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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Not About Pixel Advertising

I realized lately that it's time to update the Apogee Weblog description. When I started blogging a little over a year ago, I was researching pixel advertising. I haven't written a blog post on pixel ads since "Pixel Advertising is Dead. Done. Over. Or is it?" on October 14, 2006. Yep, time to scrub pixel advertising from this blog description:
Blog for Apogee Web Consulting LLC. Topics covered include search engine marketing, small business growth, web analytics, pixel advertising and other topics relevant to our business.
Most of the work I do on a day-to-day basis involves pay per click advertising. If you look at my recent blog posts:
...they're mostly about PPC ads. So, I've updated this blog's description to be more concise and a more accurate reflection of recent blog topics:
Blog for Apogee Web Consulting LLC. Topics covered include search engine marketing and pay per click advertising strategies.
Going forward, I plan to go into detail on various Google AdWords tips, talk more about what's happening with click/distribution fraud and provide more free tools. I'm sure I'll meander a bit, too, but I'll try to keep the meandering on the TagMan game blog. ;-)

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Google AdWords Tip: Direct Navigation via Search

Dealing with Google AdWords distribution fraud lately (Yahoo! Search Marketing has the same sausage problem), I've been thinking about type-in traffic, a form of direct navigation. Usually, this involves someone typing domain names (or keywords) directly into the browser address bar. However, many (most?) people use search engines these days as a starting point for web navigation. I've been noticing people typing domain names into search engine boxes instead of the address bar. While watching Super Bowl commercials this year, I decided to run a PPC test to see how prevalent this practice is. I ran a test for 4 days, starting the Monday after the Super Bowl, related to the ad. Here's a screenshot of the AdWords ad group: adwords

I was curious to see, in the hours and days following the Super Bowl, how many people would perform searches like and (the URL provided at the end of the TV ad). A few interesting data points:
  1. 41% of impressions from domain name keywords
  2. 67% of clicks from domain name keywords
  3. Lower impressions but higher CTR for keywords that would display for a search
  4. Poor quality score on some domain name keywords
The quality scores were low because I didn't create a custom landing page. For other tests, I did do so and bids were below 10 cents. Due to trademark considerations, I didn't use the actual keyword "salesgenie" in the ad text, but did include the "sales" keyword. Accordingly, the minimum bid for the exact match [sales genie] was only 6 cents, compared to 15-40 cents for "salesgenie" keywords.

Next time you're performing some keyword research on your competitors, consider taking advantage of direct navigation via search engines. Buy pay per click keywords related to their domain names. Unless trademarks are an issue, include (at least parts of) the domain name in the ad text and the landing page to improve quality score and reduce minimum bid. Pay attention to URLs used in commercials. Make sure your competing ad will display when the URL is typed directly into a search box. Let your competition buy expensive TV ads. Get some exposure via a more economical route, by "piggybacking" on their TV exposure via PPC ads.

Honestly, I can't decide if this is a brilliant strategy or an unfair competitive practice. What do you think?

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Thursday, February 22, 2007

Yahoo! has Nasty Sausage Ingredients

I thought the Google AdWords distribution fraud was bad. It's much worse with Yahoo! Search Marketing. With the spotlight on Yahoo! and their upgraded PPC advertising platform (codename Panama), you'd think they'd want to impress advertisers with quality partners. Instead, they appear to be desperate to monetize search by partnering with low quality sites. It's really unbelievable when you see it. Here's a screenshot from our free tool for tracking Yahoo! Search Marketing clicks:

ysm hits

In keeping with the Sausage Manifesto, here's a breakdown of the "PPC sausage" ingredients from this chronological look at the above 18 clicks (to give you a little flavor) from Y!SM ads:

5/18 Yahoo! properties = 28%
8/18 parked domains = 44%
3/18 2nd tier search engines = 17%

Hmm, 44% of paid traffic purchased from Yahoo! Search Marketing came from parked domains and only 28% from actual Yahoo! properties?! That's certainly not a very appealing recipe. Okay, 18 hits isn't much data to go on, so I decided to do a quick case study. I dug through web server logs for 4 clients who spend quite a bit on PPC advertising with both Google AdWords and Yahoo! Search Marketing. For privacy reasons, I'm obviously not going to talk about specific keywords or give any details about particular clients. I grabbed February log data and gathered at least 200 sequential Y!SM PPC ad clicks and looked at what percentage of those clicks came from Yahoo! properties and how much came from parked domains. Here's the data:

