The Rise of Universal Paid Search

Google does not make money from organic search. It’s simply content they need to monetize like any publisher.

As with all publishers, their goal is to maximize revenue by:

  • Increasing market share
  • Improving user loyalty and product usage
  • Monetizing users more effectively

In the past few years, Google has made significant improvements in the relevance of their organic search results (content) by introducing Universal Search – the integration of new types of content such as video and product listings directly into search results.

While those changes occurred, PPC ads have largely remained text only. It’s possible that as universal search has gone mainstream, clicks on paid search ads may have suffered. Something had to give.


The Text Ad Revolution

As I noted in my post 2009: The Year AdWords Attacked Organic Search, Google made a series of changes, some rather dramatic, to their once staid text ads last year.

These changes largely fall under Google’s AdWords New Ad Formats Initiative. When I was at SES Chicago, I asked Devin Sandoz, Product Marketing Manager for AdWords, about the guiding principles behind the initiative. He pointed to the evolution of organic search results as the model for the initiative.

Google is playing with the visual balance between organic and paid search to balance user satisfaction and the average revenue per click/SERP. Any combination of images, videos, PlusBoxes, icons, product listings and multiple text ad links can now appear mixed in with paid search ads.

And this is only the beginning.


2010: The Year of Universal Paid Search

2010 will be the year of what I’m naming Universal Paid Search – the evolution of online advertising served to searchers on Google and across the web.

Universal Paid Search will be driven by 4 major trends:

  1. Increased Ad Diversity
  2. Moving Beyond Clickthrough Rate
  3. Personalized Text Ads
  4. Search Retargeting with Display


Increased Ad Diversity

Text ads will continue to dominate most search results. However, we’ll see a greater percentage of SERPs with new ad formats and ad extensions blended into text ads, specifically:

  • Product listings ads
  • Product listing extensions
  • Comparative Ads
  • Ad sitelinks

The conditions that trigger comparative ad and ad sitelinks are somewhat limited. It’s more likely, then, that product listing ads and extensions will be the first step in increased ad diversity.

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New ad formats are more disruptive than ad extensions, so I expect that Google be more liberal with their beta tests for ad extensions. These often come in the form of their PlusBox. For example, rich media ads were introduced to the Content Network through the PlusBox earlier this year. As this analysis shows, the presence of PlusBox does increase clickthrough rates.

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rich media ads on the content network

I wouldn’t be surprised if we see video ads wade into the waters through the PlusBox. They’ve already tested these out in the entertainment area. PlusBox could also help recoup some of the massive drop in search spending within the pharmaceutical industry by adding a place for fair balance.

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The State of Search Analytics

This post originally appeared on Search Engine Watch, where I will be a (semi-regular) contributor

You can’t make money in web analytics just by looking at reports.” With that, SES Advisor and New York Times bestselling author Bryan Eisenberg set the stage for the state of analysis in search marketing.

As budgets flow from offline to online, they’re moving disproportionately to search. Search has always excelled at accountability, but as the spend increases the bar is being raised.

We all have and know what web analytics are. Data quantity isn’t the issue, action quantity is.

Matt Bailey (SiteLogic) summed it up perfectly with the word “velleity”. It means “the desire to do something, but not enough of a desire to take action.” It describes the feeling of marketers who have been burnt by reporting that isn’t actionable.

Over the course of the Analytics, Conversion and Attribution sessions during the first day at SES Chicago, the speakers each addressed three of the core challenges in fighting velleity and taking action on your data:

  1. Prioritization
  2. Segmentation
  3. Process

1. Prioritization
Web analytics has come a long way from the days of log file analyzers used by the IT department. Naturally, people tend to want to make tools bigger, faster and more complicated, however “if you have a tool, everything looks like a nail,” says Jim Sterne of eMetrics and the Web Analytics Association.

The problem is “what should I look at?” and “what do you actually analyze?”

Jim suggests you bucket and prioritize 4 ways

  1. Revenue that is at risk
  2. Anything the boss’s boss’s boss asks for
  3. Requests that do not overwhelm the department
  4. Analysis that requires an analyst rather than simply being self-served

Your job is to find a specific process and optimize that, for example a shopping cart, experience from a search campaign or lead generation page. Go to your data and ask “How can you help me optimize the process?”

In another session, Jim reminded us that traditional web analytics tools tell you “where the problem is and which one is most significant at the moment.” To really understand why, you have to augment those tools with usability testing and surveys.

