Your Search Advisor is on the move again!
We’re not dodging the law (this time), but we did outgrow our previous office. With much sadness, we bid adieu to Rick Whittington Consulting and Dynamic Web Solutions and headed west to Glen Allen, VA.
We have really enjoyed sharing space with Rick, Brian, and their teams, but it was time to finally get a space of our own.
We are giving up the historic charm of Richmond’s Shockoe Slip, but gaining convenience and modern amenities. Reliable air conditioning is at the top of that list.
Stop In & Win
Stop by and say hi. If you are feeling lucky, challenge us to a game of foosball. Anybody that can beat us in 2-on-2 will win a round of beers, a free lunch, or one free hour of Pay Per Click consulting!
Our phone number has not changed: (804) 657-7772
Our new address:
Your Search Advisor, LLC
10120 W. Broad Street, Suite M
Glen Allen, VA 23060
Heard about Google Boost? No? You’re not alone. And you’re probably the perfect victim, er, candidate.
Boost is a new feature that allows local businesses to purchase Pay Per Click (PPC) ads directly through their Google Places account instead of messing around in AdWords. It’s only available in a few areas now, but should be rolled out nationwide soon.
Evil Genius or Innocently Helpful?
Boost is simply a stripped-down AdWords integration with a slight improvement on how the ads are presented on a results page and within Google Maps. It’s a brilliant move by Google to reach the companies that don’t yet buy AdWords ads and may not want to learn how. They even have telemarketers reaching out to local businesses to upsell them on Boost and Tags.
With a couple clicks and a credit card, a locally-targeted ad will start showing for keywords that Google deems relevant to your business.
Sounds great, right? Here’s the warning – Boost automatically creates terribly inefficient AdWords campaigns with no easy way to know if the campaigns are successful or not! Even if you log into your AdWords account (same Google account as your Places page), you can’t manage the keywords, bids or ad text associated with the “Places Ads” campaign:
The First Hit is Free
Campaigns generated by Boost are automatically added to the Place user’s AdWords account. Didn’t have an AdWords account? You do now. Sneaky!
See where this is going?
Google Boost is simply a gateway into the AdWords cash machine. Almost like magic, Google creates multiple campaigns with hundreds of broad and modified broad match keywords with extremely high automatic CPC bids.
Wow, that’s bold. And dangerous. And potentially a huge windfall for Google.
Once a business realizes they have an AdWords account, they are more likely to increase their spend, add to their campaigns or simply “let it ride” and let Google collect a hefty residual to keep showing the Boost ads in perpetuity.
This could be construed as better than not having any PPC visibility, unless you are the type of person that likes to know whether or not your marketing investment provides any type of return.
Cons: Transparency, Metrics, Customization
I can’t emphasize this enough: Google Boost campaigns CAN NOT be edited in AdWords.
Advertisers have to go all in.
Within the Boost interface, advertisers only see click and impression volume by keyword category. Cost data are aggregated across the entire Boost campaign. Conversion data are not available because clicks from Boost are not differentiated in Google Analytics unless you link your Analytics and AdWords accounts. This leaves unsophisticated advertisers with no ability to determine if the ads are actually helping build their business or refine the Boost ads for greater efficiency or effectiveness. This leads to my theory of PPC’s intractable problem.
Keyword-level data are available in AdWords but it’s useless if it can’t be changed.
The ad titles themselves are fixed based on the Google Places business name. If a business name is longer than 25 characters, too bad. It will be truncated. The 70 characters of body copy are customizable but only one ad can be run at a time.
Finally, the advertiser can only choose between two destination URLs: the Google Maps Place Page for the business or the home page of the advertiser’s website. Specific landing page URLs are not an option.
Pros: Save Time, Improve Visibility
Some businesses haven’t yet experimented with AdWords, and that’s okay. Using Boost, they can advertise immediately with minimal effort. There’s no need to hire or train anybody to manage a complex AdWords account. (but you get one anyway…)
Search results are enhanced with a blue map pin and details from the Places page that normally are not found in AdWords ads. This could lead to greater visibility and higher interaction rates. This is possibly the ONLY reason to choose Boost for tightly controlled campaigns.
To Drink the Koolaid or Not?
So how well does Google Boost work? Based on my preliminary, unscientific data, not well when compared to existing Google Places content and AdWords campaigns.
Here’s the breakdown after a week:
|Google Boost||7 (7)||1,858||0.38% (0.38%)||$4.99|
|AdWords||7 (7)||475||1.47% (1.47%)||$3.34|
|Google Places||16 (11)||100||16% (11%)||$0|
The final verdict?
