Monthly Archives: February 2007

Google AdWords Quality Score – Serious Algo Flaw Discovered

Announced today, by the Inside AdWords crew:

Today, we began rolling out improvements to the Quality Score algorithm, which will update the Quality Score for keywords in your account over the next 3 to 4 days.

The goal is to improve the quality of the ads, which is great and I applaud their efforts to try and combat arbitrage and low quality ads, unfortunately, I’ve uncovered another side to the story of the AdWords system which isn’t so great.

The main factors in calculating quality score are click through rate, the relevance of the ad and landing page, but there are many other minor factors at play, which are not disclosed. After talking to my rep the other day, one issue which I’m not happy about at all, is the fact that a quality score is applied to the keyword, but not per account, but just the keyword itself. All advertisers are then subject to this generic keyword level quality score.

What this means is that if you have a great campaign with high click through rates, perfectly relevant ads and are seen as an authority of a topic, your minimum bid may increase because the keyword quality score overall was dragged down by arbitrage, junk sites and other accounts which, perhaps through inexperience, are bidding on the wrong keywords.

Let me reword that slightly different – your minimum bids may be raised based on the actions of other accounts, which are totally beyond your control.

This is absolutely horrendous!

The end result is that good performing accounts are effectively penalized and in one of my cases, the minimum bid was raised to a level, where there are NO advertisers willing to bid for that term, and it wasn’t one of those $1, $5 or $10 minimum bid raises either.

It seems Google has shot themselves in the foot on this issue and I know there are going to a lot of similar complaints with this new quality score system.

It doesn’t matter how much Google stresses the quality aspect of this update, advertisers are only going to see the issue that affects them the most, how much it’s going to raise their prices.

Comparing Google Local and Acxiom Categories

The Google Local Business Center offers advertisers a way to geographically authenticate themselves and then select an appropriate category for their business listing.

Google Maps takes data from various sources including Acxiom which provides data for many of the phone directory type websites.

Taking a look at the categories available categories on (which is powered by the Acxiom database), it’s immediately obvious that there’s more than the 520 listed in Google Maps. After looking 3 levels deep (many main categories go 4 levels deep), for the Pittsburgh region, I came up with just under 1,800 categories.

Some of the Acxiom categories do not map well, or are completely missing from what’s in the Google Local Business Center (LBC). Let’s look at a few examples:

GLBC is completely missing the entire main Agriculture category, which consists of at least 35, some of which include:

Agriculture – Agricultural-Crops
Agriculture – Agricultural-Crops – Agricultural-Chemicals-Pesticides
Agriculture – Animals
Agriculture – Animals – Birds
Agriculture – Animals – Specialty-Animal-Services
Agriculture – Farm-Equipment
Agriculture – Farm-Equipment – Dairy-Farm-Equipment
Agriculture – Farm-Equipment – Feeders-Automatic-Animal-Fish
Agriculture – Farm-Equipment – Irrigation-Systems-Equipment
Agriculture – Farm-Equipment – Tractors-Equipment-Supplies
Agriculture – Farms

The Business section is structured differently with GLBC having a Business To Business and Services main categories, while Acxiom has a more extensive Business Services category.

GLBC has 8 categories for Real Estate, while Acxiom has at least 26:

Real Estate
Real Estate – Agents & Realtors
Real Estate – Apartment Buildings & Complexes
Real Estate – Appraisers
Real Estate – Commercial
Real Estate – Home Inspection
Real Estate – Property Management
Real Estate – Surveyors

Real-Estate – Commercial-Industrial
Real-Estate – Commercial-Industrial – Buildings
Real-Estate – Commercial-Industrial – Commercial-Industrial-Real-Estate-Companies
Real-Estate – Commercial-Industrial – Commercial-Industrial-Rental-Leasing
Real-Estate – Commercial-Industrial – Real-Property-Lessors
Real-Estate – General
Real-Estate – Real-Estate-Services
Real-Estate – Real-Estate-Services – Apartment-Building-Operators
Real-Estate – Real-Estate-Services – Cemetery-Subdividers-Developers
Real-Estate – Real-Estate-Services – Land-Subdividers-Developers
Real-Estate – Real-Estate-Services – Mortgage-Companies
Real-Estate – Real-Estate-Services – Nonresidential-Building-Operators
Real-Estate – Real-Estate-Services – Operators-Of-Residential-Mobile-Home-Sites
Real-Estate – Real-Estate-Services – Professional-Relocation-Services
Real-Estate – Real-Estate-Services – Property-Maintenance-Services
Real-Estate – Real-Estate-Services – Property-Management
Real-Estate – Real-Estate-Services – Property-Operation-Retail-Establishments
Real-Estate – Real-Estate-Services – Real-Estate-Agents-Brokers
Real-Estate – Real-Estate-Services – Real-Estate-Appraisers-Consulting-Services
Real-Estate – Real-Estate-Services – Real-Estate-Managers
Real-Estate – Real-Estate-Services – Title-Abstract-Companies
Real-Estate – Residential
Real-Estate – Residential – Modular-Mobile-Homes-Sales-Service
Real-Estate – Residential – Residential-Apartments
Real-Estate – Residential – Residential-Real-Estate-Companies

I believe that to provide the best overall experience for the user and advertiser, the two (and possibly other) systems need to be merged and use one set of categories. I don’t mind which one Google prefers, but from an advertiser point of view, I want to be consistent in how I present my company within Google AdWords local ads, Google Local Business Center and listings on Maps. Just give me one place where I can edit my company name, description and other relevant information.