Client A:
67% Yahoo! properties
9% parked domains

Client B:
60% Yahoo! properties
14% parked domains

Client C:
57% Yahoo! properties
31% parked domains

Client D:
41% Yahoo! properties
46% parked domains

I could not believe the data when I started digging. My clients all had Content Match turned off with the expectation they were paying for search engine advertising. As it turns out, they were actually buying traffic which was composed of anywhere from 9%-46% clicks from parked domains. That's some nasty sausage. Make sure you're tracking your Yahoo! Search Marketing PPC ad spend!

I'm contemplating dropping Yahoo! Search Marketing entirely and using SEO tactics for traffic for my clients. If it's possible to buy purely Yahoo! traffic, much like you can run a Google AdWords campaign opted into traffic only, I'll definitely stick with Y!SM. If not, I'll have to decide on a case-by-case basis if it's worth playing whack-a-mole to tweak a Y!SM ad campaign to minimize low quality traffic. I'll be curious to see the Yahoo! response (or lack of a response) to this comment I left on their blog:
Could you please let me know how to:
1) Block ad distribution to individual sites
2) Run ads only on
I'm really disappointed right now with both Yahoo! and Google. I wonder if any change will come about due to the Sausage Manifesto. We sure could do with some lean sausage.

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

PPC Tip: Don't Mix Contextual Ads and Search Engine Advertising

In 2005, I wrote Mastering Google AdWords Marketing: Contextual Advertising for Search Engine Guide. Since then, the Google AdWords PPC advertising platform has evolved. Accordingly, an updated version of the article is available here. What's interesting is that Google is also now suggesting that separating content ads (contextual advertising) from search ads is a good idea. In a recent blog entry about click fraud, a Google employee writes:
Traffic on the Google content network can also fluctuate from day to day as your ads match new sites. To better control your spend on the content network, make sure that you implement content bids or set up a separate campaign that is targeted just to the content network.
While Google's addition of separate bidding for content ads was a welcome change, that's not a very good solution. Since the budget is controlled at the campaign level, it's important to manage search ads in campaigns independent of content ads. Otherwise, a large fluctuation in traffic from the Google content network could, effectively, disable search ads (by spending the entire daily budget). Here's a screenshot of the ad distribution network choices:

google ad network distribution preferences

Notice that this particular campaign is configured for search ads only. A contextual advertising campaign would only have the "Content network" box checked. For more detailed information about effectively managing a Google AdWords PPC advertising account, read the updated contextual advertising article or my update to a click fraud isolation strategy.

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Friday, February 16, 2007

Who Broke Google AdWords?

Google AdWords is broken. There's a short term problem and a long term problem. First, here's an example of the short term problem:

adwords quality score

See the problem? A keyword that has established a reasonable CTR of 1.74% is now marked inactive for search and Google is requiring a minimum CPC of $10.00 to activate the ad for that particular keyword! Wow, Google AdWords is broken! Notice that the other keyword with a far worse CTR of 0.31% only needs $0.30 to run again. Clearly, a bug was introduced into the Google advertising system with today's quality score update. I'm seeing plenty of reports today about this flaw.

When I worked as a software developer at AOL, if we launched buggy code into production, we'd roll it back within hours and debug it in a QA environment. Google hasn't rolled back. I saw this $10 bid problem this morning. It's now evening and the bug is still present. That's perplexing. For a keyword phrase that was performing reasonably well at an average CPC of 16 cents, I'm certainly not going to raise the bid to 10 dollars! So, Google's CPC revenue from my firm for that keyword phrase will drop from 16 cents to zero.

Ok, so that's a short term problem. Google AdWords has a more serious flaw. This is not a programming bug but a systemic flaw. That problem is distribution fraud, which is actually more serious for advertisers than click fraud. It's a long term problem that Google is choosing to ignore.

