adCenter Quality Score to Debut this Spring

16 03 2011

Microsoft adCenter announced news last week of the arrival of the adCenter Quality Score, reportedly set to launch this spring.  With much speculation surrounding when this would eventually take place; it is surprising that it took approximately five and a half years for adCenter to publicly release a Microsoft counterpart to Google’s AdWords Quality Score.  Not to belabor the point, but AdWords released their first generation Quality Score in August of 2005.  Two-Thousand-Five.

Microsoft has also chosen to use Google’s “Quality Score” nomenclature for their new feature, raising speculation that it took adCenter this much time to develop a worthy equivalent.  And, perhaps they tried for several years to create a bigger and better version of Google’s Quality Score and just couldn’t come up with anything better (or with a better name) than a score ranked on a 1-10 scale.  In any case, the similarities between the AdWords Quality Score and to-be-released adCenter Quality Score should make it easier for advertisers to translate what they already know about Quality Score (helping gauge, improve and determine campaign, keyword, and landing page relevance) to adCenter.

Here are the details that Microsoft adCenter has released about their Quality Score:

  • Quality Score will be on a 1-10 scale, and be calculated at the keyword level for each match-type being purchased.
  • Scores are designed to represent how competitive your keyword is within the marketplace, with three sub-scores for keyword relevance, landing page relevance, and landing page user experience.
  • Actionable guidance will be provided to optimize and improve your quality score.
  • At launch, scores will be visible and exportable from the adCenter Web UI, and accessible through adCenter Reporting and Reporting APIs.

Additional Sub-Factors include:

  • Keyword Relevance – assessed on a scale of (Poor, No Problem, Good) and how well your keyword competes against others buying the same keyword.
  • Landing Page Relevance – assessed on a scale of (Poor, No Problem) and how relevant your ad and landing page is to the search query.
  • Landing Page User Experience – assessed on a scale of (Poor, No Problem) and whether your site meets adCenter editorial relevance and quality guidelines.

A notable difference between the two Quality Scores is how Microsoft is positioning their score as a “competitive feedback tool”, instead of being an actual score that helps determine ad rank and performance.  adCenter has officially noted that their Quality Score will NOT directly affect how ads rank and I’m guessing (because of that detail) won’t affect keyword bid estimates or the actual CPC, as AdWords’ does.  adCenter’s Quality Score is designed to tell advertisers how competitive their keywords are in the marketplace, whether or not they are positioned for success and how an advertiser can optimize appropriately to improve their Quality Score.

AdWords Quality Score on the other hand, does affect ad performance and influences how an ad ranks, the actual CPC an advertiser will pay and first page bid estimates.  Both scores are determined based on historical performance data.  While Microsoft has yet to be as transparent about what this historical performance data will be, advertisers familiar with AdWords Quality Score guidelines and formulas can guess that historical keyword CTR and historical account CTR will likely be determining factors.

As a PPC advertiser, I’m looking forward to seeing how adCenter’s new Quality Score will have an effect on ad performance for advertisers, since the score (at this point) does not influence how adCenter ads will rank or the actual CPC an advertiser will pay.  Here’s to hoping this tool will be used effectively by adCenter advertisers to better understand how to optimize and improve campaigns – resulting in improved performance!

Branded PPC Campaigns: Should You Bid on Your Company Name?

15 02 2011

A common question that arises while working with and managing a company’s PPC efforts is whether or not they should be bidding on branded keywords if they are already ranking number #1 organically (for their company name).  Logically, it doesn’t seem to make sense to pay for keywords your website is already ranking #1 for in the search engine results, for free.  However, it’s important to consider some of the reasons why a company should enhance their online presence with the help of a branded PPC campaign.

  • Own the search engine results page (SERP) – Bidding on branded keywords can help your listings (paid and organic) own the first page of results for your company name.  Not only do multiple listings help to reinforce your company’s presence, but in some cases it can help simulate brand authority and credibility when a user sees your brand all over the first page of search results; also helping to increase organic click through rate.
  • Protect your brand from competitors – Consider a branded campaign as an online reputation management (ORM) tactic, particularly if you’re in a competitive market space – but even if you’re not.  Branded keywords are often considerably cheaper in comparison to a company’s top, general keywords and can help ensure that you are preventing competitors from appearing above your #1 organic listing for your company name.  Even if competitors are not bidding on your company name now, proactive ORM can ensure your company is being perceived accurately; and keep those pesky competitors from appearing above you.
  • Not all users click on the organic listings – For savvy web users who typically click on organic results over paid results, it’s important to realize that although approximately 70% of users click on organic results, the other 30% or so click on the paid results, not realizing there’s a difference.  It’s critical for your company to be visible to 100% of searchers, not just the 70% that click on the organic results.  With sponsored listings (especially those with ad extensions such as sitelinks or location extensions) taking up a significant portion of top of the page real estate above organic listings, it’s important for your company to be visible in this space too.
  • PPC ads allow you to control your messaging – While you do have control over your organic listing’s title and meta descriptions, PPC ads give you the ability to nimbly change messaging to highlight offers, competitive factors, and different value propositions within minutes.
  • PPC ads allow you to control your targeting – Unlike organic search, PPC ads allow you to control where and when your ads are shown, which keeps your audience targeted, relevant and costs down.
  • Milk that good quality score – Branded keywords often secure the highest click-through rate (CTR), the best quality score and overall performance history, which can help improve account quality score, boosting your overall PPC account history, performance and potential.