From Google’s point of view, I would expect them to push all businesses through AdWords for the local ads. This would give them the chance to upsell the business to use national cpc advertising, as well as content targeting, mobile and offline ads. I think we’re going to see some interesting things happen with local in 2007.

Superpages Joining AdWords and Panama is also changing from a bid only tactic to a system which will take into account “many facets of your campaign”. I have yet to use the new system, but I have several accounts which do, so it’s just a matter of time before I get my hands on it.

Just a quick post, since I have to run off to a meeting.

Edit (2/21/2007): I had forgotten that was spun off from Verizon last fall – thanks to Idearc for contacting me – I’ve amended the title of the post.

Google Express Speculation

Garett Rogers just wrote an article: What Google is up to listing some domains that have been transfered to Google. The one that caught my eye was Knowing how Google likes to pull technologies together, it got me thinking more about what this could be for. Here’s my train of thought:

  1. Hey that sounds like a good name for a shopping cart
  2. Wait a minute, they already have Google Checkout
  3. They also have their own Google Store
  4. They’re offering one page websites for business owners in Google AdWords Starter Edition
  5. Google Local Business Center offers listings for local businesses, even if they don’t have a website
  6. They have a way to upload products using Google Base
  7. They can distribute products through Froogle and the Onebox in organic search.
  8. If they pulled all of these together what would they call it? Google Express!

Adwords Quality Score Bug

Since many people are experiencing today’s “quality score bug” as reported in Search Engine Land and on SEORefugee, I decided to run a daily keyword performance report for the period: month to date on some accounts. I noticed that some keywords were marked as inactive for search with minimum bids being raised to $1, $5 or $10 per click. The csv report also showed multiple rows of data for these keywords, with some rows starting at 2/1/2007.

After checking with my AdWords rep, it was confirmed that no matter how many rows are displayed for a specific keyword, the minimum bid is always set to the current value of when the report was run. In other words, the report data for the minimum bid column is only accurate for the current date, ignore previous dates as it all shows the same value.

The rep also confirmed that this is a widespread problem and that it’s their top priority to fix. It should be fixed within the next day or so. Fortunately for the accounts I looked at, the keywords that were affected have very little search/click volume so the impact was fairly minimal. For one account that has approx 2,000 keywords active at any one time, only a handful were affected.

For now, I recommend sitting it out and waiting for the bug fix before trying to reorganize your account.

Top 10 Reasons Why Website Frames Are Bad

When website frames were introduced around 1998 with HTML 4.0, it was a time when most users used modems for connectivity – 9,600 and 14,400 baud modems were the norm and download times were horrendously slow compared to modern broadband connections like DSL and cable.

With frames you could split a page into pieces and section off fairly static content like headers, menus or footers into their own frame. This drastically reduced download times because only the main body of the page needed to be downloaded.

Today, websites are larger and require more dynamic elements and real estate to display additional content and other media like ads. Frames are now only used in relatively few instances, where a website designer needs a certain overall look and feel to the website, and quite often where traffic from search engines is not a big priority.

Website frames are problematic if you want to create a search engine friendly website and get it ranked well. I’m not saying it can’t be done, but it can cause problems for the inexperienced website designer. Here’s my top 10 reasons why website frames should not be used:

1) Orphaned Pages
This can happen when a webpage is linked to, but never links back to anywhere. Typical scenario is where a frame is used for a header, but has no navigation links. The header may be optimized with appropriate title and meta tags, but Google doesn’t tend to rank these orphaned pages very well at all.

2) Lack of Content
If you use a frame for the footer of a page, it typically may not contain any links (see above) or much content at all, apart from perhaps a small tag line and a copyright notice. In building a search engine friendly site, we try to maintain contextual relevance across the whole site, or at least across certain sections. This helps in the tail of the search curve where valuable traffic is obtained.

3) Crawl Path Problems
If you have a complex frame set up, search engines may not be able to access every page on your website. You can get around this by using a sitemap, but why initiate a problem in the first place?

4) Internal Link Integrity and PageRank Problems
Similar to the point above, you may not be spreading Google PageRank laterally, i.e. linking similar level pages together, instead of relying on the main navigation to provide the links. Where possible you want to link similar pages to each other because the text surrounding the link is important in determining the contextual relevance of the link, hence, making that link more valuable.

5) User Suspicion/Deception
When a website uses frames, the address in the user’s browser stays the same as they move from page to page. For websites which are expecting a conversion, like an ecommerce site, this may be perceived as trying to hide where the real content is coming from and conversions could suffer.

