double-dip your Adwords placements by directing traffic to your Facebook fan page as well.

There you can pitch whatever like and maybe even generate more direct sales than your generalized e-commerce ads:

The domain likely has a nice landing page quality rating, so no need to worry about using it as a bridge…

If you’re a small advertiser trying something like this, enjoy your “account disabled” email from Google.

The Return of PPC Search Arbitrage

9 Comments Written on October 14th, 2010 by
Categories: Google Adwords

In 2006 Jake Baillie highlighted the wonderful world of search arbitrage:

Why engage in arbitrage? Because we like to make money; bootstrapping new sites, out of stock inventory and inflating Alexa traffic rankings. Who are the arbitrageurs? Yahoo Shopping, CNet,, Verizon,, PriceGrabber, NextTag, eBay, etc. arbitrage isn’t just for MFA sites. Real businesses are using arbitrage as part of their “real” business model. Arbitrage is not a “shhh…” word. It will continue to grow… It will make the space more competitive. Search engines will attempt to grow revenue from arbitrage.

At first blush it wouldn’t seem like buying clicks and selling them back to other advertisers would be very profitable, but it was so profitable that American Capital Strategies Ltd. invested $160 million in GeoSign for a minority stake. That investment put arbitrage on the map & forced Google to make an example of GeoSign:

The end came suddenly, well before Nye and American Capital could reposition the business – in fact they were still hiring new employees in the days leading up to the layoffs. Google had started to look more closely at companies like Geosign, which were buying keywords from Google and ad links from Yahoo! or another provider. And soon Geosign got word that Google would now begin penalizing its Web pages that had “a low landing page quality score” – that is, lots of ads and little or no original content. While Google won’t comment specifically about Geosign, sources say it raised the prices it charged Geosign for keywords overnight.

In the years since GeoSign has split into 2 companies (GeoSign & Moxy Media) and the world of arbitrage has died down. As stuff wound down Moxy Media was awarded a $97,900 grant from the Canadian government as the end was near.

So that was the death of arbitrage.

Or was it?

According to the Globe and Mail, Moxy Media’s Ted Hastings was one of their top 40 under 40:

When American Capital bought Geosign and formed Moxy Media in Sept., 2007, Mr. Hastings was named president and CEO and helped increase the company’s earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization by 375 per cent in 2009 over 2008, he says. The company now owns and operates more than 300 consumer information websites.

Over the past few years well known domainers have been highlighting how the declining ad market and arbitrage have killed their revenues. Rick Schwartz recently asked: “For example, now that ppc is down 75% or more, do you still want to value your domain on a multiple of ppc???”

Frank Schilling added “Increasingly the major keyword marketplaces such  as Yahoo and Google have taken that high quality traffic and dumped it into the same keyword marketplace hopper with arbitrage, garbitrage, and other forms of toolbar crap.  That traffic then gets smart priced and shaved down under the guise of “quality control” resulting in pay-rates for domain traffic which are held artificially low. Our traffic underperforms it’s historical averages and we get paid way less than we should.”

With Yahoo! Search Marketing transitioning to Microsoft adCenter the world of arbitrage was supposed to evaporate. But after Google wiped out affiliates, it appears that left an opening for the rebirth of search arbitrage. Most users and advertisers are used to seeing to arbitrage Adwords to internal sponsored links, but even Ask doesn’t get as blatant about it as

This is a query from today, October 14, 2010, not 5 years ago:

Google allows this high quality landing page experience:

How have they fared since low quality advertisers were purged from the system in 2009?

It’s like 2006 all over again:

Why engage in arbitrage? Because we like to make money; bootstrapping new sites, out of stock inventory and inflating Alexa traffic rankings. Who are the arbitrageurs? Yahoo Shopping, CNet,, Verizon, **, PriceGrabber, NextTag, eBay, etc. arbitrage isn’t just for MFA sites. Real businesses are using arbitrage as part of their “real” business model. Arbitrage is not a “shhh…” word. It will continue to grow… It will make the space more competitive. Search engines will attempt to grow revenue from arbitrage. It’s not set and forget when it comes to traffic quality.

Google has $33.4 billion in cash & just reported record quarterly results: “Non-GAAP operating income in the third quarter of 2010 was $2.93 billion, or 40% of revenues.”

