SEO Has Tilted on Its Axis

There has been much talk in the last couple of years about the “death of SEO”. Such words are dramatic and catch your attention, but I never believed, not for an instant, that SEO would die. If you’re a professional in the SEM space you come to understand that the world is constantly shifting, changing, and evolving – not dying. And like any smart species – you adapt to the changes – or you die.

The world of SEO has absolutely shifted on its axis. SEO has suffered some serious earthquakes in the last few years. And in researching some facts for this post I found it kind of creepy that those higher Richter scale quakes started at the same time as the 8.0 earthquake that shook Japan to its foundation in March 2011 and created a catastrophic 30 foot tsunami. That earthquake moved Japan’s coastline by 8 feet and it shifted the Earth on its axis by 4 inches. Incredible.

The same sort of shakeup has been happening in SEO. Google has been telling people for years that “the big one” was coming and they’ve been preaching the decline of the power of the keyword and the increase in importance of outstanding content that is useful to the visitor as well as social presence and activity.

In February 2011 Google released “Panda”, a fairly small SEO earthquake. I bet the tea cups on your website shelf rattled. Panda was an effort to penalize websites whose web copy was not original, i.e. the same copy lives on other websites. Panda also penalized sites that had duplicate or repetitive copy on their pages. Google has made it clear that keyword stuffing on pages no longer games the system and creating a large number of pages just for the sake of trying to get more pages indexed no longer works.

In April of 2012 another SEO earthquake hit. And Google named this one “Penguin”. Penguin was all about untrustworthy and spammy backlinks. Now gone were the days where you would purchase 1,000 links for $100 with the goal of flooding the internet with links back to your site. Google’s algorithms now pick up low-quality, spammy links with the scent of a bloodhound.

And in August 2013 the SEO world experienced a Richter 8.0 earthquake called “Hummingbird” (funny how Google’s animals get smaller as the algorithm changes get bigger…). An article I read on Search Engine Journal likened Panda and Penguin to car maintenance. These two changes were like changing out the spark plugs and replacing the battery. Hummingbird was like replacing the whole engine. All the chirping about Hummingbird has to do with Google introducing “contextual search”. That is, Google wanted to look beyond the base nature of keyword usage and really dive into the INTENT of the user’s search. You can just imagine how this approach takes the conventional keyword, in and of itself, and nearly makes it meaningless. For example, let’s take the keyword phrase “best restaurants san diego”. What is the searcher’s intent here? Do they simply want a list of the best restaurants? Do they want to eat at one and they need directions? Are they just interested in where Guy Fieri, of Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives, showed up? Google’s mission with Hummingbird is to, as best as it can, match search results with what the most logical user intent is. Quite a feat. It seems to me that Google’s efforts are akin to making a sentient robot.

So….the days of using keyword tricks, meaningless backlinks, and meaningless content are gone. Long gone.

Not only has the META “keywords” tag been useless for nearly 5 years, last year Google switched to secure search and essentially removed organic keyword data from Analytics. Bing/Yahoo followed suit. Their message is quite clear.

SEO professionals and their clients need to understand how this has changed. Websites still need to be optimized, and when that happens, SEO professionals still do keyword research to try and find the higher volume phrases that searchers use. And they’ll take care of all the little SEO tactics; like ensuring that each page has a unique and properly formatted title and description; creating a valid XML sitemap and robots.txt file; ensure that domain names properly redirect for the “www” and non-www variations, etc. But there is no longer any haggling with keywords.

Clients need to understand that their SEO person cannot guarantee that they will rank highly for any keyword. Because ranking algorithms today pay very little attention to the keywords you’ve chosen. They look at how well your site is designed, how well the copy is written, how often you are contributing copy, how many errors your web code contains, what web server you are hosted on, how active you are with social media, how many likes and +1’s and comments you get, how often the content of your site is shared, the age of your domain name, and 100’s of other factors.

How well a website ranks in the search engines has become a very multi-faceted thing that focuses on quality content, social activity, referrals, and relevancy as determined by visitor interaction with the site. Creating a website that ranks well has become a cross-function team effort between web development, social media, internet marketing and the marketing efforts and involvement of the company itself. It’s all pieces working together that ultimately impresses your visitors – and Google.

So… SEO’s and Clients – start focusing on gaining rank by providing quality content that helps your visitors and gets shared and referenced in the social space. Write content that answers your visitors questions – that teaches, guides, informs. Establish better search engine presence by showing Google and others that your website is a valuable “go to” resource such that your content gets linked to frequently and it encourages traffic to your site. Accept the fact that good search engine ranking now take a hell of a lot of effort, on the part of everyone involved.