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Happy Valentine's Day!

valentine candy heartHappy Valentine's Day! Seems like a good day for a "light-hearted" post. There's some silly chatter on TechCrunch about Google's Valentine logo. Nice roundup of other search industry Valentines logos from Search Engine Roundtable. Chris Hooley's started what might be a pretty amusing Valentine contest. His blog is one of the more amusing SEO blogs I've seen lately. SEO/M can be pretty dull. Nice to see someone liven it up a bit.

Google's reversed their no comments policy as a Valentine's Day gift, at least on the Webmaster Central Blog. Their CPG Blog has some interesting VDay stats. For instance, 58% of men give flowers for Valentine's Day. Speaking of flowers, that BVAL07 gift code I mentioned yesterday is good for the rest of this week. ;-)

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Last Minute Valentine Gifts

Quick followup to my last post about Valentine's Day. If you haven't yet bought a Valentine gift, consider buying from my client, Plantrex. They're an interior landscaping company and flower shop. They work with other florists all over the U.S. and Canada and will pick up the phone and call to make sure they find a florist that has room in their Valentine's Day delivery schedule and has the right kind of flowers in stock. That's one thing that separates Plantrex from .com florists like 1-800-Flowers, FTD, Teleflora, ProFlowers, etc. Those companies either just wire out an order or ship flowers in a box.

For better service, and to have flowers (or plants or gift baskets) professionally arranged and delivered by a local florist, try ordering a last minute gift from Plantrex. You actually save more money by ordering online because, for most locations, you won't pay any sales tax. If you order directly from a local florist, you will pay sales tax. Use code BVAL07 and save an additional $5 on any order of $50 or more. That code is good only for today. Enter it at check out in the "Gift Certificate Code" box. It will look like this:

gift coupon code

After you type BVAL07, click the "Redeem Gift Certificate" button and you'll see your discount. Then, click the "FINALIZE MY ORDER" button to pay for your order. Happy Valentine's Day!

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Friday, February 09, 2007

Don't Forget Valentine's Day!

I've been busy the past few weeks cranking out some Valentine's Day paid search marketing campaigns. Thought I'd highlight a couple of interesting Valentine gifts my clients have to offer. If you're looking to send something a little different this year, try one of these:

valentine chocolate lover's gift box
Chocolate Lover's Gift Box
(scroll towards bottom of page)

monthly flower delivery
Monthly Variety Gift Pack
(bottom right corner)

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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Quick Hack to See Top External Links via Google

Google announced a new Webmaster Central feature that will show actual links to your own website. Here's the gist:
You could always get a sub-sampled list of backlinks by using the link: operator, but now, as the owner of a site, you can get a much larger list in the Webmaster Tools component of Webmaster Central.
This is going to be a popular feature, particularly in the SEO/M community. Right now when I look at a link: Google search for my firm's site, I can only see 44 links. With the new tool, I can see 4262 external links. Wow, quite a difference! Here's a screenshot:

Google external links

The tool is quite cool, but I'd like to be able to sort by link count. Pages are listed in alphabetical order. It is possible to download the entire list of links in CSV format, though. That's useful for a dork like myself. I wanted to know which pages have the most links so cobbled together a quick script to do so. Here's the format of the CSV file from Google:

$ head -2 external_links.csv
"Pages","Links","Last found"
"","","August 11, 2006"

Here's my unix shell script,, (you can use it if you like) that outputs the list in link count order. Right now, I'm using it to see the top 20 links to my firm's website:

$ external_links.csv |tail -23 46 53 53 54 66 73 80 95 97 102 108 108 114 114 136 223 293 395 414 547
total pages: 4262
unique pages: 227

I turned 2 of those pages into links for this blog post. I'd like more people to realize what's happening with Google AdWords and parked domains and I'm making TagBuildr free to use. That's a simple tool to create blog tags compatible with Technorati tags. Nice to see both of those in the list of top 20 external links, as reported by Google's new tool.

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Sunday, February 04, 2007

Sprint Dropped the Ball with Super Bowl Ad

In Super Bowl Commercials Preview, I said:
I'll also be curious to see if any advertising firms were clever enough to either build a site or optimize an existing site for keywords related to their Super Bowl ads. Will their be spikes in keyword searches via search engines like Google due to Super Bowl ad content? If so, who will benefit? I'll also be expecting to see some interesting PPC ads on Google (and perhaps Yahoo) that tie in to Super Bowl commercials.
I thought the Sprint ad about "Connectile Dysfunction" was clever. I was sure I'd see Sprint represented either in the natural results or the paid results on Google for this new phrase they'd invented for their ad campaign. They are running PPC ads. For example, for a Google search on super bowl commercials, I saw this ad:

sprint google ad

Looking at the results for a connectile dysfunction search, I don't see in either the natural or paid sections:

connectile dysfunction google search

Oops! Doesn't that seem odd to have invested millions of dollars in a Super Bowl commercial and to have created a new keyword phrase specifically for that ad but not consider that people would search for that keyword phrase? Makes even less sense since they are, obviously, running a PPC advertising campaign in conjunction with the Super Bowl TV ad campaign. To make matters worse, one of the top natural results is from a Sprint users group where someone is complaining that: "Sprint has been unable to help, does anybody have a solution or possible solution for my CD problem?" Double oops! Connectile dysfunction, indeed.

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Super Bowl Commercials Preview

As a part of its Super Bowl '07 coverage, Advertising Age has a list of this year's Super Bowl ad buyers. Youtube will have Supervote after the game, a Super Bowl commercial wrap up. I think live blogging about the Super Bowl commercials will be interesting. SuperAdFreak has organized an impressive roster of bloggers who will be live blogging the ads. I'm curious to see if the Technorati top searches will reflect what's happening with the Super Bowl. I do see that Super Bowl is currently one of the top searches:
technorati top searches
Via TechCrunch, I see that Technorati is one of six web 2.0 startups to run their own Super Bowl XLI ads, on YouTube. The Technorati ad promotes their new WTF feature (I previously mentioned that here). In the above image, notice the flame icons. Any search that has the icon has a corresponding WTF blurb. Somehow it seems ironic that there's no WTF blurb for the Web 2.0 search.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to the commercials. I'll be curious to track reactions to the commercials online. I'll also be curious to see if any advertising firms were clever enough to either build a site or optimize an existing site for keywords related to their Super Bowl ads. Will their be spikes in keyword searches via search engines like Google due to Super Bowl ad content? If so, who will benefit? I'll also be expecting to see some interesting PPC ads on Google (and perhaps Yahoo) that tie in to Super Bowl commercials. Perhaps there'll be some savvy competitors who launch PPC advertising campaigns today, on Super Bowl Sunday, to take advantage of traffic from television ads they didn't even create.

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Thursday, February 01, 2007

The National Pork Board Hamstrung by the Other White Milk

Jennifer Laycock, editor of Search Engine Guide, sent me email today asking for help getting the word out about a rude cease & desist letter she received from a lawyer representing The National Pork Board. Seems they're upset about a t-shirt she created for her side project, The Lactivist, which reads "the other white milk." Ridiculous. They clearly don't have a sense of humor. They also must not have realized Jen is a prominent figure in the search engine marketing community. Search marketing bloggers are already posting about this including Danny Sullivan, Andrew Goodman, Andy Beal and Jeremy Schoemaker. Oops. The porkers should have simply emailed or called Jen in a cordial fashion. Instead, they sent a rude letter with odd claims like:
In addition, your use of this slogan also tarnishes the good reputation of the National Pork Board's mark in light of your apparent attempt to promote the use of breastmilk beyond merely for infant consumption, such as with the following slogans on your website in close proximity to the slogan "The Other White Milk." "Dairy Diva," "Nursing, Nature's Own Breast Enhancement," "Eat at Mom's, fast-fresh-from the breast," and "My Milk is the Breast."
I'm laughing as I type this. How could they have sent this letter and kept a straight face? Anyway, the issue's generating some Diggs (31 right now): Big Bully Pork Group Stomps on BreastFeeding Moms. It somehow seems ironic that the #1 organic (not pork) search result on Google for "reputation management services" is an article written by one Jennifer Laycock. Too funny.

reputation management services

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