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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

AdWords Help Custom Search Engine

Google Co-op I've put together an AdWords Help Custom Search Engine (by Google Co-op). Reading Searching the Inside AdWords blog shortly after the launch of custom search engines, I realized AdWords users could benefit from a search engine that only grabbed results from authoritative sources. Currently, these are the only sites in the index:
  • adwords.google.com/*
  • adwords.blogspot.com/*
  • groups.google.com/group/adwords-help*
  • google.com/adwords/learningcenter/*
The "adwords.google.com/*" URL pattern includes the Google AdWords Help Center. Are there any other authoritative sites I should include in this custom search engine? Should I omit the AdWords Help Google Groups? I suppose they're only semi-authoritative but, nonetheless, are full of useful information. Will have to think about that. Again, please let me know if there are sites that should be added or deleted from the above list. Also, let me know if this search engine helps you solve an AdWords problem.

Update: I've added a dynamic version in case people want to bookmark a specific search query. Details here.

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Google's New Revenue Stream: Custom Search Engines

The Google Co-Op Custom Search Engine (CSE) program presents a new revenue stream for Google. Digging into the hosting documentation, I see this sentence:
If you are creating a Custom Search Engine for a 501(c)(3) non-profit, university, or government agency and do not want advertisements to appear in your search results, you can opt out of this feature.
It wasn't obvious from the general CSE FAQ, but if I'm understanding the above document correctly, then ads must be displayed on a custom search engine created by a corporation or individual. These will likely represent the bulk of the new search engines created so should provide a nice, new revenue stream for Google. Very clever. The launch of CSE is also clever for the following reasons:
  1. The pre-emption of future vertical search engines to compete with core Google search
  2. Collaborative filter to identify sites to ban from core Google search
  3. An extension of the Google brand beyond the main Google site
  4. The possibility of an even more targeted AdWords advertising platform
Since I work with the AdWords platform on a daily basis, let me address #4 in more detail. Suppose Google created a site-targeted option for keyword search (akin to the existing site-targeting for content ads) that applied to custom search engines. If advertisers could pick and choose vertical search engines on which to run ads, the ads could be tailored to the target audience of those custom search engines. This would lead to an improved experience for the users as well as improved ROI for the advertisers. This would be particularly true for B2B advertisers. When running B2B ads on google.com and search network sites (which include consumer-centric sites like AOL), it can be a challenge to choose keywords and ad text which apply to B2B searches but not to B2C searches.

I do hope Google creates a site-targeted keyword option for custom search engines. This would certainly be welcomed by my firm's clients. I also believe it would improve the search experience for users of CSEs. Whether or not Google does implement such a feature, they've created a potentially lucrative new revenue stream.

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Monday, October 23, 2006

Yahoo! Yodel Anecdotal Blog Response

Yahoo! mentioned the upgraded search marketing platform on its Yodel Anecdotal blog. I posted a comment:
Question about the new sponsored search: Will Easy Track still be an option? That’s a feature from the original Overture platform that’s superior to tracking options from Google AdWords. Please tell me that (or something like it) exists in the upgraded Yahoo! Search Marketing platform. Thanks.
I've found the Easy Track feature very useful for tracking Yahoo! Search Marketing ads. There was a response from Yahoo! today:
Richard: Yes, the Easy Track option will still be available in
the new system, but it will be called "Tracking URLs."
Nice to know the feature will remain in the upgraded version. Cool, too, that they responded to blog comments in a timely fashion.

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Click Fraud Minimization Strategies

A few weeks ago BusinessWeek warned about click fraud. Now, The Washington Post publishes this sensational title: 'Click Fraud' Threatens Foundation of Web Ads. What these articles continually fail to identify is the degree of control which advertisers have over their online advertising. The Post article does at least recognize that:
Experts think click fraud is especially prevalent on sites affiliated with search engines. Those sites display ads on behalf of large search engines and include many popular Web logs and mom-and-pop businesses.
In the case of Google's advertising platform, AdWords, advertisers can choose to distribute ads on just Google and/or Google's search network and/or Google's content network. By opting out of the content network, then, advertisers mitigate the bulk of the risk of click fraud. Neither Google nor Yahoo do a good job educating users about the risks of contextual advertising. When an advertiser purchases PPC advertising through either Google AdWords or Yahoo! Search Marketing, the advertiser is, by default, buying both search engine advertising *and* contextual advertising. The advertiser can, however, opt out of contextual advertising. On Google AdWords, the content network box needs to be unchecked at the campaign level. On Yahoo! Search Marketing, the Content Match option needs to be turned off for the account.

