Monthly Archives: March 2007

Pay Per Click Reporting Gripe

Working for an online marketing agency, we, and I’m assuming most other agencies and corporations, develop internal databases to track and report on pay per click traffic and costs. The various pay per click platforms provide us with the ability to download reports in various formats, which we can import into our own databases easily. We write scripts, macros and various tools to automate the process of generating monthly reports for our clients as much as possible.

So it pains me to no end when I find out that yet again, one of the platforms changes their CSV formatting.


Do you not realize that changing just one character in a field name means that pretty much the entire SEM agency industry, as well as medium to large corporations now need to edit their internal reporting mechanisms?

Buying PPC Ads When You Have Good Organic Rankings

Here’s a very common theory I come across all the time: “If I have great organic rankings, I can save money by turning off pay per click listings for the same terms”.

This reasoning is only valid if you’re bidding on keywords with poor ROI, or your campaigns are not properly optimized. The one thing that people often overlook is that if you’re paying $100 to get $5000 in business and you’re making say $500 profit, why would you cut that? By cutting advertising with a positive ROI, you’re actually hurting your revenue and profit!

Math aside, here are a few more reasons why it’s good to buy sponsored listings, even if you rank number 1 for a specific term.

1) You are showing the audience that you are serious about acquiring traffic – it shows that you have a strong selling intent.

2) It implies market dominance

3) You provide 2 places (sometimes 3 on Yahoo) where a user can find a link to your website

4) You eliminate one of the sites you’re competing with

5) It caters to both sets of audiences, those who prefer organic, and those who prefer sponsored listings

6) It enables you to use the PPC ad copy to compliment your organic listing, by promoting special offers, trust, or unique selling points

7) Even if your PPC ROI breaks even, you’ve just acquired another customer and increased your marketshare

Edit (3/28/07):
A recent post by Rob Garner of Search Insider: Yes, Co-managed PPC And SEO Campaigns Work also backs up my experiences and proves that this strategy can work very well.

When appearing in both natural and paid search for the same keyword impression, clicks lifted 92 percent, actions lifted 45percent, orders lifted 45 percent, page views lifted 44 percent, visitors increased by 41 percent, and time on site increased by 40 percent.

The results of an iCrossing study found that organic listings actually boost the performance of PPC campaigns significantly, which really emphasizes the point that when you have both an organic and PPC listing on one page, the PPC better have positive ROI.

More Thoughts:

5 Simple Steps to Reactivate Inactive Keywords in Google AdWords

Since the recent Quality Score updates have been put in place a lot of people are seeing keywords being marked as inactive for search with a message: “increase quality or bid $X to activate” The costs to activate the keyword vary but can easily be $1, $5 or $10 per click. These costs are just not feasible for most advertisers, but getting these keywords back online is important.

Here’s my 5 step process for getting those keywords active again at the same or almost the same cost.

1) Delete the affected inactive keyword from the Ad Group.

2) Create a new Ad Group and name it something relevant to the keyword you’re working with.

3) Create a new ad which specifically targets that keyword. If you can include it in the title and description, great! If not, at least the title should be good enough. Make sure that the destination page also has that keyword present on the page if possible. If it’s an important enough keyword think about creating a dedicated landing page.

4) Add this keyword and only very close variants to the new Ad Group. For example, if the keyword you’re working with is red widget, only add phrases like red widget and red widgets. We want to keep this as focussed as possible for now, we can always add other variants later. Also be sure to add the necessary negative keywords.

5) Set the CPC way above what you’d normally bid and let it gain a few clicks, then you can back it down to the usual cost. This will give it some history and help get it established.

If your account is poorly structured, you may have a lot of inactive keywords. If this is the case, perhaps this would be a good time to hire a pay per click consultant to help you restructure the account. They should also be able to help you with writing the ad copy, analyzing the destination page and help with conversion analysis.

