Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Make Time for Time Lag

If you're an AdWords agency you'll be giving your customers regular reports on performance, and if you're tracking conversions, those reports will include conversion numbers and probably total conversion value.  So, if you produce your reports monthly, do you run around frantically on the 1st of each month preparing a stack of reports then breath a sigh of relief when they're all emailed out?

If so, you may want to rethink your reporting process and perhaps make your 1st of the month a little less stressful from now on.

Sometimes a person will click an Ad, visit the website then buy the product advertised almost instantly but a lot of the time - and varying from business to business - this doesn't happen in such a rapid "one click -> visit -> buy" process.  Certainly as product values increase the path to a decision to buy usually becomes longer; most of us are going to think a lot longer about buying something for $600 than we are something that's only $6.  For these higher value - or simply more "thoughtful" purchases - the path to final conversion will most likely include multiple clicks and multiple visits over many days.  Fortunately, AdWords has a handy report that'll show you exactly how long this path is for your Account; the Time Lag report, found under the Search Funnels section of the Conversions page.

Here's a shot taken from one of my Accounts, covering a period of the past three months:

The figures here are pretty hard to read so I'll pick out just the relevant bits.  The report shows that 65% of conversions and almost 42% of the value of conversions happens within one day of first click, but of course that also means that 35% of conversions and 58% of the value happens more than one day after the first click.  What's really scary here is that 23% of all conversion value occurs more than 8 days after first click and it's still 13% after 12 days.  It's also interesting to note that the graph largely supports the concept that lower value items are purchased more quickly - the first 24 hours has 65% of conversions but only 42% of the value, suggesting these items tend towards the lower price range for this client with higher value items taking more than a day to convert.

So, if I'd prepared my report for this company on the 1st of the month, I am very likely to be missing conversions and value.  In this particular case (a low volume/high value product) those few "missed" conversions could have a substantial impact on ROAS (Return on Advertising Spend) for the reported month.  In preparing this post I checked the above Account on the 1st November, then daily (or so) up to today.  On the 1st, the Account reported 40 conversions for October.  By the 7th November it was reporting 42 conversions, by the 15th, 43.  OK, not a massive change, but one of those 3 "late" conversions was a sale that represented almost 15% of the conversion value for that month.

Don't forget these "missed" conversions will not appear in the report for the following month.  AdWords attributes conversions to the date of first click so if the click happened in October but the actual final conversion occurred in November, a report for November will not show that conversion.

How important the Time Lag factor is to your own Accounts will depend upon their nature.  I've seen Accounts where over 90% of conversions (number and value) occurred within 1 day of first click and 98% within 2 days; for Accounts like this preparing reports on the 7th or so of the month will probably be fine, but for Accounts with data similar to what I've shown above, I usually don't prepare reports until at least the 20th of the month.  It's also a good idea to issue "quarterly" reports that allow for a much longer period.  For example, I might prepare a Q3 report around now.

If you're using Analytics as your conversion tracking, then this issue is less troublesome since Analytics, by default, uses a last click Attribution Model.  However, if you're looking at the data imported into AdWords you need to bear in mind data can be 48 hours or so delayed in transferring across so you're still not really safe reporting on the 1st.

So, if you're in the habit of producing monthly reports on the 1st, it might be an idea to re-examine some of the figures...

More Information on Conversion Tracking Reports

Friday, 25 October 2013

Video Doesn't Have To Be Epic

AdWords Video Ads don't have to be a Hollywood production

I'm a big fan of video advertising - not so long ago I was making short films and music videos so that's perhaps not surprising - but I do truly believe that if a picture is worth a thousand words then video takes that principle and expands it immensely.

Whenever I suggest video as an advertising medium normally the first response I get is that it's far too expensive, time consuming and difficult to produce.  (In fact, this is normally the second response - the first is usually laughter).  However, the world of video has changed hugely in the last few years; even budget priced digital cameras can now shoot HD video in various formats and memory cards continue to drop in price making storage less of an issue.  YouTube continues to become more mainstream - it's now the second largest search engine on the Internet - and consumers are becoming more familiar with using YouTube as a resource, more than just somewhere to look for music videos.  So, it's certainly doesn't have to be expensive, but isn't it still time consuming and complex?  No, not if you don't want it to be.

Here's a handful of video spots I've pulled from random searching.  I don't know if any of these are actually being used as AdWords Ads (I suspect not) but they're all promotions and they're great examples of what's possible.

This first, from Criswell Chevrolet is a classic example of a simple, one-shot, straight to camera setup.

OK, so he stumbles on his lines a couple of times but for me that adds to the honesty and simplicity of the video.  Anyone could produce something like this with any camera able to shoot video.  I really like this.

This second is from the UK and is a little more ambitious but still a simple setup using (I think) just one camera and a handful of extras.  (Warning - you may want to keep your hand near your volume control, this, and the next video can be quite loud...)

Even though there's a lot more going on here than in the first it's nothing that couldn't be done with a simple idea, some makeup and a few friends.  This video would need editing to put together the various shots but most modern cameras include a suite of editing tools along with the product and some of them are really easy to use.  Mind you, I'm not entirely sure I'd want to visit a pie shop like that...

This final video, also from the UK, is another step up.  It may not look much more complex than the last, but there are some trickier video effects employed here and some thought to artistry.  It's still probably only a single camera though and probably shot in a single afternoon (though editing would have taken longer).  This does have a thumping sound track so watch those speakers again...

So, what's stopping you?  Brainstorm an idea, grab a camera and go.  You could be done by this time tomorrow!


Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Using Every Penny with Scripts

Recently I was asked to oversee an Account with a small fixed budget and, as sometimes happens, I found that although the budget was small it wasn't always being fully spent each day.  Juggling with the daily budgets of each Campaign (as described in my previous post) wasn't an option because there really wasn't enough budget to go around but I didn't want to "lose" all the unspent budget.  While browsing through the Scripts documentation I came across the provided solution for Flexible Budgets.  This solution is designed to manage a fixed spend for a single Campaign running in a single period, but it looked ripe for adaptation to solve the problem of this small budget Account.

I've adapted the Script so that it attempts to spend an entire monthly budget across specified Campaigns, recalculating their daily budgets each time the script runs (ideally very early in the morning, e.g. 1am) to take into account the spend so far, the number of days remaining in the month and the percentage share each Campaign should receive of that remaining budget.  The script makes use of Labels to a) identify which Campaigns should be affected by the script and b) to define a percentage share.

For example, lets say you have three Campaigns A, B and C and a daily budget of $20 for September, a total monthly spend of $600.  At 1am on the 21st September these Campaigns should have spent $400 (20 days * $20) but they've actually only spent $280 so there is $320 remaining to spend in 10 days - a total budget of $32 per day.  To use the script below, you'd label each of these Campaigns with one label named "FlexBudget" and another defining a percentage for each Campaign, let's say we give A 50%, B 30% and C 20% (you should apply Labels without % signs - just the number).  When the script runs in this situation at 1am on the 21st September it would set the following budgets:

Campaign A - $16
Campaign B - $9.60
Campaign C - $6.40

which, if all is well, should equal $32!

