Google Adwords

Hey Google: Here’s a Better Strategy Than Coupon Spam

21 Comments Written on November 29th, 2011 by
Categories: Google Adwords

Hey Google:  Instead of spamming the known universe with Adwords coupons for “new accounts only”, why don’t you let new advertisers actually run some ads for once?

There’s something completely broken with the logic of doing everything in your power to bring new businesses to Adwords, then arbitrarily making them pay a “newbie tax” combination of high bids/low Quality Score before their first ad has even had a single impression.

How many new businesses (even those who set up their campaigns according to “best practices”) decide to try out Adwords, only to find that they get an automatic 2/10 or 3/10 for their own brandname as a keyword?  What kind of message are you trying to send to these new Adwords customers?

Why bother sending coupons up the nose of every small business only to slam the door in their face before they even set foot inside?

How about this:  If anyone is brand new to Adwords, give them one week to actually see their ads run at a reasonable price.  If their CTR is too low after a week, turn off their ads and tell them to improve the relevance of their ads or find some new keywords.  If their ads perform well, just let them run.

Either that or improve the alignment of your internal business initiatives so that we can at least save some trees and postal stamps by telling the guys that mail coupons ‘there’s really no point’.


Here’s How to Do Adwords-to-Adsense Arbitrage

12 Comments Written on September 13th, 2011 by
Categories: Google Adwords, Landing Pages, Marketing

Eight months ago I wrote a post highlighting how Google was effectively telling Adwords advertisers they were now approving of the use of Adsense ads on Adwords landing pages.

Some readers pointed out that the example they highlighted in that Inside Adwords blog post was only using Adsense blocks below the fold, and in some cases only in their footer area.  This meant that they were actually in compliance with Google’s advertiser guidelines on the practice of Adwords-t0-Adsense arbitrage.

Since then, Google has further clarified their Adwords guidelines on what’s now ‘acceptable’ and ‘not acceptable’ use of Adsense ads on your landing pages.

The New Rules of the Game

The new guidelines make clear that your “intent” as an advertiser is what really matters when they’re determining if you’re an arbitrager or not (bolding added by moi):

As of today, those guidelines state:

Google AdWords doesn’t allow the promotion of websites that are designed for the sole or primary purpose of showing ads. This practice of promoting sites where the main purpose is to get users to click on ads is called arbitrage.

OK, so as long as I really, super-duper promise that the purpose of my landing page is NOT to have a user click Adsense ads, it’s game on…

To illustrate how Google decides whether a site’s “sole or primary purpose” is to show other ads, they’ve provided some handy examples of ‘what’s acceptable’:

Here’s the example they show of an “OK” use of Adsense on an Adwords lander:















Now, here’s the example they give of a page where “the primary purpose of the page is to show ads”:















OK, so it seems the biggest determining factor here is the placement of the GIANT Adsense block, here it’s in the highest-CTR area, the Top-Left.  Got it.

Work That Adsense Feed

This is why today my interest was piqued by an Adwords search ad from a site that is typically a ‘publisher’ site, not an advertiser per se.

Perhaps after Panda, the folks at “” have determined that arbitraging their Premium Adsense Feed (the one that REALLY makes Google’s ads look like your own site content) is a better business model than chasing the SEO Dragon.  After all, if Panda left you with no profitable free traffic, but a highly-coveted Premium Ad Feed from Google, you might as well put that feed to good use.

Here’s the ad in question:




Which goes to this jewel of a landing page (click to enlarge the awesomeness):









As you can see, they have managed to artfully insert their Adsense ads not only in the top-left money spot, but shove their own offering to the sidebar where Google feels their Adsense ads could acceptably go.  Well played.

Guidelines Are Changing, Time to Get Over It

In the past I‘ve railed against the crap Google has looked the other way on, but lately I’m becoming a lot more pragmatic.  As Aaron has pointed out time and time again, Google has different rules for different players, and Adwords is no different.  The double standards are what they are, so if you have the ability (via brand recognition or relationships) to push the envelope on the advertiser guidelines you might as well do it.

The above is a great example of how to do arbitrage effectively in today’s guideline environment, and the risk that imitating them if you’re big enough and getting whacked is pretty low judging  by the current state of Adwords policy suspensions (or lack thereof for big accounts).  Google is currently much more likely to “work with you” to remove things they may have an issue with in the future than they have been in the past, so you might as well shoot for the stars.

Of course, this model isn’t going to sustainably work for smaller, independent players without brands or businesses that suddenly launch out of nowhere on a mission to arbitrage as many Adwords clicks as they can:  They’ll see you coming a mile away if you go from ‘zero to hero’ with a brand new site, but established brands who have Adwords account teams and a long-standing Adwords track record can leverage whatever ROI-maximizing opportunities Google drops in their lap.

