PPC agencies will play these 4 roles when automation takes over

Earlier this year, I wrote about how artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are driving automation in PPC and then again about how Google’s latest wave of AdWords innovations is driven largely by these same technologies.

As the move towards automation accelerates, how should agencies and PPC managers update their strategy? What processes will they need to remain competitive? And what can they really expect from automation tools in the market today? I’ll cover all these topics in a series of upcoming posts, so I’d love to hear your ideas. But today, let’s begin by looking at what roles humans and agencies will play in PPC.

1. Agencies will teach machines to learn

Now that machines can learn, they certainly will surpass humans, right? The reality is that machine learning is still very dependent on humans. We program the algorithms, we provide the training data, we even manipulate the training data to help the machine get it right.

Machine learning often requires structured data to learn from, and it needs a very well-defined problem to solve. We as humans will play a role for some time to define the problem and help shape the desired outcome by manipulating how the machine can “learn.”

For now, the machines need us to be its teachers. AdWords Quality Score only works because the wisdom of the crowds provides a massive set of data about queries and clicks that the machine can use to learn from.

Tesla’s autopilot works because thousands of drivers control their cars manually through tricky situations. Because they’re all networked, this helps the next Tesla better drive itself through that same spot.

In PPC, what we have learned from years of manually managing campaigns can be the basis for teaching computers how to respond in similar situations.

Teachers can’t teach everything, so a large part of what they do is help students ask better questions. As teachers to the computers, we should allow ourselves to ask more questions, because synthetic intellect doesn’t have the same human constraints for how quickly it can find answers.

Take Quality Score, for example — it is a machine learning system that can analyze hundreds of factors related to a search and find patterns of things that have a meaningful impact on CTR. Because it can analyze data so much faster, we can feed it seemingly random and unconnected data and let it tell us if this makes a difference.

Here’s a crazy question we once asked the Quality Score system: Does the lunar cycle impact CTR? While the answer isn’t what’s important (no, there was no correlation), what is important is that we were able to ask entirely new questions and quickly get an answer that helped make the system better.

But we should also prioritize the questions we ask based on human intuition. We don’t want to waste machine power by asking everything when we already know with a high probability that some answers won’t help us improve. Consider the following example: Ask Google Maps to calculate the best route from San Francisco to New York. Calculating every possible backroad will take a long time, and considering that we know highways tend to be faster than local roads, that calculation will almost certainly not yield a better result — so we can safely ignore that question.

2. Agencies will provide the creativity machines lack

The biggest value of an agency will be the ability of its employees to work collaboratively with automation.

Chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov notes that when it comes to chess, teams of humans assisted by machines dominate even the strongest computers. In a 2005 experiment, Playchess.com launched a chess tournament in which participants could play in teams with other players and/or computers. According to Kasparov:

The chess machine Hydra, which is a chess-specific supercomputer like Deep Blue, was no match for a strong human player using a relatively weak laptop. Human strategic guidance combined with the tactical acuity of a computer was overwhelming.

Humans are still good at creative strategy — putting old ideas together in new ways and testing the results. The reason we don’t have Google’s computers writing all the ads for AdWords is that they all would end up looking the same — and then they would stop evolving because the machine would no longer have any variations to test.

Evolutionary algorithms, a subset of AI, are based on biological evolution, and they need access to variations to work well. And while they can create their own mutations, humans often still know the right shortcuts to come up with better ideas.

An advertiser on Facebook once submitted an ad that was a static image that shook a bit. This had a far better CTR than the same ad when it was completely static. It’s kind of a silly way to produce better CTR, but it’s a great example of humans trying something new that the machine probably wouldn’t have thought of because nobody had done this before inside the realm of the data it had access to.

3. Agencies will be the pilot who averts disaster

Self-driving cars are not “driverless” cars because there’s still a human behind the wheel to monitor the machine. That makes sense because not killing its passengers or others on the road is valuable enough to deserve some human resources.

In PPC, we’re fortunately not dealing with life-or-death scenarios; but we can still put a pilot in place to monitor the most important areas of automation. The trick is figuring out the 80/20 rule and saving the human involvement for the automations with the biggest potential impact.

I once audited an account that had completely tanked because the bid automation had correctly reduced bids after the launch of a terribly performing landing page. But while the landing page was quickly fixed by humans, nobody remembered to reset the bids, and the account spent months with subpar performance because its best keywords were lingering on page two of the search results.

The problem with many systems built today is that they have narrow goals that can fail due to self-reinforcing feedback loops that can cause a downward spiral:

bad performance →  bid down a bit → even worse performance → bid down some more → doom!

We can also look beyond what our own automations are doing to find weaknesses to exploit in our competitors’ algorithms. Remember that many automations are doing tasks that are well-defined, and this makes them predictable. For example, I once had to cross four lanes of traffic on my bike and was going to wait to let a car pass me first. But when I noticed it was a Google self-driving car, I went for the turn anyway because I knew the car had perfect vision and was programmed not to hit bicyclists. And since I’m sharing this story, things went well for me in that scenario.

Sometimes, we can learn from what the machine does. Lee Sedol, the world-champion Go player who was beaten by DeepMind’s AlphaGo computer, became a better player from the experience of losing to a machine. He, as well as many others watching the game, were perplexed by move 37 that the computer made. It was simply not a move any human would have played. But it was the move that set the computer up for the win, and now humans have added it to their own repertoire.

And sometimes your job as copilot is to see something that’s not there but that should have been. The book “How Not To Be Wrong” by Jordan Ellenberg tells the story of mathematician Abram Wald, who figured out what part of an airplane should be made stronger to resist being shot down by enemy aircraft during World War II. The data from planes that returned with bullet holes showed that there were more bullet holes in the fuel system than the engine. Scientists concluded that they should re-enforce the fuel system. But Wald argued that planes that were hit in the engine probably crashed and never returned, and this skewed the data.

Let’s put that into a PPC example. When you look at what leads to a conversion because you want to do more of that, maybe you should also ask what doesn’t lead to a conversion and do less of that. For example, high shipping fees may tank your conversion rate, but you wouldn’t find this out if you asked the wrong question.

4. Agencies will have the empathy machines lack

Even when computers will be doing every part of PPC management, they still won’t have the same human connection that you have with your clients. Understanding the nuances of your client’s business (which will help you come up with new ideas to test), understanding their fears about PPC, understanding their frustrations with the last account manager and so on. All this will help you have a more productive relationship with them.

One surprising profession that is leveraging AI is medical doctors. They simply can’t read as much of the existing research as Watson, so IBM’s supercomputer can be a magnificent diagnostician. But Watson may not be able to explain conditions to a patient, and it certainly will not have the empathy of a human when sharing potentially devastating news. There is still a place for doctors even when they have a supercomputer to help them.

And as PPC experts, a large part of our role will be to know which expert automations to test in an account. For bid management alone, there is an overwhelming number of options, ranging from Google’s free Portfolio Bid Strategies to upstart bid management companies that charge thousands of dollars for the promise of a slightly better result. Knowing what is available, what is worth testing and how to calculate the trade-offs is certain to be a large part of the value agencies provide.