In any case, before you rule out bidding on branded keywords, consider the above benefits and conduct a test.  By testing and analyzing the results, it’s undoubtedly a win-win situation, as the proof will be within the data (one way or the other).  If branded keywords are driving up your paid search cost, lowering ROI, or affecting your other traffic sources negatively, then you can decisively rule a branded campaign out of your paid search mix for the time being and not second guess whether you’re missing out on traffic, conversions or revenue – win.  Moreover, if branded keywords help improve your online visibility, traffic, ROI, or conversion activity – another win!

Update to AdWords Ad Sitelinks Serving

17 01 2011

Ad sitelinks have become a big success since their release over a year ago, helping advertisers to increase their CTR up to 30% on average.  As a result of sitelinks’ success and popularity, Google decided to improve the way they serve their ad sitelinks.  As you know, Google allows advertisers to add up to 10 sitelinks at the campaign level, which are then applied to relevant ads (which meet AdWords policy guidelines) at the ad group level.  Up until last week, Google chose to display an advertiser’s sitelinks by the order in which they were added.  Very scientific of Google.

“In the past, we simply used the order in which you entered your Sitelinks to rank which ones to serve. For example, while you could enter up to ten Sitelinks for a campaign, we primarily used the top four for any ad in the campaign (as long as they met our policy guidelines).” – Inside AdWords

With AdWords’ ad sitelinks new serving enhancement, sitelinks will be shown based on historical performance data, rotating in the sitelinks with the best CTR more often.  While advertisers will continue to create sitelinks at the campaign level, performance data will be assessed at the ad group level.  While this new serving enhancement is fantastic, AdWords still does not provide advertisers with the performance data for individual sitelinks.  This lack of data is unfortunate, as advertiser’s currently have no way of knowing which sitelink is performing better, because the CTR is applied to the entire group of sitelinks and not at the individual link level.

In the meantime, at least AdWords is now rotating sitelinks into ads based on performance data, and here’s to hoping that sitelink level performance data will be the next update in Google’s line of ad sitelinks enhancements.

Prep Your PPC Campaigns for 2011 (Formic on iMedia Connection)

20 12 2010

Amidst your 2011 planning and the year end rush to the finish line, don’t let your PPC campaigns take a back seat to last minute deadlines.  As an advertiser, your campaigns may be long overdue for tune up and there is no better time than the present to prepare them for the new year.  Start planning ahead for a successful PPC program in 2011 by giving your campaigns the gifts they need to be successful.  To help your campaigns perform to your advertising goals and objectives, consider a few of these gifts that are most certainly at the top of your PPC campaign’s wish list this holiday season:

  • Stocking Stuffers: Even if your campaigns have plenty of traffic driving, high converting keywords in their repertoire, they can never have too many negative match keywords to keep unwanted search traffic from wasting budget (by way of un-targeted search queries).  Throw a handful of negative keywords into your PPC campaign’s stocking with the promise of more to come throughout the new year.  These easy and often overlooked additions are simple to find through a process that is right at your finger tips.  In AdWords, navigate to the “Keywords” tab and select “See Search Terms > All” from the drop down.  Start browsing through the results to find negative keyword choices (untargeted search queries that are triggering your ads) and pick out the perfect additions for your campaigns this season.   And, there are plenty of online tools that help generate negative keyword suggestions with your specific campaigns in mind.

