Tips and tricks on using Google AdWords, which also apply to other CPC advertising like Microsoft AdCenter and Yahoo Search Marketing

AdWords Tips For The Search Network

I'm constantly creating new campaigns for different businesses, and constantly in touch with people who do the same. Many times, I see a lot of money being wasted just because the client wants to "be everywhere", or the account manager wants more fun options in doing their AdWords campaign. In many cases the problem is not having a good business focus, and over complicating the campaign in the process.

Here are some tips that I think can help AdWords account managers with their search campaigns, and it can be fun if you have a good start, especially when the maintenance work becomes significantly less than the people who start clueless.

  • Always use [exact match]: this match type gives you maximum control, because you know exactly which keyword you are bidding on, so you don't have any bad surprises with match type. But the most important thing is that since it is the most specific, and therefore the most relevant to your users, you are more likely to get a better quality score, and therefore lower cost-per-click. This is especially crucial at the beginning of you campaigns, because the account history plays a role in determining the quality score of your new campaigns. Ideally, you should have all your keywords in exact match, but this is practically impossible, because you cannot possibly capture all the different variations that people can think of. And because you cannot capture all the different possibilities of keywords that your users might use. This is why you should utilize other match types.
  • "Phrase match" to discover new possibilities: this match type gives you less control and specificity. It helps you get much more reach than exact match, and more importantly it lets you discover new keywords that you didn't have in mind. This discovery happens when, after having accumulated some clicks, you can go to the keywords tab and click on the "see search terms" button and see which keywords users actually used to trigger your ads. You can do several things in this case:
  1. Use -negatives: you will definitely see some irrelevant or bad keywords that you didn't plan for, so you can add these as negative keywords to refine your keyword selection. For example, you might find that users use 'cheap' together with your brand products. If you are not a discount store you can use negative match type for 'cheap' 'discount' or 'free', to make sure you only target the right audience.
  2. Use [Exacts]: the top keywords that were searched for should be added as exact match. Learn an easy way to know where to draw the line when segmenting your numbers.
  3. Create new ad groups: With some of the keywords that were triggering your phrase match keywords it would make sense to create a special ad group for them, or move them to a different one, because they are more relevant in another place. For example, if you have 'technology news' as a keyword, and then discover that it is triggering 'android technology news' it might be better to place this keyword in the 'android' ad group.
  • Don't use broad match: Confession. I completely stopped using broad match. It just doesn't make sense for several reasons. First, you almost never have unlimited budget, so you are better off going with the more targeted options mentioned above. Second, Google's algorithm may go crazy in what it determines to be relevant for the broad match keywords. I once had a broad match term 'sports news' and my ad was triggered by searching for "iraq", which was definitely a 'news' keyword but not really a sports one. I recommend doing more extensive keyword research and gradually growing the account as opposed to getting some bad surprises. Broad match might be useful if yo have an extremely small niche you are targeting, and it would be really profitable to just capture one client. It can also make sense when you are in a completely new industry and keywords are not yet established. In any case, it should be used with care, starting with a small budget, keeping an eye on irrelevant keywords, and utilizing negative match to make sure you eliminate unnecessary impressions.
  • Use the broad match modifier: this is a very good option in an industry where you are totally new, and need to know more about keywords. It gives you more control and relevancy than broad match.
  • Start with analytics: Many advertisers start with the keywords then write ads and choose landing pages. I prefer starting with discovering what is already working and building on it. I like to look at the site's analytics and discover the best landing pages in terms of bounce rate, conversion rate, pages/visit, or whatever your metric is. Then, after identifying the best ones, I try to see what ads can attract users to this content, and then find the relevant keywords for it. This helps build your account's history, and you make sure you are sending users to pages that are the most likely to convert, compared to other pages on the site. The only case you can't do this is with brand new sites, where you will have to make your own judgment.
  • Do the campaigns with the objective of building an understanding: If you approach the campaign as a learning experience as opposed to just 'optimizing', your focus will be on discovering what works for your targeted audience and your website. Whatever you do in terms of keywords, ads, landing pages, will (should) be used to build on your understanding. Start with questions like, "are electronics shoppers more interested in free shipping, or better prices?", "what sells better for sports fans, deadlines that induce immediate action, or deals that are better than the competition?" If you go with this curiosity your mind will be looking for ways to answer these questions, and this will help guide your strategies and especially testing. Speaking of which...
  • Test, test, test: Never have one ad per ad group. Let the name "ad group" remind you that it has to be a group of ads. At least two. In order to answer the questions you are trying to answer, you need to be split testing your ads. This means you have two ads that are identical in everything but one element. This element could be the headline, call to action, benefit, feature, or anything you want to test. This way you can attribute any differences to that element. After you identify the better performing ad, you should pause the lower performing one, and create a new one hoping to 'beat' the one you already have, and so on.
  • Tightly group keywords: The more focused you ad groups are, the more relevant your ads would be for your audience. The ad group split is the most important element in your account structure, because this is where you decide that a certain group of keywords are relevant to a certain group of keywords, which show very similar user intent. There is no magical number to how many keywords you should have, but here is a way to group keywords for your campaigns. 