Conclusion

Automation is taking over a lot of the tasks humans have historically done in PPC; but as this shift continues, there will be plenty of new opportunities for PPC experts and agencies to provide value to their clients.

Next time, I’ll cover new strategies and processes that will help bridge the gap between humans and artificially intelligent PPC machines.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

Four brand-building activities that lay the foundation for SEO

At Google’s inception, one innovation differentiated it as a search engine: It used information gained from off-site sources to inform its estimation of the relevance, importance and quality of pages in its index. Originally, this source of off-site information was the network of links found by crawling the web.

Nearly two decades later, in 2017, with countless other rich data sources at its disposal, Google uses a more diverse and sophisticated set of data to determine just how big a deal you really are in the marketplace. In my experience over the past 10 years working in SEO, Google has always been pretty good at making this determination, and the signals have become harder and harder to fake over time.

At this point, the most efficient and sustainable path to making your company look like it is a significant player in the marketplace is to become a significant player in the marketplace. What does that mean for SEO folks? It means it’s time to stop thinking about how to build links and instead focus on how to build your brand online.

Of course, the two are not mutually exclusive — but if you’re doing any kind of activity with link-building as a primary objective, I would be skeptical of that activity if you don’t believe it also has the ability to boost the strength of your brand in some way, independent of the SEO impact of the links you’re getting.

With that in mind, I present the four major pillars of digital brand growth. If you can achieve wins in each of these four areas, you will be making rapid progress toward the kind of brand growth that creates positive SEO signals, while boosting the perception of your brand in the hearts and minds of your prospective audience:

1. Improving the product

Have you done user testing on your website? Have you watched people try to perform a specific action on all devices and media available? Have you tested all the major elements of the conversion funnel? Do you know how well people like using your website versus your biggest competitor’s? Do your pages load in under two seconds?

Not many companies can answer “yes” to all these questions. Testing needs to be a standard part of the development process. The more you believe you don’t have time or resources to test, the more badly you probably need it — especially if your site architecture is a mishmash of “urgent” mandates from upper management. The bottom line is that if your site design is based on hunches and intuition, your success is being left to chance.

Make time to test, improve and repeat. If you make a fast site that people love using, your chances of success go way up.

2. Creating valuable resources

What topic can you make your site the best resource for? Ideally, it would be something that is unique in some way and at least somewhat challenging for others to replicate. Here are some starter ideas:

A tool/calculator/selection guide that solves a common problem.A searchable archive of a unique data source you have access to.An educational resource that makes a complex topic easy to understand.An interview with an expert or influencer in your field.A tutorial that teaches people how to do something for themselves.

The more evergreen staying power your resource has, the more it can pay dividends for years to come!

3. Increasing repeat visitors

If I had to identify one defining characteristic of successful online brands, it would be the ability to convert first-time visitors into repeat users. If you have that, then you can build a brand. Without repeat visitors, you may be able to find a niche that produces positive ROI, but you can forget about being an online powerhouse.

Some ideas for encouraging repeat visitors include:

Giving people really good reasons (value) to sign up for regular emails from you.Offering a loyalty plan or discounts for repeat customers.Personalization/being able to give good recommendations.Building on-site community features where users can interact with you and each other.Finding ways to reward especially active members of the community.Adding high-value content on a regular basis and creating channels where people can be notified when new offerings are available.

The bottom line is, you need to find a way to create value on an ongoing basis — and make sure people know about it.

4. Being newsworthy

I’ve never heard anyone claim that you should have low-level employees write half-hearted blogs and then post them to your social media in order to build your brand. Yet that might be the most common content marketing “plan” being used today. There’s too much content out there to waste time creating stuff you don’t care about. And if you don’t care about it, why on earth should anyone else?

Start your thought process with “What can we do that would be truly valuable and remarkable?” instead of “How can we get some links?” You just might get a different result — including more and better links.

It’s okay and often even helpful to be controversial, but if you do so without a purpose that is in alignment with your brand and core audience, the attention you get may not be worth what you end up paying for it.

Here are some positive ways of being newsworthy:

Solve a challenge no one else has been able to solve.Run an original study that brings real insight to a common question in your field.Create something that inspires strong emotion in people.Create something that is massively funny or entertaining. (Be careful here, as you want to make sure that this still adds value to your brand.)Create something that shatters people’s expectations — surprise them in a good way.Make a significant contribution to your community.Create a valuable resource (see section 2) that has mass appeal.

The stronger the alignment between your brand and your newsworthy activities, the more it will benefit you.

Final thoughts

If you continuously improve your site, create valuable resources, get people to come back and do newsworthy things, your online brand will grow and thrive. It’s easy to say, but not as easy to do.

Being mediocre is easy. Being outstanding requires planned action, disciplined follow-through and the willingness to test and try different things until you get it right.

Am I saying SEO is dead? No! Structuring your campaigns for maximum SEO impact is still a hugely important part of the campaign planning process and can dramatically improve the results you get. Organic search is a major traffic channel, and it needs to have people who are looking out for it. That’s not going to change. But if you’re going to be a market leader in 2017, SEO has to be the cart and not the horse. Your brand is the horse, and the stronger it gets, the bigger you can build your cart.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

Auction Insights 3: The final script

Who would have thought that Auction Insights could inspire an entire TRILOGY? Well, if you know AdWords, I suppose it’s not a huge shock that our original script has had to undergo a few adaptations over the last couple of years. Google does like to keep us PPC practitioners on our toes!

Changes to AdWords aside, it’s always nice to spruce things up. Optimization is an infinite process, after all. So, please read on for the latest script that puts the insight into “Auction Insights,” compliments of Brainlabs (my employer).

Basically, we’ve given the Auction Insights script a bit of an update. The latest version can:

take reports from the new AdWords interface (OMG YES!).try out defaults for column names, if those in the Settings sheet aren’t perfect (…WOO?).find out more about your competitors (NOW YOU’RE TALKING!).

What’s new?

New interface

New interface, new reports. You may not have noticed the difference, but there’s an extra line at the top with the date range. In the old version of the tool, it wouldn’t look far enough down the sheet to find the headings. And when you download campaign performance, there are a bunch of totals at the end that would make the old version overcount your stats. But the new version can tell what sort of report you’ve pasted in and cope with it; you can go back to not noticing the differences.

Something to note, though: In the old interface, if you downloaded a campaign report segmented by time and device, it would only give rows for time, device and campaign combinations that had traffic. In the new interface, it gives rows even when there are no impressions. This may be awkward to copy into the Performance sheet, and it may slow down running the tool. Speed things up by filtering out the zero impression rows before copying the data into the Performance sheet.

Also, you can’t mix and match reports from the old and new interfaces — they use different names for the device segments.

Default column names

The old interface says “Impressions,” where the new one says “Impr.” Sometimes, reports say “Interactions” to mean “Clicks.” It’s easy to miss when you have to update the column names in the Settings sheet — so now, if the names in the Settings don’t work, the script will try some of the English column names as a default.

Competitor settings

There’s a change to the list of competitors — you can just say “yes” next to the ones you want to include (as before), or you can give them a number. Competitors with a number will be shown in that order in the reports.

If you’ve got too many competitors to all show in the list on the Settings page, you’ve got two new options:.