It’s good to be the King…




Time to Play ‘PPC Ad Copy Survivor’ : BoostCTR Review

1 Comment » Written on August 30th, 2011 by
Categories: Analytics, Copywriting, Facebook Ads, Google Adwords

About a year ago I chatted with David from Boost CTR about his new business, designed to get writers to compete in contests for their advertiser customers to see who could write the highest CTR ads.

If the writers’ ads performed better than the customer’s control ads, Boost CTR gets a small commission.  Pretty simple yet brilliant value proposition for Adwords advertisers who want to see if they can jack their CTRs, which in turn earn them higher Quality Scores and lower CPCs.

Four Challenges to BoostCTR’s Model

It’s kind of like the TV show “Survivor” for ad copy writers.  I wasn’t sure if it would fly however for four specific reasons:

  1. Would enough decent writers actually participate in the contests to get some decent results?
  2. Would said writers know enough about each advertisers’ niche to actually write effective ads?
  3. Would said writers toilet my brand by running ads that weren’t a fit or appropriate for my campaigns and my business?
  4. If I gave Adwords API access to BoostCTR would they be able to steal my campaigns and compete with me?

Add to that from an entrepreneurial standpoint: Could BoostCTR carve out a decent business even though they don’t offer soup-to-nuts campaign management, a bid management system or keyword research solutions like most of the PPC performance enhancement platforms offer, aka. “Can they make a successful business by focussing on ad performance improvement only”?

Well, it’s now a year later and their business is booming with a whack of big-name advertiser clients, so I guess so…:)

How it Works

OK, so here’s how BoostCTR works for me as advertiser:

  • First, I sign up and submit one or more ad groups for improvement.
  • After I’ve submitted at least one ad group, BoostCTR’s expert writers compete against each other to beat my best ads.
  • I only pay when BoostCTR is able to beat my current control ad. (I can track either CTR or conversions to determine the winner.)

Here’s some screenshots of the advertiser UI (Click to Enlarge):

BoostCTR dashboard screenshot

BoostCTR PPC Ad Copy Contests



From what I’ve see in Google ad copy lately, many, many PPC managers could use a hand in the ad copy department, so a bit of fresh blood writing for you can’t hurt here.  In fact, it’s not uncommon for PPC managers to split-test a few ads, then leave the best performing ad uncontested for months at a time.

Then there are active PPC managers who’ve been writing ads for the same business for years. They’re always testing new creative, but they’ve gone through all their best ideas and need a fresh perspective from somebody who’s seeing the account for the first time.

It’s kind of similar in many ways to ’99designs’ where web designers compete with their mockups to earn your business, but you only pay when you find a winner…except here we’re talking ad performance improvement.

Sounds awesome, but what about the questions I mentioned above?  Read on…

What Do You Know!? Good Writers Can Write For Anything…

So were they able to find pro writers to compete in my ad contests?  Yup, in fact I’ve heard from a few people I know quite well in the PPC biz who bang out great ads for them on the side. It turns out they now have hundreds of writers competing in the time since I originally spoke to David, their CEO/Founder.

Can they write for my niche?  Apparently so, CTR and conversion improvements on winning ads averages around 30%.  Some see bigger boosts, others smaller, but they regularly beat the control ads which is the whole point.

Check out some examples here on their “Win of the Week” blog.  (In one case they increased an ad’s CTR by 415%)

Campaign Data & Privacy

BoostCTR has thought this through pretty well and their security measures are tight. For instance, when you submit an ad group to BoostCTR only a handful of the broad search phrases are included for writers to see. No other data is included, so search volumes,CTR, and profitability are never revealed.


BoostCTR writers rely pretty heavily on their own research and experience, as well as any information you include in your creative brief. The brief includes any specific requests you may have for how new ads are written.

Reject Ads You Don’t Like

While I don’t have control over who writes for my account or what ads are submitted per se, I still get the final say when deciding which ads to test and which ads to reject.  The creative brief I whip up ahead of time for the writers helps prevent ad submissions that I’m not comfortable with. But even if you do get an ad I don’t like, I can reject it.

*When I reject an ad, I can also send comments back to the writer so he knows how to write better ads for me on the next round.

The Good and Bad of Crowd-Sourcing

If there is any downside to BoostCTR, it’s that you can’t choose or put a face to who writes for your contests. It is bonafide “crowd-sourcing” — an anonymous group of people who all work to improve your PPC ads. That said, the writer or writers who end up working on your ad groups may change depending on the time of day, week, and month you post new contests.

On the flip side, this lack of choice saves you time. Rather than worrying about the person writing for you, you can divert all your attention into deciding whether or not to run the ad or ads that have been submitted, which is a lot faster and easier.

And while this approach is a bit unorthodox, it’s worked well so far. BoostCTR already has a stable of “Big Name” clients including CafePress, Expedia, 99 Designs, Beach Body, and many more.

