Dear Facebook…

Facebook ConferenceQuit messing with the user experience and go after Google already!

Seriously, is this the best you’ve got?

You hold your annual conference, just a day or so after Google throws open the doors on Google+, aimed square at you, and all you fire back with are some changes to the news feed, a Twitter inspired subscribe feature, music sharing stuff, convincing some media sites to allow more of their content to appear within your walls, and a gaming platform update?

Man up and pick a real fight

In Q1 of 2011 Google generated $2.43 billion of revenue from their Adsense program, from which they paid $1.7 billion to Adsense publishers. Annualised, their profit on their Adsense business is nearly $3 billion. Facebook’s estimated ad revenue for the whole of 2011 is $3.8 billion. Getting a piece of that content-partner action could make a big difference to those numbers.

You know why Google are launching things left and right in a bid to create their own mass-adopted social network? It’s because they’re scared of Facebook, scared of the time people spend there, scared of how much Facebook knows about their users. They would LOVE to know everyone’s age and hometown and marital status. You know why they’d love to know it? So they can advertise to them. Google knows this is coming and that’s why we have Google+.

Instead of futzing around with the user experience, Facebook should go head to head with Google’s Adsense programme and show ads on partner sites, splitting revenue 70/30 (as it appears Google does, in general) with publishers. You can leave the fundamental Facebook experience alone for a while and nobody would complain – it’s only when you change things that people are up in arms about it. The one thing Facebook do surprisingly well is the advertising interface – it’s clean, straightforward and easy enough for small businesses to use self-serve to create ads. Just add a ‘content partners’ checkbox (but do make it opt-in, don’t want to appear ‘evil’ and opt people in without their consent – I’m looking at you, big G). Later you can add some refinements allowing advertisers to pick and choose the site their ads appear on but right now it’s not important.

People realise that Facebook know what websites they’re on – we’ve all seen the Like buttons that tell us how many of our friends like something, or the recent items liked and shared on Mashable or TechCrunch by our friends. At this point will anyone really care that the ads seem uncannily well targeted? Hey, Google are going for this exact thing with their behavioural targeting in Adwords.

Go all in

Don’t go at this half-assed like you did with Facebook Places and Deals, a nightmare to administer as a business owner, especially with multiple locations. Go for this with all your might. This is where you get to take Google down a peg or two, by taking the fight to them.

Maybe you will

Ben Parr of Mashable ‘has seen the future’ and apparently it changes everything. Maybe Facebook will step into Google’s territory or maybe it’s all going to be ’emotional’. Here’s hoping there’s more to it than that because right now everything Facebook has put out is weak sauce compared to the rocks Google has been slinging.

 

Image credit: Thos003 via Creative Commons on Flickr

Negative Keywords for your PPC ads

Ad Placement FailNegative keywords can be used to prevent your ads displaying when those keywords are contained in the user’s search query (or contained in the content, if your ads are showing on the content network).

Why would you want to do this?

  1. Avoid useless traffic
  2. Avoid embarrassment
  3. Improve your click-thru ratio and conversion rate

You can apply negative keyword at campaign or account level. Most of the keywords you’d enter will probably be best at account level.

For example, if you’re a travel company specialising in the world’s more ‘interesting’ locations, unless you’ve got some really good reasons you might want to start with a few words that you never want showing in conjunction with your destinations: war, unrest, insurgency, coup

Airlines would do well to avoid words like: delay, crash, drunk pilot, scandal, strike.

These are extreme examples but many brands and businesses have the potential to be dragged into situations that aren’t ideal, and advertising your product against a negative newspaper story or blog post is a good way to avoid the ridicule often poured upon such ‘ad placement fails‘.

The bottom line

The most common reason for using negative keywords however is to improve your click-through ratio and conversion rate, giving you a higher quality score and thus reducing the cost of customer acquisition through PPC.

Who bought all the ads?

If you’ve noticed recently that the vast majority of the ads you’re seeing on sites that use Google’s Adsense programme for their advertising slots are for the same company? You’re probably being ‘retargeted‘ (remarketed in Google’s parlance) to.