First, you can choose to include all competitors in the data tables. It will still only include the top six in the chart, though. You wouldn’t be able to see anything if there were too many lines in there.But what if you don’t want them all, and you just want that one guy who’s not listed on the Settings sheet? You can keep the list from automatically filling, and then you can manually edit the list to include whoever you want to see.

How do I use it?

Enough blather. You’re here because you want to use this for yourself!

The first thing is to make a copy of the new template sheet. It’s got the script already embedded in it.

Fill in your data

Go to your AdWords account, select the campaigns you want to look at, and download the Auction Insights report, segmented by day, week or month. Copy it to the spreadsheet in the Auction Insights tab. Make sure you’ve included the headers.

(If you’re having problems with numbers or dates being wrong — for example, if Sheets is reading the day as the month or not recognizing numbers with decimal places — you may need to change the locale of the spreadsheet. To do this, go to File, click “Spreadsheet settings…” and select your country from the Locale drop-down. If you’re using Excel, also make sure the columns are wide enough to show the data when you copy them, otherwise you may find all your dates turned into #####.)

If you want separate device graphs, download the Auction Insights report again — but this time segmented by time period and device. Copy and paste that into the Auction Insights By Device sheet (again, make sure there are headers).

Lastly, if you want CTR, CPC, impressions or searches, then download a performance report for the same set of campaigns for the same date range, segmented by the same time period and (if you’re looking at device data) by device. Make sure there are clicks, impressions and cost columns — CTR, CPC and searches will be calculated from these. Copy this into the Performance Data sheet.

(If there are lots of campaigns, you may hit the limit for the number of cells in a Google Sheet. If that happens, then you can add up all the campaigns’ data for each day and device combination and copy that into the Sheet — just keep the column headers the same and have them on Row 2.)

Adjust your settings

From here, go to the Settings sheet. Some cells are filled in automatically — their text is in yellow. This includes the competitor names (listed in order of highest impression share), the device names and the column headings (both in the “Reports to Make” table).

The Names From Reports section at the top is used to make sure the script reads from the correct columns. Make sure that “Date” matches the name of the date column in your reports (which should be “Day,” “Week” or “Month” if the report is in English). Display URL Domain is the name of the column containing competitor names: “Display URL Domain” for Search campaigns or “Shop Display Name” for Shopping campaigns.

You shouldn’t need to change anything else if your reports are in English, but if you’re using a different language, you’ll need to update some additional elements — most are column names, and “You” is what the Auction Insights report shows as the domain/display name when it gives your performance.

The Formatting section is used to format the data. Feel free to replace the date format (e.g., with dd-MM-yyyy or MM/dd/yyyy) and the currency symbol. (Note that the script won’t do any currency conversion for you!)

The Stats To Report section lets you pick which extra statistics go in the data tables and which go into charts. Put “Yes” in the relevant cell to include a stat. Some things to note:

You can only add, at most, two stats to the chart. If you select more, then only the first two are included.Note that if you want something in the chart, it has to be in the table (because that’s where the chart gets its data from).If you haven’t copied anything into the Performance Data sheet, this section will be ignored. You can just leave all of these blank.“Searches” is (approximately) the total number of available impressions. It is calculated as impressions divided by impression share; as the impression share is rounded, it is not a precise figure, especially if your impression share is low.

Competitor Settings can be used if you have too many competitors to fit in the Competitors To Include section.

Set “Include all competitors” to yes if you want all competitors in your reports (regardless of what’s marked with a “Yes” in the the Competitors To Include section).Set “Auto refresh the list” to “No” if you want to be able to change the Competitors To Include section manually. If you don’t want all competitors, but there’s a name you want included that’s missing from the list, stopping the auto refresh means you can replace the names in the list yourself.Be careful — the names have to match what’s in the Auctions Insight report. If you mistype a name, it won’t show up in reports.If this is set to “Yes,” then the competitor list will automatically update whenever the spreadsheet is edited, and you’ll lose any changes you’ve made there.)

The Competitors To Include section should have an automatically filled list of competitor display domains, drawn from the Auction Insights sheet. Put a number next to the names to have them appear in your reports in a specific order, or put “Yes” if you don’t mind the order. Leave the space next to them empty to ignore them.

All selected competitors will be in the data tables.To prevent the charts from being too crowded, only the first six selected competitors are included.

The Reports To Make section lets you pick which reports are generated. The top row is filled out automatically with the column headers from the Auction Insights sheet (because the columns will be different if you’re looking at Shopping rather than Search campaigns, or if your report is in another language).

The Total row gives you a report of your and your selected competitors’ performance (alongside your selected stats) for all devices. This uses data from the “Auction Insights” sheet.There are then three rows for devices, using the names from the “Auction Insights By Device” sheet. Putting a “Yes” for these rows gives you a report of your and your selected competitors’ performance (alongside your selected stats) for the named device.The last row is Compare All Devices, which gives you your total average performance and performance segmented by device. This report does not include competitor data.You can’t make a Compare All Devices report for columns like “Position above rate,” as they don’t have any data on your performance.

And then run the script!

When you’re all ready, hit the “Click Here To Generate Reports” button. You’ll need to give authorization the first time you do this so the script can run. Your reports should all be generated, one report per sheet. If there are any issues, there should be a message box to say what the problem is.

Note that if you’ve run the report before, it will delete and remake any of the reports you’ve selected — so make sure you save the output somewhere!

If you’ve made a load of sheets, and it’s all too much, you can delete everything except the template sheets with the “Delete Reports” button.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

How your website redesign can sabotage your paid search efforts

Recently, my PPC agency almost declined to take on a new client because the client’s website was so severely outdated. The site looked bad, was difficult to use and didn’t have an easy way to convert prospects. But when we learned that the client was in the process of redesigning this website, we agreed to move forward.

This scenario suggests that when clients announce a website redesign, it’s good news for PPC. But is it? Well, yes and no. Yes, because updated websites that work well and inspire trust can help our paid search efforts.

But no, because website redesigns can also end up sabotaging paid search programs — at least temporarily. Experience tells us that redesigns rarely run smoothly from a PPC perspective. Inevitably, there will be problems we’ll need to fix.

In this article, I’ll walk through what can go wrong with website redesign from the vantage point of PPC professionals. By knowing these problem areas in advance, you and your marketing team can anticipate and avoid some of the most common issues.

Where things can go wrong in website redesigns

Unfortunately, it’s not unusual for elements and functions that are critical for paid search advertising to get dropped somewhere during the redesign process. We usually see this with phone numbers, trust signals, tracking codes, thank-you pages and forms.

1. Phone numbers

Sometimes the client’s phone number, which was prominently displayed at the top of every old web page, is absent from new pages. Or, if it’s still present, it’s smaller in size and more difficult to spot.

Here’s an example:

This image is the top portion of a client’s new webpage. But where did the phone number go? Originally, it had a prominent position at the top of every page. But now, users have to click the “contact us” button to find it. Why force visitors to take this extra step?

2. Trust signals

Other times, the phone number will remain but trust signals are removed. Elements such as testimonials, certification badges and affiliations are either missing or only present on select pages.

Why do we care about phone numbers and trust signals as paid search pros? Because they have an important role to play in paid search. Making it more difficult for prospects to call you or removing elements that give prospects the confidence to do business with you will negatively impact your paid search efforts.