For advertisers new to search engine marketing, it would be wise to disable contextual advertising while learning effective search engine advertising techniques. Since the BusinessWeek clickfraud article ran, many clients have been asking about click fraud. I've explained to them some of the strategies I've been employing to minimize their click fraud risk. I figure these strategies might be useful for others. I'll identify click fraud minimization strategies for Google AdWords, since that platform is winning the search engine advertising war.

Click Fraud Prevention Strategies for Google AdWords
  1. Isolate content network budget in separate campaign(s)
  2. Don't bid for top position (for either search or content ads)
  3. Work to increase ad rank through relevance not bids (for search ads)
  4. Track content traffic and block bogus sites (using the site exclusion feature)
  5. Bid less for content ads (instructions for combined search + content campaign)
Those strategies will help prevent click fraud on both the search network and content network. But what do you do if you are already experiencing click fraud? If the click fraud is occurring on the content network, you don't want that traffic to chew up your daily budget and, effectively, disable your search engine advertising. It's crucial, then, to isolate the click fraud.

Click Fraud Isolation Strategy for Google AdWords
  1. Create 3 new campaigns: Google only, search network only, content network only
  2. Move ad group experiencing click fraud activity to Google only campaign
  3. Copy ad group to search network only and content network only campaign
  4. Set very low budgets and/or low bids for the 2 network campaigns
  5. Use separate tracking URLs for the 3 ad groups
Most AdWords accounts have campaigns set to run on Google and the search network and the content network. I prefer to create campaigns for Google plus the search network and then separate campaigns for the content network. Regardless of the initial configuration, the strategy of creating 3 new campaigns to isolate click fraud activity works. The ad group can continue to run in the Google only campaign since there's a low risk of click fraud on Google itself. By running the ad group in separate campaigns for the search network and content network, the advertiser can identify where the click fraud is occurring. Action can then be taken while the keywords can continue to deliver results for the advertisers. For example, if the fraudulent clicks are coming from a bogus search partner, the Google only and content network ad groups will deliver results. The advertiser could pause the ad group in the search network campaign and could report the clickfraud to Google. That's where the separate tracking URLs come in to play. Google is more likely to refund for fraudulent clicks if traffic data from the advertiser's web server log file is provided.

Yes, click fraud is a problem. Yes, the search engines need to educate advertisers as to the differences between search engine advertising and contextual advertising. Yes, the search engines could take it a step further and isolate search engine ads from content ads. Since they don't, it's imperative for advertisers to take matters into their own hands and to structure their search engine advertising accounts in order to minimize click fraud.

Update: This blog entry has been published as a Search Engine Guide article.

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Saturday, October 21, 2006

Search Engine Advertising Platform Wars

Yahoo's out with a new sponsored search marketing platform. Google continues to make incremental changes and tool innovations to its existing platform. Microsoft dropped Overture (which became Yahoo! Search Marketing) a few months ago and now offers its own advertising platform, AdCenter. Who's going to win? Search engine advertisers, I hope. Who's going to lose? I think Microsoft. Look at the latest search engine market share results (pdf from Nielsen//NetRatings):
  1. Google Search 50.0%
  2. Yahoo! Search 23.4%
  3. MSN/Windows Live Search 9.2%
I suspect most advertisers will devote their PPC ad budgets to Google and Yahoo. Advertisers need to display their ads where the market is. Who has time to manage three complicated online advertising platforms? Plus, it's possible to rank well on MSN with standard SEO techniques. Lately, I've been spending the bulk of my time managing and tracking AdWords accounts, a little time overseeing Overture (still can't get used to calling it Yahoo! Search Marketing) accounts and then a dash of SEO here and there. I wonder how other search engine marketers and individual advertisers divide their time these days...

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Friday, October 20, 2006

Who Needs Googlebot Activity Reports?

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Boost AdWords Landing Page Quality Score

Google's looking for beta testers for a new Website Optimizer tool to test landing page variations. Looking at the demo, I think it yields clues as to what Google looks for when establishing Quality Score for a keyword ad. In the example of what to tweak, they look at these components of a page: heading, promotional text, primary image, call to action. In this case, the "call to action" is an "add to shopping cart" button at the bottom of the page. Whether or not you sign up for the demo, if you're advertising with Google AdWords, it's worth looking at the demo. Might help while tweaking AdWords landing pages to achieve a higher Quality Score (and therefore a lower CPC).

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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

New (Useless) Bells and Whistles for Google Webmasters

When Google announced the launch of Google Webmaster Central, I said it was silly. I wasn't referring to the webmaster tools section of Webmaster Central. Now, that's getting silly. Today, they announced new features like Googlebot activity reports and Crawl rate control. Pictured below is one of the Googlebot activity reports for my firm's site.