SEO/SEM’s – start selling your services in this new reality and take time to explain to your customers how things have changed. An internet marketing program cannot be successful if your client thinks one thing and you another.

And Clients – stop yelling at your SEO person about why you aren’t #1 for some obsequious keyword that you and you alone feels is critical for your business. Stop expecting that placing a keyword on your page will get you on the first page of Google. Stop expecting that your marketing person is soley in charge of making things happen and that you and others in your company have nothing to do with it. Start being an involved member. It’s your company, They are your business goals, and you need to be in the driver’s seat.

New world. New rules. New opportunities. And hang tight. The SEO World isn’t done rattling and shaking.

What UTM Tracking Code Are & How To Use Them

How to use UTM codes to track online sales


UTM tracking codes were provided by the Urchin Web Analytics platform, which Google purchased and turned into Google Analytics. UTM stand for Urchin Tracking Module. This module allows marketers to add some parameters and values to the end of a URL so that sales and leads from different sources can be uniquely seen within Analytics, as shown in the graphic above.

Google Analytics organizes traffic and sales data initially into “sources” and “mediums”. Google will also track “campaigns”, ad “content”, and keyword “terms”.

The reason why UTM codes were made available is because though Google automatically tracks data from its own properties (Google AdWords, Analytics, Merchant, etc.), data from “external” sources, like Email, MSN/Bing, banner advertising on other websites, AdRoll, Facebook, etc. do not track automatically. With these non-Google properties, you need to use those UTM tracking codes to tell Google how you want it to organize the data.

There are 5 types of UTM codes:

  1. utm_source – this is where your link traffic is coming from, in a general sense. Values here could be “Google”, “Bing”, “Email”, “Social”, “Affiliate”, etc. This parameter and its value are required.
  2. utm_medium – this relates to how the link is referred or delivered. Possible values here might be: “cpc”, “sponsored-post”, “728×90-banner”, “data-feed”, “Facebook-Ad”, etc. This parameter and its value are required.
  3. utm_campaign – this relates to time, day, season or what have you. This could be “Spring-2014” or “March-20-2014” or “Mothers-Day-Promo” or “15%-Off-Sale-April”. Your marketing efforts will generally all fall within a small set of source/medium classifications, but your campaigns should always be a unique name so that you can differentiate them in Analytics. This parameter and its value are not required by Google, but its use is heavily recommended, or you won’t able able to see how individual marketing efforts perform.
  4. utm_content – this parameter is often used to distinguish A/B testing of ads, landing pages, or other comparative sets of marketing. I have also seen it used to store a product SKU or item number. This parameter and its value are not required.
  5. utm_term – this parameter stores the keyword or phrase. You often see this used in pay-per-click programs like Bing.

So now that you know what UTM tracking codes are – how do you use them?

These parameters and their values get attached to the end of a URL in one of 2 ways:

  • If your URL is a search engine friendly (SEF) or “plain” URL, you begin with a ? and then add the parameter=value pairs with an & in between the sets.
  • If your URL is “dynamic” and you see things like a ? or & already in the URL, then you start with the & and add the parameter=value pairs with the & in-between.

The “?” character is a programming signal that tells Google “Hey!, We’ve got some data coming through that you need to deal with”. You need to be careful NOT to put 2 ?’s in the URL or it will break.

The “&” character is a programming signal that tells Google that there are different sets of parameters and values.

Here are what each of these URL’s looks like as an example:

The SEF or “plain” URL:

The “plain” URL looks like this:
or this….

Adding those UTM codes makes it look like this:

or this…..

The “dynamic URL”:

When you have a URL that already has a ? and some parameter=value sets in it, this is what your UTM tracking URL will look like:

Using UTM tracking codes is pretty easy once you understand what they are, what the symbols mean, and how to use the individual codes that Google provides.

Google also provides a handy little tool called the UTM Link Builder that will produce your URLs for you if you supply the “values”.

Some helpful tips and important reminders in using UTM codes are:

  1. Keep your “source” and “medium” values consistent – otherwise you’ll be hunting and pecking all over analytics for your data. For example, Don’t use “utm_medium=Newsletter”, and then use “utm_medium=News” and “utm_medium=Consumer-News”. Think about the different types of marketing you have and try to create stable source/medium “buckets” for your efforts.
  2. Always use unique utm_campaign values, otherwise your sales data will be lumped together and you won’t be able to tell what specific campaign produced what sales.
  3. NEVER use a URL with more than 1 ? in the URL, or you’ll get a nice 404 error message.
  4. Make sure you code every link in your marketing effort, such as in email. Remember to do hyperlinked logo images, social icons, etc. Every link should get coded. Within a particular email, the utm_source, utm_medium, and utm_campaign values can be the same. If you are using utm_content for part numbers or product names, then those would need to change per link.
  5. With Google AdWords, if you have your preference for Auto-Tagging set to “yes”, do NOT use UTM tracking codes. If you want to manually tag your AdWords ads and keyword destination URLs with UTM codes, make sure that auto-tagging is set to “no”. You cannot do both at the same time.
  6. DO make sure to use UTM tracking code with all your external, non-google, marketing efforts to track sales and leads as best you can. The more  data you have, the better the decisions you can make on how your marketing efforts are performing.
  7. Not sure you did it correctly? Copy/paste your whole http://… link into a browser window and see if the page loads. You should also see all your new UTM parameters and values in the URL, near the end. If you get a page that works – congrats – you did it!

