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.

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One Response to “Google Adwords: Horrific Results?”

The trick is always to know your target audience as intimately as possible. While Dropbox could not quickly grow their user base by targeting people searching for “document synchronization,” they should know what their target audience is searching for.  Perhaps try targeting people searching for “online storage,” “Google Docs,” “Zoho,” “GoToMyPC,” etc. Then find which ad groups are working best and focus more on those and similar keywords. They could also try display advertising on sites they know their potential customers hang out at. 

So while Adwords may not be the obvious answer for Dropbox, or other companies selling “new” products that customers don’t know they need yet, it is a viable solution if those companies know their target audience, what they’re searching for, and where they’re hanging out online. 

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