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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Landing Page Quality Update: Christmas Comes Early for Doc

My friend Doc (not his real name) ran into a bit of a snag two weeks ago. His high-performing, money-making, perfectly above-board AdWords campaign ran up against a Landing Page and Website Quality sweep. All his Quality Scores got whacked down to 1. The campaign went into hibernation.

Advertisers in his niche have two potential reactions:

1. Ramp up the crying and complaining, rant superstitiously about Google Slaps and evildoing, and vow never to do business with Google again.

2. Don't panic. Determine the source of the problem. Contact Google reps (who may not be able to share very much, but if you are a conscientious business, may sympathize) to ask for a manual review.

I recommended the latter to Doc. Many advertisers aren't aware that they can get reasonably good service even as an "ordinary" advertiser, simply by contacting the Google AdWords 800 number and punching in the Client ID#. You may even find you get a de facto "dedicated" rep if you follow this course of action. Even if your spend is relatively small. Avoid calling anyone names in the process.

In Doc's case, we isolated three potential sources of the violation.

1. His new landing page tilted too far over to the "email squeeze page" side of things. I recommended he put back some global navigation and the business information at the bottom of the page, as he had been using with past offers.

2. Related to that, visually the squeezing was a bit too aggressive for my tastes. I recommended putting the email signup box farther down the page, use anchor link for users who want to get down there faster, and just making things look a bit friendlier.

3. The real killer seems to have been a site hack. Someone had hacked his website and placed sneaky code pointing to a link farm dealing in Seychelles timeshares, weight loss potions, etc. Uh oh! The Adsbot might have seen that.

All in all, restoring his website to respectability merited a second look by Google. And that's exactly what happened. They promise nothing and never provide turnaround times for "updating" landing page quality scores, as these updates tend to be infrequent compared with the real-time calculation of keyword quality scores for each auction.

In this case, following the procedural advice I provided and dealing respectfully with the process, Google's turnaround to updating his quality scores (they returned to normal) was 7 days. Particularly impressive around holiday time.

Happy holidays everyone! May you control the things you can, and not stress over the things you cannot.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Attaboy Giffer!

Every so often, I run across a book that I've not only found interesting, but happens to have been worked on by my old university friend Jim "Giffer" Gifford in his editorial capacity at HarperCollins. Jim is proof that you can, indeed, do something with a B.A. in English.

The latest one of these is Joseph Heath's Filthy Lucre, which provided intellectual fodder for my recent SEL column, Geekynomics? Finding the Hidden Government Within Google's Magic Money Machine.

It being my birthday, I know you don't mind if I go hog wild off topic to thank my friend for working on that book.

Hey Jim, do you guys want to publish my next book? It's gonna be a lulu!

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Yet Another SEM Automation Tool, Funded

News that WordStream just raised $4mm in funding had me checking out their product offering.

A lot of the pitch revolves around the idea that the solution can help you raise your AdWords Quality Score.

I should be thrilled that someone is doing something to show advertisers how to do this. But don't expect experienced SEM pros like yours truly to be impressed with the solution's contribution to that effort. The danger is that a large part of the discourse now shifts to the minute technological machinations that supposedly contribute to a better campaign, and away from... yup, marketing.

[While they're at it, they're going to throw in a workflow tool that will supposedly facilitate your effort in "natural" search engine optimization. Beware: cookie-cutter SEO is worthless SEO.]

