Google Adwords

New KeywordEye™ Keyword Visualizer Shows Promise

3 Comments Written on July 26th, 2010 by
Categories: Google Adwords, Keyword Research, Marketing, PPC Tools

Keyword Eye LogoMatt from KeywordEye™ sent me a ping last week to have a look at a new, free keyword ‘visualization’ tool that he’s been working on for some time now and asked me to give it a look.

It’s a pretty neat concept: pulling from the Adwords API, KeywordEye™ pulls up associated keywords to your search and displays the results in a 2D or 3D ‘cloud’ format, with higher traffic keywords displayed as larger words in the cloud, and color-codes the keywords in the cloud green, yellow, or red depending on the amount of competition.

An even cooler part of this tool is the ability to view the visualized data by country, match type, and a few other variables.  As you hover over each of the keywords in the cloud you see the individual search volume (per month) for the local region selected.  Simply click on a keyword in the cloud to add it to the scratch pad on the right for export.

keyword eye screenshotClick to Enlarge

The data in the tool is no different than what Google provides via their internal Adwords Keyword Tool, but I found that the way the data is presented helps you to visualize the scope of keyword possibilities for new niches you’re looking into (particularly the 3D cloud view).

This unique way of viewing new keyword possibilities reminds me a bit of Google’s Wonderwheel, a great way of viewing things as Google does from a relational standpoint.

Give KeywordEye a spin here!

10 Great Places To Learn Adwords

No Comments » Written on July 7th, 2010 by
Categories: Google Adwords

Right here! PPCBlog!

Well, we would say that…. 🙂

But we do offer a free introductory course, and there are some fantastic resources out there, some you may not have heard about. Here’s out top ten picks of external sites and resources. The tools come with a wealth of useful case studies you can use to enhance your own campaigns.

1. Google Adwords Certification

A comprehensive, free course for Adwords. Join the program and click on the “Study For This Exam” links. You’ll get access to the Learning Center, which provides a thorough background in Google Adworeds, to certification level. The exams cost $50 each, but you don’t need to take these to get access to the course.

2. Google Agency Toolkit

Keep all the essential Google tools together on one page. Also arranged in a way that lends itself to learning and discovery.

I can get lost for days on the plan stage alone!

3. Marketing

PPC is a form of marketing. If you understand the underlying fundamental principles of marketing, your campaigns are likely to be more successful.

Grab a few good books on marketing and give yourself a solid grounding. Seth Godin frequently riffs on marketing, and has written a number of excellent, easy-to-digest books on the topic. Our pick: All Marketers Are Liars.

4. Analytics

It’s hard to improve what you don’t measure. Top PPC managers tend to have excellent analytics skills. It’s not just about crunching numbers, either. It’s about spotting profitable patterns that other people don’t see.

Recommended Analytics blog: Occam’s Razor

5. Keyword Research

Keyword research is like digging for gold. Proving nepotism is alive an well, we’re going to recommend a post on SEOBook, and the SEOBook keyword tool.

There are a number of valuable tips and videos on that page, including Wordtrackers case study and white paper “Keyword Research Guide”.

6. Competitive Analysis – SEM Rush

SEM Rush is a hugely powerful tool that helps you monitor your competitors Adwords campaigns. There’s a modified version of SEMRush in the PPCBlog members area.

Here’s Aaron Wall’s review of SEM Rush.

7. Copyblogger

Copyblogger is a great blog about – as it says on the box – writing copy. PPC advertisers need good copy writing skills in order to produce effective landing pages, ads and headlines. Check out the following sections: Landing Pages, Headline Writing, and Copywriting 101.

8. Google Wonder Wheel

The wonder wheel is a great tool for making associations. Sometimes, the links between related concepts are difficult to spot in keyword lists, but easier when laid out in graphical form.

Resource: How To Make Money From The Google Wonder Wheel

9. Inside Adwords

Inside Adwords is Google’s official blog on Adwords. Contains news, tips and education resources.

10. Adwords Editor

The Adwords Editor is a desktop tool that makes campaign management easier. Make bulk changes, move through your account faster, and more.

What Google AdWords Match Type is This? & Can You Opt Out of Such Tests?

No Comments » Written on July 6th, 2010 by
Categories: Google Adwords

Google recently announced the beta launch of a modified broad matching type in the UK and Canada, which is similar to old school broad match, back before broad became capacious.

