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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Beating AdWords AdSense Nonsense

Beating AdWords? Nonsense. It's not about beating the system. It's about understanding the system first and then adapting to the ever-changing Google advertising (AdWords/AdSense) landscape. I don't think many people understand the difference between AdWords and AdSense. That's crucial for effective AdWords campaigns. Even elite marketers like Seth Godin recognize the confusion. In Meatball Mondae: Millions of channels on AdWords, he writes:
Google AdWords is a very simple idea that’s surprisingly little understood. On every page of Google search results, in your Gmail and your Froogle results, and more and more on the pages of other Web sites (like Squidoo or the New York Times), you’ll find these ads. The AdWords are smart. They appear based on the context of what you’re doing.
Is he talking about AdWords or AdSense? Both, actually. It's not so much that AdWords are smart. AdSense for Content (which is not the same as AdSense for Search which, in turn, is not the same as AdSense for Domains) is smart, in the sense that it uses contextual targeting. The primary reason, however, that AdSense (not AdWords) appears so smart is that a large inventory of keyword ads exist in the AdWords system which AdSense can use on other sites. Trouble is, many AdWords advertisers think they're buying only search advertising when they sign up for AdWords. They're actually buying three kinds of advertising, if they don't override the defaults. They're buying search advertising AND contextual advertising AND domain advertising. To avoid confusion (if that's possible), I'm limiting the scope of this post to keyword-targeted ads and am ignoring site-targeted ads.

Perhaps it will help to think of Google's advertising system in terms of ad creation and ad distribution. For the most part, AdWords involves ad creation while AdSense represents ad distribution. Ads on Google are the exception. Those *are* AdWords. Taking liberty with Seth Godin's Meatball Sundae idea, I think the meatball is AdWords. All the flavors of AdSense are the toppings.

The AdWords system I started using in 2002 was simple. Then they added the content network (AdSense for Content) and changed broad match to expanded broad match and started distributing domain advertising (AdSense for Domains) on BOTH the search network AND the content network. IOW, they kept piling on all this stuff to the core product. I think their goal was to simplify ad management. Advertisers would create a single ad that would run in many places. Advertisers didn't need to understand the differences between search advertising, contextual advertising and domain advertising. They'd simply get more clicks. Turns out, though, that advertisers want more control. They value high quality traffic over a high quantity of traffic. So, Google started to unwind some of the changes they'd made, which made the system more confusing.

I like to keep search advertising separate from contextual advertising and both of those separate from domain advertising. It's not yet possible with AdWords. What's interesting, though, is that people at Google recognize that it's crucial to isolate content ads from search ads. A recent post on the Inside AdWords blog regarding optimizing keywords for the content network had some great insights. Example:
We recommend keeping separate campaigns for advertising on content and search. Please keep in mind that these tips below are specific to contexual targeting and advertising on the content network and may be different from your search network strategies.
So, getting back to the title of this post, "beating AdWords" begins with building search campaigns that are managed separately from content campaigns:

google ad distribution options

Now, when you create a new keyword-targeted ad campaign, there's no indication that you'll be paying for contextual ad clicks as well as domain ad clicks. The onus is on you to edit the campaign settings. When you uncheck the Content network selection, ignore the scary warning from Google:

adwords popup

You really do want to opt out of the content network, at least for a search advertising campaign. As noted above, even Google recognizes this is the right thing to do. Unfortunately, even opting out of the content network, you still might pay for some contextual ads. What do I mean? Remember this whole Meatball Sundae idea? Well, since Google threw the AdSense for Domains toppings on, they kind of got stuck in the search advertising meatball. You can't separate them. Unfortunately, this poor implementation leads to this kind of click fraud. Aaron Wall laments that Google "has some of the dirtiest domain traffic partners (many cybersquatters)" on its ad network. Sadly, he's absolutely right. Make sure you know how to block unwanted domain traffic.

Don't get me wrong. I'd like to buy domain advertising. I just want to keep it separate from search advertising and contextual advertising. I'd also like some transparency as to where my domain ads would be displayed. PPC advertisers need to recognize that domain ads are about quality traffic and not quality sites. Many turn their noses up (I know I used to) at parked domains since they are undeveloped sites. But, think about it - what's Google? It's an ugly site with some good links and delivers high quality traffic. You don't want people to stick around. You want them to leave Google and go to the external sites. The problem is that PPC advertisers tend to think of parked domains in the context of contextual advertising. Implemented properly, parked domain advertising should be more akin to search advertising. I'm going off on a tangent, here, so I'll save these ideas for a future post. In the meantime, visit blogs like Seven Mile, Conceptualist, Domain Tools, Whizzbang, and you'll see what I'm referring to.

I was going to talk about a strategy for dealing with the various match types in the AdWords system in light of the expanded matching toppings being thrown onto the broad match meatball (which makes for a rather unpalatable combination). Rather than repeating ideas that I've written previously, though, look at the image below and click on it if you want those details:

adwords keyword matching types

Consider subscribing to Apogee Weblog if you've found this post helpful (and aren't already busy beating AdWords). Also, these posts have similar ideas:
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