Google Pay Per Action Ads – Good and Bad

I’m very glad this Pay Per Action (PPA) beta test is now available and it’s definitely a smart move by Google to fill in the gap of their advertiser base. It will be running on the US content network only initially with limited ad formats, but I’m sure that will expand and grow as more advertisers sign up and publishers request more formats.

The Problem With Current Content Targeting
Many advertisers turn off content targeting (I hate that it’s turned on by default when you create a campaign) because they get poor performance and high clicks costs. It makes it doubly hard when a new or inexperienced AdWords customer wants to try the content network because it very often requires a different strategy to make it successful and when the first taste of results is sour, it’s tough to lure them back in to try it again.

Reacquiring Advertisers
PPA will provide another advertising option for those AdWords clients who opted out due to poor returns and high costs. This will be on their financial terms and is much easier for them to justify and track.

Gaining New Advertisers
There are still many companies who do not and will not trust CPC advertising, or Google’s click fraud protection, due to the huge discrepancies in reported click fraud which runs anywhere from 2% to 20%, and especially when just a year ago Google was involved in a class action lawsuit where they agreed to pay $90M settlement.

Many have misconceived ideas and notions of how CPC advertising works and will not be swayed, regardless of the numbers presented to them. For these business owners, Pay Per Action is going to be much easier for them to digest and they’ll be much more willing to give it a try. Unfortunately, these are the type of people that will really need a helping hand, since they will typically be the most inexperienced at online marketing. The biggest incentives for them will be the lack of financial commitment and easy of applying their business model.

It’s A Double Sell
One of the other issues that PPA advertisers will face is the double sell. They will obviously have to craft ads in various formats with great marketing messages to appeal to the end consumer, but they will also need to ensure that they write appealing descriptions and have a website which appears to convert well enough to have publishers run their ads.

Bye Bye MFA
If this ends up replacing the current CPC model, it will virtually eliminate Made For AdSense (MFA) websites and click fraud because the payback is on the completion of an action (newsletter signup, lead, sale etc). This is a huge step forwards and while many part time webmasters will boo and hiss at this, it will appease the more important audience, the advertisers themselves, ie the source of the revenue. This could also have performance and storage implications for crawling and the indexing processes.

Unfortunately since a lot of Google’s revenue comes from content network CPC ads, they’re going to be extremely cautious at making this type of move.

The Poor Publisher
A lot of publishers will not like this model and will probably stay away from it. Their belief is that simply displaying the ads is providing value and they would like some compensation. While that’s a fair statement in itself, the MFA sites abuse this and tarnish the reputation of good, trustworthy publishers.

In a PPA or CPA model, the advertiser/vendor relationship is self regulating. If a publisher does not see good returns, they will simply swap out the ads.

Competing With Affiliate Networks
The PPA model, (a.k.a. Cost Per Acquisition (CPA)) is competing with the affiliate networks like Commission Junction, and they’re not going to like it at all. With Google’s offering, there’s no monthly service fee, which is much friendlier to the vendor. According to Andy Beal’s post where he questioned Rob Kniaz, product manager for Google’s advertising products, Kniaz did not feel that this was direct competition. Although they may not intend that to to be so, the similarities are striking.

More Coverage
Official Google Announcement: Pay-per-action beta test
SEORefugee: Overcoming Objections for Google’s Pay-Per-Action
SearchEngineLand: Google Launches Pay Per Action Ads
Barrons: Google Launches “Pay-Per-Action” Ad Beta

Testing Google Analytics Regular Expressions In Real Time

If you have a dynamic website and want to set up conversion goals within Google Analytics, you may need to use regular expressions to define the goal page.

These are extremely useful because they can be used to match specific sequences of characters in a URL. They’re a huge expansion on the common wildcard characters * and ? and tend to work out very well for ecommerce websites.

