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.

First Garden Harvest Feast

Dinner on the Patio - Provided by the Garden!

Most of you know that I am a full service internet marketing professional who has a niche specialty in gardening and horticulture. What better way to share this expertise than blogging about the meal I made from my first garden harvest!

The salad is a slightly spicy red and green mix that I grew from seed. To this, I added some Genovese basil, freshly picked snap peas, and a few nasturtiums that are growing in a container on my patio!

I then used the rest of the snap peas and threw them into a garlic butter saute with some shrimp, added some pepper and salt, a little bit of lemon juice, and some basil – and aoila! Dinner!

I know I should have had a white German Reisling with this meal, but I didn’t have any on hand, so red wine it is! I had a lovely meal, that took me about 10 minutes to make, on my patio this afternoon here in Maine.

As I type, I am waiting for yellow crookneck squash, zucchini squash, heirloom tomatoes, sauce tomatoes, bell peppers, banana peppers, eggplant, spaghetti squash, more salad greens, basil, bush beans, and onions to fully ripen. I should have another harvest of snap peas in about another week and I really should get my butt out there and sow another 2 rows of salad greens.

Gardening sure is a labor of love and it’s terrific when the first fruits of your labor begin to roll in!

Being Niche Means Being Noticed

This post is about being Niche and also engaging in internet marketing.

I had, for the umpteenth time today, heard that a company who is a bit niche in nature decided that engaging in SEO or SEM would be a waste of money because the “audience is so small”. The audience by the way, which is the medical field, is one of the largest business sectors in the U.S.

Being niche is actually an advantage to SEO and SEM. Where there is a need, there is a company that fills that need, and there are customers who will purchase from that company. What creates a difference is economy of scale. A company from Maine who sells double chocolate brownies with almonds and walnuts and embeds a cherry in the middle is just as niche as the company who sells data management software to the pharmaceutical industry.

Just because you aren’t Burpee Seed Company, who sells seeds and other products across the nation, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t engage in internet marketing. The decision to engage in internet marketing should based on the budget you allot to advertising expenses. That budget is in part determined by your expected sales goal, among other things. So whether your advertising budget is $1,000, $10,000, or $100,000, you should engage in internet marketing with a clear idea of what your conversion goals are.

Being niche actually gives you an advantage. You can’t be all things to everyone. Though I am an adept internet marketer who could serve any vertical I choose, I choose to concentrate on the gardening and horticultural market. It’s my love. It’s my passion. I love things that grow. I love things that help things grow. That doesn’t mean I don’t serve other businesses, for I do, it just means I position myself as an SEO and PPC expert for the gardening industry.

I am a search engine optimization professional, who is also a Google PPC expert (my campaigns would make King Arthur jealous), who also knows how to anticipate and calculate catalog circulation numbers, who can write copy for the gardening industry, who can progam an e-commerce website, who also knows how sedimentary budgets operate within barrier island system, that serves the gardening industry. That’s pretty niche. And I have plenty of customers and I am looking for more.

There are always people looking for what you have to offer. The key is finding them and ensuring that the amount you spend to find them doesn’t exceed the cost you are willing to pay to acquire them as a customer. Period.

If you are a niche company, do not tell yourself that organic search engine optimization or pay per click programs won’t work for you. They absolutely work for you; and while they may not generate as much revenue for you as a non-niche company, your customers will convert at a higher rate and remain customers for a longer time (LTV) than a “generalist” company. The end game is not about the total number of sales – it’s about the profit you make that you may then reinvest in your company.

You are what you decide to be. If you decide you are “too small”, then you will be too small, and your competitors will eat your dust.

Google Tools: Google Correlate

I recently received an email newsletter (as opposed to the dead tree kind) that talked about a relatively new tool from Google called Google Correlate.

Being the math junkie that I am, I found this approach to looking at how search phrases relate to one another pretty interesting. Google Correlate takes a search phrase that you enter, for example “tulip bulbs”, and it will show you other phrases that people also searched for at the same time. The data that Google has spans over 7 years.

The graphic below shows the top correlated words to “tulip bulbs”:

Google Correlate results for "Tulip Bulbs"

Google Correlate results for "Tulip Bulbs"

What I think is really interesting here is the cyclicity of the search. Horticultural products are most certainly seasonal in nature. And it appears that lots of people are searching for phrases related to trees; which makes sense. Fall is the perfect time to plant trees as well as spring flowering bulbs.