Two key premises of the tool are that it facilitates:
  • Higher CTR's on ads, supposedly by helping you group correct ads with correct keywords. Proper ad testing, though, requires a combination of strategy, a testing protocol, creative, and a library of techniques. The tool addresses none of those elements of marketing. More seriously, the CTR focus (while important) does nothing to address ROI (as opposed to CTR). If the tool could (1) genuinely help you group your keywords more in sync with your customer behavior and ad copy (no easy feat, sounds great on paper); (2) help you write better ads with suggestions drawn from a database; (3) focus more on ROI; then it would be an incremental win for advertisers running large volume campaigns or many accounts. (Check back in a couple of years.) Tools like this tend to be too cumbersome and costly to bother with if you're running a small campaign.
  • Auto-generation of specific, long-tail keywords taken from site searches and from expanded matches in Google broad matching. These keywords are added over time to your account. This gimmick is by now a staple of the SEM automation field. Roughly speaking, it can be accomplished by other means and other keyword tools, including Google's free offerings. It sounds like a clever hack, to be sure. But the impact on performance should be minor if you've done a thorough job in your account. Assigning more clicks to longer phrases rather than shorter ones sounds cool, but all you're doing is complicating the data analysis task, leaving your account with a splinter effect that would require several years of data to gather statistically significant feedback for bidding (or pausing) purposes. What you're doing is taking one kind of unknown (stats related to the compound performance of popular broad or phrase matched phrases, and making it into a different kind of unknown (in an exhaustive way): a splintered bundle of lower-frequency keyword searches (which, to be sure, can sometimes help your account in volume and performance terms; just not as much as you might think). If the relevance score on an obscure phrase is actually unknown to Google, then it might actually hurt (not help) your quality score until your account gathers that data.
Currently, in collaboration with my colleague Scott Perry, I am running an ecommerce account for a major e-tailer... this account has "perfect" Quality Scores: 10/10 on at least half of the keywords. Repeat: PERFECT 10's across much of the account!

This was achieved with savvy and patient methods that aren't in every campaign manager's quiver, to be sure. But it's important to point out that high quality scores (in this case, and therefore, most others) appear to derive from:

  • CTR. Achieved using a diligent build method to organize keywords around products. Toolset used: experience, and Google's tools, mostly. Further achieved with ad testing over many months, based on years of experience testing each element of the ad (without harming ROI). Also achieved because the company has a strong brand and because the paid listings are more compelling than the organic ones.
  • Conventional user behavior, information scent, and categorization. While we believe that landing page quality generally only comes into play when the page or site is a clear affront to the consumer, perhaps there is some boost over time as Google gathers signals that indicate conventional e-commerce searching and buying behavior. BTW, minute optimization of landing pages isn't required: these landing pages have mediocre code and aren't lightning fast to load... but they show users relevant products, as expected.
  • Account-wide effect. With CTR and user behavior signals screaming off the charts of High Quality over a long period of time, Google's Quality Score algorithm "green lights" keywords throughout the account, until such time as individual ones prove themselves unworthy. This speaks to build strategy: making sure the bulk of the account performs very well so that experiments do not have much effect on account-wide quality in proportional terms.
SEM automation is a crowded field. Many of the available tools in the marketplace contain one or two helpful bits, and force you into an overall system that is in perpetual beta, pulling you away from more serious marketing considerations. And unfortunately, many will need to make misleading claims about Quality Score and long tail keyword building (note how "magical" both of these building blocks of a comprehensive online marketing strategy can be made to seem). This is not a matter of being well-intentioned or not; it's when you build marketing tools as hammers looking for nails (and customers in a "segment"), rather than organically out of real-world pain points.

It appears that the biggest shortage in our industry remains people who are good at marketing, decision-making, priority-setting, and reporting. Some of the available tools support those efforts; many seem to be a cumbersome, redundant layer seeking yet more of your precious time and attention.

Finally, I can't help but caution potential customers about the Trojan Horse problem, something I'll cover in an upcoming installment of my series on Bid Management Automation over at Search Engine Land. To boil down my argument: an unknown, recently-funded startup is eager to put their pixel tracking on your site (isn't everyone these days?). Indeed, the likelihood that they'll gain access to your data is probably one of the factors that contributed to them getting funded. But as the business owner, do you want that?

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




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




Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Is AdWords Quality Score "Like SEO"?

Quality Score = SEO. That's the oversimplified version of things being shared around by some marketing advice-givers of late.

Ask any key Googler on the paid or unpaid search side, and they'll readily admit something like "for both the organic search algorithm and the paid search ranking system, we look at very similar signals."