Personally I don’t care who writes it as long as it lifts myCTR and is appropriate for my campaign.  I’m looking for improved numbers vs. personality.

Who Should & Should Not Try BoostCTR

Obviously, if you’re ad spend is under $250 a month, or if your search volumes are low, then BoostCTR probably won’t be a good investment for you, try growing your traffic first.

But if PPC advertising is a big part of your marketing, and you’re spending thousands of dollars a month, you need to try it.

(NOTE:  I asked David for a trial for PPCblog readers, here’s the “ONE FREE CONTEST” Link Here They Provided)

I have to eat some crow here BTW as well.  I personally was not sure their model would pan out, but they’re kicking butt at this and have now even expanded into doing Facebook image ads, something that’s a major pain due to the fickle nature of FB CTRs and requirements for constant freshness in your ad creative.

Congrats to David and team (Now including Tom Demers formerly from Wordstream – good guy that Tom) on building a successful model by really hammering on one key pain point for advertisers: lifting conversions and CTRs with better ad copy.

Go give it a try!


REVEALED: Google’s Top 20 Most Expensive Keywords

15 Comments Written on July 19th, 2011 by
Categories: Google Adwords

I’ve been wanting to try out sensational headlines for a while now heh:)

Based on data from their massive in-house keyword research database and Google’s Keyword Tool, the team at Wordstream compiled the top 10,000 most expensive English-language keywords over a three month period, and then sorted them by niche.

Here’s how it breaks down, see if you can spot your niche in here (click image to enlarge):

Where Does Google Make Its Money? [ infographic ]

You Can’t Buy More Conversions

12 Comments Written on July 5th, 2011 by
Categories: Analytics, Google Adwords

Perhaps you’ll find this scenario familiar:

Your Adwords search campaign for “Vocal Lessons” features a fairly broad, say two-word keyword phrase like “can’t sing”.

You notice that the conversion rate is OK on this keyword, but the cost-per-conversion is a bit high. You’ve tried tweaking the bids on it to get it more profitable, but it’s still just barely profitable.

Looking into it more deeply, you run a Search Terms report to see how Google matched your phrase-matched keyword to actual user queries.

You notice that the exact match [can’t sing] has generated a lot of clicks but no conversions, whereas the exact match [why can’t I sing] is the search that’s actually driving the conversions on that “can’t sing” keyword.  In fact, the cost-per-conversion and conversion rate on that exact [why can’t I sing] keyword are fantastic, and you would like to get more of that ‘hot’ traffic and those cheap conversions.

So, you decide to add that exact search, [why can’t I sing] to your adgroup as a keyword on its own.  Maybe you also raise the bid a bit on it to try and improve your ad position, hoping to grab even more conversions.

Then something strange happens:  After a little time has gone by, you notice that that exact match keyword, [why can’t I sing], isn’t converting at all anymore.

What happened to those sweet, sweet conversions?  You even bid up trying boost your ad position and that should give you more conversions shouldn’t it?  What’s happening here?

Blood From a Stone?

A good friend of mine (with an infinitely higher level of PPC skill than mine) once told me a few years ago: “Geordie: You just can’t buy more conversions”.  This was his point and it applies both to Display Network placement campaigns as well as Search:

Sometimes Google’s ‘mad scientist’ mix of bid, placement, matching tech, and other factors combine in your favour and find pockets of traffic that for whatever reason, be it ad-to-keyword performance, bid, match type voodoo, or whatever, creates a ‘conversion sweet spot’ where the traffic ‘just works’.

That’s great news, but you can find yourself getting ‘conversion greedy’, trying to make that ‘perfect storm’ of elements spit out more conversions.  It just doesn’t always happen.

In fact, more often than not I’ve found the opposite happens: One element (the exact match keyword) has been yanked out of the perfect storm and the entire sweet spot up and disappeared. Now, not only do you not end up with more conversions than you had previously, you can often end up with none.

Again, you ‘just can’t buy more conversions’, or put another way, ‘you can’t get blood from a stone’.  If something is working, and working exceedingly well, you may be best off simply leaving it alone.

Another Approach to Tweaking the Keyword’s Profitability

“But that phrase-matched keyword was barely profitable overall, you can’t just leave it like that!”.  That’s true.  However you can make adjustments another way without messing with the mojo.

For example, if the Search Terms report shows, as it does in our example above, that when Google matches [can’t sing] to your phrase-matched “can’t sing” keyword, you net a lot of clicks but very few (if any) conversions, you can try adding the exact match [can’t sing] as a negative keyword for this adgroup only.  This will filter out exact match searches for [can’t sing], but won’t stop your ad from showing on [why can’t I sing], the query that nets you the most conversions.

* What can you do if you’ve tried isolating the keyword or placement and conversions went South?  All is not lost, often you can revert to the adgroup’s previous configuration and bids and things will right themselves.  This often works, but nothing is ever guaranteed in Google-land.