From a PPC perspective, if I had a customer who sold spring bulbs as well as trees, I’d make sure that they had an optimized trees campaign as well as a bulbs campaign. From an SEO perspective, it would be good to make sure that the content on their website was optimized and ready for those searches. From a cross-channel marketing perspective, it would be good to consider marketing campaigns that highlight trees and their related products as well bulbs and theirs.

From what I see, Google Correlate has the ability to point out other marketing opportunties that might otherwise have been missed. I do not agree with the author, however, that Google Correlate can in some ways be better than Google Insights or the Keyword Tool. I believe that each of these tools allows search marketers to approach their work from different angles; so that their resulting efforts are, perhaps, more complete. Google Correlate offers another window through which one can research, analyze, and make decisions on good keyword choices.

And, perhaps a year or so from now, we’ll find that “google insights” and “google keyword tool” correlate to “google correlate”

Print Media: Postcards versus Emails

I recently read a printed newsletter that stated that postcard marketing is more permanent and tangible than email. I have to heartily disagree with my respected colleague.

I may be an anomaly, but most postcards that I receive wind up in the trash within 30 seconds of walking in my door from a trip to the mailbox.

Emails, however, are something I hang onto for quite a while before I “trash” them. I might not be in the mood to read an email advertisement – so I simply ignore it (as opposed to tossing in my tangible garbage can – after whence it gets covered with more garbage). I can go back to it when I am ready to read it and if it interests me, but I am not yet ready to act, I’ll save it. I won’t save a postcard, because if I’m not ready to act, I don’t want it cluttering up my counter or desk and I think, “Forget it, I’ll toss it and find it later on the web if I want it”.

And “tangibility” is a word that I think needs to be redefined in todays more virutal age. Just because I cannot “touch” an email doesn’t mean it doesn’t impact me in other ways. I do not have to “touch” something to be moved or affected by it. Email is as tangible to me as the memory of a warm summer day on the beach. I can see email. I can react to it. I can do something with it. It is certainly tangible.

Email is also much cheaper “per piece” than a postcard ever will. In addition, email is “by choice” where getting a postcard in the mail often is not. I have to give my permission for you to email me; but often companies assume by virute of a past purchase that they can mail me anything they wish atany time, even if I don’t really want it. And getting mail in my mailbox for things I didn’t ask for, as opposed to getting an email that I did ask for, impacts my loyalty to a company far more.

I am also an advocate for saving a tree when we can. Trees are wasted when they are cut down so companies can send essentially what is junk mail to people who never asked for it. Post cards are not “green”.

I think that print mail marketers need to be very careful about criticizing online forms of advertising and making, really, what I feel are ridiculous claims ; stated because they compete for those dollars.

Post cards, as the printed piece stated, can be used to deliver very specific and niche messages to existing customers; for it’s only in the extreme specificity that the cost pays for itself. Email, on the other hand, can go to existing and non-existing customers who have chosen to receive it, thereby increasing conversions at a much lower cost.

I would challenge the marketing community, in general, to get off the rickety, old hobby horse of “tangibility” and focus more on efficacy and efficiency of dollar spend to determine what method of marketing it will use.

Post cards, catalogs, print ads in glossy color magazines, and printed newsletters are, in my opinion, on the demise. They may never go away completely. Diehards will cling to the methods they are used to – but print media is more costly, reaches smaller audiences, and is not remotely as viral as online media forms of advertising are; especially when that online advertising is managed critically with an eye to ROI, cost per conversion, and targeted markets.

But, I have to admit, print material does have one markedly added benefit that email and other online marketing media will never have: I can use the printed material I get and burn them in my patio fire pit. Thanks for the free fuel!

[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?

Tracking Bing PPC Conversions in Google Analytics

I recently had a head-scratching experience with a client of mine on why Google AdWords PPC conversion data was being recorded with e-commerce tracking in Analytics, but Bing PPC transactions were not.

I spent a goodly amount of time Googling for the answer and after about an hour of searching, I finally found a post by “Whims” in the Google Support Forums that explained the often overlooked setting in Analytics that needs to be enabled in order for PPC tracking to work from search engines that are not Google.

The information provided by “Whims” can be found here.

Specifically, Whims says:
“In the google analytics interface, find the correct GA profile and click “edit” to the right of the applicable profile. When the page opens for the profile settings, on the top right click the link that says “check status” next to where it says Receiving Data.. and on the next page that says Tracking Code.. just below where it says Instructions for Adding Tracking, click on the Advanced tab and make sure to tick the option “I want to track online ad campaigns from other providers”.

But this is not all that is required.