Here are some key takeaways:
- A tightly controlled AdWords account will outperform a Google Boost campaign with little effort.
- Businesses that are not on Google Places or haven’t optimized their listing are missing the biggest (and cheapest) opportunity to improve their visibility in search results.
- Boost is a stripped-down AdWords gateway. If your business is interested in advertising online, skip Boost and go straight to AdWords. Even if you have to hire somebody to set up and manage it for you, the cost savings over Boost will likely pay for the consultant.
I have been flooded with questions from clients, colleagues and friends since Google’s announcement of Instant search. If you’re not familiar with Instant search, check out this quick video I shot before the official announcement. Or, of course there’s always a highly polished video from Google:
The new reality of SEO and PPC?
Personally, I found Google Instant distracting at first. After a couple of days, I am pleasantly surprised that it seems useful in a lot of cases where I’m not quite sure what I’m looking for. The general use case is somebody starting with a broad search (i.e. “flowers”) that will benefit from seeing suggested search queries based on their predicted intent (such as “flower delivery in richmond, va”).
That being said, the implications for SEO and PPC marketers are currently being discussed and analyzed throughout the industry. Here are the key themes that I believe are becoming the new reality:
1. More concentration on “head” terms. These high search volume, highly competitive, expensive keywords are likely to show up more often in Google’s suggested or predicted queries. Our keyword research needs to take these suggested or predicted queries into account so that we can optimize websites and PPC campaigns accordingly.
2. Long Tail keywords will be less productive. As Jeremy indicated, I believe most searchers will be distracted or tempted to click earlier as the search results change in real-time. This will likely lead to more clicks on head terms and more search query refinements.
3. Ultimately, relevance is still key. Organic and paid search rankings have not changed with Instant. No matter how the User Experience of search evolves, a well-thought out SEO strategy will include tactics to improve a site’s relevance to the keywords people are most likely to search for. Even if you rank #1 for a popular query, a poorly written Title tag or call to action are going to diminish the likelihood of people clicking on your organic search result or converting on your site.
4. Google will get richer. The logic behind this is obvious, since the head keywords are typically more expensive on a Cost Per Click basis. When it comes to their golden goose, Google really only makes UX changes like this that will improve their bottom line.
5. Brands matter more than ever. Large brands stand to gain considerably because Google inherently trusts them more. Over the last year, we’ve seen Google start to rank well known brands higher than lesser known but potentially better-optimized sites. This evolution is not debated in the industry, but the pundits and experts disagree on whether or not this actually improves search results and the search experience for the average Google user. I tend to believe that less variety and choice leads to lower quality search results.
6. Instant doesn’t mean permanent. Google is well known for launching a major UX change or search feature only to roll it back if user acceptance is not high and/or it doesn’t have the intended outcome (higher profitability for GOOG, better user experience, ease of use, etc.) Remember how short-lived Google Wave and real-time search results were?
7. The proof is in the analytics. We won’t know the full impact of Instant on SEO and PPC until marketers and analysts have had time to gather and interpret any changes in site analytics or campaign metrics. I expect to see preliminary results being reported as early as next week but a full understanding may take weeks or months, especially when seasonality is considered.
8. Remain calm. We’re on the leading edge of this change and word travels fast in the SEM industry. We are better off taking a wait-and-see approach to making changes rather than jumping into the unknown. Even waiting a few weeks or months to modify an SEO or PPC strategy will still likely give you an advantage over the vast majority of competitors that will be slower to act (if they act at all).
I hope this puts your mind at ease. It’s an exciting change to keep an eye on, but the end result will ultimately depend on whether or not the average Google user accepts the changes or not.
For the record, I DO NOT advocate this method of poisoning competitors’ PPC campaigns but it exists and you should be aware of it. I’ve seen it on a few client accounts and have taken steps to mitigate the damage. It’s an ongoing, evolving problem so you should check regularly to see if you are being targeted.
Here’s the bottom line. Your competitors have a vested interest in seeing your campaigns fail by becoming wildly inefficient and unprofitable. They can get more customers for less money while you pay more for fewer.
How it works
A savvy competitor knows you are bidding on some of the same keywords. In this example, I’ll use “dining room furniture” (phrase match) as the keyword in question for two companies that sell dining room furniture.
You, like a good PPC marketer, set up your campaigns with keywords (i.e. “dining room furniture”) and negative keywords (i.e. “antique”, “plastic” or “zebra print”) to filter out keywords for products that you don’t carry. Normally this would be enough to keep your ads showing for only the most relevant search queries and minimize wasted clicks but it may not go far enough.
Your competitor could use automated search tools (rank checkers, bot nets, or simple scripts) that search for long queries that trigger your AdWords ads hundreds or thousands of times and rarely, if ever, click on them.
