Wednesday 10 September 2008

Where in the world...

When you build a new campaign, one of the major decisions you must make is where your ads will be shown. It surprises me that there are very few comments or group posts on this subject since it really is an important part of building a successful, cost-effective campaign and I wonder how many accounts out there are operating on a default setting of their entire country...

I'm going to refer to this decision as 'geo-targeting', since it's all about targeting your ads to a specific geographical area.

So, why is geo-targeting important? The most obvious answer is that if you're advertising a product or service that is only relevant to a particular region, there's absolutely no point in displaying ads outside of that region. A campaign that advertises the services of a plumber need not advertise outside of 50 mile radius of their premises since a) it's unlikely the plumber will accept a job involving such travel and b) it's likely the customer will chose a company closer to home.

However, it's also important to consider whether you should geo-target your campaigns for other purposes such as keywords, CPCs, ad variations and scheduling. Even within a relative small country like the UK, it is possible that these elements will not be - or should not be - identical across the whole country. For example, a company operating on the web that ships to the whole of the UK may find that CPCs for certain keywords vary regionally and would therefore need to create separate campaigns to handle the budgeting. There may also be additional costs involved in shipping to remote areas or to Northern Ireland so ad copy may need to be varied - perhaps shipping isn't free to these areas. It's also possible that the actual wording of the copy should be varied regionally due to local terms or language structures.

Even if all things are equal, there is still an argument for geo-targeting to control and monitor costs. If your company ships country-wide and you run a single campaign that targets the whole of the UK, you might find that certain areas are not performing well or are performing well without the need for advertising so you need to create several geo-targeted campaigns to have tighter control over costs. For example, if you operated a London-Edinburgh non-stop coach service (with on-board lavaotories hopefully) you might find that you're getting plenty of bookings for the northbound trip but few for the southbound. In this case you'll want to operate two separate campaigns for around the London area and around the Edinburgh area because at this time, London needs little promotion for bookings. At some point in the future this might change, so you want to be able to keep your hand on the controls as it were.

Apply some thought to your targeting options - and there are a lot of them! There's little point in specifying a 50 mile radius of your premises if that 50 miles covers only fields and hills and misses two major towns to the East and the North only 60 miles away. Equally, you might want to stretch your boundary to reach a particular city, but exclude the centre for reasons of access or parking.

Google Analytics is particularly useful for analysing where your clicks are coming from and some quality time spent examining their map may reveal that your campaign could benefit from some targeting.


Friday 22 August 2008

Mind the Quality...

One of the most important elements of your Adwords campaign is the keyword Quality Score. Google has always maintained a policy of delivering relevant, high quality content to their users and this maxim is carried across into Adwords. Google wants to ensure that when a user clicks on an ad the site they visit is relevant and of an appropriate quality since poor quality or 'inappropriate' sites such as those set up purely to garner revenue reflect poorly on Google themselves.

The problem is that the 'quality' of a site is to some degree a subjective matter and in the past many Adwords clients have complained that their sites were being unfairly rated when, to the human eye, there was nothing obviously 'bad' about them. From yesterday (21st August 2008) Google has implemented a new method of assessing the quality score and it may have a substantial impact on your account costs and operation.

So, what is the quality score? For each keyword in your campaign Google examines the landing page(s) that that keyword relates to and uses a number of factors to determine a quality score. There are three possible ratings: Poor, OK and Great. It should be the aim of every Adwords manager to ensure all their keywords are 'Great' as anything else - particularly 'Poor' is going to have an impact on your CPC, position in search results and ranking in auctions for content placements.

How do I improve my quality score? There's little point in me doing anything other than pointing you to Google's own advice on the subject. But it's important to note that the quality score calculation now includes an assessment of landing page load times so it's important to keep your landing pages light and quick to load.

How do I see the quality score? By default, this vitally important variable isn't shown in your keywords tab (why Google?). To show this column log into your account, choose the 'Keywords' tab and then click 'customise columns' in the toolbar. Select 'Show Quality Score' and click 'Done'. You'll now see a quality score alongside each of your keywords.

So, check your quality scores and take whatever action you can to improve them. With Google, it's not a case of feeling the width, but minding the quality.*


*England had a relatively popular sitcom in the 1960s called 'Never Mind the Quality, Feel the Width' about two tailors, the title of which evolved into something of a catchphrase...