Additionally, we care about these elements being present on every page because we can’t assume that new prospects will start on your home page. They might start on a product page, service page or FAQs page. So we need phone numbers and trust signals to be present on those pages, too.

3. Tracking codes

Tracking codes return data that allow us to know exactly what’s going on with an account. We use these data to direct and refine our paid search efforts.

Without data from tracking codes, we’re essentially running accounts blindfolded. Yes, we can still make decisions based on our experience and knowledge, but those decisions will always be our best guesses. With tracking data, we can make decisions based on what’s actually happening.

Which codes are we most concerned about? At least these four:

Google Analytics code: This code tells us where your website traffic is coming from and when you’re getting it. It also tells us what visitors are doing when they get there and what technology they’re doing it with. This information is critical to paid search campaigns. For example, if we see that most users are converting via mobile, then we might focus our advertising efforts on mobile.Remarketing code: As the name suggests, we need remarketing code to run remarketing campaigns. (This isn’t a deal-breaker, however. We can also set up remarketing lists via Google Analytics.)Website call metrics code: We use website call tracking tags to track PPC visitors who call you once they land on your website.AdWords conversion code: AdWords conversion tracking shows us what happens after customers click your ads. It allows us to track the action we want visitors to take, whether that’s completing a form, downloading a white paper or something else.

I can see how these codes might get removed or corrupted in the course of redesigning a website. But at the same time, the impact of losing these codes is very real.

The sooner the problem is spotted, the sooner it can be corrected. But often, it’s not caught until the marketing team looks at its data and realizes something is off.

4. Thank-you pages

Unfortunately, it’s not unusual for website redesigns to do away with thank-you pages. These are pages that are returned to users after a contact form is submitted, confirming that the message has been sent.

Instead, visitors get a single thank-you line that appears on the contact page. It often looks something like this:

There are a few problems with this approach. First, it may leave visitors wondering whether their message went through. That single line of text is easy to miss.

Second, it’s a lost opportunity! Thank-you pages are a great place to put additional content to further engage visitors.

Third, we often use thank-you pages as a place to put tracking code. With no thank-you page, we have to resort to event tracking, which isn’t as simple as adding codes to thank-you pages (and can sometimes lead to errors).

5. Forms

Some website redesigns do away with contact forms entirely and replace them with email address links. This isn’t good.

Using email links seems like an outdated approach. Technically, we can still track these links via event tracking. But this can get tricky, and we sometimes run into technical issues.

When website redesign problems get worse

Even when things go bad with website redesigns, we can usually get back on track relatively quickly if we’re aware of the issues and the web design team is responsive.

But sometimes, things can go from bad to worse. In some cases, it can take weeks — or even months — to fix problems. And sometimes we can’t get the changes we need, so we end up developing workaround solutions.

For example, remember the client that replaced their contact forms with email address links? For technical reasons, we weren’t able to track when visitors clicked the link, and we couldn’t convince the web development team to put the forms back in place. We ended up developing landing pages for each page that contained an email address.

Sometimes, problems are ongoing. For example, we have one client where the developer does a backend refresh regularly. Every single time, our tracking code gets stripped from the web pages. Needless to say, this gets old real fast.

And sometimes, we see website design issues on the horizon. For example, one of our PPC clients redesigned their site last month. When we saw the new site, we were surprised to see it was HTTP and not HTTPS. We raised this issue with the designer, pointing to the announcement that Chrome will start adding “not secure” warnings to non-HTTPS pages.

The designer’s response? “We’ve scheduled that for later.” Oh boy. In the meantime, we’re holding our breath. Because nothing will shoot down a paid search program faster than a website with “not secure” messaging.

So what’s the solution to these problems of website redesign? It’s to give serious consideration to the requirements of paid search as part of website redesign.

When I raised this question with Stephen Merriman at cre8d Design, our Group Twenty Seven go-to web designer, he responded with the following:

One of the steps I do just before migrating a completed website is to hunt through the existing site for any tracking codes and such to make sure nothing important gets removed. I also double-check with the client to see if there is anything they haven’t mentioned so we don’t experience issues.

Stephen Merriman

Which, in my opinion, is exactly the right response!

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

2-step methodology for dealing with PPC performance downturns

The most important thing I’ve learned from my 15 years of PPC experience is that sooner or later, account performance will take a downturn. When that day comes, we must be prepared to deal with the consequences of performance not meeting expectations. These consequences could range from stakeholders losing trust in your abilities to receiving ultimatums to “fix performance or else,” and worst-case scenario, someone else being brought in to take over the paid search program you’ve spent so much time and energy building.

Performance downturns can be very stressful and put you on the defensive. However, having a solid methodology for responding when performance is bad can help instill confidence that you have what it takes to turn a negative performance situation into a positive one.

This article discusses a two-step methodology for confronting underperformance in a way that helps you garner trust with your stakeholders and instill confidence in your ability to manage PPC accounts through the tough times.

Step #1: Diagnosing the problem

Clients and stakeholders need to have confidence in those managing their paid search program. When performance takes a downturn, they depend on their account manager to tell them what the problem is. If an account manager cannot demonstrate they understand what the problem is, then why would the client/stakeholder have any confidence that the account manager can solve their performance issues?

How do we go about diagnosing the root cause of a problem? Diagnosing a problem requires diligent research to pinpoint:

when a problem first began to occur.what key metrics are lagging and thus leading to the performance downturn.

Putting the methodology into practice

I’m currently dealing with an account performance issue that is causing this month’s performance to lag in terms of lead volume. I ultimately identified the issue as a drop-off in brand keyword traffic. How did I discover that brand traffic was the source of this issue? I did it by analyzing the following key metrics:

CPCs: Accountwide cost per click spiked dramatically from October to November. This was my first indication that a traffic pattern shift occurred.Conversion volume: AdWords pixel conversions were down significantly month over month.CTR: Click-through rate also dropped significantly.

The sudden drop-off in conversion volume and CTR, along with a spike in CPCs, led me directly to consider recent brand traffic performance. Typically, this account I manage has very steady traffic patterns with steady CPCs and conversion volume. As I dove further into brand campaign performance, I saw that branded impressions and clicks dropped dramatically, which caused CPCs to spike and volume to drop. Because of the brand traffic performance drop-off, cost per conversion increased dramatically due to the account’s over-dependence on non-branded traffic.

Further digging into the account, I discovered that branded traffic dropped suddenly at the end of October. This information allowed me to focus on specific changes made to the account during that period. I ultimately discovered several high-traffic branded keywords were paused in error as part of an overall optimization. These keywords were unpaused and bids readjusted. Traffic and conversion volume is now recovering.

As you can see from the example above, it took quite a bit of research to arrive at the problem’s root cause. Once a problem has been identified, it’s time to move on to the next step.

Step 2: Communicate what the performance problem is and recommend solutions

Throughout the course of my career, I’ve seen a lack of understanding and communication be the downfall of many business relationships. I’ve witnessed PPC account managers fundamentally not understand the performance problems they’re facing, ignore the fact that a problem even exists and fail to address problems head-on with their stakeholders. Allowing any of these things to happen quickly erodes trust.

