Google Adwords

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.

Does Google Instant Affect Your PPC Campaigns?

1 Comment » Written on November 8th, 2010 by
Categories: Google Adwords

Google rolled out Google Instant on September 8th, 2010.

Google Instant is a major change in the way Google presents search results. Google now attempts to predict what term searchers are searching for, then shows updated search results, in real time, as the searcher types their query.

Here’s a video of Google Instant in action:

Google reasons that Google Instant reduces the time it takes to search, and will particularly appeal to the mobile search market, as there is less need to scroll.

However, eyebrows were raised, particularly amongst the PPC community.

If Google matches on partial type-in keywords, does this mean fewer long-tail targeted keyword would be seen? Will targeting broad terms, and short terms, become more viable as the searcher is more likely to see them? Marketers were also concerned about potential tracking problems, such as a change in the way impressions will be counted.

However, a new study reveals some very interesting data.

Study Results

Marin Software, a paid search management platform provider, released the results of a study that analyzed the effects of Instant Search on paid campaigns. The study was undertaken over two separate fortnightly periods, and across millions of keyword terms.

The report looks at three main issues.

  • How searchers behavior might change, particularly in relation to a visitors interaction with Adwords.
  • How Google Instant impacts search query length
  • Does Google Instant affect match type. For example, if searchers are presented with results immediately, does this make broad matching a more viable strategy?

Here’s what they found:

  • Google Instant has had a noticeable effect on PPC campaign performance.
  • Impressions and clicks increased significantly – by 9.3% – whilst cost per click decreased. Overall campaign costs increased slightly.
  • Google users preferred exact and phrase match terms, as opposed to broad match.

It was curious that Google Instant did not skew user behavior towards broad-match clicks, as first feared. The reverse happened. Exact and phrase-match clicks gained in popularity.

In our analysis, we found that while broad-match terms still command about 70% of all impressions and about 47% of all clicks, exact-match and phrase-match terms gained ground after Instant was launched. Accordingly, our chart shows that impressions and clicks for phrase and exact-match terms had higher percentage increases when compared to broad-match terms. “

Why the change?

“The implication here is that users are probably responding to interim ads while they’re still typing or refining search queries. In other words, our analysis suggests that users are now more engaged with the search page and search results. This change in user behavior is a direct consequence of how Google Instant has changed a user’s search experience.”

Google Instant may also be making it easier for the searcher to phrase a search query, especially if they didn’t quite know which terms to search on in order to get the results they were seeking.

As the searcher rephrases the query, they may be pausing to click on ads. This raises the question of impression reporting.

Counting impressions with Google Instant happens in three different ways.

  • Click – If the user starts typing, then clicks anywhere on the page, an impression is counted.
  • Keyword selection – An impression is counted when the search button is clicked, or a user selects a query.
  • Three second delay – If the user stops typing and does nothing for three seconds, this is counted as an impression

On the flip-side, searchers do have something in mind already. Just because Instant suggests a keyword doesn’t necessarily mean the searcher will opt for what Google suggests. In this sense, it is not surprising the broad match doesn’t trump exact match and long tail queries.

Do You Need To Change Your PPC Strategy?

Whilst analysis is ongoing, these early studies put a lot of fears to rest.

You can still target long-tail searches in your PPC campaigns, and get good results. In fact, Google Instant appears to have made them even more lucrative.

If you’re not targeting broad match and short queries now, there is little reason to change, at least as far as Google Instant is concerned. If, for some reason, you’re not phrase matching and exact matching, then you should do so.

Google Adwords: Horrific Results?

1 Comment » Written on October 28th, 2010 by
Categories: Google Adwords

Are there times when PPC is next to useless?


There are some goods and services that are poorly suited to search marketing.

For example, take a look at what happened to Dropbox when they blew cash on Google Adwords:

Dropbox founder and chief executive Drew Houston offered some details this afternoon about how he grew the company to more than 4 million users. In its early days, the document synchronization startup did all the things that startups are “supposed” to do, like buying ads on Google’s search results through AdWords and hiring a public relations firm.

Houston said the results were “horrific”.

Poor execution? Didn’t know enough about PPC? Bidding too high?