In a nod to his upcoming book, Jim also shared a framework for prioritizing analysis for one of the most discussed topics at the conference–social media:

  • Reach – How many people could possibly see my message (blog mentions x blog readers)
  • Frequency – How often is my message being discussed, ex: comments on a blog post
  • Influence – The more authority the author, the bigger the halo effect and potential viral spread
  • Sentiment – Having lots of people talk about you is great… unless they say bad things. The tools aren’t great yet, so hire interns.
  • Outcomes – Did they take the action you wanted them to?

2. Segmentation
Of course, even if you prioritize your analysis, there is no such thing as an average user. People who come to your website aren’t looking for the exact same thing. They all have different needs and wants. We can’t treat visitors the same. Unique visitors aren’t all the same. Segmentation matters. We have to look at what people wanted when they came to the site.

But, as Matt Bailey (SiteLogic) says “analytics dashboards tend to be as usable as Ikea furniture instructions.” The cure for dashboards that suffer from average-itis is to segment.

Matt shared his 7 favorite tips:

  1. Create Keyword Buckets “Segments” – Start with the big buckets, e.g. digital cameras and then develop smaller buckets, e.g. digital cameras, professional digital cameras, etc.
  2. Segment Based On Acquisition (Channels) – Ask “which source is bringing the best traffic?” Matt shared an interesting a pattern that drives engagement: the more engaged a visitor was with a message about your company or product before they got to your site, the more likely they’ll be engaged after. Twitter is at the bottom of the this inverted pyramid: Blogs & Articles, YouTube, Forums, Search, Social News and Twitter.
  3. Segment Your Bounce Rates – Typically if it’s high, it’s a word that means something totally different in another industry. You have to look at the context. Sometimes it’s not just their intent, sometimes it’s your design (ex: Fluid width design on a large screen monitor)
  4. Segment Your Content - Divide your analysis by Persuasive pages (which ones drive conversions), entry pages, time on page and search behavior
  5. Segment Behavior – Divide the behavior on your site, but make it more accessible by giving the data friendly names for the audience your presenting to (ex: someone with “O” in their title would understand)
  6. Segment Entry Points – You could have the right ranking on the wrong page
  7. Take Action – After you segment, take some action!

In his 21 Secrets of Top Converting Websites (which he will deliver as the keynote of SES London), Bryan emphasized how important it is to also analyze trends by segments in search. For example, focus on “what’s changed” reports of keywords that are rising and falling the fastest by CPC or Revenue, instead of just analyzing the top 10.

3. Process
Of course, prioritization and segmentation are both part of a larger web analytics process. As Bryan reminded us, “to do web analytics correctly, you have to make a to do list regularly.” An actionable list addresses:

  • What marketing efforts or parts of your site have challenges
  • What you think needs to be improved
  • What things you want to test
  • What efforts you should do less of
  • What efforts you should do more of

The core of an actionable web analytics process is data driven decision making. Nothing does that better than testing, using the tools that fit your questions and budget:

Part of a successful process is optimizing for your conversion rate, which often hovers around 2%. Dr. Phil Mui challenged us to expand by process by asking “How do you measure success for the rest of the 98%?”

First, map out the micro-conversions that fall into that 98% for you business type, for example:

  • Ecommerce – product research account signups, contact us
  • Non-profits – volunteer leads, promotion of the cause
  • Video Sites – Account registration, newsletter signups, premiums account signups
  • Blogs – Links to your blog, comments on your posts

It’s also important that you optimize holistically in your process. Don’t just test elements on your landing page; also test which landing page choice makes sense, for example: a category page vs. a product page.

You can’t forget to test what people see before they get to your site. Optimize search creatives for conversion. Test multiple ads and measure which one drove conversion.

Regardless of the tools and process you use, the message every speaker conveyed is that more action is better than more data, so measure, focus, optimize and repeat.

I No Longer Work at Commerce360

By WTL Photos -

By WTL Photos -

I’m happy to report that I no longer work at Commerce360.  I had a good time while it lasted, but it was time for something different.

And that something different is ClickEquations.  We’ve re-branded Commerce360 as ClickEquations to focus on our advanced pay per click software.  (Sorry, it was a little late for April Fool’s but I needed a dramatic intro :-) )

This is a bit of a personal post, which I almost never do, but worth reading if you care about paid search.

A Trip Down Memory Lane

Back in 2007, I left Refinery (now G2 Philly, a division of Grey Interactive) to join Commerce360.  At the time, I was still a full time web analyst with strategic aspirations.

Commerce360 was then focused on being the next generation of agency: a team of smart people optimizing across channels based with data driven decisions.  I joined the team as an analyst on a course toward full time strategy.But, as I soon learned is the norm for startups (this is my first), we shifted focus entirely on paid search and SEO.