To maintain your credibility as a PPC expert, it’s imperative that you do the following when there’s an underperformance issue:

Own the fact that an underperformance issue is occurring. Denying or minimizing an issue will make your stakeholders angry. Owning the issue helps convey that you understand how urgent the problem is.Communicate the issue verbally, in written form and through visual means to demonstrate that you’ve made the effort to be fully transparent and that you’re willing to educate your stakeholders as to what the problem is.Explain in full detail your recommendations for fixing all underperformance issues you’ve identified. Never leave stakeholders with just the problem. They depend on and expect their account manager to offer solutions that will lead to improved performance. Our stakeholders view us in a similar regard to doctors when their accounts aren’t healthy. How would you feel if a doctor diagnosed you with an ailment but didn’t recommend any course of treatment? This is how clients feel when they’ve been informed of an underperformance problem but not offered any guidance regarding how to get their account back on track.

Clear communication and context helps remove fear. Oftentimes, stakeholders become emotional and lash out because they feel their account manager doesn’t grasp the gravity and urgency of a situation. It’s our job as account managers to take the lead in eliminating fear of the unknown by providing as much background information and context as possible regarding an underperformance problem’s root cause, and propose sufficient courses of action for remedying the situation.

Final thoughts

No matter how hard we try, we’ll never be able to avoid the inevitable performance downturn. However, what we can do is be prepared for how we’ll respond when this time arrives. Fully understanding root causes of performance issues, developing the appropriate solution and decisively communicating all of this to our stakeholders is crucial to successfully surviving performance downturns.

It’s easy to be liked and respected when everything is going well. The real test comes when things are not going according to plan. Going through the fire of underperformance and successfully coming out on the right side of it will help build your credibility and your stakeholders’ trust in you.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

Google’s all-new, quite counterintuitive guide to ad testing

Over 2 1/2 years ago, I wrote about how ad rotation works in AdWords. Since then, a whole lot has changed. Most recently, we’ve simplified the options for ad rotation. Let’s take a closer look at how ad rotation works now and what that means for ad testing.

How AdWords picks which ads to show

The goal of ad-serving in AdWords is to deliver a tailored message that meets a searcher’s needs. This means delivering ads that people want to click on and getting better results for your business.

In the new world of ad rotation, things are pretty straightforward. You have two options:

Optimize: Prefer best-performing ads.Do not optimize: Rotate ads indefinitely.

When you don’t optimize and rotate your ads indefinitely, the system will rotate ads from the ad group to choose which one enters the auction. If it’s that ad’s turn, then it’ll enter into whatever auction is happening at the time. A worse-performing ad will get its turn in that auction as long as you leave that ad running.

Optimized rotation — which both Google (my employer) and I recommend — considers a bunch of signals, none of which is “which ad’s turn is it?” I’m a firm believer in the optimize setting, and I think you might be one, too, after hearing how it works.

AdWords takes many things into account when predicting your CTR (click-through rate), such as the user’s query/device/location, the historical performance of your ad and factors which affect the visibility of your ad, such as position and extensions.

When you think about that pairing between ad and query, I think it’s easy to see why we also recommend more ads whenever possible. When you have more ads present in an ad group, you increase your chances of finding the right match across all of those variables we look at.

That’s the theory of it, and our internal numbers show the performance benefits are real. Going from one ad to a minimum of three ads in an ad group can give that ad group up to a 5 percent to 15 percent lift on average in both impressions and clicks (with incremental uplift for each additional creative).

Ad rotation in action

Let’s see some examples of ads in action. Imagine you’re advertising a hotel trying to generate bookings in New York. One of the keywords you’re bidding on is “hotels in New York.” From that one hard-working keyword, you’re matching to queries like “best hotels in NYC,” “cheap NYC hotels,” “new york hotels central park” and “hotel in new york tonight.”

For this simple example, I’m referring to a broad match keyword that can match to different queries. I don’t want to tackle account structure guidance here, but this advice about more ads applies even if you prefer more specific ad groups with a tighter match between keyword and ad. If you want to talk account structure, you can check out my previous post that touches on the problem of oversegmentation.

Anyway, here’s the ad you have in your ad group:

On the query “hotel in new york tonight,” this is a fantastic ad. Based on everything at play, that ad could show up in position one with an outstanding CTR. However, performance would be predicted to be much worse on queries that don’t mention booking for tonight. If a user is worried about saving some money or being near Central Park, the ad above doesn’t have a ton to offer. As such, you might lose impressions on those queries.

After looking at your search terms and performance overall, you decide to add some new ads to the ad group with new headlines. Here are the ads you implement:

You now have an ad group that is much more competitive on additional queries (“cheap NYC hotels” and “new york hotels central park”). You also might start to see additional impressions on new types of queries like “discount hotels new york.”

Here’s one thing to consider: You’re winning more impressions on those queries, but you might be branching out to areas where the competition is doing a great job. On those additional impressions you’re receiving, your position on the page is worse than what you’re used to. A lower position translates to a lower CTR on your ads. But you’re now competitive in more auctions, getting more impressions and clicks and reaching queries you might not have been able to before.

Don’t make decisions based on ad-level metrics (including ad-level CTR)

One ad’s CTR shouldn’t be the main way to decide how effective that ad is. Here’s what I’d propose instead: Use ad group-level metrics, particularly impressions, clicks, conversions and CTR. Those metrics are much more impactful for your bottom line than one ad’s overall CTR would ever be. Ad group-level impression share is another great thing to start reviewing before, during and after ad tests. (Ad-level impression share doesn’t exist for a variety of reasons.)

CTR alone can be misleading because ads show on all sorts of queries in all sorts of contexts. Different ads in the same ad group will show under totally different circumstances; there’s no way to control for all of the different devices, locations, situations and everything else that goes into one auction.

Think about the hypothetical Central Park ad I mentioned before. It might be the lowest CTR in your ad group, but if you pause the ad, those impressions aren’t being redistributed to another ad with a higher CTR. Those impressions are simply going away.

But I don’t want to stop testing my ads!

I like testing, too! I’m not suggesting it goes away entirely. I am, however, suggesting that you remove A/B ad testing from your standard operating procedure. Here’s a test I’d recommend if you really need to scratch your testing itch.

Test an ad group with one ad (A) against an experiment ad group with four ads (A, B, C and D) with rotation set to optimized. You can use drafts and experiments to create these two versions. That way, you’re testing to see whether or not more ads result in more impressions and clicks at the ad group level.

Keep in mind, though, that the whole point of the optimized setting is that you don’t need to test ads A and B against each other anymore. Those two ads now work together instead. As a result, you don’t need to discard ad text that has a “losing CTR.” Instead of choosing the winning option A and making the losing option B leave town, you should plan on having options A, B, C and D all active at any given time. Delete stuff whenever an ad stops seeing a large fraction of the impressions and therefore generates minimal to no clicks. Then add a new ad to the mix. It’s better to have options.

And here’s a quick note: No matter if you are using manual bidding with optimized rotation or Smart Bidding, our system is always working to find the best creative to serve. For the selected creative, Smart Bidding adjusts the bid based on the predicted conversion value. No matter what bidding you use, my advice about ad testing remains the same.