The Only Route to More Conversions

The bottom line is that sometimes you just need to accept that you’re getting the best quality and quantity of traffic Google can give you on a particular keyword scenario or Display Network placement.  Of course, you need to be profitable overall with your phrase-matched keyword, but it is completely possible to ‘mess up the mojo’ with what is working and shoot yourself in the foot by trying to get more for less.

If you want to garner a higher volume of conversions, you often need to move on and find another ‘sweet spot’ or ‘perfect storm’.  The only way to do that is to keep testing new adgroups until one presents itself.  What you’ll find is that there are pockets like this everywhere.  In one of my campaigns, a scenario like the one mentioned here has netted over 28,000 conversions over 4 years.  Having learned this lesson the hard way, I’ve let sweet spots like that lie and work their magic over time.

Have you run into this scenario before in your Search or Display Network placement campaigns?  Share in the comments!

PS: Don’t miss our PPC Blog’s Greatest Hits List, it’s got all of our top PPC blog posts nicely organized for your viewing pleasure:)




Leadgen Advertisers: All Your Customers Are Belong to Google™

16 Comments Written on June 28th, 2011 by
Categories: Business, Google Adwords

When asked about future search ad growth on their Q1 2011 analyst conference call, Susan Wojcicki, VP of Product, Adwords & AdSense at Google, went to great pains to point out how “excited” Google is about “embedding movie trailers” into the search ads for the entertainment industry.

Movie trailer ads?  This is the key monetization area you’re pointing out analysts?

Movie trailers are not going to make Google their next bajillion dollars from search traffic.

Google needs to extract a higher eCPM from search traffic if it’s going to keep growing. Display ads can’t do it all.

Rest assured their plan for further search monetization involves more than what they’re telling analysts about ‘media ads’.  In fact, it involves your Adwords leads…

CPC is for Suckers

Let’s start putting the pieces together here:

One of the biggest (in fact, highest-CPC advertiser models) is lead generation.  Think insurance, financial products, enterprise software, services offerings and the like.

If you’re Google, how do you extract more revenue from these advertisers when CPCs have already seemingly hit the ceiling?  CPC just can’t do it.  You need to think bigger.  Much bigger.

Some might say “you could go to a CPA model”.  They’ve already done that, and it’s too inefficient:  CPA requires the advertiser to actually convert that traffic.  And most landing pages and conversion funnels suck.

The Thin Edge of the Wedge: “Adwords Communication Extensions”

On the surface, letting a user request a call-back right from your leadgen search ad sounds like a great idea.  So you take your Google rep’s advice and agree not to opt out.  After all, as your rep will point out, “your competitors are already in the beta, and their CTR is 1000x higher than yours – you’re losing leads as we speak!!”

Of course, most advertisers will stay in the beta (I say “stay in” because it’s an opt-out program) with eyes wide open.  They can tell from the pitch docs and FAQ that Google is arbitraging the lead to them, keeping the end user’s actual contact info hidden via Google Voice functionality and Craigslist-esque email address masking:

Pssst: The First One’s Free

Hey, what do you have to lose: the leads are FREE!  (If you believe they’ll stay that way you need to quit this business ASAP).

Google runs all kinds of betas, but this is the most important one they’ve run in a LONG time.  It could reshape the future of Adwords as a platform.

One key here is that Google needs you, Mr. Advertiser, to participate and not opt-out.  Once your sales team gets used to “hot” leads that come in almost instantaneously from Adwords search ads, they’re unlikely to recommend you pull the plug later on.

But what Google needs most of all is for ALL of the advertisers in the top lead gen head term auctions to participate in the beta and the full rollout.

Why?  Well, think about this for a second:

Even an idiot can see in advance that Google is getting into the lead arbitrage business here, and the leads will eventually have a cost.  You might even question the fact that there’s zero lead qualification going on here either.

But what’s going to get missed here ties back into the bigger picture:  How do you go from earning an eCPM of $15 on a leadgen click (or even, say, $45 eCPM from a Communications Extensions lead CPL lead fee)?

Answer: Why charge for a lead once when you can charge for it 8 times? Wow!  Now you’ve gone from $45 eCPM on a SERPs page to $200 +.

How Can Google Do This??

Easy, how about this for starters (now that everyone is running Google Communication Extension ads):









(Click to enlarge the horror)

One little button and now “it’s best for the user” to “compare advertisers” with Google submitting the customer’s lead information to ALL of the advertisers on that query because, you know, the customer wants to compare:)

And even better for you as an advertiser, you don’t have to worry so much about CTR and getting as many clicks as you can off of your ads because “Google gives you ALL of the leads!”  Imagine!  With Communications Extensions you get a shot at every lead Google can drive.  Too bad they also give them all to your competitors as well…

“But, but! those leads aren’t going to back out for all of the advertisers so there’s no way they’re going to keep participating in the comparison auctions”.

