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: autotrader.co.uk.

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.. welcomecottages.com) 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 doxfordfarmcottages.com, 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 swintonpark.com, 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.