Conclusion

Ad rotation has been streamlined recently, but selecting which ad will receive an impression is a more involved process than it’s ever been. Add more ads to your ad group so that your optimized ad rotation can win more impressions, clicks and conversions for your account.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

How to steal the competition's best keywords: A 3-step guide

Whether you’re new to paid search or an old pro, one of your biggest challenges is figuring out the right keywords. Pick the right keywords and your business will thrive. Pick the wrong keywords, and you might as well be flushing your ad spend down the toilet.

Now, with enough time, effort and money, most advertisers can usually put together a decent keyword list. The only problem is, this takes time, effort and money — something most businesses are a little short on.

Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a way to make the process more efficient?

The good news is, while identifying the right keywords won’t ever be easy, there is a quicker way to find the right keywords for your business. All you have to do is steal them from the competition.

Learning from the competition

If you’ve got competitors — especially successful, well-established competitors — there’s a strong chance that they’ve put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into finding the right keywords for your market. Odds are, they’ve got a good feel for what works and what doesn’t.

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could get that information?

Fortunately, there is a way. With the right approach, you can quickly identify the competition’s best keywords and beat them at their own game. All takes is the right analytics setup, a competitive analysis tool (iSpionage and SpyFu are good options) and a testing budget.

1. Analytics

The key to any paid search strategy is great analytics. After all, how do you know which keywords are producing the most profitable conversions and sales if you aren’t, you know, tracking conversions and sales?

So, before we dive into identifying your competition’s best keywords, let’s take a moment to talk about the analytics information you’ll need to make this strategy work.

Both Bing and AdWords make it pretty easy to set up conversion tracking. The easiest types of conversions to track are form submissions and online transactions, but odds are you’re not just interested in form submissions — you want people to chat in, call you, make an offline purchase and so on.

Each of these actions is a conversion and an important indicator of how a keyword is performing. So, if you want to know which keywords produce the best results, you need data on every single one of those conversion actions.

Getting all of this set up can be a bit of a headache (especially if a lot of your conversions happen offline), but if you aren’t tracking the results of your paid search campaigns, you’ll never be able to improve your performance.

At first glance, this might seem kind of obvious, but after auditing over 3,000 AdWords accounts at Disruptive (disclaimer: my company), we’ve found that less than 30 percent of advertisers are actually tracking all of their important conversion actions.

In our study, AdWords advertisers who were only tracking some of their conversion actions were missing out on more than a third of their conversions. Just imagine what it’s like trying to optimize your campaigns with a margin of error of 33 percent!

With all that in mind, it should be obvious why analytics is the key to this tactic. Stealing the competition’s keywords is great, but if you really want to know which keywords produce results, you need analytics.

2. Competitive research

Advertisers love to talk about competitive research, but it’s often hard to know what is working for your competitors and what isn’t. Does their success come from their ad copy? The testimonials on their landing page? Or just the keywords they’re bidding on?

In many cases, you’ll probably never know. You can take your best guess, but you really have no idea what is working for your competitor and what just looks nice to you. More importantly, even if a certain catch-phrase or testimonial is the key to their success, you can’t assume that the same elements will work well for you.

So, while competitive research sounds nice, it’s often hard to use in a practical way.

When it comes to keywords, however, competitive research is incredibly practical. With the right competitive analysis tool, you can know exactly which keywords the competition is bidding on. In most cases, all you have to do is hop on a site like SpyFu or iSpionage, enter the competitor’s domain, and you’ll get a list of all the keywords your competitors are using.

From there, all you have to do is identify which keywords actually produce value for your business.

Unfortunately, most advertisers bid on way too many keywords. In fact, while auditing all those AdWords accounts I mentioned earlier, we found that only 6 percent of the keywords in the average AdWords account are producing conversions.

So, if you just assume that every keyword the competition is bidding on is profitable and use it in your own account, you’re going to end up wasting just as much money on paid search as your competitors are. To really make the most of this strategy, you can’t just copy and paste a competitor’s keyword list. You have to beat them at their own game.

3. Stealing the competition’s best keywords

If you want to steal the competition’s best keywords, you need to know which keywords are worth bidding on and which ones you (and probably your competitors) should ignore.

That’s going to take a bit of testing.

I typically recommend that you invest about 20 percent of your paid search budget into testing new ads, keywords or other changes to your account. Obviously, the newer you are to paid search, the more of your budget you’ll want to test with, but this is a good rule of thumb for most established accounts.

Once you’ve identified the competition’s keywords, build ads around them and use your testing budget to try them out for around three months. Assuming that you have a good analytics setup, this should give you enough data to determine which keywords are profitable.

Next, open your paid search account and take a look at the three months of data you just gathered. Go to the Keywords tab and filter your keywords for Conversions < 1.

This report will show you all the keywords you are bidding on that haven’t produced conversions in the last three months. By clicking on the “Cost” column, you can further sort these keywords by how much money you’ve spent on these keywords.

Now, if this weren’t a test, all the money you spent on these keywords would have been completely wasted. However, the point of your testing budget is to identify useful keywords, so you’re not wasting money — you’re just paying for education.

You’ll have to use your individual judgment to decide which of these keywords should be cut and which deserve a little more time or refinement. But, this filter should help you identify which of your competitor’s keywords are producing unsatisfactory results.

In contrast, you can reverse this filter (“Conversions > 1”) to see which keywords are producing results. These keywords are often your competition’s best performers, too. However, since they probably aren’t tracking conversions effectively, they probably don’t know how valuable those keywords are.

But you do.

Once you’ve identified a great new keyword, all it takes is a little more time and effort to dial in your bids, ad copy and landing pages and edge out the competition. Guess what? You just beat the competition at their own game!

Conclusion

When you get right down to it, it’s not that hard to steal the competition’s best keywords. All you need is a good analytics setup, a competitive analysis tool and a decent testing budget.

By combining these three elements, you can quickly identify which of a competitor’s keywords are valuable to your business and which ones aren’t. Then, you can focus your ad spend on their best keywords and beat the competition at their own game!

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

7 Google tips to supercharge your Shopping ads

Shopping ads are great, and they continue to improve. If you’re looking to get more out of your Shopping campaigns, there are some straightforward actions you can take. Some of these have been true since Shopping campaigns were introduced back in 2013, while others are relatively new.

Regardless of where you are on your Shopping campaign journey, here are the top seven things I’d recommend to take your campaigns to the next level.

1. Establish clear lines of communication with other teams

A Shopping ad assembles a bunch of data to deliver an ad to a user. For larger retailers, it often takes teamwork to ensure that you’re providing Google with the ideal set of data for the best possible ad.

As a search engine marketer, you and your team may be primarily concerned with your Shopping campaigns within AdWords. In addition to that, you may have some control over your Merchant Center account. However, you may have to work with different teams for things like data feeds, your product catalog and pricing on your items. For example, an AdWords practitioner may rely on a feed team to avoid breakages (like unavailable products) and find the best opportunities (like niche products you might not be promoting yet).

Talk to one another. The importance of teamwork can’t be overstated. You all have the same goals, so ensure you’re on the same page with your teammates. Also note that Google recently announced some changes that give marketers more controls to modify and improve their product data directly in Merchant Center.