The Birth of ClickEquations

clickequationsThe vision of the company was always to have smart people supported by killer technology.  Search is among the most data intensive channels out there, so it was the obvious place to start looking for a tool that could do the heavy lifting while we focused on strategy and optimization.

After surveying the market, we just couldn’t find anything good enough, including Omniture Search Center.  Too much money had been spent building tools focused on a search engine-centric view of managing paid search instead of a customer and practitioner centric view.  It was a completely flawed way of attacking the problem and even the “best” of what was on the market was an expensive and clumsy solution at best.  So we hired a development team and began building our own tool: ClickEquations.

A Slight Career Detour

Search marketing is strategic, but it’s not the same as developing cross-channel strategy. Without a pure strategist role, I ended becoming a strange hybrid: part Strategic Account Manager (client relations), part multivariate tester, part guy-who-does-random-things.

bewitchedWhen people ask why I got into advertising and marketing, I give them the same answer: Bewitched.  I used to watch the show as a kid and was strangely fascinated with the ad lifestyle (portrayed as a sanitized and more kitsch version of today’s Mad Men). I figured it was 3 martini lunches and everyone got to do fun pitches all of the time, right?

Without nose twitching magic powers, Account Management is a fairly high pressure job.  You’re the middle man between clients with high expectations (sometimes disproportionate to what they’re paying) and limited budgets and a services team with limited time and all of the pressure for results.

On the plus side, it’s a great way to learn a lot of businesses quickly, master contracts (write 20 contracts in 6 months and you pick up a few things) and practice the fine art of expectations management:  “Yes, we can do that, but we’ll have to push this off and cut that down by 20%”.

I worked on SEO and paid search engagements with clients from startups to large corporations.  Perhaps the most rewarding project for me was a multivariate testing engagement with, one of the most visited sites on the Internet in the US. It was my first opportunity to dive deeply into testing on a site with both large enough traffic to get statistically significant results from large, full factorial multivariate tests and with a client who trusted us to take most of our recommendations and make all of the pieces line up.  More on this in a future post…

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26 Useful Paid Search Blogs

I was assembling a list of paid search blogs for Guy Kawasaki’s AllTop (which I’ve been featured on) and I thought you might enjoy them too!  If I’ve missed a good one, please leave a comment.

  1. ClickEquations Blog
  2. PPC Hero
  3. Search Engine Land
  4. Search Engine Watch
  5. Rimm-Kaufman Blog
  6. Inside AdWords
  7. YSM Blog
  8. Traffick
  9. Clix Marketing Blog
  10. eWhisper
  11. Web Pro News
  12. Search Engine Roundtable
  13. MSN AdCenter Blog
  14. Compete Blog
  15. Quality in Search
  16. Search Engine Journal
  17. Paid Search on Sphinn
  18. AdWords Agency Blog
  19. SEMvironment
  20. John Batelle’s Searchblog
  21. Search Marketing Standard
  22. Searching Beyond the Paid
  23. Gordon Choi
  24. Pay Per Click Journal
  25. aimClear Blog
  26. Fuel Interactive Blog

Additions from comments

Coming Soon: Search Camp Philly!

Have you heard? Philly’s first major search marketing conference is just around the corner.

On September 6th and 7th, Temple University is hosting a join Search Camp Philly and Pod Camp Philly conference. There is a huge list of great speakers on the agenda.

In fact, I’ll be speaking on Sunday the 7th at 3:00 – 3:45. My session is titled Conversion 101.

Conversion 101: You’ve gotten the visitors to your site, now what?! They’re going to buy right? Not necessarily, in most cases they click away or hit the back button. This session is designed to go over some basic conversion strategies for websites, to increase conversion rates.

Come to my session, Conversion 101 on Sunday, 9/7 at 3:00 – 3:45. It’s at Temple University in the Tuttleman Learning Center.

The best news? The conference is only $21! Registration helps defray the facility costs and any extra money will be donated to charity. Seats are limited, so register today!

You’ll definitely get a tip in my session that earns you your registration money back and then some.

Improve Google AdWords Conversion Tracking

adwords conversion trackingOne tool may not be enough to fully measure paid search. This is especially true if you’re trying to track paid search ad variation performance and rely on Google Analytics.

As I mentioned in my previous post, 3 Ways Google Analytics Fails Paid Search Marketers, Google Analytics only shows you the ad title of your ad variation. This doesn’t tell you much if you’re testing the other lines or display URL.


You’ll have to supplement your web analytics program with the Google AdWords conversion tracking. Full documentation about AdWords conversion tracking and the place to get the code are here (you need to be logged into AdWords).

Unfortunately, Google AdWords conversion tracking and your analytics tools won’t always report the same results. You’ll never get them to match exactly but here are:

5 Tips to Improve the Accuracy of AdWords Conversion Tracking

1. Put The Codes on the Same Page – I know this one is fairly obvious. Your AdWords and Google Analytics code need to be on the same page.