The general principle is not to get lost in the features of keywords, ad groups, and landing pages, and simply focus on the business needs of the website, the users who can benefit from them, and how to connect the two together. If you get that figured out, choosing which technique to use become a much easier and fun process.

Why You Should Target Websites With Bad Content


Yes, you read it right. I'm recommending that when you have a campaign running on other sites, it's a good idea to be on sites that have bad content. That is not to say that being on sites with good content is bad. Of course not.

Many advertisers, planners, and brand managers do their planning and buying before they test their ads, just like they do with traditional media. Therefore, the easiest and safest option for them is to go with known and trusted sites.

Ideally, the decision of where you should place your ads should be made after a good assessment of sites, but most importantly you can best decide on ad placement when you have data on how your ads performed for that specific placement (site) and for that specific campaign. This means that "good sites to advertise on" are only good relative to the other available options, and based on the results you are getting. 

If you agree with my previous post on the power of contextual targeting then we know that you are getting to the relevant audience simply by being present on pages that discuss content similar to and related to your offering.

Many people end up on content pages through search engines anyway. So many people are already searching.

If they land on a page that talks about your content and contains your ads, and that page has bad content, then the user will probably click on your ad to get the better content. You just provided a solution to your audience.

The fear stopping people from doing this is mainly because they don't appreciate how powerful content targeting is, and because they don't want bad 'brand association' or something of that sort.

It's just like saying that you don't want to open a branch of your shop in a certain street because it's not very clean or not trendy.

If your customers walk on that street, you should be there. Very simple. Moreover, since you have full control on how clean and nice you want to make your store, it means that if you do, your will stand out much more, and can become the attraction on that street.

At the end of the day, each campaign, brand, website, and landing page are different, and you can't make the best decision until you have tested some options first.

This is a reason to go ahead and try advertising on sites that don't have the premium content, where you can actually deliver better results for your campaign. You also have a better bargaining power with these sites, and it can be much more cost-effective.


Understanding Users: The Power of Content in Campaign Targeting

Targeting the right audience is clearly one of the most important things to do in your campaigns. This can be achieved in several different forms; demographics, search keywords, behavior, and others. Contextual targeting, mainly brought to mainstream by Google's AdSense program provides one of the most powerful targeting tools out there. I would say it is the second most powerful targeting tool after targeting by keyword.

What does it mean that a user is reading a certain page? How is this page related to their interests and what does it have to do with my campaigns? How do I target my contextual campaigns?

The short answer: people don't just 'end up' on a page, they generally know where they are going, and therefore are interested in the content of the page they are at.

Let's take a look at the different ways in which a user can end up on a certain web page:

  1. Directly: The most straightforward way to go to a page is typing in the URL in the address bar, If you know the URL by heart you know what that page's content is about, and you are interested in it (or interested enough to find out what it's like). The user knows where she is going.
  2. Clicking on a Link: A user might click on a link while they are browsing to go to a new page. Naturally, there is a description of that link and an expectation of what kind of content the user might expect to see if they click. Of course some sites create redirects, or have misleading copy, but we are assuming you want to advertise on a legitimate website that doesn't do these things. Therefore, the user knows where she is going.
  3. Search Result: The search result snippet is a description of what users can expect and again, the user knows where she is going.
  4. Advertisement: Clicking on an ad is another way someone can end up on a page. Again, the ad is promising something, and therefore the user is interested in that thing and goes in the hope of finding that thing. She knows where she is going.


Even if the site is legitimate and the content is created with the best of intentions, several things might go against the above reasoning. Misunderstanding of text, clicking by mistake, are two examples, but we can still say that in most cases people are on a page because they are expecting something. And since the four ways of ending up on a site are all voluntary, then we can safely say that the user is interested in that content.

From an advertising perspective, placing ads on pages (not websites) that have content about a certain topic is highly relevant to the audience on these particular pages. Higher relevancy of course means better placement, and a higher probability of a relevant audience that will be interested in whatever offering you have.