That's not the same as saying the AdWords program responds well to "SEO," however. Landing pages serve a very different function in paid search campaigns. You don't have to perfect them with SEO principles, and you'll very rarely get a major ranking boost from using SEO principles. You'll still predominantly rank well if you (1) have a high CTR; (2) bid sufficiently high; (3) create a strong relevancy pattern by associating the most relevant high-intent keywords with relevant ads and relevant landing pages.

Strictly dealing with the landing pages themselves, though, don't go overboard worrying about their impact on Quality Score. The wrong landing page can give you a poor Quality Score, for a variety of don't-be-evil reasons. Google does attempt to look at the page content, and will measure user responses such as bounce rates and back-button-hitting. But you don't have to twiddle around with keywords in headings and stuffing keywords in body text as if this were SEO circa 1997.

Powerful campaigns with real patterns of satisfied user behavior are "relevant enough," even with the basic elements of relevancy present on the page. Additional relevancy is likely not gained with keyword stuffing efforts. Outdated efforts to game QS with SEO principles only take away from real user response testing - pleasing navigation, persuasion, and testing that can improve conversion rates (without gimmicks and superstition).

The folks to say "AdWords = SEO"... they may be in the ballpark, and they haven't totally struck out, but the analogy is a foul tip into the bleachers, at best.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Saturday, September 13, 2008

On the Sourcetool Imbroglio

The New York Times' Joe Nocera reviews a legal case emanating from a site, SourceTool, that felt hard done by Google's Quality Score algorithm.

Sourcetool's owner suspects that Google simply doesn't like the site because it is "another search engine," or because it competes with Business.com, a Google partner.

I doubt this is it.

Anyone with experience in the game can sense what Sourcetool is, and that sense would be augmented or confirmed by a peek at the mix of destination URL's within the AdWords account, no doubt: it's pretty much straight click arbitrage.

Recall that straight click arbitrage is a business model that is all but banned by Google.

It does bring up another point. I just completed a fairly extensive discussion of this here in Winning Results With Google AdWords (2nd ed.), but that won't hit the shelves for a little while, so the capsule summary is this. Yes, there are muddy middle grounds, since many businesses are making a living off arbitrage in one form or another and you can't shut everyone's ads off! And there are cases of mistaken identity in the thin-slicing that an algorithm does to attempt to catch bad guys.

But here, Google isn't just stereotyping or rushing to judgment. Google knows who the person is, knows what the site does, understands the strategy fully, and has consciously decided to ban him from advertising, at least at regular prices. That's not an algorithm talking. It's Google's policy. And antitrust law or not, I believe this is their right.

In short, Sourcetool is in good company -- or in Google's eyes, bad company. It isn't being harassed because it's a "search engine," it's being harassed because it's a scraper-cum-arbitrage site. It contains little or no unique content, and the means of creating a high volume of pages is automated. Google does not feel that these are valuable kinds of sites, and that's been confirmed right out of Eric Schmidt's mouth, to large gatherings of journalists, since 2005 at least.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Thursday, August 28, 2008

AdWords 2.7, Beautiful Plumage, and the Shading Effect

With another major change to Google's Quality Score formula and reporting comes much uncertainty for advertisers. The changes: fixed minimum bids have been eliminated, and Quality Score is calculated in real time, at the time of the query.

I can come at this from a few angles, and probably will, in the coming months. Today, just one piece of the puzzle to address: efficiency for both the advertiser and Google.

First, some background assumptions:

1. New advertisers (and unevenly-engaged advertisers returning to refresh their memories) do keep pouring into the space, especially internationally. The optics of high minimum bids don't look good. They're alarming and off-putting to newbies.

2. Google likes its black box, and likes to avoid black-white distinctions. Building very flexible (read: confounding) architecture helps Google achieve a number of goals. And even those goals are subject to change.

3. Yet Google faces pressure for additional disclosure. So for every layer of complexity they build in, they try to offer up at least an equivalent step forward in terms of disclosure.

4. At Google AdWords, CTR is king. Clicks drive revenue, and continue to be a reasonable proxy for relevance. This is the biggest constant since 2002.