2. Let your product data do the talking (and shed your search ad mentality)

Like many, I’ve been doing search ads for years. Shopping ads are a much more recent addition to the online marketing landscape. As a result, a bunch of people apply a traditional paid search mentality to their Shopping campaigns. While that can be a good thing, there are some pitfalls to avoid.

The biggest difference is that you have product data instead of a keyword list. Your site (and your products) connect with user queries like they always did, but the mechanism for that connection is different. Focus on your product data. A focus on product data accounts for different situations — situations where keywords won’t always match the intent. A user’s motivation for searching could be anything from research to getting ready to buy at that moment.

I recognize that people love having control over their accounts (it’s one of those things all search marketers have learned over the years), but that mindset can actually lead you to creating a lot more work for yourself. Overly intricate Shopping campaigns that attempt to replicate a product-level, keyword-like structure are a bad idea. They are a pain to maintain, and they don’t even improve performance (check out slide 6 here for a non-Googler’s POV). I’ve even seen cases where they make things worse. I’d suggest simpler structures like grouping by popular brands, categories or profit margins.

You should use things like campaign priorities to direct traffic, but trying to force Shopping ads into a text ad mentality can do more harm than good.

3. Submit your entire inventory

Submit your entire inventory to Merchant Center. More products means more chances to get in front of customers.

I’ve also heard of advertisers not submitting certain products believing that they will never be profitable. If you’ve ever worried about that yourself, give Target ROAS a shot. With the right target in place, you’ll have a chance to sell that product while still keeping a sharp eye on profitability.

Here’s an important caveat, though: If you’re in a sensitive category — think health care or pharmaceuticals — be careful about what you submit. Those rules can be stricter.

Additionally, the days of frequent account-level suspensions are behind us. Product-level disapprovals are now the preferred approach, so if you make some sort of error, the penalty won’t be nearly as painful as it might have been in the past. Our goal is to deliver the best possible results (including ads) for users, advertisers and Google. The more stuff you give us to work with, the better user experience we can deliver.

4. Use Smart Bidding to set bids at the query level

You can still optimize product-by-product (query-by-query, really) with your Shopping ads. Both enhanced cost-per-click (ECPC) and Target ROAS set bids based on the specific context of each and every query; depending on that context, the same query can have wildly different values. Smart Bidding is the best way to get query-level bidding. It’s the only way to set bids specific to each query, actually.

With ECPC, you set your own bids for the product group, then those bids are tweaked either up or down for each auction to maximize the total conversions you can receive at that bid. Target ROAS does more of the heavy lifting. All you have to do is provide a target return for it to optimize toward, and it will bid toward queries with high purchase intent.

5. Build your brand with Showcase Shopping ads

As you go about finding the ideal pictures to include in your product data, you should also think about presenting a more complete picture of your brand on Shopping. Showcase Shopping ads are more likely to show when people search for general items — think “lighting” instead of “hand blown glass 3-light lantern.”

Showcase Shopping ads are a great way to show off a selection of products that you offer. They’re also a great way to reach people earlier in their purchase journey.

Showcase Shopping ad

Showcase Shopping expanded ad

Showcase Shopping ads are available via the API or the new AdWords experience.

6. Move beyond last-click attribution

Shopping ads can take advantage of data-driven attribution in AdWords. If you’re still waiting to take the non-last-click attribution plunge in AdWords, do it now. Across both your search and Shopping ads, you can see which clicks make a real difference on the way to conversions.

And if you don’t have enough traffic for data-driven attribution, we recommend choosing a rules-based model that values all touch points.

7. Connect your ads to physical stores

Local inventory ads bring the stuff that’s in your store online. And they drive foot traffic to your stores with local information. At Google, we studied this last year and found that consumers who clicked on a retailer’s Google Search ad before visiting the store are over 25 percent more likely to buy something in-store, and they spend 10 percent more on average (Source: Google data, Oct-Nov 2016).

I started off by talking about Shopping ads being a team sport. To that end, don’t neglect your in-store team members. To a consumer, your ads and your store locations are one and the same. Even if you report to different bosses, you and your in-store compatriots should have the same goals.

Conclusion

Shopping ads deliver great results for users and advertisers. Hopefully, you’ve been able to pick up a new tactic or two from this article that you can use to see even better performance from your Shopping campaigns.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

3 last-minute Google Shopping tricks to level up your account for the holidays

We’ve all heard the classic holiday jingle about Kris Kringle’s holiday prep: First, he makes a list, then he checks it twice. (He’s gotta find out who’s naughty or nice!)

Believe it or not, I use a checklist of my own as I review my Google Shopping campaigns for the holiday season.

Unlike Search and Display, Shopping doesn’t give advertisers a ton of control over when ads will show and how much to pay. That’s why it’s so important to check and double-check that you’ve crossed your t’s and dotted your i’s.

Today, I’ll be sharing three Shopping strategies I’ve added to my checklist for the upcoming holiday season.

Take advantage of Showcase Shopping Ads

Google’s experiment with Showcase Shopping Ads and auto-play video are two of many indicators that the company is shifting toward a richer search experience. Long gone are the days of text-only ads!

If you’re already running Shopping campaigns, give Showcase Shopping Ads a shot. This new ad format features interactive photo collages that showcase a store’s name and its most relevant products on search.

Showcase Shopping Ads in Google search results

Users who click on a Showcase Shopping Ad will be presented with a full-screen product feed, including details like special sales, average shipping times and contact info.

But before you get started, you have to make sure of a couple of things:

    You’re using the new Google AdWords experience, which is now available to everyone.You have a Google Shopping Campaign set up.

Like any other Shopping Ad, bidding can get a little tricky, because advertisers bid on Max Cost-Per-Engagement instead of keywords. An engagement occurs if someone clicks the Showcase Ad and spends more than 10 seconds on the ad, or if they click on a link within the expanded ad.

Segment your bids using priorities

Google Shopping ads may not work the same as standard text ads, but here’s the problem:

Advertisers aren’t segmenting their bids.

Since advertisers can’t bid on specific keywords, they’ll throw up their hands and let Google handle the rest. Not the smartest way to spend your precious ad dollars! Ideally, you’d want to place higher bids on keywords with higher purchase intent, which are generally more specific, long-tail keywords.

You can actually achieve this with priority settings. You can assign a priority level to each campaign: low, medium or high. If more than one product qualifies to show for an ad, the higher priority will always enter the auction first, regardless of bid.

You can segment your bids by adding negative keywords. Do this by creating three shopping campaigns of the same product, like so:

Campaign #1: GENERIC NON-BRAND

Priority: HIGHNegative keywords: “running,” “basketball,” “nike”Your bids: LOWPossible conversion rate: LOW

Campaign #2: SPECIFIC NON-BRAND

Priority: MEDIUMNegative keywords: “nike”Your bids: MEDIUMPossible conversion rate: MEDIUM

Campaign #3: BRANDED

Priority: LOWNegative keywords: NoneYour bids: HIGHPossible conversion rate: HIGH

Here’s what will go down:

    All three campaigns qualify to enter the auction.Google surveys the highest-priority campaign for entry.The negative keywords “Nike” and “running” force Google to pass and consider the medium-priority campaign.The negative keyword “Nike” prevents the ad from matching and pushes it down to the low-priority campaign.The long-tail keyword with high purchase intent matches with the lowest priority campaign. Now you have a higher chance of winning that valuable conversion because your higher bid is going to place you higher in the search results.