This script will only be useful if you're working with a fixed budget per month and only when there's usually "unspent" monies and only when you can't clearly predict spend patterns for each Campaign but if it's not directly useful, it may give you ideas for modifications.

Note that you must label each Campaign you wish to be affected with "FlexBudget" and a "percentage" Label, e.g. 35.  If your percentages don't add up to 100 (either more or less) the script will still run but your spend won't be accurate so take care adding up the numbers.  The Script does include the option to "ignore" other labels (line 40) so take care here as well.

As always, you should check the operation of the script with a preview before running or scheduling and should check the results after running.  You'll probably want to adjust the percentage figures over time and to do this you'll need to create new Labels - a small pain but Labels are easy to create and delete.

Complete Script as follows:

/* Modified Flexible Budget Script 
** @param (number) TOTAL_BUDGET - the total sum to be spent in a single month
** Schedule to run around 1am (before "day" starts)

var TOTAL_BUDGET = 600;

var d = new Date();
var thisMonth=d.getMonth();
var thisYear=d.getFullYear();
// DAYS_SO_FAR is -1 because "today" hasn't happened yet
var DAYS_SO_FAR = d.getDate() - 1;
var TOTAL_DAYS = daysInMonth(thisMonth + 1, thisYear);

var START_DATE = new Date(thisYear, thisMonth, 1);
var END_DATE = new Date(thisYear, thisMonth, TOTAL_DAYS);

function main() {
  setNewBudget(calculateBudgetEvenly, TOTAL_BUDGET, START_DATE, END_DATE);

function setNewBudget(budgetFunction, totalBudget, start, end) {
  var costSoFar = 0;
  var campaignsToSet = [];
  var campaigns = AdWordsApp.campaigns()
    //operate only on Campaigns labelled with "FlexBudget"
    .withCondition('LabelNames CONTAINS_ANY ["FlexBudget"]')
  while(campaigns.hasNext()) {
    var thisCost = campaign.getStatsFor(dateToString(start), dateToString(end)).getCost();
    costSoFar += thisCost;
  for(var i=0;i
    var thisCampaign=campaignsToSet[i];
      // Ensure only the "percentage" Label is selected - you may need to add others if you use them
      .withCondition('Name NOT_IN ["FlexBudget"]')
    var percentage =;
    var newBudget = budgetFunction(costSoFar, totalBudget, percentage);

function calculateBudgetEvenly(costSoFar, totalBudget, percentage) {
  var daysRemaining = (TOTAL_DAYS - DAYS_SO_FAR);
  //set budget based upon percentage Label
  var budgetRemaining = (totalBudget - costSoFar)*(percentage / 100);
  if (daysRemaining <= 0) {
    return budgetRemaining;
  } else {
    return budgetRemaining / daysRemaining;

function daysInMonth(month, year) {
  //returns number of days in a given month of a given year
  return new Date(year, month, 0).getDate();

function dateToString(date) {
  return date.getFullYear() + zeroPad(date.getMonth() + 1) + zeroPad(date.getDate());

function zeroPad(n) {
  if (n < 10) {
    return '0' + n;
  } else {
    return '' + n;

Happy Scripting!

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Balancing Budgets with Scripts

We all know that AdWords budgets should be led by your Return on Investment.  If your AdWords Campaigns are returning a net profit you should be spending as much as is possible so that all your Campaigns hit a 100% Impression Share to maximise the chance of conversions.  However in some cases, for one reason or another, a client may request that you adhere to a fixed budget per month so it's possible you could be faced with multiple Campaigns, all of which are "Limited by Budget".  So, if you can't give the Campaigns the budget they deserve and you can't persuade the client to increase the budget, what can you do?

I was faced with this situation recently when building a new Account structure for a client.  They have a wide range of products and even just selecting the top five best sellers left me with all of the Campaigns limited by budget.  No matter how I juggled their allocated portions of the budget, no matter how I reduced CPC or paused Keywords I couldn't give any of the Campaigns a decent share without reducing the others to a budget too small to be worth running.  Since this was a new structure, all I really needed to do was give each Campaign a fair chance to perform over a period.  I considered using Automated Rules to change budgets on a daily basis but you can only do this on specific days:  I could give CampaignA a high budget on a Monday, CampaignB a high budget on a Tuesday and so on, but this wouldn't test CampaignA's potential performance on the other days of the week.  What I wanted was an automatic way to rotate the "high budget allocation" evenly through all the Campaigns over the course of a month.  By the end of that period, I should have enough data to know which Campaigns were performing and be able to apply budgets more sensibly.

Scripts and Google Docs to the rescue!

One of the most powerful features of AdWords Scripts is that they can access a Docs Spreadsheet and read data from the cells therein.  So I prepared a spreadsheet with my Campaigns in the first column and the days of the month (1-31) to the right.  In each cell I allocated a budget for the day for each Campaign.  Using this system I was able to say that CampaignA has a high budget on certain dates rather than specific days of the week.  As the month progresses (so long as your changes aren't on a 7-day cycle!) the Campaigns should receive their "high budget allocation" on different days of the week.

The full code for this script is at the bottom of this post, along with a link to a spreadsheet template you can use.

Once you've grasped the idea of using external spreadsheets, other opportunities come to mind.  You could replicate the idea of varying budgets by day of the week.  This is possible in Automated Rules but it's a lot easier to edit and set up the budgets when you can see them all laid out in a spreadsheet.  You could pause or enable Campaigns, Groups or Keywords depending on any schedule you fancy, again, much more easily read through a spreadsheet than by rules and you can run Scripts as many times a day as you like.

There are some great ideas on the Scripting Documentation pages and the Preview Option makes it easy (and safe) to test your ideas before you apply them to your Account.

So, here's the full script for my "High Budget Allocation".  You are welcome to copy this script and use it or modify it as you see fit but please bear in mind I hold no responsibility for any actions you take and you must always test the results before applying them to your Account.  Scripts are very powerful and issue no warnings so it's vital you test thoroughly before running live and check your Account immediately after a few test runs to make sure the results are what you expect.

function main() {
  var NUMCAMPAIGNS=7;  //this number needs to be +1 on your actual # of Campaigns
  var spreadsheetUrl = "SPREADSHEETURL";  //enter your spreadsheet URL here.
  var budgetSheet = SpreadsheetApp.openByUrl(spreadsheetUrl).getActiveSheet();
  var range =   budgetSheet.getRange(1, 1, NUMCAMPAIGNS, 35);
  var values = range.getValues();   // this is now a 2d array with the data in it.
  //get the day of the month as an integer and add 1 for first two columns offset
  var d = new Date();
  var dayMonth = d.getDate();
  var chooseDay=Number(dayMonth)+1;

function setBudgets(values,chooseDay,NUMCAMPAIGNS) {
  //loops througn values (spreadsheet rows) setting Campaign Budgets
  //NOTE: only lists *changes* - if the budget is already at the specified value it isn't set.
  var i=1;
  while(i<(NUMCAMPAIGNS)) {
    var campaignName=values[i][0];
    var budget=values[i][chooseDay];
    var campaign = AdWordsApp.campaigns().
      withCondition('CampaignName = "' + campaignName + '"').