What is retargeting?

Say you go to a website, in my case, Mydomain.com. You look around, but don’t buy anything on that visit (I was just checking my account). Shortly thereafter you’re browsing the web and you start to notice banner ads for that website. Everywhere. You’ve been retargeted. How this works, technically, is the advertiser (mydomain.com for example) has a bit of javascript code on their website that tells Google Adwords that they’d like to retarget you – putting you onto a list that forms a target-able audience in the Adwords interface. Subsequently whenever you’re on a Google ‘content network’ site (site with AdSense) you might see these ads.

Why am I seeing these same ads so often?

Simple – content network bids are often notoriously low, whereas a the retargeting advertiser figures that as a relatively warm prospect, you’re worth a fair bit to them if they can get you back and close the sale.

So what’s the problem?

I’m not that bothered about the behavioural tracking aspect of this particular instance, after all I did go to the mydomain.com website but say a jewellery store was doing this: you’re shopping around for an engagement ring to surprise your girlfriend, then suddenly almost everywhere you go on the web is plastered with jewellery ads. I’m pretty sure there are more acute examples too.

As a user, how do I make it stop?

You don’t (well you can, you can delete the relevant cookie, if you can find it, that is your retargeting identifier, or use your browser’s private browsing feature when going to websites you don’t ever want to see ads from). The little ‘i’ image that appears on the ad to tell you more is really just pitching Google’s Adwords and Adsense services to you. You can complain about a specific ad, but even that isn’t made easy, the feedback form doesn’t carry through the details of the ad or publisher site that you have an issue with.

As an advertiser should I get into retargeting?

I haven’t tried this for a client yet, and it’s a new Adwords feature just out of beta (late March 2010). My guess is that you can fairly cheaply reacquire visitors who may have forgotten to bookmark your site. Whether you can then get them to take the action you wanted is another matter. In the case of mydomain.com, I’m already a customer, I’ll go back them if I need. Maybe the problem is it isn’t easy for an advertiser to take people off a retargeting list once they get on there, or for a user to get themselves off that list.

Want to know more?

If you’re curious to learn more Google have some reasonably detailed information in their Adwords Help center.

Tighten up your PPC strategy

Many small businesses love Google’s self-serve Adwords programme. Just sign up, create an ad, choose some keywords or let Google choose them for you, get traffic, pay the invoice.

Not so fast!
That’s all nice and simple but there are a few things you could be doing to make sure you’re getting the maximum juice from the squeeze.

Google is your friend. Sort of.
Google wants you to get some traffic, Google even provide you with tools to measure that traffic optimally. They even push you to do the most you can with the traffic you’re paying for, but the last thing Google are going to do is voluntarily reduce the amount of revenue they make.

It’s all about the conversions
If you’re not paying attention to the conversions (whether that is orders or leads) that you get from your Adwords spend, you need to, right now. You can track things internally if you like – assuming your content management system’s lead forms or your e-commerce platform show you all the ways someone got to your site (for extra credit, not just last-click tracking too). If that’s not possible, Adwords provides conversion tracking for you. You set up a conversion, add a bit of javascript to the conversion page (final page of checkout or contact form sent page) and you’re done. Conversions will be tracked right down to the campaign, ad group, ad variation and keyword that brought you the sale or lead. Once you know what’s working, do more of that, and less of the keywords and ad variations that are bleeding you dry.

Coming in to land
Landing Pages are REALLY important. Seriously, so important that I’m going to say it again. REALLY IMPORTANT. Got it? Good, let’s move on.

A landing page is, very simply, the page that the user arrives at immediately after clicking on your Adwords ad. Your ad is a highly targeted ad for blue widgets. Do you bring the user to…

  1. your home page
  2. the contact us page
  3. a page about blue widgets, with a ‘buy blue widgets now’ button and a ‘contact us if you want to know anything more about blue widgets’ button

Is it 3?
Well done. Gold star. Bringing the user to anywhere that creates a disconnect between what they searched on and what is on the page is a bad idea for two reasons.
1) Google checks the quality of your landing page – that thing it does with the animated abacus when you enter your destination URL? It’s checking two things – one, that your destination URL exists and two – what’s on it. It also re-checks periodically in case you’ve changed it. Google uses the content of your landing page, and the behaviour of people who have clicked on your ad to determine a quality score. A higher quality score equals a lower cost per click.
2) Users don’t like having to work out where to go to find the information you were promising them. You have mere seconds to impress a visitor.