Advertisers are going to go “back to good ol’ CPC bidding again, screw this.”

Oh really?  Sadly, that option is no longer available as a bidding method for lead generation campaigns.  Google discontinued it before they rolled out the “advertiser competition” button.

So now here we are:  All I have to do is set a daily lead budget and Google decides when to send me “the good leads”.  In fact, I don’t even have to pick keywords anymore, let alone manage bidding on them.

“At first, the ROI was horrid and the leads were coming in completely unfiltered, but we couldnt’ go back as CPC bidding disappeared.  Lately though, their algorithms have been better at knowing when a lead is more likely to convert and so we’re scraping by, but nothing like the old days when we were better at optimizing our funnel in-house than our competitors.  Now when we complain to Google about lead quality and pricing though they just tell us we should sharpen our pencils a bit more because, hey, “the users much prefer this new model”. – Longtime Adwords Leadgen Advertiser X


“But if Advertisers Aren’t Making Money Google Won’t Get Advertisers…”

Something similar was said when advertisers saw their avg CPCs go up to $30 in competitive lead generation verticals.  Google’s job is to push the pricing envelope right to the edge of advertiser bailout, “then back it off just little bit” (Remember the “Creepy Line”?).  That’s how all product pricing works: find out what the market will bear at any given time and charge it.

Further to that point, who is it exactly that can’t pay what Google is now charging for leads?  Other aggregators and comparison engine sites perhaps?

Sounds like they need to get cut out of the lead chain as they’re not providing ‘added value’! In fact, sending leads to other aggregators would effectively be a “bad user experience”, so time to shut their Adwords accounts down, don’t you think?

So: now we’re just down to the raw providers, and all the middlemen but Google have been cut out.  Now we’re getting to the real meat on the bone: deep pocketed corporate spenders, not ‘glorified affiliates’ (as lead aggregators come to be known internally).

And you know what? This model has worked so well on search, Google announces it’s rolling out to the Display Network as well: Your display ads will now have a little extenstion on them that will allow the user to ask for a call-back. (This may already be happening BTW.)

Google’s Wearing the Daddy Pants Now

Whoever has the user’s attention has all the leverage.  Advertisers are plainly being told this right now via the Communications Extensions beta.  This is no longer your customer.  This is Google’s customer.We will protect our customers’ contact data, and you will not see it.”

Interestingly, but surely unrelated, right around the time this beta was being floated, Google took away the ability for advertisers to put phone numbers in their ad headlines or sitelinks because users would apparently be confused, expecting a phone number to act like Skype right off of the Google SERPs rather than a phone number you would dial with a telephone?

Google has have enough ads to run against enough of head queries that organic results are less and less necessary.  Now they can funnel the customer directly through to Google properties and capture their actions, simply reselling them multiple times to advertisers who have no  choice but to ‘pay to play.’  This is all without even considering the ramifications of Google Advisor.

The Spoiler

Of course, we can only speculate as to how far Google will go to monetize their search results.  If recent history is any guide however, the envelope will get pushed right to the edge.  How many of us would have predicted this five years ago:


















The spoiler in all of this for Google however is governmental regulation.  Even as recently as last week US and European government agencies have made it clear that they have a problem with competition getting shoved off the end of the envelope.

Final Thoughts

If Google has done the work of earning the user, and if the user trusts Google to handle negotiations for them in selecting vendors for products and services, then good on Google.  Lead-reliant advertisers just need to carefully think ahead about where this marketing channel is heading and what their plan will be when it finally gets there.


Inside the New Google Display Network Performance Metrics

4 Comments Written on June 15th, 2011 by
Categories: Contextual Advertising, Display Ads, Google Adwords

Some clever eyes spotted this as early as late last week, and yesterday Google officially announced it:  You can now see your “Relative CTR” compared to other content ads (text or display ads) shown in the same ad spots on the same content network pages.

Google also now says that your ‘relative CTR’ is a ‘good indicator of your content network quality score (not that that’s a big surprise though, we’ve always pretty much known content QS was driven by CTR relative to other advertisers’ ads in that same ad spot).

How to View Your Relative CTR

You can view your “relative CTR” rating at the campaign or adgroup level. To see it, go to “Customize Columns” and check the box to display it. This works in the All Campaigns screen as well as when you drill into a specific content-only campaign:

To evaluate these numbers, HIGHER IS BETTER.  Anything below 1x is “below avg” and will likely have fewer impressions that “above average” 1x adgroups.

So if my relative CTR is 2.3x, I have a 2.3 times better CTR for that adgroup than my competitors.

If my relative CTR is .8x, I have a 20% worse CTR than the average CTR for that adgroup.