A template spreadsheet you can use is here.  Please make a copy of this spreadsheet within your own Drive and then make sure you share it with the Account running AdWords.  You'll need to replace the Campaign names with your own and set your own budgets before testing.

It's too early to tell if my experiment will work, but at least I had fun making this script.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

AdWords Made for Sharing

Tucked away in the left-hand column of your AdWords interface is a link to the Shared Library.  You may know it's there, you may have visited it, but have you done so recently?  There's all sorts of toys in there that can make managing a multi-Campaign Account much easier.

Shared Ads
The Shared Ads section allows you to create text Ads that you can assign to multiple Ad Groups.  You create a "list", give it a sensible name, and then create Ads just as you would within an Ad Group.  Once you've created your Ads you then pick which Ad Groups you'd like to use these Ads and you're done!

Who would use it?  Shared Ads are great when you've got multiple Campaigns sharing the same Keywords and Ads, for example when you've split Campaigns up for Location purposes but they're still effectively the same.  Using Shared Ads in these Campaigns allows you to make changes only in one place and know for sure that they've been copied to all the various Campaigns.

Campaign Negative Keywords
Almost any Account is likely to have some Keywords that could be used as negatives in every single Campaign and probably a lot more negative Keywords that should be used in more than one Campaign and that's where Campaign Negative Keywords come in handy.  Just like Shared Ads above, you create a list, give it a sensible name, fill it with negative Keywords and then you choose which Campaigns you want this list to apply to.  Just like Shared Ads, this gives you one central place to maintain your negative Keywords and the reassurance they're being applied to all the right Campaigns.

Who would use it?  Everyone, anyone!

Campaign Placement Exclusions
Campaign Placement Exclusions work in almost exactly the same way as Campaign Negative Keywords so I'm going to be real lazy and just say that all the text above applies in the same way, just pretend it says "Placement Exclusions" instead of "Negative Keywords".

Who would use it?  Anyone with Placements they want to exclude from multiple Campaigns.

Bid Strategies
Bid Strategies allows you to define bidding strategies such as Enhanced CPC, CPA, Ad Position and Maximising for Clicks and then apply them to the Keyword or Group level.  They're a great idea, although it's a real shame the ECPC and CPA strategies can only be applied at the Ad Group or Campaign level - I would have thought these would be ideal for applying to individual, high performance Keywords within Groups, but you'll just have to split them out on their own.

Who would use them?  Probably for "mature" Accounts only where you're really getting into the tight detail of performance, but they're a useful tool to understand for anyone.

Shared Budgets allows you to specify a budget and then share it between two or more Campaigns.  It's that simple.  The Campaigns run and take their money from the shared pot.

Who'd use it?  Shared Budgets are probably only useful in the short term since any established Campaign should really have a well-defined spending pattern you'll want to control individually but they are great for when you're splitting one Campaign into multiple copies - again, for example when you split by location or time or to separate Campaigns for any other reason.  When you split a Campaign like this it can be difficult to estimate how the original budget needs to be split to fuel the new versions.  With Shared Budgets you can just create a new Shared Budget that has the same value as the old single budget (or probably a little higher is a good idea) and then apply it to the new Campaigns.  After a period you'll be able to see the trend for spending and revert the Campaigns to single budgets.

The Audiences section is where you define and manage your Remarketing lists and audiences.  If you're not already using Remarketing and haven't applied your tag yet, do it now because you will want to use Remarketing in the future and the sooner you apply your tag, the bigger and more useful your list will be when you come to use it.  Remarketing is a big topic in itself so you'll probably want to read through this next:

Remarketing Overview (AdWords Help Content)

Who'd use it?  You may already be using Audiences in your Display or Search Ads but everyone should be at least trying Remarketing so look at this today!

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Analytics and the Ready-Made AdWords Audience

OK, it sounds a little like a Roald Dahl book but it's actually a great way for new advertisers to hit the ground running.

One of the toughest parts of a new AdWords Account is in building the structure and testing the performance.  It can be a costly period as to test effectively you really need to accept that many of the tests are going to be less than ideal.  When you have a big pot of cash you can dive into this isn't such a problem but when the margins are very tight it can make starting up a new AdWords Account very difficult as the advertiser is caught in a classic chicken and egg situation:  They need AdWords to generate cash from their business but they don't have the cash to get AdWords up and running properly (or to even know if it will be cost-effective).  My friend at IShopCandy is in this terrible position, so what can she do?

Enter Analytics to the rescue.  Assuming your website has been running Analytics for a decent period, and that you've enabled support for Display advertising (it's a setting in your profile - check here) you can build yourself a list of likely AdWords targets for free!

The problem with a new AdWords Account, as I've said above, is that a lot of the testing is about finding the right audience, the people that actually want to buy from your business.  The long slow way is to pick and choose Keywords, Placements, Topics and so on and then evaluate performance over time.  With Analytics though you can already see all the people who have expressed a strong interest in your site, who perhaps have already bought from you before (if repeated sales are likely with your product).

All you need do is set up a handful of simple Goals in Analytics and ensure your Account is linked to AdWords and a set of remarketing lists will magically appear in your AdWords Shared Library under "Audiences".  You can then use these lists as the target for a Remarketing Campaign in AdWords, safe in the knowledge that the people seeing your Ads have a definite interest in your site.

OK, it's not guaranteed wealth, but it's a better start than nothing.

What Goals could you use?  I tend to use three basic Goals - a certain number of pages visited, a certain time on site (measures of visitor engagement) and another simply based upon actual transactions (previous buyers).  You will also have access to the "Main List" - everyone who's visited your site but I wouldn't use this unless you have a very good conversion rate from organic & direct visits.  I'd use the engagement lists for one Campaign (trying to tempt a sale) and the previous buyers list for another Campaign tempting them back for more.

Of course, you still need some cash to put into AdWords and you need to create attractive and compelling Ads, and your site needs to be effective and user-friendly; Analytics can't do it all for you.  But it can perhaps give you a bit of a shove...

Read more about creating Goals

Monday, 10 June 2013

Balancing Keywords & Budget

We're so used to thinking about Keywords in terms of their CPC, CPM, CPA or whatever that it's very easy to forget their impact on overall Account budget.  Keywords and budget are intimately and, so long as your Keywords are effective, you can't change one without impacting the other.  It's easiest to understand this with a very simple situation.

Imagine you have an Account with one Campaign, one Ad Group and one Keyword.  In our mythical world, there are always exactly 1000 searches that could match against this Keyword, and your Ad always produces a CTR of 10%.  Each click always costs $1 so your daily budget of $100 always gives you 100 clicks.  Now imagine if you introduce another Keyword with the same performance figures, but the daily budget remains the same.  You now have two Keywords which, between them, could potentially match against 2000 searches and accrue 200 clicks at a cost of $200, but your daily budget is only $100 so Google has to compromise and show an Ad for each Keyword match only about 50% of the time when it could.