Integrate a feed management tool

All Google Shopping campaigns require a Merchant Center data feed to list all the products you’re selling. If you’ve tried to set that up before, you know how annoying it can get, especially when you’re required to update your data feed once every 30 days.

And if you want optimal results, you might even have to update it daily. Nobody’s got time for that. Data feed tools automate the process and will undoubtedly save you some energy to tackle larger tasks at hand. (Personally, I’ve had good experiences with Go Data Feed, but there are a ton more worth checking out.)

Go forth and make money!

That was easy, right? Now, go ahead and start testing. If you don’t know where to begin, check out the way too early holiday testing guide to get started.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

Are you changing keyword bids too often?

The AdWords advertising system utilizes an auction-like process to decide which advertisers’ ads get to show and in which order. By bidding higher or lower, you can appear at higher or lower positions — depending on what your competitors are bidding.

Account managers use many approaches for setting and tweaking bids over time, and bid optimization is one of the oldest features in the SEM software industry. Automated bidding can work great, but many account managers (particularly agencies and consultants) have neither the budget nor the inclination to pay for an additional system to help them manage their AdWords account, so often the account managers must set bids themselves, which can be a daunting task.

I recently audited a large enterprise account and saw that the account manager had been very busy making bid changes, every three days or so, for the same keyword in many cases ($2.00 –> $12.00 –> $8.00 –> $15.00). Frankly, it looked pretty crazy. This got me thinking about one of my pet peeves: the push that account managers feel to take action, any action. After all, they’re supposed to be managing the account, right?

Certainly, if an account is making money hand over fist, one of the best things you can do is… don’t touch anything! (It may seem crazy, but you’re getting paid the big bucks to make the big decisions — and doing nothing is a pretty big decision.)

I would liken this to the debate over “always be testing.” Half of your tests will do worse and degrade the performance of your account during the testing process; a client once told me, “I don’t want to do any testing this next quarter because the campaigns are performing well, and we are under particular pressure to hit our numbers right now.” This was an extremely wise business decision on her part.

How different people approach manual bidding

I’ve seen various takes on how to bid over the years. Some like the approach of going in daily, weekly or monthly and comparing performance over time to see if there’s been a change. Others simply like to examine positions, and for keywords that are showing too low, bid them up. The more sophisticated will actually examine cost per lead or Return on Ad Spend (ROAS), and adjust bids based on that — keywords with CPAs higher than the account average are bid down, and keywords with CPAs lower than the account average are bid up.

I often do a combination of all three approaches myself; keeping an eye on position, for instance, is pretty important in order to ensure volume these days, with only one to four ads showing at the top of the page.

The problem: Sparse data

If you have a keyword with 200 impressions, eight clicks and one conversion that cost you an average of $3.00/click when the account CPA is $30.00, what does that tell you about whether you’re bidding too high or too low for that keyword?

Answer: absolutely nothing. Don’t even bother calculating what CPA you just achieved; it’s not even worth your time. Basically, you have NO IDEA what is up with that keyword. (Sorry, a single conversion is not enough to tell you anything!)

From time to time, there has been talk in the industry of “real-time bidding,” where bids are automatically and constantly adjusted. This concept is, frankly, ridiculous to me; changing bids based on super-sparse data is silly. Think about it. You get a click… should you change bids now? Obviously not. One click on your ad doesn’t mean anything. A bunch of clicks, though… well, now you’re talking!

The other problem: Forgetting what the heck you did already

People who religiously adjust their bidding on a weekly basis are particularly susceptible to this. Since you’re disturbing the bids, you’re mixing data from different bid levels together. So if you examine performance over the last month, you have maybe three weeks at one bid and one week at another bid. Did you write down when and what bid change you made? Right, me neither — it’s too much of a hassle.

So often, what you’ll see is someone making bid changes, thinking they have enough data when they are really just muddying the water and making decisions based on blended costs per acquisition from two different periods without realizing it.

On top of it, there’s a tendency to jerk bids around. You change a keyword’s bid one week, then you forget and change the same keyword’s bid the next week… in the opposite direction. Or you may be making the same decision twice — bidding up, then bidding up again the next week before there’s been enough time for data to accumulate at the new level.

Two solutions: Space and time

You can get more data in two ways.

You can associate that keyword with other keywords in the same keyword space — i.e., you can analyze at the ad group level, or the campaign level, or associate the keyword with others in other ways, in order to aggregate and get more data.

Or you can simply… wait.

Account managers hate waiting; they like to tell their boss they are in there tweaking the account, making changes left and right, and so forth. It feels bad to not make bid changes. What if someone looks at the account history and sees you haven’t made any bid changes in months? Won’t it look bad?

But guess what: If you don’t have enough data for a rational decision, you shouldn’t be making changes!

How often should you be bidding?

Prepare to hear some sacrilege! If you can hold off and try to do bidding across the entire account once a month or once a quarter (or even less frequently, if possible), and you make sure you only examine data since the last time you changed bids, you’re going to have much more solid data and will make better decisions.

How often you adjust your bids depends on how many clicks and conversions you’re getting, of course. But here are my general guidelines:

E-commerce B2CLow average selling price (ASP) products with a high conversion volume: weekly or monthly at most may be best.High ASP/low-volume products: monthly or even quarterly.B2B: These markets are much more stable, and quarterly is usually just fine.

A caveat is that you may find yourself in a very dynamic market requiring much more frequent bid changes (e.g., the short Medicare signup season, where bids sometimes have to be changed daily), or you may have a single competitor come in and disturb the equilibrium of certain keywords and throw everything off. For this reason, you should monitor keyword positions, and if you see a big change on a high-volume keyword, don’t be afraid to take action.

In addition to getting more data and a more reliable history to work with, there are other benefits to waiting. Instead of spending 10 minutes here and there tweaking bids, if you aggregate all that time together and really do a focused, in-depth analysis based on CPA or ROAS across all the keywords, you’re going to do a much better job of making changes to bids across the account.

Coping mechanisms while you wait

Certainly, you should be analyzing bids on a more frequent basis than monthly. Tweaking bids for the top 10 or even 20 keywords if you really can’t resist the urge (try hard!) is okay, provided there are enough clicks and conversions to justify making a change. Adding negatives and positives, and setting up and analyzing ad or landing page tests, are things you should always have going on with any account.

Additionally, you can spend your time implementing more advanced optimization techniques like dayparting, or mobile or geographic bid modifiers; go ahead and do the account some additional good while you wait. That way, you can improve performance in other ways and have plenty of “evidence of industry” for your boss or client, besides just lots of bid changes.

Water those tomatoes, but don’t flood them

Really good stewards tend to be their own worst critics. The next time you feel pressure (usually just from yourself) and are tempted to unnecessarily tweak some bids, just take a step back and realize your account may do better if you simply have patience.

Instead, put your time into analyzing your data in other ways and strategizing while you wait just a little while longer; the results of good decisions based on sufficient data will be worth the wait.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.