How To Use This Data

Now you can clearly see with it which adgroups desperately need new ads: ads that can get a relative CTR above 1x to bump out your competitors. Work on new ads for these right away, and evaluate your relative CTR for that adgroup daily until you get up over 1x. Then keep going to improve even more if you want to really lock your competitors out.

If you use the date selector to look at a longer period of time (say the last 30 days) you can get an idea of how the competitive landscape moves and shifts in your campaign. You’ll also be able to tell when a competitor comes up with a killer new ad that’s forcing down your relative CTR, reminding you to go check the ad out on your top content placement pages and see what’ they’re doing and beat it:

Impression Share % for the Display Network is Also Back

Google has shown you your campaign’s Impression Share % column for a while now, but for Search campaigns only.

A while ago a similar metric appeared for display network only campaigns, but then disappeared.

Google is now showing Impression Share % again for display campaigns. This shows you how much of the total display ad or content ad pie you’re getting for your campaign.

To enable it, on your All Campaigns screen, click “Customize Columns” and check the box for the “Impression Share” column. You’ll then see it likeso:

Overall, we’re seeing a lot more information on what’s happening behind the scenes in the display network auction: very cool. Prior to this you just had to make assumptions about what to tweak and rely on fuzzy metrics like avg position and actual CPCs.

Out of interest’s sake, in my top content campaign that gets around 50 million impressions a month, all of my relative CTRs are over 2x, which might be why that campaign has 73% impression share.

One More Thing…

Google has also announced that they’re adding an ad diagnostic indicator to help you see whether your ad is showing on a particular placement page or not:












This feature isn’t live yet for all advertisers, but should be by the end of July.

In what ways can you envision using this new data?  Share in the comments!

Display URL in Adwords Headlines: Early CTR Results

8 Comments Written on May 31st, 2011 by
Categories: Google Adwords

I have to say I haven’t really been a fan of the appearance of the Adwords ads Google now shows in the above-the-SERPs positions that include the display URL in an “extended headline”.  Personally I think it strongly detracts from the power of your headlines if you’re using great headline ad copy and overall looks a bit ‘blah’, especially now that they’ve also squashed the capitalization in display URLs.

For those not aware of the change, in certain circumstances when your ad appears above the SERPs, Google will add your display URL to the headline likeso:

That looks great if your headline says something utterly boring like “Google Adwords” as they have here, but if your headlines don’t suck it’s pretty gross-looking.  That said, Google did do some testing before rolling this out as many search-watchers reported, and assumably it garnered higher CTRs.

This apparently started rolling out globally around May 17th, so I thought I’d wait a bit and see the effect it had (or didn’t have) on CTRs in one of my larger client accounts.

Some Early CTR Test Results

Here’s an example of a highly navigational, one-word query where my ad shows in position 1.1 almost all of the time, and I’ve confirmed Google is using the new display URL format in the ad (note: no changes to ads, keywords, or bids were made during any of these periods):

Before May 18th, on 5000 clicks: 5.17% CTR

Over 5000 navigational clicks since May 18th: 5.64% CTR

Roughly a 9% lift in CTR (Note: Not a lift TO 9% CTR)

Here’s an example of another randomly selected adgroup where the query is not really navigational in nature, but still only a two-word query (again in position 1):

Before May 18th, over 5000 clicks: 8.23% CTR

Across 5000 clicks since May 18th: 5.76% CTR

A 31% drop in CTR.

One more non-navigational, non-brand two-word query (position 1):

Before May 18th, on 5000 clicks: 3.43% CTR

Over 5000 clicks since May 18th: 2.86% CTR

A 17% drop in CTR.

So if CTR Doesn’t Climb, Why Make This Change?

Overall, when I look at these results, I’m made to wonder if the change was adopted by Google not because it lifts CTR, but because, as they say in their announcement blog post, “Potential customers, on the other hand, will be able to more easily identify the site to which they’ll be taken after they click on your ad.”

Could it be that the FTC and other governmental bodies are pressuring Google to be more clear about where a user will be going when they click an Adwords ad?  This corresponds quite coincidentally with Google’s recent push for more disclosure by Adwords advertisers on their landing pages.

Of course, these are random, anecdotal CTR results, but I hadn’t seen anyone post their stats on this yet, so I thought I’d see if we could get the ball rolling and get PPC marketers to share what they’re seeing.

What are you seeing in your accounts with this change?  Do you think these new headlines dilute the value of good-quality headline writing?

Share your thoughts in the comments!



Disclosure Doesn’t Have to Kill Conversions

2 Comments Written on May 18th, 2011 by
Categories: Conversion, Google Adwords

Starting yesterday, Google is requiring additional clarity and disclosure from Adwords advertisers who handle end user personal and payment information.  Some of the changes are dead-obvious like using SSL on credit card processing, but the others point to something you might want to consider in a bigger context.