This probably sounds very obvious, doesn't it?  But why then do we so often see the following situations being presented to us?
  1. An AdWords user has added a number of new Keywords - sometimes an entirely new Ad Group - to a Campaign without changing the budget, and is asking why they're now getting fewer clicks and/ or sales from their existing Groups that are "unchanged".
  2. An AdWords user has over 10,000 Keywords in their Account and runs a test of AdWords performance with a budget of just $10 a day.
The real world isn't, of course, anywhere near as simplistic as the model I used in the example above, but if anything the added complexity of varying CPCs, automated optimisations, multiple Ad Variations, etc. only make it more likely that adding Keywords without changing budget will affect overall performance.

#1 above is a particularly interesting example as it could well be the cause of what might otherwise seem to be an inexplicable loss of performance.  Let's say you were running an Account with 5 Ad Groups and 100 Keywords in total.  The Account makes a reasonable Net profit from AdWords so you decide to add another 3 Ad Groups and 60 Keywords or so, and increase the budget a little.  This sounds very reasonable, but if you've not increased the budget enough you could well be taking clicks away from the other established Groups and limiting their effectiveness.  We've seen more than one post in the AdWords Community where users have seen a drop in performance with "no apparent reason".  The danger here is of course particularly high where newly introduced Keywords have a high search volume compared to existing ones, but don't convert particularly (or at least as) well.

#2 is quite fun when you see someone proposing a new Account structure that uses millions of Keywords and you kindly and carefully point out that a valid test of such an Account would probably require a minimum of a six-figure daily budget.  Maybe even $1 for every Keyword, perhaps much much more.   Per day.

#2 is less fun when you try to explain that having a lot of Keywords and a low budget is actually harmful to the Keywords that could work at that budget.  Ask yourself right now how many Keywords you have in your Account that are just "using up" valuable daily budget when you have others that could use it to convert into sales.

So what should you do to add new Keywords?

There's no magic solution, unfortunately:  Being aware that you'll probably need to adjust your budget is half the battle won, the other half is mostly a matter of sensible judgement, use of the Traffic Estimator and Keyword Tool (soon to be married as the "Keyword Planner") and, as always, making sure you monitor performance closely after any changes.

So, if you've added a bunch of Keywords recently and have been scratching your head trying to work out why that meant your sales went down, take a look at your budget...

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Budget Decisions

I see a lot of questions that include such phrases as "... how much does it cost... " and "... I can't afford... " and "... how much should I spend... " and so on.  Budgeting for AdWords is a pretty common topic but most questions hover around the idea that advertising is a cost, a capital outlay that is a drain on income or cashflow.  Although it will probably be necessary to have an initial budget that can be used as a loss-leader, ongoing advertising costs should be examined simply in terms of their return to the business.

I've tried to summarise this in the following diagram.

Simply put, if you understand the value of your advertising, your budget should be controlled primarily by that value.  If you don't and cannot, your budget should only be what you can afford but you should always aim to measure your return on investment as this is the only true way to gauge advertising success.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Fewer Marks Still for Marks & Spencer

Back in 2009 Interflora Inc and Interflora British Unit began legal action against the use of their trademarked term "Interflora" as a Keyword for AdWords Ad Campaigns used by Marks & Spencer.  The use of this term meant that if someone searched on Google for "Interflora", an Ad by Marks & Spencer for their own flower delivery services could appear right next to an Ad from Interflora themselves.

Oh, the irony!  A search for "high court rulings interflora" brings up a fine example of the very problem being debated (left).

Note: this image was taken today and may not be representative of any Ads examined in the case itself. If this image is representative, it seems pretty clear to me that the second Ad is for M&S; their website appears twice and M&S also three times...

This use of competitor trademark terms is not prohibited by AdWords Policies and the practice is quite common among advertisers.  It is therefore something of a shock to here today (21st May 2013) that the UK High Court has ruled in favour of Interflora and has ordered Marks & Spencer to pay damages.

This ruling, should it stand, is likely to have an enormous impact on the worldwide advertising community given that the practice is so common.  Perhaps more worryingly, parts of the judges ruling appears equally applicable to virtually any selection of Ads on a common theme:

“The average reasonably well-informed and reasonably observant internet user is not particularly technically literate, does not know precisely how AdWords operates and is not aware of the issues.”
He concluded that the “M&S advertisements which are the subject of Interflora’s claim did not enable reasonably well-informed and reasonably attentive internet users to ascertain whether the service referred to in the advertisements originated from [M&S or Interflora].
“On the contrary, as at 6 May 2008, a significant proportion of the consumers who searched for ‘interflora’ and the other signs, and then clicked on M&S’s advertisements displayed in response to those searches, were led to believe, incorrectly, that M&S’s flower delivery service was part of the Interflora network”.
It will be interesting to see if this ruling "sticks" and how it affects both Google's own Policies and the future of AdWords in general.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Tackling Tablet Traffic

Enhanced Campaigns have brought a number of great new features like location based bid adjustments, Group-level sitelinks and mobile specific Ads but it's what's been taken away that has many advertisers up in arms.  At the time of writing it is not possible to run a Search Campaign that doesn't have at least the potential to show on Desktops and Tablets.  This restriction obviously affects advertisers who were previously targeting only mobile devices but it also affects those who were targeting Computers (Desktops) and not tablets and it's these Accounts in which I'm most interested.

Let's look at a fictional Campaign where some lengthy historical data shows that while the Campaign has a healthy conversion rate and a positive ROI (Return on Investment) the vast majority - perhaps all - of those conversions and that return come from Computers.  You look at a segmented view showing devices and can see that 30% of your monthly budget is being spent on tablet clicks but you have no recorded conversions for tablets.  What do you do?

You really have two choices.  You can rant and rave at people you meet in the street, your pets, your partner and anyone else that appears to be listening, that not being able to remove tablets from your Campaigns is killing your business.  Or you can ask why your tablet traffic does not appear to convert.

There are some specific circumstances where a tablet would not be a suitable conversion platform but in many cases a tablet user can be considered to be very similar to a desktop user.  There's plenty of evidence to show that tablet use is increasing at a prodigious rate - I have more than one friend who no longer use their desktop machines but spend all their surfing time on tablets.  I myself now spend most of my leisure browsing (what little there is of it!) on my Nexus 7.  So let's consider some reasons why tablets don't convert.

#1  Are you sure they're not converting?  It's an easy mistake to make to look simply at the "Conversions" column in AdWords and see a big fat 0.  But is this accurate?  Many advertisers overlook the importance of Search Funnels.  Not all conversions happen from a single click.  Some convert from an AdWords click followed by an organic search, others from multiple AdWords clicks or a combination of these options.  It's entirely possible that while your visitors are not converting on their tablet devices, these Ad impressions and clicks may be "assists" for a later conversion on another device.  It's not hard to imagine someone searching for a product while away from home, finding your site and the product they want, but not completing the sale then for any number of reasons.  They may well come home and complete the sale on their Computer so it looks like another sale for the desktop but in fact it started with the tablet.