Within your Bing PPC campaigns, you need to make sure that each of your Ad’s “destination URL”s have utm tracking parameters appended. You do not need to do this with Google AdWords destination URL’s because Google Analytics and Google AdWords are connected at deep levels and those parameters are automatically inferred from your AdWords campaign data. But with Bing PPC, you need to pass the parameters so that you get proper source/medium data for your Bing PPC campaigns specifically.

The parameters you pass are:
1. utm_source (e.g. utm_source=Bing)
2. utm_medium (e.g. utm_medium=PPC)
3. utm_campaign (AUTO)
4. utm_term (AUTO)
5. utm_content (AUTO)

The campaign, term, and content parameters can be automatically provided by Bing and passed to your Analytics.

So a URL for an Ad in Bing would look like this:{keyword}&utm_content={AdID}&utm_campaign={OrderItemID}

A great summary (older now, because Yahoo! & Bing have merged platforms) can be found here:

So in summary, you need to actually do 3 things to track Bing PPC conversion in Analytics:

1. Add UTM parameters to your Bing PPC destination URL’s as described above.

2. You must enable the “I want to track online ad campaigns from other providers” on the Advanced Tab of the “Check Status” settings link in Analytics. This is turned off by default.

3. Ensure that you enable E-commerce tracking within Analytics. When you first log into Analytics, click the “Edit” button that exists to the right of the Analytics account summary screen. In the first section “Main Website Profile Information”, you’ll see a line called “E-commerce Website:”. By default, it says “No”. Click the “Edit” link in the gray bar all the way to the right (same bar that the Main Website Profile Information header is in) and set that E-commerce Website option to “Yes” and save the settings.

Helpful Google Tools: Google Wonder Wheel

The Google Wonder Wheel is a tool that most search marketers, especially beginners in the field, will appreciate. It provides visual representation of search results that are relevant to the query you submitted. It’s a great way to quickly see related keyword phrases that might have escaped your view in a more traditional text listing of phrases.

It’s really very easy to use. In your browser, go to Google, and type in and submit a search query. Under the Google logo on the left, you’ll see a list of other options. Look under the header of “All Results” and you’ll see a link to “Wonder Wheel”. Click on it – and wonder at the wheel!

For example, I did a Google search for “Green Industry Marketing” and when I clicked on the Wonder Wheel link, it shows me this:

If I then click on “green industry marketing businesses”, I see this:

Using the Google Wonder Wheel is great for three reasons:

  • It makes keyword searching more fun – and things that make our work more fun are worth it!
  • It let’s you find other keyword phrases you might not have thought of, so it makes you a more thorough internet marketer – and your customers will swoon over your brilliance in finding those phrases no one else is using or paying for.
  • Google Wonder Wheel is a very user-friendly tool. As I said before, it would be great for “beginners” to perform keyword research that might otherwise feel overwhelming when presented in long text lists that don’t so easily reveal other opportunities at a click.

Try it out. As with any other tool, it’s results are not 100% perfect. You get out of it what you put into it. If your search is too general or broad, you might end up with an “endless wheel”, where the constant clicks you have to do to dig to anything relevant far outweigh the use of the tool. But it works wonders when you have a fairly targeted phrase you want to use and you’re looking for other relevant opportunities.

Helpful Google Tools: Google Insights

Google Insights is a truly insightful tool (pun intended). This hidden gem of a tool is a bit more advanced in nature and can really assist with narrowing in on keyword selections as they relate to geography (states, subregions), category (food & drink, home & garden, lifestyles), and time frame (last year, last 2 years). Google Insights is in beta mode as of yet, but I still thank the heavens for this geeky gem because it has helped me greatly in my internet marketing work.

I work extensively with High Country Gardens. High Country Gardens is “the” source for waterwise, drought tolerant, “high country” perennial plants, low-water lawn grasses, cactus, succulents, and even yucca trees. They have a large nursery and greenhouse in Santa Fe where they grow many of their own plants and develop new varieties. I love this company. They are eco-friendly centric. They care about plants that help the earth. They adore plants that feed butterflies and hummingbirds. They sell hardy grasses for smart, low-water guzzling lawns. They are experts in replacing traditional lawns with xeriscapes, especially for the southwest where lawns don’t thrive naturally. If I didn’t live in the snow-ridden wastes of Maine, they’d be my perennial plant company. But….but….they do sell perennial varieties that will live in my area…things like Salvia, Rudbeckia, Lupine, Columbine, and many others.