If they don’t need affiliate money then why are they opening themselves up to the (g)arbitrage game again?

What do they need the arbitrage cash for? Off shore wind farms? Self-driving cars? The singularity? 😉

Can You Really Artificially Pump Account Quality Score?

4 Comments Written on October 12th, 2010 by
Categories: Analytics, Google Adwords, Keyword Research

I’ve been debating about whether to post on this or not, as it’s pretty much giving attention to quackery, but what the heck:

There’s a persistent ‘grey technique’ that’s been mentioned offline a number of times that centers around the theory that you can artificially pump your account-level quality scores in Adwords by paying a ‘QS-tax’: bidding on and directing traffic straight through to the top Adwords advertisers that have the lowest possible (read .01c) minimum CPCs on their brand terms.

The idea works like this:

-You create a new search campaign in Adwords that has one or two keywords and one adgroup only.

-Next, bid on [expedia] or [] in your only adgroup in that campaign. (Or any of the top Adwords spenders for that matter)

-Write an ad that exactly matches the one the already uses brand uses for it’s own search term, i.e:

expedia adwords ad text

-In the destination URL, put the site’s usual URL (In this case, and send the traffic directly to the brand.

-Set your campaign’s daily budget to like $50/day and let it rip.

Why On Earth Would You Do This?

Why would I buy ads for Expedia and send that traffic to them for free?  The theory is that doing this can raise your entire account’s Quality Scores.


Well, obviously is going to get a 10/10 for the term [expedia].  And of course there’s different minimum bids for a 10/10, but in this case, you’re looking at a .01 minimum bid.  Pretty well as low a bid as you’ll ever see on Adwords.  Your CTR on the exact match brand term with the exact ad that the brand uses is likely to be in my testing about 45% +.  That nice CTR is about as good as you’ll find on Adwords as well.

Proponents of this technique suggest that the account Quality Score lift that you get from paying this $50 daily fee or “Quality Score Tax” makes it more than worthwhile.

Does It Work?

Simply put: No.  While it’s true that above-average CTR and keyword Quality Scores across ALL of your campaigns can lead to a better account-level Quality Score, artificially simulating this type of performance in your account via this technique isn’t going to move the account Quality Score needle.  It’s just not.

Unless you only have one other campaign in your account to influence upward with this approach, one campaign with one adgroup, keyword and ad isn’t going to have a significant enough impact to move your entire account up the account Quality Score ladder.

Additionally, account-level Quality Score is only ONE of a number of Quality Scores that are in effect in your account. For instance, it’s particularly important to consider that many metrics in the auction are connected to your domain itself, not just your account. Save your $50/day and spend that on keywords that actually make you money, not Expedia:)

If anyone can conclusively prove that this technique definitively moves the needle in terms of raising account-wide Quality Scores, ping me and I’ll post your proof.

Evaluate Display Network Category Performance

1 Comment » Written on October 7th, 2010 by
Categories: Analytics, Conversion, Display Ads, Google Adwords

Many advertisers haven’t yet explored the performance breakdown Google provides on content network campaigns.  Most Adwords users know you can exclude sites that don’t convert based on data from your Display Network Placement Report, but Google has been slowly adding new data points to the site category exclusion options including the ability to view and/or prevent your content ads from showing on ad units below the fold, or outside of the Doubleclick Adplanner’s Top 1000 Sites list.

To view how you’re performing on different site categories, click the “Networks” tab in your content campaign (either at the campaign or the adgroup level) and scroll down to the bottom of the page to the link for “Exclusions”:

Adwords Site Category Exclusion

You’ll then see a full list of the types of sites you can view performance data on (depending on the date range you’ve selected):

Your cost-per-conversion data may signal that you need to exclude some site categories either at the campaign or adgroup level, or you might find that a particular site category performs exceptionally well for you, in which case you might want to look at placement targeting similar sites.

Either way you use the data, the option to get this kind of visibility into your content traffic is a welcome addition to Adwords platform:)

PS: Thank you so much to the PPCblog training and community members who participated in yesterday’s live Q&A call with myself, Rehan Zaidi, and Neil Patel!  The feedback has been great, and we’re going to make a live conference call a monthly feature for our members.

If you’re interested in becoming a member of our private community, you can find more details here!