Number of pages crawled per day:
Googlebot pages crawled

I tried the Crawl rate control (in the Tools section on the Diagnostic tab). First, it recommended keeping the Normal setting. Went back a few minutes later and it said, "We've detected that Googlebot is limiting the rate at which it crawls pages on your site to ensure it doesn't use too much of your server's resources. If your server can handle additional Googlebot traffic, we recommend that you choose Faster below." I've set it to Faster and will see what impact that has.

Do webmasters need a graph showing Googlebot activity? Do we need a throttle control for the crawler? I don't think so. While I commend Google for engaging webmasters in a more meaningful manner than in the past, none of this seems particularly useful. I'd rather know precisely which pages have been crawled than look at "these cool charts" of aggregate Googlebot activity. This type of information is already readily available in a webmaster's own web server log file. My firm's free spider tracking tool will show which pages Googlebot has visited, the time of the visit and the HTTP status code (see demo of Googlebot visit tracking). IMHO, that's an ugly UI but some useful information. I prefer that to a pretty UI but useless information. Now, if the Googlebot activity chart shows a flatline or odd spikes, that could be useful. IOW, it's only useful for extremely bad situations. It's essentially binary information: either Googlebot crawling is good (1) or bad (0). The chart is superfluous.

What webmasters really need to know is the status *after* the crawl takes place. What is done with the information? Are there any problems with the content or the structure of the site that Googlebot crawled? Are there problems with internal or external linking? How about updating the "link:" utility in the search results? That'd be more useful. How about a chart showing incoming and outgoing links for all crawled pages on a given site? Honestly, I think Google's trying to show that it's making an effort. Does anybody find these new bells and whistles useful?

Reading my blog, you'd probably get the impression that I'm not a big fan of Google. On the contrary, I really enjoy search engine marketing work and working with Google AdWords, in particular. However, I've been quite irritated with the lack of support. As such, I'm a bit perplexed as to why Google would devote resources to support webmasters (for free listings) when they haven't yet built an organization to support the advertisers (for paid listings). Even this Webmaster Central is a halfhearted attempt at customer service. Consider the last line in the Google Webmaster Central Blog entry:
As always, we hope you find these updates useful and look forward to hearing what you think.
No, that link isn't an email address. It doesn't send you to a contact page. No, it sends you to the Google Webmaster Help Google Group. It's a mess, full of trolls and spammers and misinformed, self-proclaimed SEO experts. Reminds me of Mos Eisley.

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Google Goes Green. Good Governance?

Yesterday, Google announced what "will be the largest solar installation on any corporate campus in the U.S." Today, the story's being reported throughout the blogosphere: Newsvine - Google to Convert HQ to Solar Power, Boing Boing - Googleplex goes solar, Tailrank - Corporate solar is coming. Normally, I'd treat such a story as simply another press release and wouldn't comment on it. In this case, the last paragraph of Google's blog entry caught my attention:
If the business community continues to increase investments and focus on energy efficient and renewable power generation technologies, we have a good feeling that our future will be bright. If you're interested, visit the Solar Electric Power Association.
Oxford Solar Commercial Solar Electric Systems I've been doing some work lately for a client in NJ, Oxford Solar, who is a member of the Solar Electric Power Association, which Google mentioned in the last sentence of their blog post. Unfortunately, the government of New Jersey isn't managing their clean energy program very well. See Renewable Energy Access - The Price of Success: Inside the NJ Clean Energy Program. Still, perhaps Google's solar energy announcement on the West Coast will spur more companies on the East Coast to think about installing solar panels.

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Saturday, October 14, 2006

Pixel Advertising is Dead. Done. Over. Or is it?

It's been awhile since I've blogged about pixel advertising. It was interesting for a few months about a year ago. When Alex Tew's The Million Dollar Homepage launched (on 2005-08-26), it was incredible to see the amount of buzz generated and the volume of traffic the site was both receiving and delivering. I bought an ad on 2005-09-26, started blogging about pixel advertising traffic on 2006-01-18 and posted a pixel ads case study update on 2006-02-08. I wrote a Pixel Advertising vs Search Marketing article which I used as a landing page for pixels I was buying and constructed a Pixel Ads lens on Squidoo. With so much interest in buying and selling pixels at the time, I started receiving requests from webmasters asking for feedback on their pixel sites. I started posting pixel advertising site reviews on 2006-02-20. For a short while, the Squidoo lens ranked in the top 100 by LensRank. Traffic quickly tapered off from the various pixel sites on which I'd purchased pixels and I stopped blogging about pixel advertising in February. I continued to update the Squidoo page through March and April, noting that interest was waning. A recent thread in AdWords Help reminded me that people continue to build pixel ad sites. I don't get it. The phenomenon is over. It was interesting but short-lived.