Possible, but it is more likely due to positioning. Dropbox offers an innovative service that people don’t know they need.


In order for a customer to search on a concept, they need to already be aware of the concept. In this respect, search is a conservative channel. Contrary to what Google, and other search companies, would have you believe, PPC is not suited to ground-breaking products and services.

Well, not without some tweaking, anyway.

Under The Search Hood

Research has shown that there are three types of searches. The intent of the searcher is typically either navigational, informational, or transactional. The search engines, and advertisers, try to determine intent, and match results and advertisements accordingly.

A navigational search is where the searcher wishes to go to a specific website, or a web page on that site. For example, “Wikipedia” is a navigational search. It is estimated that over 30% of all searches are navigational.

An informational search is where the searcher is looking for specific information on a given topic. For example, “fixing cars”, “African insects” or “building houses”.

A transactional search is when someone wants to perform some web-mediated activity. For example, they want to buy something, they want to download something, or they want to access specific databases, such as the Yellow Pages.

In order for search marketing to work effectively, you need to slot easily into one of these categories. The commonality is that your brand, concept or the solution you provide must already be known to the user.

The Trick

So, you’ve got a site selling a new concept. Should you steer clear of search marketing?

There are ways around this problem.

See if you can reshape your message into becoming a destination for established navigational, informational or transactional search queries. Can you relate your product or service to a product or service that is already well known?

Let’s say someone produces a new, totally unique way of preventing mildew that defies convention. They might knock together a page all about mildew, advertise against popular “mildew prevention” terms, whilst gently introducing their new solution. The trick is to align the new concept with a concept that already exists in the mind of the searcher.

You can also do this using known brands. Brands are If you offer something that provides the same solution as offered by an existing brand, you can position alongside that brand, so long as they haven’t blocked brand related searches.

Consider the sales funnel. Whilst you might want people to click through and order your product right away, you may need to back up to a higher level first. For example, instead of leaping straight to the transaction, your PPC campaign could be focused on getting people to sign up to your blog or newsletter. This way, your focus becomes education – an essential step in marketing new products. You then hope they’ll download your product once they become comfortable with the concept.

You could also limit you search marketing to the display network and advertise on sites where your potential users hang out. For example, market research shows that people who like or own exotic cars also tend to like or own expensive watches. Therefore, it would not be a silly idea to advertise watches on exotic car sites. Some positioning spin would be needed to ensure the ad appears, of course.

The display network is also much cheaper than the search network, and more suited to brand-building campaigns, as you can use graphics. You also gain significant reach. Google has a white paper looking at performance trends across the display network , along with various case studies.

You can also retarget people visiting your website using Google remarketing.

Got any other tricks and tips for introducing new concepts on search networks? Add ’em to the comments.

Google Adwords Campaigns

5 Comments Written on October 24th, 2010 by
Categories: Google Adwords

Never run a Google Adwords campaign before?

Here are the key high-level concepts you need to ensure you get the most valuable traffic for the least money.

1. Running Google Ads Comes Later. First….

Before you run a campaign, you need to get your site, and business strategy, in order. Ask yourself: “when I get traffic, what do I want this traffic to do”?

This is known as the “desired action” or “conversion”. The desired action you want a visitor to take when they land on your page. The desired action might be to sign up to a newsletter, bookmark the site, or make a purchase.

Next, ensure your landing pages are written in such a way as to lead people to take that desired action. Is it crystal clear what visitors need to do?

A good way of testing this is to look over the shoulder of someone who is new to your site. Watch what they actually do, as opposed to what you expect them to do. We’ll look at testing in step five, but for now, do some basic testing to make sure everything is as clear as it can possibly be. If it’s not clear what people have to do, you’ll lose a lot of money on the click-backs.

2. Keyword Research

Google include a keyword research tool in Adwords.

Sign up to Adwords, and you’ll be prompted to enter a couple of phrases, which will generate keyword lists. You then ads the keyword terms you like best to a master list.

Simple, eh.

However, this isn’t the only way to get keywords. Keep in mind that Google will often direct you towards keywords it wants you to bid on. What works well for Google may not work well for you.