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Analyze Competition in AdWords

24 11 2010

The AdWords Analyze Competition feature, which was rolled out to all US advertisers at the end of August, after first being released in limited beta by Google in June of this year, is a great (lesser known) tool for understanding how your own campaign performance stacks up against the competitive landscape.  Analyzing the competition is an important component in finding new optimization opportunities and improving accounts on a monthly basis.  While the Analyze Competition feature is not a robust or highly intricate competitive intelligence tool (and is tucked away within the Opportunities tab of your account), the feature does shed light at a high level on your overall campaign performance in relation to your AdWords advertising competition.  Here’s how and why even this high-level competitive intelligence should become a useful part of your overall campaign optimization strategy:

Analyzing Your Competition

While business information is not divulged (it’s an aggregate average of all advertisers in your category), advertisers can get a satisfactory snapshot of how their account performance measures up to other advertisers bidding on keywords in the same categories.  This provides a great benchmarking analysis of where performance falls (at, below or above the competition) for campaign metrics such as impressions, clicks, CTR, or average position.  Unfortunately, conversion data is not one of the available metrics.  With the ability to use this data as an indicator of relative performance, advertisers can utilize these insights to make informed optimization decisions for their account.

Categorizing Keywords Properly

Keyword categorization is, as always, an important factor in ensuring your ads reach the right audience, obtain a high CTR and generate a positive quality score.  Using the Analyze Competition feature, advertisers can see how Google has assigned their keywords to a category and drill down to the specific search terms that triggered their ads.  This ability allows advertisers to identify new keyword or negative keyword opportunities and ideas for their account.  Advertisers will also discover if any keywords have been mis-categorized.  Moreover, Google isn’t perfect, so advertisers do have the option to alert Google if keywords have been mistakenly mis-categorized.

Finding Opportunities & Optimize Campaigns

Based on the competitive data garnered by the Analyze Competition feature, advertisers should determine which areas of their AdWords account they’d like to improve.  With the potential to expand keyword targeting opportunities, increase impressions, improve ad positioning and more, advertisers can pair this data with the automated optimization recommendations (customized to their account in the Opportunities tab), align with their goals and make performance changes.

Using the Analyze Competition Feature

Login to your AdWords account and follow these steps:

  1. Click on the Opportunities tab.
  2. Click on the Analyze competition link in the top left side bar, below the Ideas link.
  3. Adjust the compared metric, as necessary (default metric is “Impressions”).
  4. Click on a category link to drill down to a more specific sub-category.
  5. When the category name is no longer a link, you have hit the most specific sub-category.
  6. Click on the See Search Terms link for a list of searches that have been identified as relevant to that category.
  7. Analyze competitive metrics.

Here’s to analyzing success.

PPC for the Holidays

22 10 2010

If you have already begun to implement the recommendations and holiday tips from John, in his SEO for the Holidays post, great work!  Because SEO and on-site optimization tactics have a longer timeframe before you can expect to see results (but it’s worth it, as in the end you’re not 100% reliant on paid clicks for your traffic and sales), it’s never too early to get started.  However, with the holiday season approaching, consider pairing your SEO strategy with a PPC one if you’re looking to gear up your holiday advertising presence more quickly.  PPC campaigns have a shorter ramp up cycle and can be created, launched and up and running in just a few hours.  Nevertheless, don’t let this fast track to results fool you, PPC campaigns need to be crafted just as strategically as SEO campaigns.  Especially, for the holidays.

While the holidays can be a huge source of income for retailers, you can never assume that consumers are more likely “pull the trigger” and buy because it’s the holiday season.  In fact, numerous studies including a 2010 Post-Holiday Consumer Study by Google, shows that the shopping cycle of average consumers is lengthening.  This means that your potential customers are doing a lot of research prior to purchase, even for lesser-priced items like cosmetics and pet supplies.

Holiday Tip: Keep the lengthening shopping cycle and consumer buying habits in mind, and ensure that your PPC strategy includes broad and specific keyword variations that your potential customer would use throughout their research and buying process.  This includes general keywords, long-tail keywords and branded or product specific keywords.

Research and Review before Getting Started

Before you launch your PPC campaign for the holidays, you should review holiday campaigns from the previous season to see what keywords, ads and landing pages performed the best.  This will give you a good baseline for creating a high performing campaign this year.  If you did not run a holiday campaign last year, don’t worry.  Do some competitive research and see what your competitors, similar retailers and stores are running successfully this year.  Then, use similar tactics when targeting keywords and writing ad text.

Holiday Tip: Don’t forget to schedule your launch dates and advertising messaging around nationwide sales days like Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Christmas Day.  Online shoppers are out in droves, looking for deals and are ready to buy.

Create Ad Text that Speaks to your Customers

Use calls to action!  Don’t assume that your customers will do what you want them to do once they hit your site.  You will likely miss an opportunity to convert an undecided visitor into a sale.  It’s imperative that you give your potential customers a purpose and a reason to buy from you.  This includes highlighting your holiday specials, promotions and product value propositions for them.  And, based on your research, make sure that your ad headlines and copy include keywords that users are searching on, as these terms will be bolded in the search results and help draw a user’s eye to your ad.