5. The platform as it stood at version 2.6 (my nomenclature), contained pockets of inefficiency. It did a good job of ramping up the "quality" bar, to the delight of users, but as even Sergey sheepishly admitted to investors, they might have "overtightened" the calibration of the platform, showing too few ads for advertisers', Google's, and investors' taste. The new release is intended to offer Google the ability to "untighten" selectively, without giving anyone the satisfaction of being able to point definitively as to exactly how that is being achieved.

--

Further detail:

The "pockets of inefficiency" buried in the fixed minimum bid regime were evidently ferreted out by smart Google engineers who realized that fixed minimum bids for keywords were too rigid. Rather than determining that a keyword in a given account should be "all on" or "all off" no matter what the context, Google has designed the new system to give keywords a fighting chance to show ads in all cases. (The official explanation is that no keyword is ever technically inactive for search.)

Quality Score is now determined in real time, per query. But wait. Don't think that means the only negative thing that happens to a Low-Quality-Score keyword is that it's relegated to a Very Low Ad Position. No, it can still be inactive at query time if it fails to meet what Google is calling a Bid Requirement. (Among other things, this gives Google an excuse to charge high prices for clicks in some instances, even if no other ads are showing up on the page.) What's different in this version is that the same keyword is eligible to be re-evaluated for the next query, and the one after that. So like the parrot in the sketch, it's not dead, just resting.

Let's be especially clear about this much: keyword quality (whose formula is outlined in Google help files, but clearly rests on measures of CTR history as well as predicted relevancy, especially for newer accounts with less data history) will determine both where your ad ranks for a given query, and whether it is eligible to show up or not at query time. So "fighting chance" and the "chance you might show up" even on a low quality keyword, some of the time, doesn't mean the same as "free for all." Advertisers aren't being encouraged to "go to town" with unrelated keyword experiments just to "see what sticks" -- in fact, that tactic is as bad as ever, because this can hurt account-wide quality.

Through all of the complexity of the explanations you'll read, then, and the potentially excessive focus on some tweaks in reporting (scale of 1 to 10 transparency for Quality Scores) and projections (First Page Bid estimates), the efficiency angle, and Google "shading" its quality initiative to make it more flexible and subtle, is the main story here.

And not a moment too soon, I'm guessing. By Google standards, the months of July and August were likely slower than they or investors would like. By notching up revenue in September, Google can turn in a respectable Q3. (Especially internationally, I'd expect to see click arbitrageurs given some respite, and getting a chance at more clicks - raising Google's revenue, but lowering overall search quality.) By the time things are off to the races for Q4, Google can always tighten things up slightly from a quality standpoint, and raise prices at the same time. If you asked, I'd predict steady-looking year-over-year revenue growth in Q4, with a bump in profit margins. Investors will cheer, and Google (GOOG) stock will head back to $700.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Friday, May 09, 2008

Super Google Transparency: AdWords and Page Load Times

Google has announced that along with indications about keyword relevance and landing page quality generally, in the keyword analysis screen they now let you see whether any problems were found with page load times on the relevant landing page.

This takes away the guessing game to some extent. If you get "no problems found," chances are you should be looking to other factors if your keyword quality score is still coming in "poor."

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Friday, March 07, 2008

Site Performance Increasingly Important to SEM Performance

Google has just released a post indicating that they're poised to incorporate landing page load time into Quality Scores.

What does this mean? Well.. it means they're about to incorporate landing page load times into quality scores.

[As a side note, much like quality-based bidding itself, it's possible that they've already been testing the inclusion of such site performance variables. After all, they gave the thumbs-down to popups years ago. A variety of annoying and intrusive page designs and ad serving formats have probably come to Google's attention since then.]

More broadly, it means you'll be in some trouble if your site profits from advertising, if that advertising is causing pages to be slow to load.

Google is saying you'll be warned in the keyword status area, so you have a month to make necessary adjustments to lessen load times before your quality score gets whacked.

As for even broader meaning, I think it's fair to take away the theory that Google does now, and will increasingly in the future, incorporate assessments of site performance into the ranking algorithms for organic search. They're publicly stating the importance of these factors to users, so take heed.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Keyword Analysis Diagnostic Rolled Out for Google AdWords

Low quality scores and other keyword delivery issues can be, to paraphrase Jackie Chiles, "exasperatin', disingenuous, disrespectful, and borderin' on mischievious!".