Any questions? Send us an email. This stuff always looks more intimidating than it really is. We are happy to help you.

Google Places, Pages, and Profiles (Just Shoot Me)

Google+ Local is merging with Google+ Pages and this is a critical change for your business. Learn how to transition your prior pages to Google’s new Google+ Business Pages.

What dealing with Google Places, Pages, and Profiles does to you.

Yep – that was me today. Full blown face slam into my desk after spending an eternity trying to figure out how to merge my Business Page with my existing GSD Google+ page I set up 2 years ago. As I was doing this, I thought some of you might appreciate the information I trudged through.

Thankfully, there were a ton of good articles written by good folks who served as ice packs when I was about to kick Google+ in the screen.

The basic jist is that back in May 2012, Google Places listings, those listings that appear in search engine results pages (SERPs) with the orange bubbles, became Google+ Local. The move was a good one and a lot of nice features were added for local businesses.

In the meantime, good businesses everywhere were listening to Google and other folks and started setting up Google+ accounts (profiles) for themselves and Google+ pages for their businesses. Google+ Pages are almost always associated with the account.

Fast forward to now, for the US. Google has been slowly auto-upgrading users Google+ Local listings to what they call Google+ Business Pages. This article from the Google Forum details the rollouts and answers many questions.

Admittedly and honestly, I have ignored, as deeply as I could, having to deal with a Google+ business page. I have a blog. I have a FB business page. I have a Google+ account that I set up for the business, under an email address, nearly 5 years ago, and all my circles and contacts are there. I have many customers I need to service and I just didn’t want to have to deal with yet another page. Oh boo-hoo. Right? Yeah, I know. Suck it up buttercup, it’s the way things are now….and that became clearer this week.

In addition to the Google+ Page you might have for your business, Google Local+ is now automatically creating yet another Google+ Page for your business that is different (and probably empty and dark, like mine was). This new Google+ Business Page is what Google is now using when people search for you locally. Your business hopefully pops up with a little orange map balloon, but guess what? The Google+ page link takes the visitor to an echo-ey, empty, boring Google+ page – NOT the one you’ve been building up for the past few years.

Lovely, yes? Thanks Google.

So I immediately had questions for my own business. How do I transfer over my circles? I didn’t have any posts or anything (because I had so dutifully been pretending it didn’t exist), but many of you have reviews, posts, comments. What about those? What about my other pages? I don’t want 3 other Google+ pages running around (Google+ pages are worse than rabbits…)

I spent a number of hours digging and searching for answers to these questions and I came upon a few good resources. No need to reinvent the blog-writing wheel here, so I will gratefully share these with you in the hopes that it helps. Thank you to the many folks who took time to write these articles.

That’s probably enough to make your head spin.

Here is Google’s support document on how to transfer Google+ circles and connections between accounts.

Here is Google’s Takeout Tool, which will allow you to make data transfers pretty easily.

And lastly, here is a good Google Takeout Tutorial.

So there you have it my friends. Like it or not, if you had a Google Places account, which is now Google+ Local, you also have, by default, a Google+ Business Page that Google lovingly created for you.

It behooves you to use that account, as it is tied to your local business listing, and the number of connections that you have there, as well as your routine posting activity, and the reviews you receive will impact your Google+ Local rank in organic listings.

And you know, all this change can be painful. Usually (optimist that I am) the change is for the better. I don’t necessarily like being shoved in any direction like Google seems to like to do. But I have hope that all this screen-kicking and head-banging is worth it.

Neon Tetra with Swim Bladder Disease

Poor neon tetra with swim bladder disease

I woke up this morning to find my little guy here swimming with his tail up, struggling to stay down in the water and gulping a lot. A quick Google on this behavior points to something called Swim Bladder Disease.