So also try out alternative keyword tools that use different keyword databases. We offer a free keyword research tool powered by Wordtracker.

Also visit Facebook, forums and blogs related to your topic, and look at the keyword titles people use. What language do people use? What terminology do people use? It is likely they will use the same terminology when conducting searches. You can even use Google to help surface these concepts in real-time using their discussions filter & sorting by date.

Whilst keyword lists can become potentially huge, it’s best, when starting, to cut these down to a manageable size, as it makes it much easier to manage and test campaigns. Group closely related keywords together in individual groups, and direct traffic to an appropriate page on your web site directly related to these keyword terms. The page should include these terms in the body text and headings.

Once you see what is working, and what isn’t, you can scale up in the appropriate areas, and stop advertising on the keywords that don’t work.

3. Write Hooky Ads

If you look at a search results page, you’ll see ten listings, or more, down the center-left of the screen. Eight or more Google ads appear down the right hand side.

The searcher could click on any one of those listings, although they mainly click on the results closest to the top. Check out this heat map analysis to give you an idea of clicking patterns.

To grab attention in all this clutter, your ad needs to stand out.

Examine your competitors ads. Are they all similar? Can you twist their approach into something new and fresh? Hint: the Adwords listings that appear highest up the list, on a regular basis, tend to also have the highest click-through rates. This means they have the highest appeal to the audience. Mimick their approach – as it has likely proven more successful than those lower down – but add something new to your ad text, in order to stand out.

What is the best thing about your service? What can you do that others can’t? Perhaps you have lower prices. Perhaps you operate in a location close to prospective buyers. Perhaps you give away free samples. Whatever your edge, specify it in your ad text.

Write eye catching headlines. Try to avoid weak, descriptive terminology, such as “Parts Supplier”. Instead, try “Sale On Acme Parts”. Be specific about the benefits you offer.

There is a lot of experimentation involved, but what’s good about Adwords is that the ads are very easy to change if something isn’t quite working right.

4. Budget Your Bidding

Many people blow through a lot of money and have nothing to show for it. Only you know how much you can spend trying to acquire a customer, so make sure you know this information going in.

There are three ways you can control your budget:

Daily budget – set the maximum amount you want to spend per day on clicks.
CPC – how much you want to pay for each click.
Ad Quality – This essentially means “relevance”. Make sure your keyword, your ad text and landing page text are aligned i.e if the searcher searches for “used car parts”, your ad mentions “used car parts”, as does you landing page. If this terminology differs to a significant margin, it forces up the price of your clicks. Get the quality score right, however, and you can outrank other bidders who are bidding more than you. They may not be as relevant to the search query.

For more on the quality score, have a read of “Google Quality Score Factors“.

5. Tracking, Measurement And Adjustment

Few PPC campaigns work like a charm on first attempt.

It’s important to track your progress and make adjustments. There are three key areas the beginner needs to keep an eye on:

Are your ads running? Look out for warning messages in the Adwords control panel. Some of your ads may be disabled, for a variety of reasons. Use the inbuilt keywords diagnostics tool to help you.

How often are your ads being displayed? You may have to adjust bidding and scheduling to get your ads to show more often.

Are visitors doing what you want them to do on your site? Make sure enough people are moving through to desired action, else your money is wasted. Test different landing pages, ad text and offers to increase the conversion rate.

Also check out this free online book, Conversion For Dummies.

Have fun!

When you’re ready to learn all the advanced tricks of the trade, check out our PPC training course.

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!

Ad Character Limits Are For Schmucks

3 Comments Written on October 4th, 2010 by
Categories: Copywriting, Google Adwords

Hat tip to PPCblog member George for pointing this out:

Google seems to be stretching the  limits of the old ’70 character’ limit with their Webmaster Tools “Google Promotions” (not “Sponsored links”) ads:

Google Stretches Adwords Ad Character Limits

Hey, it’s their inventory and ad system, they’ll do whatever they like…

I guess when setting up the DKI (Dynamic Keyword Insertion) on these ads they don’t have to worry about putting in an alternative keyword in case the user’s search query runs too long.  Must be nice:)

Andy Beard had some commentary on this early as well, looking at this tactic from the webmaster’s point of view.