As expected, Google has announced increased transparency on what's causing low quality scores in the form of additional keyword information. Don't get too excited. The inner workings remain safely guarded.

Many of the examples of poor quality scores come with the diagnosis "this keyword isn't highly relevant." That's not too compelling, especially when a multi-word query involving the word "cell phone" is rated "OK" but the identical one using "PDA" is seen as "Poor." (The full phrases I'm referring to are equally relevant.) It's like a science experiment in progress based on limited data.

However, I think this probably can be a good starting point, in the sense that you might be able to rule out or rule in landing page or website issues as the source of your problem.

That is, if the messages you're seeing are 100% accurate. Can I get a tool to diagnose the diagnosis? I have trouble believing certain keywords aren't relevant, when they describe exactly what the service in question is, and match up well with the ad text. It's all a little too mysterious to be truly helpful, especially when the advice given alongside the diagnosis is "delete this keyword" (yep that's really what they say).

On another example, the keyword diagnosis isn't functional because the form of geographic targeting I'm using for that account (it's a radius of a large city metro area) isn't supported. So I'm left to wonder why "crpes" is "OK" but "crepes" is poor. Is Google a spelling snob!?

Increased transparency takes courage, and does encourage gripes like the one you're reading. In that sense, I applaud Google for rolling this out. Ship early and often is still a good policy in the software world... in spite of the uncharitable responses it sometimes elicits.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Friday, July 27, 2007

Musings on the AdWords Auction: Hotchkiss and Googlers

Ad quality junkies won't want to miss this interview with Nick Fox and Diane Cheng. Apparently they didn't get the memo that the term "user" is outmoded! :)

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Friday, June 08, 2007

Landing Page Quality Update: Bears!!!!


I just got the note about another tweak to AdWords quality scoring:

"Google has made some minor updates to our Quality Scores based on advertiser landing page quality. Similar to past Ads Quality updates, a small number of advertisers who are providing a low quality user experience on their landing pages will see an increase in their minimum bids."

We were further advised that the change does not affect "the vast majority of advertisers."

But what are they coming after? I did some digging. Apparently users hate bears. So if you have any discussion of bears, photos of bears, or worse - anything that advocates bears in any way... good luck.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Monday, February 19, 2007

Quality Score Transparency: Cool

Excuse my giddiness, but it's definitely addictive to look at your keyword quality scores. You could have guessed them before by the assigned minimum bids, but these are fun to look at anyway:



Yet confounding, too - no doubt seeing this stuff will cause some advertisers to overthink and to try to divine the impossible. The one with 5.1% CTR today is called "great" but there is one with over 10% CTR that is being assessed as merely OK. Presumably, that's based on some predictive stuff around the generic nature of one of the keywords (the OK one is too general maybe). And presumably it would only be a few hundred more clicks over a week or so at a high CTR and it might kick into "great" territory. We'll see. I guess that would be my advice in the "avoid overthinking" department: realize that an established CTR history will give you a more stable quality score than the stuff you see on new keywords.

I also think it's cool (laugh if you like) that Google makes it slightly difficult to display this, so it doesn't confuse newbies. You have to drill down a fair bit to find the place to turn on QS info.

At the campaign summary level, if you click on "customize columns," the only non-default column you can add here is "CPM." (I find this cool too. You don't need to do the math - you can measure the eCPM on your campaign by enabling it in the interface. On this ad group - a brand new campaign - we're getting a rock-bottom $0.85 CPM. So far, so good!)

Anyway, once you drill down past the ad group level to the "keywords" tab you can "customize columns" and enable the extra quality score information in the interface.

Speaking of new stuff... at the bottom of your keyword list in the available options is a button for "pause" and "unpause". Shut up! I'm pretty sure Google slipped this in without telling us. Some time ago they added a feature that allowed you to pause an ad (handy for testing and sharing info internally), but this pause a keyword was something I'd been hoping for. Heck, who knows what you'll use it for, but power users always come up with something.