Thursday 21 August 2008

Search or Content - the eternal battle

By default, all new Adwords campaigns show ads on both the search and the content networks, but it's quite likely this isn't the best option for your purposes and this article takes a quick look at the differences.

The 'search network' can loosely be defined as ads being displayed when someone uses a search engine, the obvious example being those ads shown on the right of a Google search results page. The 'content network' is essentially ads being shown on websites, placed there by the website owners/builders. Although the ads themselves may be exactly the same, there's a big difference in who they're shown to and when.

The content network (web pages) can be a very useful source of clicks to your campaign as it tends to gather a lot more impressions than search but it does depend on the purpose of your advertising campaign. To grossly over-simplify, I tend to describe the two 'realms' in terms of a shopping high street. People visiting a store will largely fall into two categories: passersby who see something interesting in the shop window and come in, and those who have deliberately visited the town to go to that store (and buy a specific product). With this in mind, I usually equate the content network to the 'passersby'. Your ads are being shown on a number of websites (possibly a very high number) and a reasonable percentage of clicks are going to come from people who had no intention of visiting your site or buying your product when they visited the sending website.

The search network on the other hand, should - if your campaign is set up properly! - results in clicks with a much higher percentage of visitors who are actively looking for your product or service since your ad is only shown in response to a deliberate search for your keyword(s).

At first glance it may seem obvious that the search network is a better bet and you should turn off the content network immediately but it really depends on what it is you're offering or selling. For example, I have one client for whom I'm managing a wedding venue campaign. In this case there's little point in using the content network because booking a wedding reception is highly unlikely to be a 'spur of the moment' decision. It's something that people will specifically search for so I'm able to tailor a campaign based solely on the search network and get good CTR figures and plenty of good value clicks. On the other hand, if your site sells products that are an impulse or regular purchase, for example, office supplies or household cleaning products, the content network is probably a better bet since you might get a decent response from visitors to other sites who see your ad and think 'Oh yes, I need some of those'. The content network is also very useful for brand awareness or general site exposure (increase in traffic) since it's useful for picking up visitors who've been to related sites.

There are, of course, campaigns where you'll want to use both but I tend to keep them as separate physical campaigns with their own budgets. For example, if you sold spare parts for Mini Coopers, you'd probably want to advertise on the content network, probably placing ads on various fan/discussion sites, to pick up impulse repair/replacement enquiries. However, you'd also want to run a search campaign as there'll be people who are specifically looking for a new wiper motor.

Changing the campaign options for search and content is simply handled in the campaign settings page and happens immediately so have a think about your customers and deciding between search, content or both could be the best - and the simplest - thing you can do to improve your campaign performance.


Monday 11 August 2008

Too Many Cooks...

One of the most common problems I find with client accounts is that they've been too enthusiastic with their keywords. Hours have been spent carefully searching for words and phrases that have the least possible link to the product/service being advertised and by the time the list is finished, it resembles a reasonable extract from the Oxford English Dictionary. Not surprisingly, these clients often find that they're having difficulty managing their keywords.

What tends to drive this desire to have enormous lists of keywords is the belief that unless the list is comprehensive, the campaign will be 'missing' potential impressions and clicks and that this is undesirable. However, for almost all campaigns, this belief doesn't take into account the frequency of searched terms, the click-through-rate (CTR) or the return on investment (ROI). While it is often true that web visitors will use a wide variety of terms when looking for a particular product or service, it is usually also true that relatively few terms will account for a large proportion of searches made; in some cases a very large proportion.

There is little point in having one keyword that takes 95% of the impressions for the whole ad group and 80% of the clicks, and another 250 keywords that account for all the remaining impressions/clicks. You will find far better performance - and lower CPCs - if you concentrate your ad group on the words that work and dismiss those that don't. You're not 'missing' hits because Google has more than enough to go round anyway and you're very unlikely to have a sufficient budget to get even close to capturing all searches made.

It is always worth remembering that Google takes CTR and keyword quality score into account as two of the factors involved in calculating your minimum CPC. If your keyword list is long, it is highly unlikely you'll be able to get a decent CTR on all those words and that ALL of them have a 'Great' quality score. This means your group performance will be poorer than possible. It is quite possible to have an ad group with an average CTR well into double figures with all the keywords scoring 'Great'.