6) Bookmarking and Linking
Because the address never changes in the browser, it’s more difficult to bookmark or link to internal pages. If you are able to get the URL of the internal frame content to send to them in say a customer service email, it’s sometimes pretty useless for the user, since when they arrive there may not be a header or any website navigation.

7) Dynamic Content Limitations
Using frames makes it very difficult to offer dynamic navigation menus which expand by section depending on where you are on the website, or certain promotions or section advertisements. This can be achieved using Javascript but is a pain in the butt to code and keep track of. A simple mistake can cause problems with the navigation, which needs to be consistent and predictable for the best user experience.

8) Nested Frames
With just one small coding mistake you can end up with nested frames – i.e. multiple headers or navigation frames which is difficult for the user to “break out”. They either resort to having to go to the homepage and starting over, or they just leave.

9) Entry Page Problem
Since many times frames are used to hold the site navigation, if an internal page becomes an entry page from a search engine, there may not be any navigation for them to follow to go further into the site. And if you don’t link inner pages, there’s really nowhere for the user to go. They either manually adjust the address in the browser to get to the homepage, or just leave.

10) Limited Real Estate
Oftentimes the space right next to the main navigation is used for promotions or serving third party advertising. If you have the navigation placed in a frame, the “real estate” available to you is limited to the user’s screen resolution. You could use scrollbars within the frame, but if your main page content already needs a scrollbar, having 2 makes the user work extra hard to navigate your website.

Google Analytics Full Referrer Tracking Update

Since I wrote about tracking the full referrer in Google Analytics, I had feedback from some people saying that their content management system, forum software, etc doesn’t allow them to modify the HEAD section or BODY tag. Some other people are also hesitant to place the code in the HEAD section incase the Google Analytics servers are slow, causing the page to pause while the tracking code is downloaded from Google. Another drawback to putting the tracking code high up on the page is that you may end up counting partial page downloads.

So to get around these issues here’s an alternative which you can place just before the end BODY tag.

Just replace the XXX’s with your Analytics account code.

Update: I’ve augmented the tracking code to also detect if the page is served in http or https mode to serve the appropriate call to the urchin.js file, and also detecting whether the referrer is internal or external so you don’t get your site appearing as a full referrer in the Top Content Report. View my Ultimate Google Analytics Tracking Code.

Google AdWords Quality Update

The Google Inside AdWords blog just announced some more changes to the Quality Score which are going to be quite interesting. The first is going to be an improvement on Transparency – in other words, giving advertisers more information about the inner workings. In this case they’ll be providing indications on Quality Score at the keyword level, indicating whether it’s: Great, OK, or Poor. The other change is also providing the minimum bid for each keyword.

Looking at what has happened in the past I think it’s going to have a big impact on many AdWords customers. Smaller accounts with just a couple of campaigns will need to restructure their Ad Groups and be even more granular in grouping keywords together. While the same is also true for bigger accounts, they will also need to watch those big costly keywords very carefully. Those expensive 1 or 2 word phrases could be getting a whole lot more expensive.

For certain niche advertisers, where their strategy is not to get the highest CTR, may also suffer and see minimum bids rise, although they may not be too badly affected since they’re typically not near the bottom of the bid range anyway.

Google recommends implementing the Quality Score column, which although is not available right now, could mean using the new “customize columns” feature in the Campaign/Ad Group management tabs. This will allow you to monitor any minimum bid changes.

I hesitantly welcome this change – I’m sure Google is hoping this will get rid of a lot of PPC ads going to YPN sites, I just hope they don’t affect the “real” companies’ accounts.

One thing I know for sure, I’ll be doing a lot of monitoring/adjusting/optimizing again in the next few weeks.

Andy Beal and Search Engine Land also wrote about this issue.

SEO Title Tag Plugin

I decided to install the SEO Title Tag Plugin by Stephan Spencer, since I wanted to clean up the titles. WordPress by default puts in a bunch of extra stuff in there which just doesn’t really look very good.

Ironically, by installing the SEO Title Tag plugin, it allowed me to clean up all the titles so I can avoid seeing things like:

blogname » Blog Archive » Title.

One of the cool features of this plugin is that you can set custom titles by post (or page) by using the custom fields and specifying title_tag as the key, then entering the custom text in the value.

Socializer and Socializing

I was using the Social Bookmarks WordPress Plugin by Apostolos Dountsis which places a bunch of small icons at the bottom of each post. I don’t know how successful they are because popular social bookmarking sites like and reddit have browser buttons, so you never really know which button they’re clicking on.

I’d like to know to make sure that whatever plugins, widgets, thingies and whatsit’s I bolt onto this blog are going to be useful and not just there because other sites have them.

I decided to try out Pierre Far’s Socializer. It uses one link at the bottom which takes you to a page where you can then select which social bookmarking site you want to use. Pierre has some great instructions on his site, but I decided to install the wordpress plugin, which was originally written by Anders Bergman.

Edit 2/5/2007: Pierre just wrote a post on his blog about the popularity of social bookmarking sites and which are the most popular through his service.