And then, without announcement, they also launched inline search suggestions for related keywords on some search results. For example on the image to the right, you can see that a search for IP address has brought up ads for:

  • ip address trace
  • change ip address
  • find ip address
  • static ip address

Why wasn’t this (broadly visible) beta announced? A few ideas…

  • Bing has a similar feature in their organic search results, so perhaps Google wanted to borrow the idea without officially announcing it?
  • They have less certainty on its impact on yield?
  • They wanted to test its impact without warning advertisers into changing anything?

Those longer tail keyword variations often have a different (and more precise) meaning than the core keyword, which makes them more potent. And so AdWords advertisers are willing to bid more for those clicks. But if those longtail keywords are being charged for ads showing up on the core keywords that might lower aggregate searcher intent, eating into the profit margins of advertisers who bid up more specific keywords.

Which match type is being charged? Google hasn’t said. But some cursory searching for some of the above keywords makes it look like some of those ads might be phrase matched.

How does this impact search as a whole? Does it make search quicker and more relevant? During the famous “brand” update of Google’s organic search results last year, Google looked at query chains / search funnels to find sites that were often clicked on after the second search, and promoted some of those sites into a better position in the initial core search result set. Perhaps this is a better way for Google to make search faster and more relevant.

But even if the change works out good for searchers, as an advertiser, the impact on your account might differ.

If you had ads that were not shown for some broader keywords due to quality score issues, or some keywords where bidding on the broader variations typically produced losses, be sure to check to see if your ads are showing up via these inline suggestions & adjust bids as necessary. In some areas where bids are higher some of the additional exposure might be expensive. Hate to be the “hotels” aggregator advertiser paying $4 or $5 a click for the curiosity clicks on searches for “Oakland.”

Its even worse when you consider Google’s recent big move into the travel market, and past nibbles into the hotel space.

PPC Ads: Using 1st-Person Quotes in Your Ad Text

6 Comments Written on April 12th, 2010 by
Categories: Google Adwords

One of the PPC ad text techniques I feel is currently under-utilized is the “quote statement” approach.

If you look at the paid results from your competition on a given keyword and you need a way to stand out, consider using a quote statement in your headline.

Statements in quotes can really pop on a page full of ‘blah’ ads.  You have nothing to lose by getting creative…

Here’s some quick examples to get your ad-writing juices flowing:





What are some of your favorite headline techniques?  Share them in the comments!

Fascinating New Adwords Placement Test

Google announced on their LatLong (Maps) blog today that they’re experimenting with placing pricing for hotels directly next to the hotel listings in Google Maps.

At first glance, it looked like another Google-internal affiliate marketing initiative, but it’s actually quite clever.

Here’s the official sample screenshot – Look closely at the price listing drop-down box in Adwords yellow:


If nothing else, it’s an innovative way to roll in Adwords results directly into the organic SERPs.

Paid Placement With a Twist

Interestingly, Google’s post points out explicitly that these listings are not traditional paid placements:

This new feature will not change the way that hotels are ranked in Google Maps. Google Maps ranks business listings based on their relevance to the search terms entered, along with geographic distance (where indicated) and other factors, regardless of whether there is an associated price.

So the blur between paid and organic continues it’s inevitable march forward.

It’s also of note that Google has chosen affiliate sites like Expedia and Priceline as their preferred advertiser testing partners for this experiment, not the hotels themselves…

It will be interesting to see how this progresses, and what other verticals it shows up in.

Tips For Mobile Search & Adwords

5 Comments Written on March 4th, 2010 by
Categories: Google Adwords, Local Search

We may be in a recession, but one area is booming.

Smart phones.

As handset costs are driven down, more people are switching to smart phones, such as iPhones & BlackBerrys. Internet usage on mobile phones is increasing, and may well displace much PC and laptop usage.

There are already phones on the market using 1 gigahertz chips, says Andy Rubin, who works on Google’s Android platform. Soon we’ll have mobile phones with 2Ghz processors, which is more than in a lot of laptops,” he predicts, pointing out that a PC is no longer necessary to access emails, to quickly check the net or to update your Facebook page

Google even goes so far as predicting the desktop will be irrelevant within three years:

In three years time, desktops will be irrelevant,” sais John Herlihy, Googles vice president of Global Ad Operations. “In Japan, most research is done today on smart phones, not PCs. Mobile makes the world’s information universally accessible. Because there’s more information and because it will be hard to sift through it all, that’s why search will become more and more important. This will create new opportunities for new entrepreneurs to create new business models – ubiquity first, revenue later.”