High Country Gardens is a very smart company and they are just as fastidious at making their marketing dollars work as they are in providing top-quality perennials that will thrive in your growing zone. They understand that they own the southwestern quadrant of the US. It’s where most of their sales come from. Yet they do get sales across the country. With Google AdWords, it is my sole mission to ensure they the money they spend there is as profitable as it can be – and that means tailoring campaigns, ad groups, and keyword selections primarily to geography. We shouldn’t be showing ads in New Hampshire for Agave Plants. It’s akin to trying to sell meat to a vegetarian. It just doesn’t work.

Google Insights combines the technology of Google’s Keyword Tool with that of Google Maps, Google Places, and a bit of the Display Network. Talk about cross-channel marketing! For geeks like me, this tool is an Internet Kitchen-Aid.

1. I go to
2. I compare by location
3. I select the United States
4. And I filter by Web Search, the search term Agastache, timeframe of 2004-present, and Home & Garden category

and what I see is that searches for “agastache” are very seasonal and cyclical (as is true of most horticultural companies) and that the “big states” are Oregon, Washington, and Colorado, followed by California, Texas and the Great Lakes region and mid-atlantic states.

The results are very different for “agave”, “salvia”, “lupine”, and “rudbeckia”.

(and yes, I know that scientifically these genus references should be capitalized – but bear with me…)

This really lends credence to the notion that geographical segmentation by product line (oh my!) is important for this beloved customer of mine.

Now, that’s not to say to that they don’t get sales from all parts of the U.S., because they do, but there exists some level of the law of diminishing returns where we draw the line and say “It’s not worth advertising to region X or Y, because the effort and cost involved isn’t covered by the sales achieved.” And this is the internet marketer’s challenge – finding that “sweet spot” for maximizing sales given the investment – and that sweet spot changes depending on time of year, weather conditions (as I type, Maine is buckling down for a hefty Nor’easter that is about to dump a foot (or more) or heavy, wet snow on us on April Fools Day!), and product line.

As with all Google Tools, I use Google Insights for it’s richer, deeper focusing abilities, but I don’t use it in authoritative totality. Data must be balanced with experiential knowledge and gut instinct. A hard balance indeed – luckily – I excel at it.

If you are curious how search volume for keyword phrases for your products or service have varied over time, space, and dimension (why yes, I am a Trekkie), Google Insights is your Enterprise tool :-) (sorry, couldn’t resist!)

Helpful Google Tools: Google Places

When I talk with companies about helping them improve the visibility of their website and I mention Google Places and what it is, the effect is like presenting a giant lollipop to a child; their eyes open wide and they get this grin on their face.

Google Places for Business is a free (yes, free) listing service provided by Google and many companies don’t know it exists. Not only is it free (did I mention that it’s free?), it is also very quick and easy to set up.

1. Go to

2. Click on the blue button on the right called “Get Started”

3. Sign in with your Google account (and if you don’t have one, create one for your business – it’s also easy and free).

4. Click the dark blue text on the right called “List your business”

5. Type in your business phone number in the format (xxx) xxx-xxxx and click “Find business information”

6. If there is no match for the phone number, you’ll be given an empty form to fill out. Fill out as much as possible or as is relevant to your business. If it does find a match, click on the “edit” link and look at the existing listing, and make sure it’s accurate and as completely filled out as possible.

7. One of the important parts of the listing is the “Category” section. Google let’s you define up to 5 categories (and one of them must be one of their suggested categories that appears in the drop down when you start typing). So, for example, if I type in “internet” into the box, one of the suggested categories is “Internet Marketing Service”. So I pick that one. The other 4 categories I can type in something unique or I can select a “pre-filled” match.

8. Also, make sure you fill out the description field. 200 characters. Make it good and include important keywords that you can that describe your company, product lines or services. Save this 200 character description – you can leverage it at the Open Directory, the Yahoo Directory, and for your META description tag on your web pages.

9. Submit your listing and Google will give you 2 options to validate the listing. They will call you (almost immediately) at the phone number for which you set up the listing OR they can mail you a postcard to the business address you specified in the form. The phone call or the postcard will contain a PIN that you will need to complete your listing.

10. Voila! It’s done. Be there or be invisible. Your choice! And psssst – It’s FREE! What’s better than free marketing?

Having a Google Places listing places your company information near the top of the search results with a little reddish colored balloon and a Google Maps location box when someone searches for any of the categories you specified in your listing combined with your city, state or region. This is a great tool for smaller companies who depend quite a bit on local searches.

Once the listing is complete, you have the ability to edit it any time you need to (just log in with your Google account and go to Just keep in mind that any time you change your listing, you have to validate it again with Google, so be on the lookout for the new PIN each time you submit changes.