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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Is Your Search Marketing Knowledge Outdated? You Know What to Do

It's becoming a truism that search engine marketing as practiced by busy in-house marketing managers, and others in similar positions who may drift in and out of direct responsibility for those initiatives, need serious "brushing up" every year or so. That used to be described as "changes in the search ranking algorithms you need to keep up with." Now the issue is broader, with changes in the paid search algorithms, new search products, blended search, and more.

Much like going to the dentist, it's polite to claim that you go in for a refresh every six months, and it's polite to tell the dental people that you really do floss every day. But if it's been one, two, or three years since you took a close look, well (cough cough), we'll look the other way and point out that it's what you do next that matters most -- not how many months or years you've been away.

How silly are some of the outdated paid search theories of the past? Well, I couldn't quite believe it when I came across this old piece by myself, pre-Quality-Score, in 2004. (As an added bonus, it was published on a site by my friend Mike Grehan (then being called Mike "Merlot" Grehan) and with associate editor Christine Churchill, another great in the biz.) The piece talked about a narrow tactical debate about high CTR's and whether racking up a strong account history based on overbidding might actually get you discount prices to stay in high spots later on. The CTR history would create a "seal," insulating you from competitors for a long time, unless they bid ridiculously high.

In reality, it was a flukey and inconsistent strategy at the time, as Google already made it clear that CTR (important in the PPC ranking algorithm) was "normalized for ad position". In other words, just because CTR's are naturally higher in 1st ad position than they are in 5th won't make it impossible for you to rise up through the ranks if you spend some initial time testing the waters in 5th. You don't get undue "credit" for hanging out in 1st spot, either.

That's evolved even further, in a couple of ways. Quality-Based Bidding is now 4.5 years old and the algorithm is more opaque and more complex than Bid X CTR. A separate quality check, of your landing page and website, has been working in the system for 4 years, ever-evolving. Well, about 18 months ago, a bunch of folks over on the SEO side discovered all of this and promptly started handing out bad advice that paid search quality scores somehow depended on tweaking landing pages for keyword relevance. Not a terrible idea, but terribly misleading advice.

The second change, related to the first, is that account strategy today needs to be more comprehensive. The auction is mature, most every company that is going to show up in some industries has already showed up, and so you have to get all the moving parts right. Back in the old days, you could listen to someone at Google give you best practices like "don't use a call to action," "you must use a call to action," "capitalize the first letter of every word in your ad," and other warmed-over, highly inadequate snippets of advice.

In reality, paid search isn't a game of gimmicks. High bids, low bids -- neither are magical. Landing page testing is for conversion improvement -- not to magically improve your quality score.

How do you cut through the sea of bad advice if you're new or just returning to the space? Short of reading a 400-page book, I hope that this 40-page ebook, Google AdWords - A Brave New World - I released a few months ago is still helpful to folks getting their feet wet, not wanting recycled advice from 2004, or tips from SEO's trying to sell SEO tactics to people who really need marketing strategy. (There's no charge for this ebook, just opt-in email signup.)

To stay really up to date, though, people do need to pop into the SES conferences for a refresher. Upcoming we have SES London, SES New York, and SES Toronto, to name a few.

For those seeking full immersion in a one-day workshop environment, I'm pleased to announce that Page Zero will launch a paid search training day in conjunction with SES New York, on Monday, March 22, 2010. The full day session will be led by Mona Elesseily and myself. It's aimed at intermediate level (not advanced) digital marketers who want to dig deep and get the fundamentals bang on, and then stretch out and get introduced to a range of intermediate level ways to improve performance.

I really look forward to seeing you at one of these events, whether you're a returning visitor or newer to the game.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




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