So, how do you choose the keywords to use?

The first thing to do is to go into your campaign, choose the 'Keywords' tab and sort the list by impressions. Make sure you choose a decent time period - at least a month. Look at the distribution of impression frequency - in English, see which words get the most impressions and how far removed they are from the others. You may well find that fewer than 10 account for most of the impressions in the entire group, what I'll call the '90% group'. I'd be inclined to delete any keyword not in this group.

Now look at the words remaining and examine their CTR. CTR is more tricky because it is substantially affected by ad copy - the words you use in your ads. It's often the case that an ad group really needs to be split into two or three additional groups to allow for ad copy that more tightly matches the keywords.

The next thing to do is to use a 'Search Query Report' to analyse the words actually used that generate clicks onto your site. This needs an article of its own, so stay tuned for more details.

Remember, it's quite possible to run a very effective Adwords campaign with just a single keyword. Sometimes it really can be that too many cooks spoil the broth.

Monday 4 August 2008

A Time for Everything

In a previous post I described the importance of analysing your Adwords campaign to take account of time-specific variations in ad performance. However, I rambled on for so long there wasn't space to tell you how to set your campaign up to control the times in which ads are shown. That's what this post is about. Please make sure you've read my previous post and have your analysis of times/performance in front of you, you'll need it to make changes.

Log into your Adwords account and choose 'Campaign Settings'. Down towards the bottom of the page you'll see a heading 'Scheduling and serving' and, if your account is in the default setting, you'll see a note beneath this against 'Ad scheduling' that says 'Off. Ads running at all times'. Beneath this is a link saying 'Turn on ad scheduling', click this. You'll get a warning that other changes on the page will be lost - if you haven't made any you can ignore this and just click 'OK' to continue.

Google now displays to you a screen showing the days of the week and blocks of green to indicate when ads are running. If you've never set up ad scheduling these should all be green across the board. Let's assume you want to change your ad display times to be 08:00 - 17:00 Monday to Friday and 09:00 - 19:00 at the weekend. About mid-way down the page, above the calendar, is a line saying 'Bulk edit:'. Click on 'weekdays'. In the box that appears, select 08:00 in the first time box next to 'run ads' and '17:00' in the second, then click the 'Add' button. This is very important, your time period will not be added to the list unless you click 'Add'. Note the 'Pause on weekdays' option and the fact that you can add more than one time period so, for example, you could run ads from 08:00 to 11:00 and 13:00 to 17:00 rather than in one block. When you click 'Add' you should see the calendar re-display, now showing green blocks only for the hours you've chosen. Now click 'weekends' against 'Bulk edit', and enter the appropriate times, again remembering to click 'Add'. You should see the calendar redisplay again. Click 'Save Changes' and you're done. Just sit back and see the effects on your campaign.

Hang on, what's the 'switch to advanced mode' link all about? Well, why not click it and find out? If you're brave and have clicked this link, you'll now see that a new column has appeared in the calendar - a '% of bid' column. What you've got now is not only the ability to control when your ads are shown but also the relative CPC they have at that time period. Click on the 'weekdays' link again and you should see your time period filled in (08:00 - 17:00 in this example) but you've now also got a box for the '% of bid' (currently showing '100'). By changing this, you can specify the % of your maximum CPC you want to be effective during this time period. So, for example, if your maximum CPC for a particular keyword is $1.00 (let's keep the math simple!) and you set this '% of bid' figure to be 80, during this time period the maximum CPC will effectively be $0.80, or 80 cents. You can also use 'positive' percentage figures so if you chose a '% of bid' of '120', the effective CPC will be $1.20.

This combination of times and CPC costs is very powerful and for some campaigns can produce a very dramatic increase in performance. For example you might find that your very best CTR figures are between 13:00 and 14:00 but to get a decent position here you need to bid a maximum CPC that is unnecessarily high for all other times. Using these tools you can specify that between 13:00 and 14:00 the '% of bid' is 140% (or whatever is appropriate) meaning that you get those important clicks at this time but don't waste money at all other times.