#2  Is your site tablet friendly?  At the very basic level this means can your site be viewed reasonably on a tablet device, does it resize properly, and is the navigation finger/touch friendly?  There's one site I use regularly that on a tablet has an important drop-down menu displayed as a millimetre wide down-arrow right at the far right edge of a tablet screen - you need a cocktail stick to click it - so it's worth checking that it doesn't just look alright but is actually usable.  Make sure your dialogue boxes position correctly and can be moved to accommodate screen keyboards (has anyone tried to change the date range on Analytics via a tablet?  You end up chasing the calendar picker across the screen).

Think about things like checkboxes or "fly-out" menus that may not work properly (or easily) on a tablet.

More importantly, does your site offer useful features on a tablet view?  Along with many other commentators I'd thoroughly recommend creating a website specifically tailored to mobile/tablet devices so the visitor is not just looking at a smaller version of the desktop site.  However, if you do this, make sure you  don't take things away from your customers.

I use a well-known, very rapid, accounting package online for my accounts and I'm generally very happy with it.  Better yet, apparently, if you access your books via a tablet, you see a mobile specific site with big bright buttons to click.  Great!  The problem is that this mobile version lacks many of the most useful features of the full site and to rub salt into the wounds, there's no way you can view the full site!  There's no link to the full site and it appears to ignore requests via Chrome to display as a desktop.  It's a classic example of good intentions leading to a poor experience so don't make the same mistake.

#3  Is your site just too slow?  Although a lot of tablet users may be on reasonably fast connections, many may not, especially in public areas where a single connection may be shared by many people.  Make sure your key pages are as fast to load as they can possibly be, don't weight them down with images or videos.

#4  Are you making checkout too hard?  Filling in forms with a screen keyboard can be tiresome so make sure you don't make it harder than it needs to be.  If your customer details are recorded following a sale, offer the ability to pre-load addresses and other details via a simple login.  If you must use a new form each time, make sure completed information is retained if there's an error or the customer moves away from that page.

So don't just throw your (or your clients') toys out of the pram because you can no longer exclude tablets from your Campaigns.  Consider what you could be doing with that traffic instead, it may be more worthwhile.

Monday, 1 April 2013

Location, Location, Location Bid Adjustments

With all the furore over the changes to device targeting in Enhanced Campaigns, it's easy to overlook the improvements in targeting that have happened elsewhere within your AdWords Account.  One of the most fun to explore is the ability to alter bids by specific location targets and it's something that's particularly useful when you target the US.

Let's say you sell those good old Widgets and you only ship to the US.  Naturally your AdWords Campaigns are targeting the US but because you're a good manager you understand that performance varies from state to state so you want to control what you spend by state.  Before Enhanced Campaigns were introduced you would have had to have had a Campaign for every state - or at least for every set of states that were different - and one for the US in total, excluding all the states to which you've applied specific budgets.  It could be quite messy.  Enhanced Campaigns make it a lot easier to control spending on CPC from state to state, all within one Campaign.

If you've got enough conversion data in your AdWords Account you might like to use that alone for deciding how to split your spend but I prefer to use Analytics bringing in all traffic sources, not just AdWords, partly because you're dealing with a larger data set so theoretically more accurate modelling, but also because the pretty map is much easier to work out.  Here's a location map from an Account showing Transactions.

The palest green here is 0 Transactions so that's the colour of New Mexico bottom middle, to the left of the big dark green Texas.  There are some pretty obvious trends here.  California, Texas and New York State are running away with the business while Florida and Pennsylvania are not far behind.  But there's a lot of states here with no transactions at all (New Mexico, Idaho, North Dakota, etc.).

Let's say I'm only really bothered about the biggest sellers and the worst and I'll leave all those in the middle to fight it out amongst themselves.  So I make a list, I'm going to make CA, TX & NY + 10%, FL & PA + 5%, NM, ID & ND - 10%.  Now I log into my AdWords Account, select my Campaign and choose "Settings", then Locations from the button above the graph (at the moment all I can see is "United States"), then "Edit Locations", beneath the graph.  In the page that appears I add all 8 States (making sure I choose the State entries) - nothing more to do in this page, then Save these new locations.  My list will now show "United States" and the new 8 specific states I've chosen.

Alongside each entry is a column for "Bid adj." and I'll click into each position (at the moment just showing a hyphen) for each of the new states.  When you click in the column a dialogue box will appear and you'll be able to choose whether to "Increase by" or "Decrease by" a percentage, the Max. CPC for that particular state.  I go through my list increasing California and Texas by 10%, decreasing New Mexico by 10% and so on until they're all done.

That's it!  From this point on, bid values from these specific states will be adjusted according to the percentages entered so I can pay less for my clicks from poorly converting states (while still showing Ads, just in case) and make sure my Ads are #1 for states that convert well.

You can analyse this stuff until the cows come home but here's a few things to remember:

1)  Make sure you use a decent time period and number of data points to make these important decisions.  Don't change your entire account spending pattern on the basis of 3 sales in a 24 hour period.  I'd suggest you use data from at least a month, better yet a quarter, better still a whole year to allow for seasonal variations.

2)  Get down in the detail.  While in my example above I've boosted all of New York state, a closer look at the data might show that almost all of the transactions were actually from the City.  It might make more sense to + 5% the state and another + 5% the City itself.

3)  Watch those numbers.  You can make bid adjustments all over the place in Enhanced Campaigns and they're all cumulative.  If you boost for time, location and device you could end up with some quite high CPC figures from very modest beginnings - just be aware.

Of course, you may still want to split your Campaigns up to split the actual budget, but this new Location bid adjustment gives you another level of granularity to control exactly where your money is spent, and that has to be a good thing.

Friday, 15 March 2013

You Must Choose Wisely...

I'm never sure whether to be amazed or saddened, or a little of both, when I come across a case like this.  Just now on the AdWords Community there's a poster who's asking for help because their "agency" have denied them access to their AdWords Account.  The poster spends a very large sum of money with this agency every year yet they can't even see their own advertising account or have any evidence of what work is being done.

I'm amazed because to me this sounds insane, I mean, who would make a decision like this in the first place and who would allow it to continue?  If I said to you, dear reader, "Pay me £5,000 every month to manage your AdWords Account, on the understanding that I'll never let you see what I've done, and you'll never have access to the actual AdWords Account running your Ads." you'd laugh, wouldn't you?

I'm saddened because the tale is not an uncommon one.  This poster is not unusual and in fairness they've not been na├»ve, they've just fallen foul of the same issue we all face when we need an "expert" to do work for us; we're at the mercy of their goodwill and honesty.  It's very easy for me to say the way this agency works is unjust and they should be ashamed of themselves and that the hiring company have made a bad mistake, but it's easy because in this case I'm the expert.  If I take my car in for a service and Ray says it needs a new clutch and it's going to cost £X, I have no idea whether what he's saying is true.  I have to trust him.  If, sometime down the line I have some way of proving that it didn't need a new clutch I'll realise I was fooled but I shouldn't feel bad because I had no way of knowing at the time.

