The Register recently ran an article outlining some critical issues with Adwords. I was quoted in the article, along with Andrew Goodman, Dan Thies, Aaron Wall and others. I thought it was fairly balanced and well-researched. I want to make clear that while I don't consider Google an "evil" company in any sense, I recognize that without sound consultation or education about the Adwords network, advertisers can bleed money by using it.
The article above does a good job of outlining the issues. To summarize, here are the major problems with Adwords that every advertiser needs to get a handle on:
- What it does: uses Google's proprietary technology to match your keywords to related terms.
- Why worry: broad matching has already proven to be problematic for many advertisers. There are usually good reasons to use broad-matched keywords - we often do so for our clients - but always with caution. The ideal set-up is to incorporate embedded match into separate ad groups to separate broad, phrase, and exact matched keywords. Then you can get a pure signal about CPC, CTR, and conversion data by match type.
- More reading: see Automatic Matching: Don't Fall for This! by Dan Thies, and this thread on SEM 2.0 about embedded matching.
- What it does: displays your ads on Google's partner sites as contextual ad placements.
- Why worry: your ads will automatically show on the content network, unless you explicitly opt-out. Best practices are to run your content and search network ads as separate campaigns. Combining them is problematic because it tends to skew keyword data.
- More reading: check out the information Google provides on site targeting before you run a content network campaign. In addition to being useful for improving ad performance on publisher sites, site targeting (which Google also calls placement targeting) can be a dynamite competitive research tool. In this post Aaron Wall outlines some of the pros and cons of using Google's site targeting feature.
Quality Score & Ad Rank
- What it does: Google's Quality Score (QS) dictates what your minimum bid will be, and with Ad Rank, where your ad is displayed in the paid search results.
- Why worry: the way Google ranks ad quality and dictates minimum bids has to be opaque. That's not surprising, really. What can be surprising is how unwary advertisers can get burned here. While Google targets so-called "bad actors" by hiking up minimum bids when keywords and landing pages don't match up, sites without knowledge of how QS factors into their costs can become collateral damage.
- More reading: the best place to start is on Google's fantastic Adwords Help Center, for example this section entitled What is Quality Score and how is it calculated? and this topic list on Ad Quality and Performance factors.
So what's the consensus, is Google evil? No. Google is simply a big business looking out for itself. Remember: Google fails as a search engine when the following happens:
- They lose relevance
- Searchers lose faith in the results
- Advertisers get poor results
There's at least the potential for Google to become evil with Adwords. Why? Because it's so complicated. There are a lot of dials to turn. There are a lot of little tricks to learn. Many small advertisers are at the mercy of Adwords when they launch campaigns without being educated about the network. Because of that, there's the potential for Google to squeeze ever more money out of them - at least until the advertiser stops their campaigns because they simply can't afford them.
As PPC consultants, obviously it's our job to educate our clients and get them the best Return On Advertising Spend (ROAS) we can. But it's also our job to work with Google, Yahoo, MSN, or whoever the next useful paid search provider will be. Whenever I've met with representatives from the major search engines, I've always been impressed by how open and friendly they are. They're a lot like me! It's just that they're on the other side of the value equation - as the provider of the network or service. As the provider of consultation and education (and ROI) for our clients, it's in our best interest to work alongside these networks and align with their needs.
So, does that all sound like I'm bootlicking Google? Maybe it does. But it comes down to this: we're in the business of building revenues and online visibility for our clients. That means we're also in the business of working with the search engines.