Here’s a typical example of how you can use them to great effect. Usually when you set up a conversion goal you have to specify a goal URL, that is, a page the user gets to which triggers that a conversion has taken place. In the case of an ecommerce website, it would be the receipt page, or “thank you” page once the user has purchased something. But in many cases the URL of that page is dynamic and may contain OrderID or CustomerID variables. Since this page changes every time, we need to use a regular expression so we can match the URL regardless of the value of those variables.

If you’re new to Google Analytics, you probably started off setting up a goal with your first attempt at a regular expression, going to your website to complete a test transaction, waiting approximately 3 hours then checking your stats. Not exactly the most efficient way of going about things, especially if you’re new to regular expressions.

If that’s the way you normally do it, here’s a massive time saving tip. You can test your regular expression live on previous data and it will take you just a matter of minutes to complete the goal.

1) Once logged in to Analytics, go to Content Optimization > Content Performance > Top Content
2) In the filter at the top of the screen enter your regular expression and hit enter.
3) Look at the content results and keep fine tuning your regular expression until you see the desired match appear

Here’s a real example used on an ecommerce site. The regular expression I used to filter the data was:

Click on the image to see a screenshot of the results:
Google Analytics Regular Expression Example

Just be sure to scroll through all results, to make sure it didn’t pick up anything else, otherwise your conversion stats will be overinflated.

More Help
Google Analytics Regular Expressions Syntax
Conversion University
Google Analytics Support Pages
Google Analytics Google Group

Edit: Corrected syntax, thanks Mark.

Basic Ecommerce SEO Tips

Ecommerce websites are usually database driven and use templates to generate the website. There are usually 3 or 4 levels to the site structure, as well as informational and miscellaneous pages. If you’re not careful, your website can quickly disappear into the supplemental index and you will have a hard time getting anything other than a few of your pages ranked. I’ve outlined some basic search engine optimization tips for a typical small to medium sized ecommerce website.

1) Homepage

Optimize for your most important and broadest phrases – stick to your top sellers, or your most profitable items. If you’re a brick and mortar store, also ensure that you publish your store’s physical location or mailing address and local phone number for local search. If you’re a local supplier of dog food in Dallas, then you could use:

ACME Company - Dog Food Supplier Dallas, TX

This is your shop window, so just like the big department stores do in real life, make sure you include small windows into the various departments within the website. Provide text links directly into those categories surrounded by appropriate text. Writing in short paragraphs with embedded text links is more effective than just a list of links.

2) Main Category Page

Target the brand names and plural versions of products. Make sure you describe the products that can be found in this department or category and include text links to them, and/or their subcategories within the first few paragraphs.

3) Subcategory Page

Here you can go into more detail about the products in your target keywords. Include size or material options to go for those valuable 3, 4 and 5 word search phrases.

4) Product Detail Page

These are some of the most important pages on your website because they’re typically the start of the funnel or shopping cart and users entering your website on these specific pages tend to convert very well since they will have entered very specific search criteria.

Since the category pages are targeting the plural versions, use these pages to target the singular of the product and if appropriate include specific model numbers. If there are related products or accessories (even in different departments) feel free to link to those pages too.

Make sure your internal linking structure is both hierarchical and lateral. Make sure that the programmers don’t trap you into a site with only a hierarchical linking structure.

Variable Substitution
In many cases there will be one template used to generate all the product detail pages. If your CMS or programming team allows, use variables to populate these HTML elements, for example:

{brand} {model} - {model number}

If your company differentiates itself by price, then you can use:

Cheap {brand} {model} - {model number}

The meta description tag can also be written out with variable substitution in the same way. This is a really effective way of optimizing thousands of product detail pages with unique tags in one go and certainly beats writing each one by hand. The most important page elements you’ll want to address using this method are the title, meta description and H1 tags.

Crafting the H1 tag.
Keep it short and concise with the product name and model number. Resist the urge to include calls to action – this is not the place, there’s plenty of opportunity elsewhere on the page to entice users onto the next step.