Apple and Pears
Imagine you’re at a market. You hear a stallholder shouting ‘lovely golden delicious apples, get ’em here, two euros a kilo’. You’re shopping for apples anyway so you go over to his stall, except he’s gone, and you can’t see the apples. Do you stick around, or go to another seller? Now why would you want to do exactly that to someone on the web?

Sure, it takes time, and sometimes money, to craft landing pages for every ad you want to run on Adwords but if you don’t do everything you can to get every click to convert, you’re wasting your money, and you end up chalking your Adwords spend down as some kind of Google Tax, where it’s your way of paying them for all that organic traffic they bring you.

For some quality tips on landing page design, read this from SEOmoz. If you’re having problems optimising your pay-per-click strategy, get in touch and I’ll let you know how I can help.

Image Credit: Paolo Camera via Creative Commons on Flickr

Is paid search the height of responsibility?

In response to The Irresponsible Marketer

awesomeHaving just read Mitch Joel’s latest post, I was going to post this as a comment, then when I got to writing it and it grew to longer than would be polite, or even that readable, as a comment.

To paraphrase, Mitch is saying that marketers should put as much as they can into search marketing, spending “whatever is left over for your more general branding campaigns”. Now I’m sure that Mitch is trying to seed a discussion rather than truly believing that we should give up on all other kinds of marketing efforts to concentrate on the low-hanging fruit and maximising our Adwords spend and hiring SEO experts..

What about cumulative effects?

I think this is a perfect case for ‘with, not instead of’, to quote Mitch again. Paid search, and to almost the same extent, well done SEO/content marketing efforts are eminently trackable. But what drove that search? Reading this post I immediately thought of David Ogilvy’s belief that a consumer needs to see a message multiple times before they act on it (though as he was head of an ad agency, one might question the number of exposures required).

Search gets all the credit

Search gets all the credit because it is often the last link in the chain, starting with awareness.¬†Whether it makes sense to go further back down that chain depends on your business model. If you’re a reseller of a low margin product then you absolutely need to be concentrating the bulk of your spend on paid search, getting the customer when they know what they want to buy and they’re just looking for the ‘where from’. It’s not your job to educate the customer on what they need, that’s a task for the manufacturer of the product, which is where the other, less measurable parts of marketing come into play.

Sometimes paid search isn’t a good idea

To take the local restaurant example given by Matt Shaw, his boss won’t be clicking on an advert on Google after searching for the restaurant by name, it’ll be the link to the restaurant’s own website, Google Local listing, Yelp or some other directory/review site. What that example points out isn’t the value of paid search but the value of having a well executed online strategy including content marketing, building and maintaining a presence, all ¬†coupled with being damn good at your core business. What if the search was instead for a type of restaurant, with a search term of “Italian restaurant Minnesota”? In certain markets, particularly restaurants, adverts are the equivalent of paying someone to stand outside trying to attract custom, it will turn people off than convince them to dine with you. If on the other hand the restaurant has strong SEO and the all-important ‘being awesome‘ then it will do well for that generic search, because the independent reviews will bring in business more than even their own site will. You don’t become awesome by spending all your marketing budget on Adwords.

So what should we be doing?

Smart marketing is about targeting all of your efforts and measuring as much as you can and sometimes, going with your gut on something just because it feels right. It means working on multiple fronts, including paid and organic search to make sure you can be found for your business name and your important keywords. It means spending some of that budget on the customers you’ve already got, delighting them, getting them talking to their friends and colleagues about you and maximising word of mouth. It means more contact with your customers (yes, the marketing people might actually have to talk to a customer every now and then). It also means being smarter about asking the ‘what brought you to us’ question by allowing multiple answers, not giving all the credit to the latest one.

Image credit: Brianarn