(Luckily Ray is a very nice man who I trust totally.  My car does need a service soon so I'd better be nice.).

There is something you can do in the case of AdWords though, something very easy.  Ask.  I'd rather answer 10,000 questions in a day from people who hadn't yet taken on an agency like this than answer just one from someone who I suspect may have been paying a lot of money without much reward.

You don't have to trust me either.  Any decent AdWords consultant will tell you that in almost all cases the client should own the Account and the agency should be provided with access to it, not the other way around.  In this way the client always retains complete control and always has full and total visibility of what it being done.

There are some very rare cases where I'd consider running Ads on behalf of a client but they'd all be very very small budgeted, short-term tests, not an ongoing promotion with any real budget.

So, if you're thinking of hiring an agency and you're not sure what to ask or what they should be offering, ask for help in the Community, we'll give it gladly.

Friday, 22 February 2013

Flogging A Dead...

If you're in business, it's always a good idea to keep your ear to the ground for new developments or stories that will have an influence on your trade.  Here in the UK we currently have a news story that should be making our stressed independent butchers jump for joy: The Horsemeat Scandal.

For those that don't know (or care, or both), horsemeat has been found in a large number and variety of pre-prepared meals here in the UK; typically those sold in supermarkets.  Whilst a source of great discussion and contention, for our independent butchers this news is joyous.  I've spoken to both our local butchers here where I live and they've both said they've seen a very welcome increase in trade.  They can proudly say - and prove - that when you buy beef mince from them it will be "beef" mince not something that might conceivably once worn a saddle.

So, butchers think it's great, so what?  Well, if you're a butcher, now is a perfect time to advertise.  You not only have the benefit of the scandal making your business more attractive, you can use Keywords related to the scandal to show your Ads.  Just now I searched for "horsemeat" in Google.  I was instantly offered "horsemeat scandal" as a suggestion and have now seen a full page of results related to the current news.  But there wasn't a single Ad from a butcher.  That page should be covered with Ads promoting local businesses and the quality of their wares; buyers in the UK should be reminded that if they're worried about the quality of their meat they can get a reliable source and support local trade.

Even better news is that you really won't face any competition from supermarkets for once.  I'm sure they're all thinking of how they might turn this disaster into a triumph but they won't be able to advertise their own in-horse, sorry, in-house butchers with a straight face.  OK, so you were selling us horse meat from the chillers and freezers but we're supposed to trust you when it's over the counter?

So, c'mon all you butchers out there... where are your Ads?

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Enhanced Campaigns - No Mobile Only?

There's a terrible amount of gossip floating around the Web about Google's new Enhanced Campaigns and most of what I've read is about the "loss" of mobile-only Campaigns.  There is much wailing and gnashing of teeth and dire predictions of doom, all of which seems to stem from the idea that you can't turn off desktops and tablets.

Is this true?

Well, in one way, yes.  There are no longer any checkbox options for choosing between desktop, tablet or mobile - and certainly no advanced choices for OS, models, etc. - but there are options that can focus Campaigns heavily towards mobile devices.  How effective they'll be, only time can tell - it's still extraordinarily early in the game - but they are there, so how do they work?

Most of the chatter talks about being able to "turn off" mobiles by setting their bid to -100% - so the Max CPC effectively becomes 0.  There's no option to do this for desktops or tablets - the only bid adjustment is for mobiles but you can make it positive.  This means you set a very large positive bid adjustment for mobiles effectively leaving the bids for desktops and tablets in the dust.  This is best explained by an example.

Let's say you're currently running a mobile-only legacy Campaign and you know that your CPC is generally around the $1 mark.  This is also the sort of bid for a desktop that'll get you in the "top" position in Google Search.  When you change to an Enhanced Campaign you can set your default Max CPC to $0.25 and set a bid adjustment of +300% which will result in a mobile bid of $1 - what it was before.*  However it leaves the desktop and tablet bid at just $0.25, almost certainly far below the threshold for any decent impressions or clicks.

*This wouldn't be the case if I did the math, but it's how Enhanced Campaigns work it out.

And there's more.  Enhanced Campaigns also allow you to specify a "mobile" preference for your Ads - there's a checkbox now in the Ad edit screen that allows you to say that you'd like this Ad to appear on mobile devices in preference to desktop devices.  Before you ask, yes, you can set all your Ads to this but it won't stop them showing on desktops, all it will do is make all the Ads potentially show on desktops.  A smarter course of action is to have just one Ad in each group that you've left as "non-mobile" and to write this Ad carefully, in the knowledge that it'll probably only be seen on desktops.  I wouldn't suggest that you make a bad Ad in the hope it never gets clicked - if the Ad is going to show anyway you may as well make use of it - but you could make it clear the nature of your business or even encourage they visit your site with their mobile.

So, no, there's no checkbox any more to select just mobiles but it's not all doom and gloom; with a combination of smart mobile bid adjustments and mobile-preferences Ads, you can get most of the way there.  When you add in all the other cool improvements that no one is talking about like bid adjustments based on location, better scheduling, vastly improved reporting, etc., much of which is focused on improving mobile support, Enhanced Campaigns are nowhere near the devils they're being painted.

Find out more about the Enhanced Campaign features.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Know Your Visitors - Use Surveys

OK, this may not at first appear to be that relevant to AdWords, but it is, trust me.

What's the worst thing that can happen to an AdWords advertiser?  No, not that, or that; it's receiving clicks that cost you money and don't turn into sales.  Let's face it, you're sitting there sometimes just weeping at all those clicks that came to your site - and spent quite a long time looking around - but which then leave and never came back.  If only you could know why?

Clever use of Google Analytics can give you clues.  You can see which pages are favourites for leaving, which ones "bounce" high, and even which key pages people don't visit at all.   You can see where people come from, what browsers they use, all sorts of fascinating stuff.  What you can't do is ask them all, one by one, why they didn't buy from you.

Well, you can.  You simply run a survey.

You can't have used the web for more than a few weeks (perhaps hours if you're really keen) without running across a site that asks you "just for a couple of minutes to answer some questions".  Despite appearances these surveys are not simply there to annoy visitors, they serve a key purpose in helping to identify whether a site is fulfilling it's objective.  They're there to gather the "why".

Surveys have been around for a long time but Google have just launched a new tool - Consumer Surveys - that make the process easy and, for a limited time I imagine, you can get $75 worth of surveying free.  What?  I have to pay for a survey?  Well, yes, but think of the possible advantages.

Let's say your current Conversion Rate is 5%.  Not that bad, pretty good in fact, compared to some businesses.  But what if a simple survey that costs you less than $100 could show you something that could increase that rate to 8% or 18%?  I'll leave you to work out what that could mean in terms of Net profit.