Unique Product Descriptions
If you take a data feed from a manufacturer or supplier, try to rewrite the product descriptions. If you haven’t already do this, then take your top 10 products and rewrite those, then move on down the line. Sometimes the manufacturer’s product descriptions are filled with so much technical specification information and technical jargon that the keywords containing the product name, or type/category of product are missing completely!

Try to be verbose in your descriptions. It’s important to ensure that the copy to html ratio is in the right proportion. Search engines do not like pages with lots of template HTML code and a very short descriptions. Wherever possible, try to ensure that your product descriptions and body copy definitely outweighs the template HTML code.

By doing these few things you will ensure that every product detail page is unique, which will help to avoid those pages dropping into the supplemental index.

5) Informational Pages

For certain types of products you can target “how to” type phrases or maintenance tips. Ensure that whenever you talk about a product type, or a specific model, that you link to the appropriate category or product detail page using the model name as the link text.

6) Misc Pages

The 4 most important pages here are:

a) About Us
Talk about your company history, perhaps some customer testimonials and benefits of using your company. Perhaps you have some experts on your payroll that you want to show off.

b) Contact Us
Use your company name or primary product/service and your physical location again in the title tag and meta description. Include as much contact info as you can, the full mailing address, toll free and local telephone numbers are especially important. Make sure you write out the address in a simple text format so it’s easy for the search engine to decipher. For instance use line breaks or commas as word separators not fancy blob or circle characters. It may look cool, but the object here is to ensure that the search engine can recognise the address for local search.

You may also want to include payment methods accepted and hours of operation. If you have multiple locations, be sure to list them all. You may also want to link to one of the popular mapping services for driving directions.

c) Privacy Policy
If you want to become a member of the Better Business Bureau or TRUSTe, you will need a privacy policy. Make sure you include the date it was last updated and contact information specifically for questions regarding privacy.

d) Sitemap
Most often this is one page which lists every page on your website, but if you have a large shopping cart with hundreds or thousands of products, it’s not practical to list them all. In this case, list the main categories and use sub pages for each section. Try to limit the number of links to 100 or less per sitemap page.

Other pages will cover topics such as ordering info, customer service, shipping and return policies, sizing charts, privacy policy and frequently asked questions. There’s not much effective optimization that can be done on these pages, so make the title and meta description tags functional and concise.

Where To Put Your Company Name

If you have a fairly new website, then you’ll need to include the company name in the title tag of the homepage. Never put your company name in the title tag on every page, it’s simply a waste of characters. Most search engines only display up to approximately 60 words in the results, so if you have a long company name, you may inadvertently have your juicy model names and numbers truncated.

If your website is well established, then you may not even need to have the company name listed in any title tags, as there will be enough links pointing to your website with your company name in the anchor text to offset the need to place it within the title tag. And since your website is established, users will recognize your company in the website address after the snippet.

SEO Is An Investment Not A Cost

When I first start working with a company, many of them classify their website as a cost. It’s something that they have to have, like an 800 number, a phone system with voicemail capability, or an annual equipment service and calibration. A website should not be classified as an expense, but an asset, just in the same way as if you built your own office building, or purchased a new piece of machinery. These items are considered assets because they have some monetary value if resold and help build the business. Your website is exactly the same.

In the same way that adding more tools and machines to a workshop enhances its value through productivity, investing in search engine optimization adds value to your website through better rankings, more qualified traffic and leads or sales.

So eventhough the funds may be taken from an overall marketing department’s annual budget to pay for SEO services, it must not be grouped together with the other advertising costs. Typically most advertising is short lived – once the ad campaign is over, sales decline. This is totally opposite with professional SEO services.

With good optimization, your website’s rankings will actually improve over time. Sure, there may be a few bumps in the road as search engines revise their algorithms, but overall you will see more traffic as a result of increased visibility.

I’ve worked with a few websites which have had very few changes after the optimization process has been completed and yet they continue to gain rankings and see increased traffic as time goes by.