If you disagree that pixel advertising is dead, leave a comment with a link to a pixel ad site you think is surviving and/or thriving. Explain why it has potential. No million dollar home page clones, please.

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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

YAYGO: Yet Another YouTube Google Opinion

You really don't need YAYGO (Yet Another YouTube Google Opinion). So, I'll simply point to some of the best coverage on the deal and then add a few brief thoughts. Read The Google - YouTube Deal- coverage roundup (via John Battelle's Searchblog) and Google Has Acquired YouTube (via TechCrunch) to understand what has happened to this point. Read How Google Should Monetize YouTube With AdWords & AdSense (via JenSense) for some thoughts about this deal's potential. Read this insightful post Paradigm shift: What Google didn't buy (via Susan Mernit's Blog) which helps explain why Google went after a social media company in the first place. Note that Susan works for Yahoo! which owns social media companies Flickr and del.icio.us.

There's much speculation that Yahoo! will be forced to make a move to counter Google's deal. I don't think that's the case, so I concur with Buying Facebook will not save Yahoo!'s face (via Blogging Stocks). Yahoo!'s simply too sluggish these days and rushing into a deal is not the solution. As a heavy user of both Google AdWords and Yahoo! Search Marketing, I'm utterly perplexed as to why Yahoo! would announce a new advertising platform in May which 5 months later (an absolute eternity in Internet time) has not yet launched. Contrast that with the upgrades made to the Google AdWords platform over a similar timeframe. Google has been innovating while Yahoo! has been stagnating. Perhaps the success of their recent Hack Day will break the inertia and propel them in the right direction.

One of the more interesting aspects to the Google - YouTube deal is the manner in which it was announced. A blogger scooped mainstream media to get this story out. As I noted in my other blog (for TagMan - try the Flickr version), CNBC wasn't sure what to make of this scoop by TechCrunch.

[Full disclosure: I own shares in YHOO and GOOG and am both a Yahoo! Search Marketing Ambassador and Qualified Google Advertising Professional.]

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Sunday, October 08, 2006

Official Google Blog Blogger Hacker?

Forget about fun with Google code search! Looks like a hacker has had fun with the Official Google Blog (screenshot is here). Google confirms the hack. It cannot be coincidence that the previous blog entry is about security. That post mentions both "We keep the bad guys out of our systems" and "external security enthusiasts who keep us on our toes." Whether this was the work of a malicious or benevolent hacker, it's keeping the blogosphere abuzz even on a weekend. Perhaps there'll be a flurry of posts on the Official Google Blog early this week to get this issue to "scroll off" the main page.

Could this have been someone from Yahoo, fresh of the Hack Day success? Naw...

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Friday, October 06, 2006

Fun with Google Code Search

Yesterday, Google announced the launch of Google Code Search. I wonder if the timing's coincidental or if they're trying to blunt the success of Yahoo! Hack Day. Regardless, the launch has been noted by some prominent bloggers. Jason Kottke blogs about some interesting uses for Google Code Search. This one cracked me up: Profanities. I used to develop software at AOL and remember some pretty funny comments in developers' code. Whenever I could, I'd embed easter eggs in my code. So, playing around today I tried these code searches: easter egg + easter eggs. Good stuff.

Not sure if the Google Code Search launch will hurt or help existing sites like Koders and Krugle. In the short term, it might actually bring them some attention. Note that both companies were referenced in a TechCrunch post about the new Google feature. Are these companies doomed or is the spotlight now on them?

Update: Here are a few more funny Google code searches:
  1. "not going to work"
  2. stupid
  3. sucks
  4. smelly
  5. cheese
  6. "like cheese"
  7. spam eggs
  8. "monty python"
If you've found a funny Google code search, please share it.

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Wednesday, October 04, 2006

AdWords Seminars Fine Print

Google recently announced AdWords Seminars now in select cities. I suspect they'll expand this program if it goes well. Seems like a good move to reach out to small business. Might even be a way to appeal to large businesses that haven't yet realized the value of search engine advertising. The fine print is interesting:
AdWords Seminars for Success are designed for individual AdWords advertisers managing their own AdWords accounts. Agencies, SEOs, SEMs, and resellers are not eligible for these events.
Not sure why they'd want to exclude anyone from these seminars. You'd think they'd want anyone to improve their AdWords advertising. Perhaps the aim is to either convince more businesses to advertise online with Google or to convince companies to expand their existing PPC advertising. Still, search engine marketers are, in fact, Google's salesforce. Perhaps they'll have other AdWords seminars exclusively for Google advertising professionals. These are the people that will expand Google's dominance in search and contextual advertising.

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