Take a look at the ads below, the ad on the left is compelling a user to shop, and giving them a good reason to do so (i.e. Huge Sale and Free Shipping).  The ad on the left has done a good job at utilizing appropriate keywords, but does not include a call to action, enticing the user to click on their ad versus the competitors’ ad.  While first impressions can gain or lose potential shoppers, to generate a successful holiday PPC campaign it’s important for your ad to stand out from the crowd.


Holiday Tip: To get your ads to stand out from the crowd even further, consider adding convenience features such as Google Checkout or utilizing AdWords Sitelinks or AdWords Product Extensions through Google Merchant Center to display eye-catching imagery along with your sponsored text ad.  And, don’t forget to test your ads!

Use Targeted Landing Pages

Once you’ve captured your potential customer’s click, what’s next?  Your messaging has done its job, but the user experience has just begun.  To improve your chances of converting your visitor, their experience upon landing on your site must align with their expectations and provide them with the tools and content needed for them to buy.  Now, it’s up to your landing page strategy and conversion funnel to close the deal.

The content on your landing pages should align with the promotions and keywords in your ads and ad groups.  Prominent “Buy Now” or “Shop Now” buttons should be used to grab the visitor’s attention immediately.  Simplify their navigation options on the page and make their path to conversion easy.  And, don’t forget to include relevant imagery that aligns with what the user was expecting to find by clicking on your ad.


Holiday Tip: Use your landing pages as an opportunity to merchandise by recommending other items that pair well with the product they’re considering buying.  This improves the potential to increase the final order value and drive additional revenue for related items.  FInally, don’t forget to test your landing pages!

For an immediate online presence during the holidays, PPC advertising can extend your visibility quickly through targeted keywords and strategic holiday messaging throughout your potential customer’s research and buying process (helping them choose to buy from you versus a competitor).  However, before you throw budget at a PPC campaign for the holidays, make sure you’re planning ahead and have time to optimize key elements properly, to ensure that you generate the sales revenue you’re seeking.  By utilizing the PPC best practices outlined above, you will be well on your way towards getting in front of your target audience when they’re looking for what you offer and converting them into holiday sales.  Cha-ching!

AdWords Ad Text Wrapping

22 09 2010

One of the trickiest aspects of writing PPC ads is finding a way to confine your advertising message within Google AdWords’ strict character limits.  In some cases, the use of necessary punctuation is omitted in an effort to fit more words into the ad text copy.

The traditional AdWords ad text character limit follows the below guidelines:

Line 1 or TITLE = 25 characters

Line 2 of AD TEXT = 35 characters

Line 3 of AD TEXT = 35 characters

DISPLAY URL = 35 characters

It’s easy to begin writing a PPC ad, arrive at the end of your Line 2 character limit, and decide it’s not worth re-writing to fit a period at the end of the sentence.  You think, no big deal, searchers will understand it’s the end of a sentence because the second sentence begins on Line 3.  Wrong – to some extent.  It’s time to get back into the habit of best practice ad copywriting, specifically when using correct punctuation.  Here’s why.

  • Google has recently started “text wrapping” (think Microsoft Word/Excel) sponsored listings in SERPs (as well as organic listings), as the browser becomes narrower or wider.  Depending on the width of a searcher’s browser, your ad may not be displayed in the typical 25-35-35 fashion.
  • Additionally, text ads in the top positions (purple box) on also have a similar issue, as Line 2 and Line 3 of the ad text are normally displayed on a single line regardless of how you have previously configured the characters within the AdWords interface or using AdWords Editor.  These ads are also affected by text wrapping.

In some circumstances, an advertiser’s neglect to add the appropriate punctuation may compromise the readability and messaging of a PPC ad.  Google’s display of variable AdWords line lengths in SERPs can return confusing, run on sentences to searchers.  The last thing you (as an advertiser) want to do is to have your first impression with a potential customer be a lackluster one.  Poor use of punctuation, or lack thereof, can rub searchers the wrong way.  Your potential customers or clients may dismiss your unpolished ad for a competitor’s ad, which reads more professionally.

Figure 1 below shows ads that are displaying lines of text that exceed the 35 character length as a result of text wrapping:

Figure 1: AdWords Ad Text Wrapping

Ad Text Wrapping

The current AdWords interface and most recent version of AdWords Editor do not allow advertisers to manipulate how their ad text length will display in variation from the traditional 25 and 35 character limits.  The takeaway – it’s up to small business advertisers to create ad text accordingly, using punctuation that reads correctly regardless of what AdWords line length is shown.  With the holiday advertising season closing in, now is the time for advertisers to audit current PPC ads and fix punctuation anomalies.

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