The cure, they say, is to do the following things:

  1. Move the fish to a “recovery tank” by himself to avoid other fish picking on him (other fish know when a fish is sick and they can become cannibalistic).
  2. Make sure the water is about 80°
  3. Leave 2-3 inches at the top of the tank to make it easier for the fish to move up and get air.
  4. Don’t feed for 3 days.
  5. When you do feed on the third day, give the fish a de-skinned pea to help flush out the digestive system

I’ve read quite a few articles at this point and they all seem to agree that if you catch it earlier enough and treat properly, most fish will recover.

The causes?

  1. [Rarely] – they are born with a defect
  2. They’ve been gulping air or eating too much too fast (You know, my neons like to play in the bubbler bubbles in the tank….hmmmmmm). A tip I read in a forum said that if you feed your fish only once a day and you notice a higher incidence of swim bladder going on – maybe they are just hungry and when they are fed, they gulp. The answer here is to try feeding lesser amounts 2-3 times a day (pinch here, pinch there – one flake feeds 1 fish) and see if that helps.
  3. Environmental conditions in the tank are poor or not consistent (like allowing the water temp to go down or letting nitrates build up to too high a level)
  4. And as you might expect, there are lots of other theories.

Keep your fingers crossed! I hope my little guy makes it. I’ll keep you posted!  Hey, now that was funny – posted on a blog 😉

Don’t know what to write about? Think you have nothing to share? Think again.

What To Write About

A great question from a client of mine promoted this post today. She owns a family business and is an expert at her craft – and she struggles with topics to write about for the new email program we have going.  I encouraged them to begin their emails with a small intro, written by the owner and signed with her signature that relates to the products they choose to highlight. Next week’s email is on seed starting, a topic certainly near and dear to my heart. She said to me “I need your guidance on what to write about.” Woooo! Let the thought-gates open!

Here is what I shared:

1. VALUE: You are selling something that a person could either find in duplicate on or find something very, very similar to what you sell that is cheaper and within driving distance. Why should they buy it from you and pay shipping to boot? Value, quality, expertise, relationship.  Speak about your experience. Speak about your passion.  Speak about the notion that your business was started with a desire to invest in the success of your customers. That’s why it’s worth buying from you versus a big box store or online-only entity. Anytime I think of value, I think of Johnny’s Selected Seeds.  They do an incredible job communicating what they bring to the table (other than great food from your garden) in all of their communications and their catalog.

2. HOW-TO: Anticipate your customers’ questions, concerns, fears. Yes, downright FEARS! The #1 reason I heard while working Johnny’s Selected Seeds in Maine why people didn’t bite on a seed starting email is because they were convinced they had a black thumb, kill everything they try to grow, and they didn’t want to be responsible for killing a living thing! The problem here isn’t a lack of potential skill. It’s a lack of current knowledge. You, the expert, can share your brain with your customers and share your experiences, hints, tips, tricks. You can educate them in a 1-2-3 way that’s easy to digest and not too scary to try. So think like your customer – and out yourself in their shoes at different levels of expertise or at different stages of a process (like growing plants). Heck, go to Google and try some keyword search that ask why, how, and when around your particular product or service and see what you come up with. The Tasteful Garden does an excellent job of this in their emails and they have a wonderful online resource center to back it up as well as a blog where they are active. They leverage their content in multiple places.

3. CURRENT EVENTS: Even if you sell seeds, there are events in the industry that affect your business, your relationships with others, news that sits in your customers’ minds that they wonder about. Do not be afraid to take a stand on an issue or respond to something happening in the environment. It shows you are aware. It shows you care. It shows your business has a plan for dealing with the ups and downs that can affect a business. Now, you may not want to necessarily email about this, especially if it happens sporadically, but you could certainly get it out on social media or blog about it. And once that content is created, you can leverage it in other spaces as you wish.

4. RELATIONSHIPS: You don’t always have to talk about you, you know :-) Sheesh! Talk about your customers. Talk about your vendors/suppliers. Encourage your customers to participate in surveys or contests (photo, video, etc.) (Hey – Facebook is a great place to do that!) and talk about your “customer of the month”, “retailer of the month”. does an awesome job of this in their emails. I read every single one. I always learn something from them. Their monthly newsletters are a great combination of “you could buy this”, but they do a spectacular job of saying “and here is how you do this or can use this”. Priceless.

You have things to talk about.

Stop shaking your head. Yes, you do.

It just takes some thought about your business, what you sell and provide, getting it down on paper, and simply doing it. And it’s important to do write more personally, I believe. People gets thousands of marketing messages shoved at them every day – do this, buy that – order now…and particularly in emails, its all promotional. No personality really. No investment. Just shove products in  and get it out the door. I would encourage all of you to write a little more – an intro paragraph – doesn’t have to be long – but it’ll be all YOU. Connect with your customers. Share something of yourself and your business. Inform, guide and teach as well as sell. I bet you’ll find that your business thrives because of it. And so will you.