Like many things in Adwords, these tools require time and experimentation to get the best performance but, like many things in Adwords, that time is well spent in the long run.

Thursday 31 July 2008

Hour by Hour

By default, any Adwords campaign is set to run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Great, you might think, that's what I want. But is it?

Unless you have an unlimited budget you'll want to make sure that you're getting the best out of the spend you or your client can afford and having ads running at all times of the day and night is probably not the best way to do this. Most campaigns will have a trend of statistics that vary hour by hour and possibly day by day. For example, a restaurant might well experience an increased level of impressions and/or higher CTR in early evening as people search for somewhere to eat (or deliver!). They might also see changes in their statistics for Thursdays or Fridays either because these days are more popular 'nights out' or because people are looking for a restaurant for the weekend.

If your campaign is running 24 hours a day, then you may be 'wasting' clicks at times of the day that are less likely to result in a conversion than at other times. You can also be dragging your overall CTR figures down by having some hours included that have very poor CTR figures and, as we know, CTR is one of the factors affecting your quality score and ad position.

Another thing to consider is whether you want to run your ads at specified times to exclude a certain type of visitor. For example, a car sales site might be able to identify that clicks at a certain period of the night tend to come from people searching purely for interest, rather than having any real interest in purchases. So while the impressions/CTR rates might well be relatively even over a large part of the day, it could still be beneficial to exclude parts of the day and concentrate the ads when they work the best.

So how do you examine your campaign performance by the hour? The answer, as usual, is in the Reports tab. Click this tab within your account, then click 'Create a Report'. Choose 'Campaign Performance' from the options at the top then, under 'Settings', choose one of the 'Hourly' options. Hourly (by date) will be a complex report over a decent time period so I tend to use Hourly (regardless of date). Choose a reasonably large date range - at least a month - as you're trying to find broad trends and too small a range might show unrepresentative data. Now choose your campaign(s) and fill in the other settings as required. Note that for simplicity you'll probably want to choose just one campaign at a time.

Now generate the report and take a look. What you'll see is a list of hours on the left and the stats for each hour in a table. You should be able to see quite quickly which hours get good results and which don't do as well. If it's a level playing field, you can stop reading now, but I bet most of you won't.

So, you've got your report and you've worked out which times are the best. Now what? Now you need to modify your campaign to run at certain times and that needs another post, so watch this space...

Friday 25 July 2008

The two faces of Adwords

There's one thing I find time and time again when discussing Adwords campaigns with clients, potential clients and people I meet in the street. Almost everyone seems to think that Adwords can operate independently of their site and that it'll all work just wonderfully from the word go, without any need to think about where the visitors are being sent.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

I'd estimate that about 50% of the success of any Adwords campaign is based in the website you're sending the visitors to and there are lots of aspects to that claim.

Firstly, there's the simple issue that your site may not actually be very good. It's tough to say that to a client but my word, I've seen some rubbish out there. The best Adwords campaign in the world won't help you sell beans if the site the visitors land on looks like it's been designed by a five-year old. A five-year old with limited knowledge of web design, that is. There's no simple way to solve this but it's always worth having a good hard look at your site from an objective point of view.

Then there's the products/services you're selling. Is it easy to find them, to buy them, to get more details. I've seen Ads that sent the visitor to the home page and forced them to navigate an impenetrable menu system to try and find the product they wanted to buy - that was advertised on the ad copy. In most cases, you'll want to send the visitor to the page specifically for that product/service. If you're advertising lawnmowers for sale on a household goods website, don't expect the visitor to find his way to the lawnmowers section, send him straight there, maybe even straight to the model advertised, if you're being that specific.

Then there's the technical side. We've all heard about the infamous 'quality score' and it's gruesome effects on CPC prices (and if you haven't you will soon on this blog). Part of the calculation of the quality score is an assessment of the site/landing page and you'll never reach that 'Great' rating without the site fulfilling all of Google's dreams. Make sure you refer to the Webmaster Guidelines when building the site or modifying it.

Most of all, do all this [i]before[/i] you start spending money on Adwords - or at least before you start spending a lot. Think of it like this. If you're selling your house, at what point do you do all the cleaning, decorating and gardening to make it look it's best? After you put it on the market, or before?