2. Users First, Conversion Second – The generally accepted standard is that you place web analytics code at the bottom of a page. That way, the page code that matters most to the user loads first. Even Google agrees:

The code snippet should be placed between the <body> tags, closer to the </body> tag so that the image appears further down the page. You should NOT place the code in the header or footer of your page. This could overstate your conversion statistics and defeat the purpose of tracking.

3. Place The Codes Near Each Other – Just as both tracking codes, both Google AdWords and Google Analytics conversion code should be as close to each other as possible. Any distance between them could jar the count.

4. Pick the Right Code – AdWords gives you a variety of choices of code. Make sure you pick the one that’s right for your site goals. In particular, remember that secure pages require that you select the secure (https) code snippet from AdWords.

5. See No Image, Get No Tracking – Google AdWords conversion tracking produces as small image on your conversion page. Make sure the verification image is showing up.

When Should You Invest in SEO?

seo consultingSearch engine optimization (SEO) is a necessary part of any website strategy. The potential traffic is simply too big to ignore.

The question isn’t “Should I do SEO?” it’s “When should I do SEO?”

As a site owner, you have to make hard decisions about how to spend your always-not-enough budget and when. In this post, I’m going to talk about some of things your should consider when trying to determine…

When Should I Invest in SEO?

SEO is not direct marketing. Just because you put a dollar in today does not mean you’re going to get a $1.50 out tomorrow.

Fundamentally, natural search optimization is a long-term investment. With the right strategy and the right implementation, I do believe you will get the return on that investment and, possibly, a sustained competitive advantage.

Of course, this presents a problem: you have to spend the money now, but you might not see it for a while.

Fundamentals to Make the Most of SEO

Search engines don’t buy from you, people do. There a few things you need to have in place in any site to make the most of SEO:

  1. Functioning Site – There’s no point in bringing people to your site if it doesn’t work. People don’t like it and neither do the search engines. Getting your site to work properly is as important as getting people there.
  2. Great Product – You can optimize your site till you’re blue in the face, but if you’re product stinks, you’re fighting an uphill battle. They say the quickest way to kill a bad product is to advertise it…
  3. Measurement (Web Analytics) – Spending money without any way to track it is pointless. What’s more, you need analytics in place to help you refine the SEO you do execute.

The Resources You Need to Execute SEO

There are 2 paths to SEO: do-it-yourself or hiring an SEO consultant.

The choice between the two could fill several blog posts. For the purposes of this post, I’m going to assume you are looking for professional help.

A good organic search optimization agency will:

  • Do your keyword research
  • Make recommendations about your platform and information architecture
  • Address on-page code elements
  • Conduct a competitive and market analysis
  • Make specific content recommendations
  • Build and, possibly, execute a link strategy

You then have to execute that advice you paid so much for.

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Holiday Conversions: Are Your PPC Campaigns Ready?

Countdown till ChristmasFor many ecommerce retailers, holiday time represents the most sizable chunk of their yearly revenues. In planning for the 4th quarter rush, you have to consider the impact of seasonality on your budgets and key metrics, as well as the timing of key offers. As it turns out, December 11th was the key date for 2006.

Over at the Inside AdWords blog, Google’s Chief Economist lays out the potential impact of increased consumer demand on your cost-per-click, conversion rate and cost-per-acquisition. Note: these data are only for retailers who have enabled conversion tracking, so interpret them with a grain of salt.

The conversion rate peaked on December 11, somewhat before the peak of overall retail sales, since it takes time to process and ship the online orders. By December 23, things were pretty much back to normal. Once Christmas Day arrived, conversion rates dropped to their lowest point of the year — people were just too busy opening presents to think about buying more things… at least for the next few days.

This chart emphasizes the surge on the 11th:

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PPC Analytics: Transitioning Data from One Agency to Another

Switching from one pay per click (ppc) management firm to another should be seamless process, but that’s not always the case. This is doubly true for the ppc measurement portion of your business.

Chances are that you’re transitioning with hopes of better financial results, so it’s critical that you consider how to maintain (or improve) the integrity of your ppc analytics.

In this post, I’m going to walk you through some key considerations to make sure your new search marketing company can measure, analyze and optimize their way to better ROI.

Living With The Tyranny Of Historical PPC Data

Any ppc agency worth its salt is driven by results and passionate about squeezing the best performance out of your search spend. Both you and your new ppc agency are going to be keen to measure the improvement in results from your new relationship. There are a couple of challenges when it comes to a smooth measurement and analysis transition.

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