Launch of New Website!

I am proud to announce the official launch of the new Green Sky Development website! Many thanks to ParleeStumpf for a beautiful and spiritually satisfying new design.

Green Sky Development is a family-owned business specializing in progressive and results-driven internet marketing services: organic search engine optimization (SEO), pay per click management (AdWords and AdCenter PPC), email marketing campaigns, social media optimization and cross-channel marketing strategy and planning.

Thank you to our Mother – Dawn Sidders Muuss – for her unrelenting support, her boundless love, her incredible generosity, her unyielding strength, her poignant intelligence, her sound financial and business prowess and sturdy common sense logic.

Thank you to our Father – James Meggison – for his relentlessness passion and “you can do anything” faith.

Thank you to our beloved family and friends who have offered unshakeable trust, optimism, and belief – and for the ego-gratifying reassurances that we are the best at what we do.

And thank you to those “too many to be singled out” business partners, past and present, who have taught us those invaluable “smack your hand against your forehead” lessons and “told you so” mistakes that make us the strong, dependable company we are today.

Without each and every one of you, we’d not be where we are today.



“Phantom” AdWords Clicks – Number of Clicks for Keywords Doesn’t Match What AdWords is Reporting in the Total Search Line

Google’s products always amaze me. No matter how well I think I understand how the AdWords program works, there are yet more ways to discover information and features I didn’t know existed because I just hadn’t gotten to them yet. Necessity is the mother of invention and the need to explain data is the mother of discovering new things about AdWords.

In a number of the AdWords accounts I manage I have noticed that there area growing number of what folks call “phantom clicks” showing up in the “Total Search” line at the bottom of the keywords display screen within an AdGroup. In some cases, the amount of money being spent on these phantom clicks is substantial.

I did a search in Google for “keyword clicks in AdWords do not match total search clicks” and I came across an article that solved my problem. I also saw a goodly number of other forums where the same general question was being asked, so I thought I would take time to post a couple of solutions.

The first place to look is how you have your campaign set up with regard to keyword variants.

Google has changed the way the campaign settings work with regard to the search network features and keyword matching and they have recently changed the way that “phrase” and [exact] matching works. Phrase and exact matches can now be set to include plurals, variants (-ed, -ing, -tion, etc.) and even closely related words (for example, if you had an AdGroup targeting terms relating to “baseball caps”, your ad might also match for hats, fascinators, and such. Depending on the management strategy you aare using, this could be a good thing for your account, but for me, I don’t like it.

In the campaign settings area, under “General”, choose the “type” to be “Search Network Only – All Features”. Then scroll all the way down and under “Advanced settings”, open up “Keyword matching options” and choose “Do not include close variants”.

Essentially what this does is tells Google you want “phrase” and [exact] matching to work the way they traditionally did, which means that your ads will only be displayed when they match those words, in that order, respectfully. For me, this means a lot less time having to research negative keywords and I have observed that it keeps budget spend more steady and predictable.

The second place to look (the one that gave me the big “A-Ha! Gotcha!”) has to do with using AdWords Extensions, particularly the “Product Listings” extension. My clients, like most companies I think, participate in Google’s Merchant Feeds. They export all of their product data, in one big file, and feed it to Google for product display listings. If your client uploads one big, massive product file, and you set up this product file in product extensions and link it to your campaign, then essentially people can search for every product even though your specific campaign focuses on one product group. Let me give you an example.

One of my clients sells drought tolerant perennials. They have Salvia, Agastache, Gaillardia, Penstemon, Delosperma, Achillea, Echinacea, Lavender, and lots of other lovely things. I have campaigns set up around each one of these so that my AdGroups may then focus on species variations and specific cultivars that are popular. They participate in Google’s Merchant Feed and yep, you guessed it, all their products are dumped into one big file. I set up the product listings ad extension on Lavender and within a few days, i saw those phantom clicks start piling up (and it was costing a pretty penny and not converting…) I saw keywords like “yucca” and “buffalo grass” and “christmas cactus” showing up – in my Lavender campaign! I was scratching my head wondering where these were coming from. My campaign had none of these keywords in it and I was not using any broad matches and the variants option was turned off.

I learned today that it is the product listings ad extension that is doing this, because regardless of how I have my campaigns set up, the merchant fee product file does have all these products in it, and if people are searching for those things, my Lavender campaign (and every other campaign I attached the product listing feed to) could show up because it was matching on the product listings. A-Ha!