This is completely different from the practice of placing ads on websites, or sections of websites. In the contextual targeting case, you are targeting by page. You are placing ads on any page that has the keywords you want. Although the site might be completely irrelevant some pages might be talking about your specific topics, and therefore, it will make sense to advertise on these pages.

It would be inefficient to go to 2,000 websites, and make 2,000 deals for specific URLs. That would be madness. But AdWords' contextual targeting capability solves this in a great way, and is able to connect advertisers with a very specific audience.

Facebook's Headaches for Google: Part II

I've previously wrote about how Facebook is competing with Google, and it doesn't seem to be stopping. This time from a different angle.

The way this is being accentuated is by the two different types of advertising offered by Facebook; "marketplace ads" and "premium ads".

Marketplace Ads are basically the ads that anyone can run on Facebook, simply by going to the advertising section, posting some ads, and entering payment information. The great thing about this is that it is, similar to Google, catering for the long tail of advertisers. Global companies with huge budgets, compete with mom-and-pop advertisers running campaigns of $10 / month. This is similar to Google's philosophy of creating a democratic utopia in advertising. Everyone should be given the same tools, and access to the same information, which improves the efficiency of, and increases the number of advertisers willing to compete in the largest ad auction on the web.

Premium Ads is where things become different. These ads are run by Facebook, through agencies (a segment in the market Google never had in its equation when they created AdWords). Google treats its platform as an open system where users or agencies are free to use it in any way they want. This has really disrupted the traditional business model of media agencies who struggle to find a viable way of making money out of a system that doesn't give them commissions, is completely transparent, and needs daily monitoring and updating.

Facebook is giving these premium spots only to agencies and to campaigns that run a minimum of $10,000 / month (or at least in my region). These ads are run in the traditional way (IO, booking order, etc..) and are managed by Facebook employees.

Guaranteed placement: part of this offering is that these ads don't go into an auction, and appear on the home page of Facebook, which is the first page a user sees when they log in. The agency books a certain number of impressions, and they get these impressions.

Commissions: to make things worse, these campaigns include a commission for media agencies, which immediately makes advertising on Facebook a sweet option for agencies, who get to talk the language they are used to; premium placement, large audience, the big boys get better treatment, etc...

Demographics: another aspect of Facebook that make it very easy for agencies to deal with. Keywords and interest-based targeting, although much more effective, are still not that easy to grasp due to the extreme fragmentation they create, and necessitating campaigns to become more geared to results and reponse, as opposed to branding, whatever that may be.

Facebook is now the hot thing, they give agencies commissions and premium guaranteed placement, and provide the most accurate demographics any media has ever dreamed of having. This will cause a bigger headache for Google clearly.

From an ecosystem perspective, what this does, is that it widens the gap between agencies and regular advertisers, and gives them an unfair advantage. If they would have kept the same model, without favoring the agencies, they would have made the whole online advertising ecosystem a much more efficient and effective place to advertise on. They decided to go for the business objective. Time will tell which model will win.

Personal Scalability With AdWords Automated Rules

I have previously discussed how a person can be 'scalable' in terms of increasing productivity over time by keeping up with the technological changes.

Google's introduction of Automated Rules is one quantum leap for those who want to make a jump in their productivity.

This quantum leap will require a quantum leap in learning and managing Adwords, as this is not just a new 'small' feature. Using these rules assumes that you are highly familiar with all the mechanics of how the platform works, so you can create automated rules for it. This is a completely different skill, and on a more strategic level.

Advertisers who master this skill will go to the next level of productivity, and those who don't will stay where they are.

On a separate not, this feature serves a good blow to all the bid management companies who provide this service through applications that use the AdWords API. Their challenge is to innovate beyond what Google is currently offering and make sure they are way ahead, in order to survive.

How Facebook is Causing Big Headaches for Google

Emerging as one of the biggest destinations online, Facebook is not only gaining more traffic and money, it is beginning to disturb Google in a very deep way. This analysis is definitely not comprehensive, but aims at evaluating some of the most important activities an online marketer engages in and tries to achieve.

- Community Building:

A very important goal of any website or brand, is to build a community which is basically a group of people who love the brand/site use/buy it frequently, love to talk about it and visit it often. This is done through collecting users' email adresses and getting their permission to receive emails from the site. The user comes to the site, browses, and if they like it they submit their email to 'join' the site. This can be a simple 'give us your email' box or as part of a registration or purchase process.

The right way is to verify these email addresses, by having users click on a confirmation link that they receive (which hopefully doesn't go to their junk folder!)

Every step of the way, you are loosing people, from the form you are using, to the registration steps, to the confirmation email, a certain percentage of users is being lost.