The Larger Picture: Google’s Under Siege

The first thing to realize is that as much as the US FTC is applying pressure to affiliate marketers and the like they’re also putting Google through the wringer.  Add to that the US Department of Justice and various European authorities.  Late last week it came to light that Google has set aside $500 million to cover settlement costs with the US government over the use of Adwords undisclosed “rogue advertisers”, who are suspected to be unlicensed pharmacies, but perhaps other advertisers in other niches as well.

The salient point from the linked Wall Street Journal report above is this:

Search engines can be liable if they are found to be profiting from illegal activity. In December 2007, the three largest Internet companies, Google, Microsoft Corp. and Yahoo Inc. agreed to pay a combined $31.5 million fine to settle civil allegations brought by the Justice Department that they had accepted ads from illegal gambling sites.

Obviously Google is going to be working overtime right now to legally distance themselves from allowing Adwords to be used with anything “illegal”, which observers might think only applies to things like gambling and rogue prescription drugs, but that’s an overly narrow view.

Violations by Adwords advertisers of FTC or global regulatory body policies and directives could also fall into the liability sphere for Google, not just in the US, but in other countries as well as you can easily see by looking at the ever evolving country-specific changes to Adwords TOS.

Discerning the Writing on the Wall

When you look at the heat turning on Google from all regulatory angles it becomes clear that they’re going to start erring on the side of caution, pushing all Adwords advertisers to be more transparent with their Adwords-promoted offers, ads, and policies.

There’s a certain point in many large companies when the lawyers start driving the bus, dictating to the rest of the company how they’re going to roll when it comes to, in particular, how they go to market.  Microsoft is notorious for having to run any and all marketing communications through ‘legal’ before they put anything live.  It’s not hard to understand why given the decade of lawsuits they’ve pushed through, lawsuits and arguments Google is now facing.

Given their past tolerance, it’s unlikely that Google suddenly has a deep, altruistic interest in the handling of their users’ personal information, what people are buying via Adwords, or what customer expectations are.  A large part of their policy decision making in the past has admittedly been driven by customer complaints rather than a proactive effort to police their advertisers.  At the core, Google likes to let the market decide via click through and conversion data what should ads should run or die on the vine.  That’s how they run their entire ‘data-driven’ business.

Eventually though, and often due to affiliate marketers pushing things to the breaking point, Google is forced either by complaints, bad press or legal issues to jerk advertisers’ chains and bring things to a more transparent state.  But like anything in life, reactionary tactics often lead to over-reaction, and in the case of “disclosure” and “transparency”, that means can mean some very “non-conversion friendly” landing page adjustments.

Some advertisers think that the developing requirements are exclusively for ‘bad actors’ in the Adwords system and won’t merit adjustments on their part.  This has been historically shown to be erroneous thinking.

Don’t think for a second that any one advertiser spends enough on Google for Google to not ‘throw them under the bus’ if the  lawyers say things are posing an clear and present business danger to the Adwords collective.  Even the Apollo Group (i.e. one of Google’s largest advertisers, commonly known as “University of Phoenix”) would find themselves staring at the underside of a Greyhound if Google’s lawyers decided it was time to toss them.  No cow is too sacred.

Disclosure Doesn’t Necessarily Kill Conversions

So will adding Google/FTC-mandated background and TOS to your landing pages utterly destroy conversions?  Not necessarily.  Direct response marketers have been navigating these requirements for many years, before the Internet was even conceived.  How do they do it?

Take for example this excellent post on compliant direct marketing.  The key component in the strategies they’re recommending is effort.  Effort and some up front investment that will prove you’re serious.

Here’s another Pro Tip:  People just don’t like to read.  Anything.  Place a fully proportionate disclosure paragraph text directly next to your large, colourful call-to-action button and see how it affects clicks on that big, bright button.  In test after test that I’ve seen it doesn’t affect click through that much at all.  Why not?

Installing Clicktale on your lander will show you that users often scan the page quickly, scroll up and down a bit, and then click the big button.  Either that or they bail completely.  The odd person will stop to read, but if you’re a half-decent copywriter, your copy should be compelling enough to spur a click on the call to action button without the user simply zeroing in on the disclaimer or disclosure text alone.  In fact, such text has been known to increase the overall trust level of the page.

Extreme Examples of Disclosure Requirements Can Prove the Point

Here’s a couple examples where disclosure has been mandated by Government to an extreme degree…

Payday loans:  Individual governments have placed some fairly hefty disclosure requirements on short-term credit lenders for some time now.

Take for example the province of Alberta in Canada.  When a user selects their Canadian province here on the online application form requesting a payday loan, here’s what they see pop up in front of them:

How’d you like to deal with being legally required to pop something this clear up in front of your customers, blanking out their entire browser window?  And yet this company can still afford to compete in one of the most competitive local PPC verticals…Looks like they’re surviving just fine.

Another example: Big Pharma ads:

We’ve all sat through TV commercials for prescription drugs with 10 seconds of info about the drug’s benefits immediately followed by 20 seconds or more of FDA-mandated disclaimer and side effect information?  How awesome would it be to have to market your product in an environment where you’re required to fully disclose the most outside side effect possibility, even if that includes bleeding from the ears?

That’s not to say the disclosure requirements on Big Pharma are excessive at all, it just stands out as an example of the disclosure and disclaimer environment some marketers have to work in.  I’m sure they grieve that fact while crying themselves to sleep on a money mattress… Anyway…

Disclosure statements get even more conspicuous for Pharma when they do print ads:

The Bottom Line

The bottom line here is that Google is going to continue to be under pressure to make sure they reduce their legal exposure to advertiser behaviour and marketing through the Adwords system, and the sooner you get it all out on the table and start testing what will and won’t affect conversions and lifetime customer value the better.  If not, you’re going to wake up one day with Google telling you you can’t advertise with them anymore, or at the very least, what and how you’ll be disclosing material background to you customers.  Better to do the groundwork and testing now.

Prevent Previous Buyers From Seeing Your Google Remarketing Ads

Many remarketing campaigns use discount offer banners to try and recapture visitors who abandon the shopping cart.  For example they might ‘remarketing cookie’ bailout users and show them ads offering coupon codes or bundle offers – anything to get them back into a purchase.

The only danger with this however is that you might end up ticking off users who have already bought through the regular sales process at full pop.

To prevent this with buyers who come in via Adwords traffic, you can exclude “Sale” or “Lead” conversion audiences to your remarketing combinations.  Google uses their usual Adwords conversion tracking code that’s likely already on your ‘thank you’ as a ‘pre-configured’ remarketing list:  People who have bought or signed up already.  Handy.

Add Your Converted Visitors as a Remarketing List

Here’s how to create a remarketing list for people that have already converted (assumes you have regular conversion tracking already installed):

While in the Campaigns view in the Adwords UI, open the expandable left sidebar and at the bottom of the sidebar click “Control Panel & Library”, then select “Audiences”.

Now, create “New Audience” then “Remarketing List”.

We’ll want to name this list something that is familiar like “Adwords Buyers” , and we can reuse the existing conversion tracking tags (here called “Sale”) instead of creating a new tag:

Preconfigured Adwords Conversion Tracking Tags

This will allow us to give our remarketing campaigns special instructions about how to handle people who have already converted via Adwords.

Create a Negative Audience to Suppress Previous Adwords Buyers

Now we want to update our existing remarketing adgroup or campaign to exclude these folks.  I already have my Adwords-sourced site visitors in a remarketing list running inside an existing remarketing campaign.

I’m going to add them as a campaign-wide “Negative Audience” to ensure I don’t show discount offer ads to them after they’ve already purchased:

Now we’ll select our “Converted” list to the negatives:

That’s it!

Note:  This example bears out the importance of creating separate Display Network campaigns for remarketing.  The more granular you get in separating campaigns, the more targeted you can get in deciding who sees what ad as you grow out your remarketing efforts.


What About People Who Buy Via Microsoft Adcenter Traffic?

Google’s conversion tracking shortcut for reusing existing tags on your thank you page doesn’t work for suppressing remarketing ads against buyers from other traffic sources.

For that you’ll need to tag buyers from non-Adwords traffic via a new remarketing list and place those tags on your thank you page as well.

To create the tags for this, follow the same instructions above to navigate to your Audience lists.

Again we’ll create a new remarketing list from the “New Audience” button.

This time we need to create a new tag rather than reusing an existing one:

Now we can get the tag code to put on our thank you page:



Now we need to add these buyers are a campaign-wide negative list to our existing remarketing campaign as well (just like we did with Adwords buyers):



Done!  Now both Adwords buyers and those that buy via Adcenter or other traffic sources will be excluded from seeing our special offer remarketing ads.



Final Thoughts

Now it’s true that adding just the “Adcenter Buyers” remarketing tag to the thank you page and adding that list as a campaign-wide negative audience will prevent ANY buyers from seeing remarketing ads from this campaign, this example gives you as a reader a better idea of how Google’s conversion tracking can create list shortcuts as well as helping you not to forget about buyers from other traffic sources beyond just Adwords.

This also goes to show the importance of thoroughly thinking through your remarketing campaigns, trying to visualize who will see your ads and when.  Preventing people who have already bought from seeing your discount ads can save you a lot of grief.

That said, even buyers can come back for more, so you might want to think about what you could specifically market to people who have bought from you already.  Maybe you could create a custom remarketing campaign that just targets the buyers’ lists with ads encouraging them to sign up for a deals newsletter or your general mailing list.  Don’t waste the opportunity to keep selling!