So, there are two ways to deal with this…

1. Ask the company you are managing PPC for to break out their product file into related groups. Most company database systems store the category level of their products. Instead of dumping one massive file to Google Merchant, break that file into smaller, more targeted pieces, then attach the smaller and more appropriately targeted product feed to the campaign it relates to. This will cut down on the number of clicks for products that are not related to your campaign. This take a little bit more work intially, but clearly it would be worth doing – it’ll save them lots of money and their ROI will increase.

2. The other thing you can do, and probably should do because #1 is not likely to be a 100% solution, is to go see what terms are being matched on with the product listings – and then exclude them at the camapign level (assuming your campaign is tightly focused around a single product group – otherwise, you’d probably have to exclude these terms over and over again at the AdGroup level).

Choose the AdGroup for which you are seeing a lot of phantom clicks. Click on the “Dimensions” tab and just under the row of light green tabs, on the left, click the little down-arrow and choose to view “search terms”. And Aoila! Those clicks are no longer phantom! Here is where you can see where all the clicks are coming from. Jot down all the words or phrases that do NOT apply to your AdGroup and then add them to your negative keyword lists at the AdGroup or Campaign level as is appropriate. This will eliminate these phantom clicks and get things back under control.

I hope this helps someone. If you find this posting and it did help, please post a comment and let me know. Thanks! And Happy Phantom Keyword hunting!

Google’s Changes to [Exact] & “Phrase” Match Types

In the last few days, I’ve seen a lot of negative response around the news that Google will be changing how it handles the exact and phrase keyword match types. Most people don’t like change, and as with other Google changes in the past, the two camps seem to be “I like it” or “I hate it”. I think this change actually makes some sense.

I have been working with AdWords since the platform launched in 2000 and over the last couple of years I have noticed a degradation in the performance of the [exact] match type, while the phrase match has always remained strong. One of the historic benefits of using the exact match type is that you don’t need to worry about related phrases, alternate endings such as “ing”, “ed” “est”, or misspellings. With the exact match type, the need to do copious amounts of negative keyword research is greatly reduced (and so is much of your traffic opportunity).

But I have learned over the last decade+ that exact match has its downfall, too, in that it tends to be too strict and doesn’t allow for the variation of thought and meaning behind someone’s search process. In my experience, early on, exact match phrases performed the best. These days, they often perform the worst. I would rather have someone who typed [perrenial plants] see my ad and not lose a potential sale because they spelled “prennial” wrong. This change to Google also means I don’t have to have 10 different kewyords in my AdGroup which target mispellings and word variants. It actually will make administration a bit easier.

I have always been a big user of negative keywords to refine performance, so Google’s change doesn’t bother me at all from that standpoint either. With broader matching algorithms, you have to be careful to exclude words and phrases that can be combined with your chosen keyword that make it irrelevant to your campaign. I have always also been a proponent for change, even when fear and dislike for that change run high, because without change, you will never know what opportunities you may have been missing and there is never a chance to improve upon what stood before. Change also challenges us to think in new and different ways – and if there is one thing that’s gospel about the internet marketing realm – as an internet marketer, you never want to be perceived as “out of date” or “irrelevant” in your thinking and approach.

So I say bring it on. Let’s test it. I’m eager to see what difference it may make in the performance of the campaigns I manage. And you know what? If you don’t like it, you can simply go into your Advanced Settings, go to the Keyword Matching section and choose not to include close variants.

Branded versus Non-Branded (or Product Driven) AdWords Campaigns

I was sitting here doing reports for my clients and with one of them we decided to do a little experiment this past month. When I set up an AdWords or AdCenter account, one of the campaigns I create is a “Branded” campaign. As you might expect, this campaign contains an Adgroup that focuses exclusively on the company’s name, variations of the company name, and the URL.

There is a lot of controversy in the PPC space about bidding on your own brand/company name. The sound argument is that if a person types in your URL or your company name into Google’s (or some other search engine’s) search box, that your company will, 99.9% of the time, come up in the first 1-3 organic listings, and that you are wasting money by having someone click on a paid ad, because if the ad weren’t there, they’d have clicked on the free organic listing instead.

In some cases, this is true. In some, it is not. I have read many articles and studies that argue one way or another pretty convincingly. In the end, the proof is in the numbers in Analytics. I wanted to share some results here with you and hope that these observations will be helpful.

In January 2012, I ran Company X’s Branded and Product-driven campaigns. When I calculated ROI on both, I noticed that the Branded campaign, though very profitable, had cost the client almost $250 in clicks when they were getting nearly double the revenue at no cost for “branded” organic search queries. This caused me to raise an eyebrow and I recommended to the company that we put the branded campaign on pause in February to see what would happen.