UPDATE: OK, so via the Inside AdWords blog I see the "pause keyword" feature was added on Thursday. I spent Friday on an airplane... So by now it's still only five days old. And my spidey sense tells me that my colleagues here in the office are already pausing keywords! LOL, gotta love 'em. The "pause ad" feature was added some time ago, as I recall.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Thursday, February 15, 2007

Google Ad Quality: What's Changed

Kevin Newcomb's take on the latest incremental update on ads quality. As Kevin does, I interpret the changes to mean an increase in transparency (obvious, because that's what Google tells us); and a more relaxed minimum bid status for "unknown" type new keywords where Google has little data to go on. Here, they might be less likely to punish you for the trends seen with other advertisers trying similar keywords for similar offers, and let you create your own good or bad track record on your own. (It's not a black and white change, more of a tweak in emphasis.)

At the same time, they also allude to the new algorithm being tougher on bad ads and nicer to good ones, so basically just further refinements based on machine learning and so on. If you're on the receiving end of the additional toughening up, it'll hurt even more. The majority of advertisers will likely feel the new regime to be slightly more liberal.

The increased transparency will lead to more questions. Once I'm absolutely sure of what keywords or groups of keywords are low quality, how should I respond. Google explicitly advises that you do not raise your bid, but rather, optimize your campaign. (So much for the "cash grab" theory.) And they point in particular to the relationships between your keywords, ads, and offer. This is what I was getting at in the last post.

Creating more granular campaigns will potentially boost quality for those who do have available content and offers on their sites, but who have been lazy in how they build the campaign structure, for whatever reason.

What still confuses me is how Google can know what score to apply if you're running a complex test that includes multiple ads and multiple destination URL's, where you're actively trying to understand the best places to send users on the site, the best wording to use in ads., etc. for any given keyword. Or does the mere act of doing more systematic testing of this nature possibly give you some brownie points? I think I'll have to ask them about that. By and large, I think the answer is this: the system is designed to be punitive to campaigns that have some aspect that falls really far outside the normal, relevant, user-friendly range. Most campaigns are going to run unimpeded, or in other words ranking and status are largely based on the old standbys of historical CTR and your max bid. That's what I call AdWords 2.0. The current iteration, 2.7, is probably not too far from 2.0 for the vast majority of campaigns, keywords, ads, and sites.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




What's a Low-Quality Ad, Anyway?

In one of the paid search sessions yesterday here at SES London, one audience member gave his account of the "death spiral" that seems to afflict certain keywords in his AdWords account. "I wake up and Google's asking for 2.50 for a keyword, so I raise the bid. The next day, they've put it up to 5.00. (etc.)."

Obviously this is a signal that the relationship between this keyword, ad, and landing page is seen as "very low quality."

So I asked roughly what industry he was in - turns out it's related to debt relief. The keyword in question? "Lottery tickets." Yup, I thought to myself - in the new Quality Based Bidding regime, that's seen as just too far off the mark in terms of relevancy to the service being offered to the consumer.

This might have fallen flat at any stage of AdWords history, though, by virtue of the low CTR it would likely attract. A "popular culture" type word (people looking up lottery listings is a very common navigational function) will be so high volume that the proportion of users who are thinking "transactionally" and willing to check out an offer is so low that it will lead to a CTR that is below any threshold of reasonability as far as today's PPC auctions go.

You admire the lateral thinking here: people desperate to dig themselves out of debt might be more inclined to buy and look up info on lottery tickets. If so, then an advertiser should probably try to get placement on relevant websites through direct media buys and various banner and text ad targeting tactics (one being Google's Site Targeting option).

But you'll have much more trouble doing this type of "loose targeting" if you're using AdWords and Yahoo Search Marketing, unless of course you have a strong, established CTR and user experience history.

So is an ad for debt relief next to search engine results for lottery tickets really "low quality"? Yes, moderately so, because in the user's eyes, search is special. They want even the ads to be tightly targeted, or let there be no ads at all.

Google is no doubt going to continue to modify the Quality Score algorithm to fine-tune the balance between advertisers' needs and the user experience. Stay tuned.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




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