Category Archives: AdWords

“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.

[Google AdWords]

I work with many Google Adwords accounts and I am seeing something very interesting happening. This post is more of a thoughtful musing than informative. I welcome specific feedback from folks who may have particulars about what is going on.

The interesting thing I am seeing is that historically using an [exact match] in Google AdWords, though it limits clicks and impressions, produced the greatest conversion rates at the lowest cost per click. I am seeing quite the reverse trend these days, where exact match phrases I have set up are the most expensive and least producing; and I am finding that 3-word “phrase matches” are performing much better, especially when combined with a healthy dose of negative keywords.

I wonder if the bigger recent algorithm changes at Google have caused what I am seeing. Just as I find that I need to pay closer attention to various social profiles as it relates to organic search engine optimization, so am I finding that the “old standards” that we used to apply to Google AdWords tactics seem to be less effective.

Is anyone else experiencing this?