Don't be a Pain
However, as I've already said, most of the time these site surveys are a complete pain in the **bleep**.  They ask too many questions and take too long.  How many times have you grudgingly consented to fill one in (usually because of a promise of money or prizes - remember, I still want that Oris watch and a Porsche 911) that's supposed to just take 2 minutes only to find you're still sat there answering question 2,872 six months later?

Google's Consumer Surveys are significantly different in that they ask just one question of each person they trap approach.  You build a survey of how ever many questions you want but each individual is only asked one of them.  Because these questions can be asked on all manner of sites, at all sorts of times, you'll get a much better "representative sample" than just getting mugs to fill in all 2,873 questions in one go.

So how can this be used to help Adwords?  It's all about satisfying the needs of the potential customer.  If you can find out what people really want, you can tailor your marketing towards that.

Let's go back to my old favourite - lawnmower sales.  If you sell all manner of lawnmowers, you could create a survey that just asks a handful of questions like; "Do you prefer electric or petrol?", "Cylinder, Hover or Rotary?", "Qualcast, Black and Decker, (other brands)?", "How much would you spend?".  There are probably a few more you could think of but just these four questions could give you a much better understanding of what is really popular in lawnmowing web users today.

OK, it's not going to be for everyone, but it's worth thinking about, isn't it?

If you want a more traditional approach to individual surveys - and the concept of using this information to enhance your marketing is just as valid - I can recommend these folks: they have a great product that is FREE for small organisations (be honest now...) and very reasonable for the paid plans.  What have you got to lose?

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

New Government Client Has Problems...

A G+ post about this ridiculous concept of advertising to keep immigrants away from the UK made me wonder.  If the Government came to me to ask my advice on how to build an effective Adwords Account structure for this campaign, how might that conversation go?

Me: "Hello, Cobnut Web Services, you're talking to Jon, how can I help you?"
Caller:  "Oh, hello, yes, er... we're thinking of doing some advertising, can you help?"
Me:  "That's what I do, can you give me some details?"
Caller:  "Well, we're a large western Government and we'd like to keep foreign types away."
Me:  "I see.  Would you be targeting any particular 'foreign types' or would it only be the ones you don't get on with?"
Caller:  "Well, obviously we'd mainly want to stop people who are trying to escape from poverty or persecution.  They tend not to have any money and make the place look untidy."
Me:  "Do you have any countries in mind?"
Caller: "Oh, I don't know, Bulgaria, Romania, perhaps?"
Me:  "OK, I think you'd be looking at a Search only campaign for this project."
Caller: "Um, what?"
Me:  "It's when your Ads appear when people put search words into Google."
Caller:  "Ah, yes, spot on.  Good man."
Me:  "Do you have any ideas for what you might want to use as Keywords?"
Caller:  "Can't you do that for us?  We're not really that good with computers because a lot of them are made overseas."
Me:  "How about 'feed my children', or perhaps 'willing to work hard to survive'?"
Caller:  "Hmm, are you sure those are on the right lines?  We were thinking more of 'get money for free' or 'job stealing'."
Me:  "No, I'm pretty sure if you want to attract these sort of people you'll find most of them are just trying to make a better life for themselves and their families."
Caller:  "Oh, OK, you're the expert!"
Me:  "Now, I've got an idea for some Ad copy, how do you like the sound of:  'Stay Away From Britain, It's Run By Bigoted Idiots'."
Caller:  "Um, now hang on, we were thinking of focusing on the weather and unemployment."
Me:  "OK, how about 'Stay Away From Britain, It's Run By Bigoted Idiots, It's Rains A Lot.'.  We could do another Ad Variation to cover the unemployment issue."
Caller:  "Could we drop the whole 'bigoted idiots' thing?"
Me:  "Not really, I think it'd really hurt your click-through-rate."
Caller:  "OK, when could you start?"
Me:  "What's your daily budget?"
Caller:  "Oh, I don't know, £10,000 a day?"
Me:  "Paid for by the taxpayers I presume?"
Caller:  "Oh, yes, of course."
Me: "Ah, damn, I've just noticed something.  Apparently your Account is likely to be suspended by Google."
Caller:  "Oh no!  Why?"
Me:  "Because it violates Google's 'Anti' Policy, about advocating against an organization, person, or group of people."
Caller:  "We'll have to think of something else then."
Me:  "Yes, perhaps that would be best."

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Make Your Site Search Friendly

A lot of sites use a purpose built search tool for their visitors to locate items of interest and these bespoke tools often include a number of "filters" for refining a search that would otherwise generate too many results and be ineffective.  That's good, that's sensible behaviour and follows my favourite principles of making websites that are useful to the visitor.

However, unless you're careful, these search tools can do just as much harm as they can good and can mean your site isn't really showing all it should to visitors.  Classic examples are when price or distance are involved and I've got a website that can demonstrate both:

If it's not immediately obvious from the domain name, Autotrader are a huge UK car sales site.  They were a periodical magazine long before the Internet existed (I'm pretty sure I bought my first car from an Autotrader paper edition) and they've developed a pretty useful website now we're in the online age.  However, their search tool sucks, and here's why.

I want a Porsche 911.  Seriously, I do:  If there's anyone from Porsche reading this I have absolutely no problem accepting gifts, I really don't.  In the meantime though I'll use Autotrader to search for one.  So I enter "Porsche" as the make, "911" as the model and specify a minimum price of £15,000 and a maximum of £35,000.  I say I only want to see cars within 30 miles of my postcode.  Autotrader pretty quickly tells me that there are 36 cars fitting those criteria.  Cool, that's very good.  The most expensive, at £34,995 is this one:

Wow, look at that colour, that would really turn heads.  So what's the problem?  The problem becomes evident if I change the search parameters to say I'm happy to go to £40,000 now.  Look what now appears in the list:

This car is almost the same distance away - 16 miles, well within my 30 mile limit - and is just £990 over my £35,000 original budget.  Do you think that if I was going to pay £35,000 for a car that I wouldn't be prepared to even look at one that's just £990 more?  Especially when you consider that I might well be able to haggle the salesman down under £35k anyway.  That second car may have been exactly what I was looking for when none of the others were right yet I'm going to walk away and this guy has lost a sale.

The same thing happens with distance.  If I go back to my original £35k and 30 mile search I can see that the farthest car away is on the 30 mile limit.  If I change the distance to 40 miles, I can now see there's another car at just 33 miles and two more at 35.  Again, if I'm driving 30 miles to spend £35,000 on a car, I can probably consider driving another 3, or 5 miles.

OK, you've got to draw the line.  If I, as the customer, say I only want cars that are £35k or less and within 30 miles then I might, conceivably, if I was very weird, get annoyed if you showed me cars outside those limits.  But they could be presented in a special way; if you search by distance they could be tacked on the end with an introduction line saying "You may be interested in these cars just a bit farther away...".  If you search by price it could say "These are just a bit more expensive but you might want to take a look."  You could use some rules about how much farther and how much more (or less) expensive you'd go depending upon the original values.  It'd be a cinch for a programmer.  I know, because I've done exactly this on a couple of sites I've built, it's just some simple math that takes a couple of lines of code or a change to the SQL query.