A lot of internet marketers will use the “Branded” campaign to overcompensate for poorer performance on the product side. Branded terms convert at a much, much higher rate at a much, much lower cost than product-driven terms, and so the two of them together can produce a fairly healthy CTR and ROI, but the Branded is clearly providing life support to the Product side. While I generally do advocate running a branded campaign to increase sales and profitability, I never condone that strategy to “cover up and hide” a poorly run product campaign.

In February 2012, we turned off the Branded campaign. I just ran the numbers. A few of the other clients I work with have a fairly well established “brand” in the marketplace – so I looked at their branded campaigns and calculcated the percent of traffic and sales they provide compared to total paid site traffic and revenue. For the average of the 3 companies I looked at the Branded AdWords campaign accounted for about 28% of total AdWords traffic to the site and represented about 65% of total revenue generated by AdWords. The hypothesis, then, is that if we turn off the paid ads for branded terms, searches for those terms instead will result in an increase in visits and revenue for branded organic search click-throughs equal to the decrease created by shutting the branded campaign off.

So, for branded organic terms in February, I was looking for an increase of near 28% in visits and a similar increase in organic revenue over the previous month.

The numbers yielded at 26% increase in branded organic traffic, the number of branded organic transactions increased by 101% and the revenue of branded organic terms increased 102%. Now, the latter two metrics are also compounded by an increase in seasonal visitation and revenue generation on the site. This was fascinating to me.

Now, keep in mind that this scenario is not true across the board. I have quite a few other clients where the Branded campaign produces great revenue at very low cost while their product campaigns operate profitably as well.

Every company I work with produces a catalog with their name on it, sends out emails with their name on it, sends postcards or other direct mail pieces with their name on it, might pay for radio or tv spots to advertise their company, and almost all of them buy ad space in magazines to highlight their company and brand. The statement that paying for advertising to give visibility to the company and brand name is a waste of money is ridiculous and unfounded. Companies do it every day. In every case, running a branded campaign outperforms product campaigns 3::1, 4::1 or even 5::1. It is ALWAYS very profitable. But, just because it is profitable it doesn’t mean it a good thing to do in certain circumstances. Circumstances such as, in this presentation, where we found that indeed, due to low competition, most of those branded sales converted organically. In this case, why would you pay for something that you would get for free otherwise?

So I though about what makes this one client so unique in this from all others that I work with. And the answer, I beieve, lies in the fact that within the U.S., they serve a fairly niche market and they do not have many other competitors in the U.S. for what they sell. When you search for their products or name, they nearly dominate all the search results. So it makes sense that if you remove the branded paid ads, and are left with free organic listings, and there is relatively little to no competition “above the fold”, the majority of those paid sales (85% in this case) converted to organic sales instead for that company. If there were other competitors in the visual results space, the loss to gain would not nearly be so high at it was in this case.

I still maintain the position that running a “Branded” PPC campaign is a worthy investment for a company. But it is always smart to test whether its worth paying for those clicks over the long run.

Just as with anything else though, you can never assume that something is either one way or another. PPC is not so black and white and looking at the actual data is always the way to go. Let the data help guide your marketing decisions. Don’t just jump on a bandwagon of blind belief.

Google AdWords Optimization

Google AdWords seems a simple platform, yet it’s very complex. I have been aksed over and over
again, “What’s your secret?” Meaning, what is the secret to the exceptionally high metrics I am
able to obtain with AdWords.

The answer is much care and attention to detail and, perhaps, a more wholistic marketing metric
approach to interpreting what the numbers mean and creating a context for what a “good number” is
versus what a “bad number” is.

As you might imagine, the numbers you use for a benchmark depend on the particular market (niche or
vertical) as well as hisotrical performance of the account. The benchmark numbers also depend, in
part, on what your customer has told you is their threshhold for performance (for example, maximum
cost per converison).

When I look at an AdWords account, I take a “top down” approach. I start at the “All online
campaigns” level and I work my way down. Please keep in mind as you read this that I am employing
my own personal thresholds on metrics. What I deem acceptable or not acceptable may differ for you
– so adjust accordingly.

At the campaigns level, I look at CTR, Avg. Position, Conversions, and Cost per Conversion.
If the CTR > 3%, Avg. Position is between 2-4, and Cost per Conversion is $10 or less, I am
generally happy. I will look at these various campaigns, AdGroups, and Keywords, but they’ll take
lower priority than those that don’t meet those criteria.

In general, I don’t tolerate CTR’s of less than 3% very well. If the CTR is less than 3%, something
just isn’t right. If the campaign-level CTR is below 3%, it usually means that a number of Adgroups
in the campaign are performing well below “normal”. AdGroups tend to perform poorly if the ads are
poorly written, if the keywords within the Adgroup are too varied or too general, and if the
landing page matches poorly with the keywords and ad copy.