Marketing-speak perhaps, but we do live in interesting times when it comes to new opportunities in search. Google bought mobile advertising network, AdMob, last November for $750m, so expect much integration and new features this year.

Usage patterns are also changing. Because smartphones were more expensive, they tended to be used mainly for business. Now, usage patterns are becoming increasingly consumer oriented. If more people do adopt smart phone usage, what does this mean for PPC advertisers?

A modified approach is needed.

Think Ergonomics

The biggest change will be in terms of ergonomics.

Factors such as small screen real-estate, lack of keyboard, and different modes of interaction will mean whole new search and interface paradigms will be adopted for mobile. Expect a lot more voice commands, and point and click driven functionality. People probably aren’t going to be doing a whole of typing, such as form filling, and they aren’t going to be reading long screeds of text.

Optimize Landing Pages For Mobile

Create pages specifically for mobile users.

Think old-school. Think small and resource-light. Don’t assume Flash or other fancy graphical scripting capabilities. Pages should be short and lean, and code should be optimized and basic.

Avoid making the user scroll too much.

Mobile usage tends to be search dominant.

Make your call to action crystal clear, and easy to tap with a finger. Include your phone number, so people can tap it to call you. Google are also rolling out a click-to-call feature (again) which displays a phone number next to your mobile ads.

Bullet point lists work well on mobiles. Dense text – not so much.

Here are a few helpful tools for testing landing pages on mobile devices:

Testiphone: web browser based simulator for quickly testing your iPhone web applications.

Opera Mini’s Simulator: live demo of Opera Mini 5 beta that functions as it would when installed on a handset.

Run Through Google’s Help Files & Data Options

Google is pushing mobile advertising and will be encouraging existing PPC advertisers to migrate their activities. Check out their official tips.

Also sign up to their Official Mobile blog. Not strictly Adwords related, but may provide insights into their broader global strategy, which is, of course, driven by Adwords.

Another useful source is Mobile Marking Watch, a blog that covers the mobile marketing community.

Google is also now splitting out stats for mobile devices. Here’s how to find them.

Adjust Bid Prices

Just as you bid differently on the content network, you should also adjust bids focused on mobile advertising. The bid competition still isn’t as fierce as on the search network, so you should be able to adjust your prices down.

Think Local, Think Navigation

People on the move tend to be thinking local. In terms of commerce, they want to know where to find restaurants, shops, and attractions. Consider navigational based search activity. Consider geo-targeting. Consider adding geo-specific variables, such as town and city names.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which Terms Drive Performance?

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

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

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

Running Long Tail Strategy

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

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


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

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

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

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

Negative Keyword Tips

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

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

Negative keywords are search keywords you wish to exclude.

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

You can create a negative keyword list, like so:

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

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

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

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

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

Common Search Phrases To Exclude

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

Here are a few short-cuts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Google AdWords Quality Score Factors

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

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

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

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

So it really pays to have a high quality score.

What makes up the Quality Score?

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

Google lists the following factors:

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Do you Find Your Quality Score?

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

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

How Can I Improve My Quality Score?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adwords & Affiliates in 2010: The Way Forward

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

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

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

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

“Google’s Gonna Miss My Money!”

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

Aaron Kessler – (Kaufman Bros):

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

Nikesh Arora (Google):

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

Jonathan Rosenberg (Google):

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

Aaron Kessler – (Kaufman Bros.)

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

Jonathan Rosenberg (Google):

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

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

Who Was Cut & Why?

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

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

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

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

Google’s New Affiliate Guidelines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So What Exactly Does Google Want from Affiliates?

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

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

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

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

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

Show Me, Don’t Tell Me!

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Trip Advisor: Affiliate Travel Referrals on Steroids

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

Note the yellow-highlighted portions here:


There’s some solid quality markers here:

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

But That’s Way Too Hard!

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

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

Who Says This is What Google Wants?

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

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

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

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

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

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