All of these come with a lot of costs; development, hosting, maintenance, design, etc...

- Keeping in Touch:

After you have gone through the painful process of creating a community, you will have to go through the process of maintaining it. This is done by sending out regular updates, emails, tutorials, freebies, offers, and whatever you believe might help you improve that community. This of course comes with a cost, and a lot of effort. The cost of cleaning up your list, maintaining it, and sending emails. The larger your community the more cost is involved naturally. Many companies exist only to help you send emails and manage your community.

AdWords is one the most cost-effective ways of driving relevant traffic and building the community, and you can easily target the right people and optimize for the traffic that converts and becomes part of your community. But AdWords can only help in driving traffic and can help you identify the right traffic.

On your Facebook fan page, and all the ugly processes and operations you have go through are summarized in one click.


And every status update you do is sent out to all the fans. This functions like an email broadcasting tool, and it is very similar in nature. When we get emails, we only see the subject and the sender. If interested, we click through to read the full story. The same happens with a status update, your fans see the source and see the title. Actually, they see more than a title, because the status bar has more space, and if you have links the images on the destination page will be extracted for you to make it more appealing to your audience.

Not only that, any action that any user engages in with your fan page is broadcast to all their friends. When someone registers or comments on your site, in contrast, nobody knows.

- Long Tail:

The model Facebook is adopting is similar to Google's in terms of addressing the needs of all kinds and sizes of advertisers. A dry cleaner with a monthly budget of $20 can advertise on Facebook, (as well as a multi billion dollar company) and when you have millions of these small advertisers, it amounts to a lot of revenue.

The problem is that Google doesn't have a social platform with which they might hope to compete with Facebook.

What Google can do with this situation is try and get more Facebook developers on board to include AdSense ads in their applications, which they are doing, so they can get a piece of that pie.


AdWords an an Analytics Tool

The new AdWords interface is truly a great improvement on the product. Not just in terms of visual appeal and presentation, but especially with the set of tools and enhancements it comes with.

I'm going to focus here on one of these improvements, which is using AdWords to analyze the performance of your keywords, ad groups, and campaigns right from within your account.

Starting AdWords Campaigns: The Alternative Path of Landing Pages

Many online advertisers have a problem getting their ads to show on AdWords, or getting a reasonable CPC, instead of $5, or sometimes $10.
While there are several possible reasons for this, I'm going to emphasize the importance of selecting landing pages in the initial process (as opposed to having it as the last decision in the campaign).
The landing page is after all the first encounter your user has with your site. This is where the selling happens. This is where the branding happens. And this page is visited by a tiny fraction of users who saw your ad, users that you pay for each click they do.

Forget AdWords.

Go to your analytics tool, and check out the landing pages, or most popular content report. Sort pages according to bounce rate (or conversion rate, or $ value), and see what your top performing pages are.

This report shows you the pages that you know based on statistics that people will be less likely to run away from your site once they see them.

If your site is content based, and you have many content categories that you want to promote, you might promote those that are already performing better than others (instead of promoting the ones that you think should be promoted).

Sometimes, it is actually the very beginning of a campaign. If you discover that a certain page is giving huge results, why not create a campaign especially for it?

adwords test post

let's see what happens... do i get it on my email???


AdWords Workshop - Social Media Forum

I shared this presentation during the last Social Media Forum in Abu Dhabi, and it was great interacting with AdWords users at different levels of expertise in CPC and online marketing in general.

My main frustration is with AdWords technicians who view it as a software that they just "use", instead of dealing with it as one of the tools available to them as online marketers.

Hence, the structure of the presentation is on how to best use AdWords for effective marketing, and didn't give much focus on the details of setting up accounts, campaigns, etc.

For simplicity, the concepts were presented in three main sections:

1. Understanding the market: using whatever AdWords provides in tools that help in research, and how to use the data for segmenting the market and inferring user intent from the keywords. The two main tools are the Keyword Tool, and Insights for Search.

2. Understanding your website: something I don't usually see in AdWords teaching materials, but I think is vital before you start any campaign or any marketing activity. Understanding comes in terms of what kind of website you have, and therefore what are the actions that you want your users to complete when they come. Another frequently neglected aspect of campaign is checking whether or not the content on your site reflects the needs of the market (you need to compare the understandings of section 1 and 2). Finally web analytics should be used to know what is already working and what is not on your site, so as to point users to the right pages.

3. Strategies and Tactics: based on the understanding of the market and your website, you are now ready to formulate your strategies and tactics and to decide on what tools you will use to maximize your results. This section explores the main options available.

Here is the presentation: