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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

BusinessWeek Clickfraud Article Doesn't Click

The BusinessWeek article Click Fraud: The Dark Side of Online Advertising (found via Micropersuasion) doesn't click. The article focuses primarily on a single advertiser, Martin Fleischmann, from a company called Plugging that site into my firm's free keyword research tool, I see keywords like:
insurance, insurance quotes, life insurance quotes, term life insurance quotes, mortgage, health insurance, refinance
This MostChoice company is in a pretty competitive industry, from the point of view of PPC (pay per click) prices. Bids on Yahoo Search Marketing (formerly Overture) are in the $4-$10 range for the keywords they've stuffed on their site. The Business Week article mentions, "the validity of his clicks, for which he pays up to $8 apiece, has become an obsession. Every day he pores over fresh spreadsheets of click analysis." What appears to be missing is a strategy to structure the PPC advertising accounts in order to minimize fraudulent clicks. Perhaps these guys need to tweak their AdWords. Here's where the article unravels:
Fleischmann, like most other advertisers, has agreed to let Google and Yahoo recycle his ads on affiliated sites.
With both Google AdWords and Yahoo Search Marketing, advertisers can choose to opt out of contextual advertising. By opting out, advertisers would avoid most of the sources of click fraud. The Business Week article misses a fundamental point: Yahoo and Google sell both search engine advertising and contextual advertising. Advertisers can buy just search engine advertising, if they desire. If they choose contextual advertising, it's up to them to understand where the clicks are coming from and to structure their accounts to minimize click fraud. True, the search engines need to do more to combat click fraud. I argue in my post about the Google AdWords Philosophy that Google needs to entirely separate search ads from contextual ads. Here are some of the strategies advertisers can use to minimize click fraud from the Google content network (where contextual ads are displayed):
  1. Turn off the content network
  2. Run contextual ads in a separate keyword-targeted campaign
  3. Set lower bids for content ads
  4. Block sites in the content network (using the site exclusion feature)
  5. Run content ads in a separate site-targeted campaign
I do think Google should change its practice of opting advertisers into the content network, by default. I suspect most advertisers aren't even aware they're engaging in contextual advertising as well as search engine advertising when they open a Google AdWords account. However, Google does at least provide tools which allow an advertiser to manage content ads. I wonder if the companies featured in the Business Week article are aware of all of the options. Certainly doesn't seem to be the case, but the article might be painting an inaccurate portrait of the sophistication of these advertisers.

I'm more concerned about click fraud from search ads. When Google and Yahoo blur the distinction between search advertising and content advertising, that's where the promise of PPC advertising is in trouble. In a blog entry entitled Wired: Google vs Click Fraud from December of last year, I talked about this problem. Just like Google has evolved the AdWords platform over the past year to increase the ability to manage ads across the content network, it needs to give advertisers more control over the search network. For instance, why can't site exclusion work for the search network? That would have solved the ZapMeta problem referenced in the BusinessWeek article. Additionally, advertisers should have the option to not display ads on parked domains. Those are not search ads.

The battle over click fraud needs to be fought on two fronts: search click fraud and content click fraud. Advertisers can employ strategies to minimize click fraud from content ad clicks. The search engines need to do more to address click fraud that occurs from search ad clicks. Advertisers need to have adequate tracking in place to know where clicks are coming from and to identify those that might be fraudulent.

Free resources: tool to track Google content ad clicks, tool to track Yahoo ad clicks

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Friday, September 22, 2006

Tweaker for AdWords on Squidoo

I'm a Google AdWords tweaker. Didn't realize it until I read this blog post by Seth Godin. Accordingly, I've created a Squidoo lens called Tweaker for Google AdWords. The topic of optimizing an AdWords account can be pretty dry so I've included the Squidoo TagMan game in the lens. I wonder if Mr. Godin has played a game of Squidoo TagMan. Have you?

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Saturday, September 16, 2006

Google AdWords Philosophy is Flawed

I read The Google AdWords Philosophy (found via a recent Inside AdWords post). It needs a major rewrite. Here's the text that's flawed:
At its heart the AdWords program is simple: we bring our users and advertisers together at the moment when their interests intersect. Users find what they're searching for, while advertisers find pre-qualified customers who are actively looking for exactly what they have to offer.
This is true of search engine advertising. Trouble is, AdWords is actually search engine advertising plus contextual advertising. If you run a campaign with the content network turned on (it's on by default when you create a new campaign), you're running ads on AdSense sites. That's NOT search engine advertising. People browsing sites displaying AdSense ads are NOT "customers who are actively looking for exactly what they have to offer." Not by a longshot. Google, please edit your philosophy document. It's seriously flawed.

Alternatively, for The Google AdWords Philosophy to be true, the AdWords platform needs to be changed. Changing the advertising platform to adhere to the philosophy might actually be beneficial to Google's AdWords customers. Here are the changes I prescribe:
  1. Don't mix the distribution of search ads and content ads. Split the existing keyword-targeted campaign into two options: keyword-targeted search and keyword-targeted content.

  2. Don't let users of the Starter Edition use content ads. They already cannot create site-targeted campaigns but they are opted into the content network via a single keyword-targeted campaign.
Currently, when you create a campaign, the choices are keyword-targeted and site-targeted. A site-targeted campaign distributes ads on the content network. A keyword-targeted campaign distributes ads on both the search network and content network, by default. These ad distribution settings can be changed. I think that when a new campaign is created, there should actually be three choices: keyword-targeted search, keyword-targeted content, site-targeted content. This would make the system more clear. A campaign that is purely "keyword-targeted search" would be consistent with the AdWords philosophy document.

Am I being pedantic here or is the AdWords philosophy flawed?

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Thursday, September 14, 2006

Google AdWords for Intuit Quickbooks Users

This partnership between Google and Intuit is another clever move by Google. Not so sure it's good for small businesses. That depends on the execution. The deal lets Quickbooks users advertise on Google Maps, Google Base and Google AdWords. I'll address AdWords since that's what I'm very familiar with. Here's a quote from the press release (from Intuit's site with graphics) pertaining to AdWords:
QuickBooks users can select search terms related to their product or service and create customized ads that show up when shoppers search on Google for those products or services. This feature gives small businesses full control over their budgets, allowing them to stop or pause their campaign, monitor their spending or change their advertising messages at any time.
My concern is that the Google AdWords system has become more complicated as it has evolved. This makes it difficult for small businesses with limited resources to manage PPC ads effectively. To combat this issue, Google created a simpler version of AdWords called Starter Edition. The problem with this version is that the content network is enabled and cannot be disabled. What's wrong with the content network? Nothing, as long as an advertiser realizes that content ads run on AdSense sites and not on search engines. There's a big difference between passive users reading a web page embedded with AdSense ads and active users searching for specific keywords on a search engine. I've been recommending for a long time that AdWords users manage search and content ads in separate campaigns. Putting it another way, AdWords is a hybrid product including both search engine advertising and contextual advertising. These are actually two very different advertising products. For a new user to AdWords, the two forms of advertising should not be combined.

With the Standard Edition of AdWords, advertisers can opt out of the content network (it's on by default when a new ad campaign is created). Will Quickbooks simply link to AdWords or will there be some sort of Quickbooks Edition? If so, will small businesses have the choice to opt out of the content network? Google needs to find a way to make AdWords simple for small business owners without forcing them to run ads on Google AdSense sites.

Other bloggers have reservations about this partnership, as well. On TechCrunch, Michael Arrington states, "I sure hope there’s an easy way to turn this stuff off." Matt McGee via his Small Business SEM blog comments, "Online marketing isn’t like the Yellow Pages, where you get to make an ad and then let it sit for a year." Speaking of yellow pages, Greg Sterling points out that "the U.S. yellow pages industry has approximately 3.2 million advertisers in total. QuickBooks has 3.7 million active users." Clearly, this is a potentially lucrative market for Google. But, is that market ready to use AdWords? Does that depend on how AdWords is integrated with Quickbooks? Again, I hope they don't use something like the Starter Edition.

Something else struck me about the press release: the paragraph that begins, "Research by iProspect, a leading search engine marketing firm, found that..." This is the same Google that advises against using a search engine optimization firm and declares not to have relationships with any SEO firms. I'd say including iProspect in a major press release indicates a relationship. They could've quoted my search engine marketing firm. ;-)

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Friday, September 08, 2006

Google Ad Preview Tool is Cool

I like the new Google AdWords ad preview tool (announced today via Inside AdWords). The local advertising space is hot right now. Interesting to see that Search Engine Roundtable (IMHO one of the most useful SEM blogs) reported today that LocalLaunch was acquired. I've been doing a fair amount of work lately for clients regarding local advertising. I can think of two very good uses for the new AdWords ad preview tool:
  1. See my clients' local ads from their perspective.
  2. Check ad position for my clients' national/global ads in specific regions.
For instance, I've been running local ads for clients in CA and NJ. My computer's in MD. I've used Google's ads diagnostic tool and other means to examine my clients' ads as seen on their machines, but I think this tool will be more accurate. The ad preview tool will also be useful for improving national ads. Looking at stats via the AdWords interface provides the average position for a given ad for a given keyword. But, for a national ad, that's the average position across a whole collection of local regions. It will be helpful to examine the ad positions in specific markets.

Right now, the tool doesn't seem to "remember" the query data that's being passed along. After manually adding query data to see results for a specific region, when you click to see the next set of results, that query data isn't passed along. I imagine that's a simple bug the Google software engineers will fix. Here's an example using the tool to see what ads look like for "pizza delivery" in the New York, NY area:

Note the query data "gr=US-NY" to indicate the region and "gcs=New+York" to indicate the city. Both pieces of data need to be present, i.e. you cannot simply pass the city. See this AdWords help page to understand which chunks of data have dependencies. Hmm, note to self, I'm thinking Google Maps mashup with AdWords results - a tool to display Google AdWords results by location by typing in a keyword search and then clicking points on a map. (Then again, maybe I should limit my web 2.0 mashup escapades to TagMan).

If you need help with your local advertising efforts, read my Local Search Advertising with Google AdWords article (also published on Search Engine Guide).

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Wednesday, September 06, 2006

See Googlebot Visits with trackSpiders.cgi

Since Googlebot visits will now be more in sync with the Google cache, according to the Official Google Webmaster Central Blog, more webmasters will want to keep a close eye on Googlebot crawls. Note that the cache timestamp will now be updated even if Googlebot receives a 304 HTTP status code. I wonder what kind of time lag there will be between the time Googlebot visits a page and that timestamp is reflected in the actual Google cache.

Our free, open source spider tracking tool will track each Googlebot visit, displaying timestamp, HTTP status code and page retrieved. The tool tracks other search engine spiders as well. See the following demos:

trackSpiders.cgi - tracks Googlebot, Yahoo! Slurp, MSNbot
trackSpiders.cgi?s=gy - tracks Googlebot and Yahoo! Slurp

This free search engine tool can be downloaded here.

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Sunday, September 03, 2006

Free Keyword Research Tool Tips

Our free keyword research tool grabs the meta keywords and meta description tags from a web page. Many sites will use unique meta tags for each page so it's worth looking at more than simply the domain. Here are examples of valid pages to enter via the tool:

Note that the tool will work even if you enter the leading "http://" so that you can cut-and-paste URLs directly from your browser. You can also type in domains or pages directly without the leading "http://" characters. Our free keyword tool is not for entering keywords. You enter URLs (can be domains or web pages).

Take our meta keywords advice and do not use meta keywords for your own site. Feel free to post comments or questions about the tool to this blog entry.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Local Advertising with Google AdWords

There are two ways to configure a campaign on Google AdWords to engage in local advertising. Read the full article, Local Search Advertising with Google AdWords for details. Also, read Why's the location under my ad (from Inside AdWords). Note that that particular Inside AdWords post is in reaction to a question posted on AdWords Help, the forum in which I am a regular contributor.

Blog Day 2006 Technorati Retry

Yesterday, I posted about Blog Day 2006 Search Marketing Blogs. Technorati didn't pick up the post. Yes, I did manually ping and verified that Technoratibot hit my server. The "last updated" data on Technorati is correct but it appears to be dropping some of my posts. Please ignore this post and refer to my original Blog Day 2006 entry. Technoratibot, keep reading.

Update: This post didn't make it into Technorati's index, either.

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Blog Day 2006 Search Marketing Blogs

On my other blog, I posted about Blog Day 2006. See the original BlogDay site for background. Here, I'll mention 5 blogs at least somewhat related to search marketing that are perhaps not the usual suspects. At least 3 of the 5 should be fairly obscure. At any rate, enjoy these blogs I have found to be of interest:

1) Comparison Engines (Topic: online comparison shopping engines)

2) Mymotech (Topic: web analytics)

3) Search Engine Roundtable (Topic: search marketing)

4) The Lactivist (Topic: breastfeeding blog by editor of Search Engine Guide)

5) Marketing Punk (Topic: online marketing)

chocolate covered coffee beans
It's after midnight as I type this post but since I'm using the Blogger platform which is in California, I figure I have almost 3 hours to get this post in before Blog Day 2006 is actually over. I'm snacking on some chocolate covered coffee beans from my client, Maine Munchies, to help keep me awake as I type. They're absolutely delicious. Don't you think all bloggers need some? ;-)

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