So, if you've got a search tool on your website go and check it now and see if your customers are losing out because it's being too literal.  Then change it.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Build Your Site for Remarketing

If you've not fallen in love with Remarketing, or worse still don't even know what I'm talking about.  Go here and read all about it.  I'll make a cup of coffee and wait till you come back.

Right, ready?  So, Remarketing allows you to target people that have been to your site before, and that's the very simplest form of the tool - just that they've been to your site.  But Remarketing can create lists that are much more tightly focused on the nature of their visit and this in turn allows your Remarketing Ads to be more tightly focused and we all know this is a "good thing".  For example, let's say you sell watches online and you sell both Gents and Ladies watches.  It'd be useful to know which watches were looked at so you can Remarket Ads based around Gents watches or Ladies watches.  You could even go further and target particular brands of Gents watches.

To do this you create filters and conditions but these are based upon the URLs of your webpages and here, finally, we come to the point of this article.  When you're designing your site it has always been important to think about how it will interact with Adwords (I bleated about this here) but Remarketing adds another dimension.  When building your site try to think about how the structure could be used in conditions for Remarketing lists.  If you were planning on just putting all the Gents watches in one page (mens-watches.php), consider having this page and another that is by brand (mens-oris.php).  This could lead to a lot of pages so you could also use very specific variables in the URL (mens-watches.php?brand=oris).

In case you've never heard of Oris, have a look here.  Yes, I do have one, but I'm always happy to have another.

So, that's about it.  If you're planning a new site or just a restructure of an existing one, think about the potential for Remarketing and make sure that structure lends itself to good, tightly focused lists.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Don't be a Target for Spammers

Are you plagued with spam through your Ads?  Are you seeing a lot of clicks generating only invitations to "improve your SEO" or "increase your page ranking" rather than making bookings or sales?  Could you be a target?

I am James Bond...
It may not be immediately obvious, but I'm a professional Advertiser (I don't know why that word deserves a capital A, but it looks more impressive).  As such I clearly drive an Aston Martin and spend most evenings at social events chatting to the rich and powerful, while dressed as James Bond.  Look here...

However, sometimes I do need to pay some bills so I'll search for companies that might not be doing as well with their Adwords as they could, so how do I do that?  The answer is depressingly simple and it's something that may be affecting your own campaigns if your Ad Groups are not tightly focused, your Keywords well chosen and your Ads properly written.

All I do is look for terrible Adwords Ads.  Take the following example; if I search for "cottages to buy in Northumberland" I'm clearly looking to buy a cottage in that county, no?  I'm not looking to rent one or let one for a holiday.  However, if I tap that search into Google (hang on...) seven of the nine Ads that show up are for holiday lets.  One of them (the only top-left Ad) is from a huge UK holiday home company (cough.. who really should know better.  OK, you can argue that showing holiday homes to people who want to buy makes sense if they need to travel far to search for homes but it's a weak argument - I bet that applies to only a handful of potential buyers and, even if that is true, you should then be expressing that through the Ad creative copy.  One even says "Big Savings Xmas & New Year", I mean come on, get a grip.  Yes, that's you, stand up....

Then there are Ads that are just poorly written.  Let's try a search for "masham hotel".  One of the Ads has the text copy "Luxury Yorkshire Dales castle hotel and cookery school". There's a whole bunch going on there but I'll focus on just one thing.  The focus here is terrible.  If I'm looking for a hotel, I don't want to go to one that's a cookery school as well; I'm thinking "My food is going to be cooked by students and they run the hotel for guinea pigs".  It's a classic case of poor focus.  This is a big hotel, massively rich and well known in the area and this Ad has been running for at least a year.  C'mon, stand up.  Oh for heaven's sake sit down Doxford.

Ads like this say only one thing to me.  "This company could improve their Adwords performance."  I know this to be true because I have holiday cottage clients who weren't using "buy" or "sale" as a negative and whose CTR almost doubled overnight when they were added.  I've had hotel clients that weren't targeting the right sort of customers.  If you charge £400 a night, make sure you're only targeting people looking to spend that much.  If you're more inexpensive, don't show your Ad to people who'll expect to have their bags carried from the Rolls to their room.

So why would this make you a target?  OK, your Adwords could be improved, but why does that mean I'm harassed by people selling SEO services?  Because, I would guess, they're making a logical leap.  If your Adwords is not set up well, there's a good chance your website isn't either.  To test this they're probably clicking on your Ad (costing you money) and having a look around before dropping you a line with that old "we can help you" spiel.

Of course, keeping your Ads focused is always a good idea, for many many reasons, but have a think about this one... It's not as obvious as most problems.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Third Party Booking Engines and Adwords

If you own a small business that provides online booking facilities to your customers, the chances are pretty high that you're using another company to provide those booking services for you. Visitors to your site click on the "Book Now" link and this takes them to a managed page on the booking company's own site where they complete their booking. It's convenient for you because you don't have to pay a developer to build one for you and it can be ready to go in a matter of hours.

However, there can be serious drawbacks to using this kind of "external" booking engine. From an advertising point of view, severe difficulties can arise when you want to use Google Adwords to promote your business. As you may expect, it is going to be key to your strategy to have a complete report of how much business Adwords brings your way but to do this you're going to need to insert Adwords Conversion code (we'll assume this covers Analytics Goals as well) into the booking confirmation page. Some booking engine operators do provide options for inserting JavaScript into key pages or even editing the HTML/CSS for a page, but many do not. Bear in mind that tracking Conversions is not just a nice to have, it's required if you're ever going to use Conversion Optimisation. I'd argue it's a must-have for simply operating an Adwords account when promoting products or services with an online value. So...

Check whether your existing (or proposed) third-party booking engine provider allows simple control over inserting Google Adwords Conversion Code and Google Analytics JavaScript.

What else can go wrong?

The more "intangible" argument against these third party bookings is in the user experience. Today's web users are generally far more "web-savvy" than they have ever been and links that cause a redirect to a new domain or - worse - a pop-up window are mis-trusted. It won't scare everyone off - such booking tools are common enough that most people will expect this behaviour - but if it affects just 10% of your potential customers, it could amount to a fair sum. This supposition can be made more "tangible" of course if you are able to examine Analytics to determine a "bail-out" point but if you can't get the code in there...

If you used an external booking engine as a method of saving on the cost of your own site, consider how much custom you may be losing from that decision.

While we're on the subject of cost, consider the charges levied by these booking engines. Typically they'll charge a percentage of the booked sum (although there are some who use fixed charges either per transaction or per period). If you used a third party engine to save on web-development costs, have you worked out how long it would take to recover those costs in savings? Perhaps you'll find the "internal" option would have paid for itself long ago...

Think long-term about costs. External booking engines charge forever, your own (normally) will only charge once.

I'm not against external booking engines, some are very good - Sabre Hospitality for example provides just about every customisation option under the Sun (including CSS, HTML, Adwords, etc.) - but others don't come anywhere close. When looking at these engines, think hard about the options before making a choice.