When I was speaking a couple of weeks ago at BlueGlass Florida, just out of curiosity I asked the audience of marketers and business leaders if how many used Adwords every day. About half of the several hundred attendees put up their hands. Then I asked how many felt that Adwords had gotten too complicated for its own good? About 30% put up their hands…
Who Benefits From PPC Platform Complexity?
I’ve long wondered why Google keeps front-loading so many practically insignificant levels of feature complexity into the Adwords interface. Granted, some of these are somewhat interesting to look at, but maybe one reason Google does this is to create so many comparison points as to ensure that you as an advertiser are less inclined to spend time and money on competing ad platforms that don’t have all of these features and data points.
Making competitors’ platforms (*cough*Adcenter*cough) look hopelessly behind means Google wins the ‘feature war’ by ensuring they end up with the lion’s share of advertisers’ attention and ad spend.
Another side benefit: Google’s competitors also spend more time chasing their tails to develop reports and functionality that really won’t make much difference to the lives of their clients, but will tick off a box in the feature-for-feature competition with Adwords. While they’re spending time trying to match Adwords UI features instead of, for instance, growing their content network partnerships to increase marketshare, or something else that will actually make a difference for their advertisers, Google ‘drinks their milkshake’.
What About the Little Guy?
What about the flip side? What about the small business that opens an Adwords account and tries to make a go of it? They’re not professional marketers, nor do they have time to spend every waking hour servicing Adwords’ insatiable need for attention. No matter how blogs or books they read or how many Google small business seminars they watch, they have no idea why they can’t just pay for their damn ad to show. It’s almost as if Google is saying to them, “Hey, this is really complicated…just let us manage your bids and budgets for you.” Oh, and remember: If you’re having a problem getting Adwords to show your ads, the answer is always “increase your bid”. Umhmm…
In the quest for the “beautiful” algorithms that will ensure they never have to actually talk to their customers in person, Google has created a monster. A monster of complexity and “quality” that obfuscates the only data that really matters: “Is my damn ad being shown on to the customers I’m looking for, and am I making any money?”
Other less sophisticated ad platforms pretty much do just that: take the money, show the ad, kind of a refreshing idea.
Of course there are challenges with ad quality. Of course there’s a lot of competition to manage, but quality score in particular is often unnecessarily harsh to honest advertisers who just want to show an ad to their potential customers. They’re not running business scams, or promoting deceptive products, they just want to sell eaves troughs to people who need eaves troughs.
What’s All This Data Really Worth?
For Adwords professionals, the pertinent question is what metrics are worth poring over and which are simply distracting noise? There’s no doubt that between Google Adwords and Google Analytics there are enough data and measurement points to keep you buried for eternity. But there’s also the possibility that you start to lose sight of the forest for the trees…
Adwords isn’t going to get any less complex going forward. In fact, it’s likely to get even ‘data-noisier’ as 2011 unfolds. But it’s interesting that in the case of funnel analytics and split testing for instance, the data firehose of Google Analytics has opened up room for new companies such as KISSmetrics to differentiate their analytics offering by making things simpler. Will the same thing happen to PPC advertising platforms in the future? Very possibly. Facebook (Google’s biggest real competitor going forward) has shown some promise in this area conceptually, trying to help advertisers connect with actual people rather than just queries.
Times Are a’ Changin’
I think it’s ironic that while Microsoft spends their precious development resources trying to match Adwords feature for feature, Google is rushing to make their search engine look more and more like Bing. If Microsoft can properly align Adcenter’s functionality with Bing’s future direction, they’ll have an opportunity to differentiate from Google instead of simply playing copycat. Given Microsoft’s historical internal silo-like structure, this isn’t too likely unfortunately, but one can dream:)
The other day my eight-year-old asked me to “look up a video on Bing.com”. I asked him why he wanted to look at ‘Bing.com’ instead of Youtube? He said he didn’t know, but he thought ‘Bing was newer’.
The next generation of searchers growing up now won’t have brand loyalty to Google alone. They’ll be using whatever’s new, neat, built into their favourite web service or social network site, or more likely, whatever is preset by their mobile device carrier. No report in Adwords is going to show you that you should really be spending some time buying ads on other platforms. In fact, Google will make sure you keep thinking the alternatives are simply too immature to be worthy of your ad dollars.
Smart marketers will keep their ears to the ground and ensure they’re looking at signal rather than noise, following their customers and not simply Google.