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Friday, November 21, 2008

Is Your Paid Search Agency Paying Attention?

I was just going through a White Paper by an agency on the subject of paid search quality scores. I hate to be picky, but if your intent is to explain keyword auctions to your clients, then factual errors don't really sit well with me. In outlining the history, this paper essentially said that Google invented Quality Score to deal with relevancy issues in 2005, and prior to that everything was a pure auction a la GoTo.

As most of you know, CTR has been baked into Google's CPC search advertising auction since 2002!

Another problem with their very brief "analysis" was failing to explain the separate roles of keyword relevancy related quality, and landing page quality. It's a cool factoid to tell people that landing page load times matter (rarely, if they're really poor like above 12 seconds), but not if that gets people optimizing the heck out of already qualified, relevant landing pages, and misinterpreting the weighting of these factors in the ranking system. Google doesn't tell us the weightings, but anyone who's worked on a few dozen accounts (or actually paid attention to those accounts) knows that landing page issues create poor quality in rare cases, but "optimizing" an already good landing page is something you do, as the fitness magazines say, "for you" (for your own conversion rates)... the fun you have with landing pages shouldn't generally impact your ad rank too much as long as the page in question doesn't suck, isn't evil, etc.

So, this big agency's tiny "white paper" looks authoritative, but explains nothing in the end. Amazingly, one of this huge agency's specialties is buying clicks for large company clients.

But agencies aren't the only ones who fudge the facts on ad quality. In 2007, I saw a major international Google office once (no not Canada!) give a presentation that referred to the 2002 version of the formula. Guess they figured the ordinary schmoes "can't handle the truth"! (There may be something to that.)

At the end of the day, all of this fudging, and oversimplifying, and drawing of cartoons to show how easy it is to run an AdWords campaign results in rampant confusion and second-guessing. I talked with a prospect whose company has now been advertising on Google for four years. I noted the high costs on certain branded keywords, in part (I thought) due to certain relevancy and quality issues baked into the algorithm. I also noted that these were unjustified in the sense that the auction on those words wasn't particularly competitive; and moreover, the algorithm wasn't doing a great job on many of them -- there were wrong ads and bad ads from low quality competitors appearing against some of those terms, tickety-boo.

"But I thought it was a pure auction!," said the client side dude.

What? A pure auction? Not since 2002. All the cartoons and 138-word "white papers" in the world can't boil down the auction process into something super-simple. But let's go with this much: CTR is still super-important, and then there are a list of exceptions and quirks you should familiarize yourself with. And for new accounts, experts like David Szetela (I concur with his take) get into some of the subtleties of the ideal way to build out for maximum Quality Score friendliness.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




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