If I discover a campaign-level poor CTR, I click through and look at the individual AdGroups.
At the AdGroup summary level, I look at the same metrics as at the campaign level: CTR, Avg.
Position, Conversions and Cost per Conversion. I find those AdGroups that are performing below expectations, and then I click through to the
Keyword level.

Most of the action happens at the keyword level and you’ll find a lot of AdWords optimization
tutorials that start at the Keyword level – but I don’t agree with this approach. It’s too
granular, too fast, and making carte blanche changes to keywords without first looking at the
larger picture may result in you making changes that hurt other ad groups without you being aware,
which in turn affects the overall performance of the campaign. In my mind, in order to figure out
how to treat the rash, you have to first find out where the rash came from. No sense in treating
poison ivy with eczema creme.

In my nearly 12 years of running AdWords accounts, I find that I generally encounter 2 major issues: Low CTR and Low Quality Scores. These two things are related, of course, but each is approached on a bit of a different troubleshooting level.

At the keyword level, I look at CTR, Avg. Position, Conversions, Quality Score and Estimated First
Page and Top Page bids.

Low Quality Score: If the quality score is less than 7, something needs to change. It may sound
elitist, but there is no good reason on Earth why any quality score for keywords within an Ad Group
would be less than 7.0. Quality score is determined by your bid rate, the CTR, and the landing
page. So, if something needs to change, it is one of those 3 things. If your CTR is high, you can
try adjusting the maximum CPC. Look at what you’re bidding and then look at the estimated first
page and top page bids. Is your max CPC lower than what Google is telling you it may need to be?

Trying boosting it a little bit and see if it helps. If you boost your max CPC and your CTR is
still high, but quality is still low, then look at your landing page. Does your landing page
contain products or content that relate easily and directly to your keywords and ad copy? If not,
find a way to refine your landing page so that all 3 elements (Ad copy, keywords, and landing page)
are brought into more concrete and specific alignment.

Low CTR: Low CTR’s and Low Quality Scores tend to go hand in hand, not always, but usually. It’s
why I tackled low quality scores first. When I encounter low CTR’s, almost always (read 99% of the
time) it’s because the Ad Groups are much, much too general and they contain keywords that cover a
very broad range of topics.

For example, let’s take a Jewlery Ad.

Fake Ad:
Rock Bottom Jewelry Prices
We sell jewlery at discount prices.
Order today and save tons of $$$!

The Ad Group is called “Jewlery”

And in the Ad Group we find 150 different keywords, some of which are:
Gold rings
Silver bracelets
Rope Chains
Claddagh rings
Diamond earrings
Sterling silver bangles
Titantium rings
Bridal jewelry
Wedding bands
Engagement rings

See a problem with this? You should be knodding and saying “Yes, yes I do!”

An AdWords Ad has 5 parts:
The Header, which allows 25 characters of space.
Description line 1: Allows 35 characters
Description line 2: Allows 35 characters
Display URL: allows 25 characters
Destination URL: I.E. the landing page

How in the world are you supposed to “talk” to all those categories above in such a limited space
and have it mean anything? What can the customer expect to find on the page when they land? All of
these things on one page? Probably not.

Ideally, you’d have an Ad Group for every single item above, specifically, with an ad that talks
about only that thing, keywords which share a common base, and a healthy dose of negative keywords
which exclude other possibilities that belong to other Ad Groups (because you don’t want your Ad
Groups competing for keywords, do you??? – that dilutes your efforts!) or exclude words or phrases
that don’t apply to your products or business (for example, if you only sell plants, you don’t want
people searching for seeds to find your ad).

So, when troubleshooting low CTR’s, I look first to see how “specific” the Ad Group and it’s horde
of keywords are. If I find too broad a range, I break the Ad Group down into 2 or more Ad groups. I
use WordTracker and Google’s Keyword tool to identify “positive” keywords for the Ad Group and
“negative” keywords that I can specify at the Campaign and Ad Group levels. I then rewrite the ad
copy as needed to more closely reflect the “common” keyword phrase for each Ad Group and I ensure
that the landing page takes the visitor to the group of products they specifically searched for. If
I can, I also adjust the display URL to include, as much as possible, the common keyword base I am
targeting. The display URL can be anything you want; the only rule is that the root domain must
match the root domain in the destination URL.

In general, the higher your CTR and the better the quality score, the lower your average cost per
click will be. This allows you to sometimes achieve a higher position than your competitors while
you pay a lower price for the higher position. So it pays to optimize your campaigns.
Keeping costs as low as possible while keeping conversions as high as possible is the balance you
want to find and maintain. Ultimately, this produces the better ROAS and ROI.