Why it’s a problem for you
Eventually, your keywords and ads suffer from unusually low Click-Through-Rate (CTR). The lower CTR results in lower Quality Scores and higher Costs Per Click (CPC).
In plain English: your ads are clicked less frequently than Google expects. Since the big G are not going to make much money that way, they will lower your ads’ Quality Score, which makes your ad rank lower and costs you more per click.
Meanwhile, your competitor has already taken steps to make sure their keywords are not affected. See “How to fix it” below.
How to detect it
Use the Google AdWords Search Query Performance report to identify the search queries that resulted in your PPC ads being triggered and clicked.
In my client’s case, I saw many variations like these:
- 3 piece dining sets kitchen dining room furniture furniture (136 impressions, 1 click)
- wood dining room chairs kitchen dining room furniture furniture (92/1)
- for the home furniture kitchen & dining furniture kitchen & dining sets (111/1)
- for the home furniture kitchen & dining furniture kitchen & dining tables (192/1)
These phrases look odd, and there were dozens or hundreds of variations each receiving a few hundred to several thousand searches per month. They even seem to fall into templates and patterns.
Typically, they have some very similar characteristics:
- Repeated keywords such as “furniture furniture”
- Extremely long-tail phrases that don’t make sense
- Queries that would not normally receive hundreds or thousands of impressions and very few clicks
Obviously, not all high-volume keyword are going to fall into this category. It’s really only the weird ones that you need to watch out for.
How to fix it
Once you’ve run the Search Query Performance report for your campaigns, comb the list carefully looking for query variations that meet the criteria above. Once you figure out the patterns for these queries, they become easier to find.
Extract snippets of those queries and add them to your negative keyword list for each campaign. As an example I added the following:
- [furniture furniture] (exact match)
- [dining furniture kitchen & dining] (exact match)
This will prevent my client’s ads from appearing when the automated search tools repeat these queries over and over. Our Quality Scores rise and our CPC falls. Every time.
My hunch is that your competitors know the keyword phrases and have already added them to their negative keyword list so their ads don’t show up when their bots are let loose. Sneaky, eh?
Taking 30 minutes to tweak your accounts can save you thousands of dollars each month and result in more conversions from your PPC campaigns. Do this once a month to stay on top of changes to their methodologies.
Where to go from here
Just some fun ideas if you are still being affected by these attacks:
- Some simple log file analysis can be used to capture the IP addresses of your website visitors that click on these ads. If you can trace those IP addresses to a competitor, great. More than likely though, they will be anonymized or run through a bot net or proxy server somewhere. After all, if they are devious enough to pull off these schenanigans, they are probably clever enough to hide their tracks.
- Use the AdWords IP Exclusion tool to prevent certain IP addresses from seeing and clicking on your ads.
- Report the activity through AdWords support or contact your AdWords rep for help.
Anybody else out there seeing this? What have you done to fix it? Any other tips?
(CC photo credit: gato gato gato on Flickr)
I am pleased to announce a new client site launched last week: RVAMortgage.com. The site supports Colonial 1st Mortgage‘s objective of capturing more qualified leads and we’re pulling out all the stops to support the site and increase traffic:
- Pay Per Click advertising
- Organic Search Engine Optimization
- Content Marketing
Dan Dougherty and his team of mortgage brokers are some of the finest people I’ve met in the industry. Their customer-focused process insures that they find the best deals for their clients by comparing mortgage and refinance offers from multiple lenders. This saves the home buyer time and money. The next time you need a mortgage broker in Richmond or have questions about refinancing your home, please give them a call. You’ll be happy you did.
Lead Tracking Capabilities
It’s not just a pretty site, it’s also a lead tracking powerhouse. The hand-coded site is brimming with analytics and lead-tracking tools, including a highly customized Google Analytics installation, a phone call tracking solution and a custom lead database that allows the client to “close the feedback loop” by signaling which leads eventually convert.
We evaluated several content management and CRM systems but ultimately decided to build our own to allow for the fine-grained analytics and landing page optimization coding required to fine-tune the site and supercharge conversions.
Need a Custom Solution?
I was going to write some more website spring cleaning tips for 2010 but got sidetracked while thinking about the variety of plant life in my backyard. I started thinking about trees, which I have a lot of, and weeds, which I have even more of.
You didn’t know I was into gardening, did you?
Without going too far out on a limb (pun intended), I started thinking about my clients’ businesses in terms of plants and trees that I could see fro my patio. Most seemed to fall into one of the following two categories.
Oak trees are strong, stable, predictable and sturdy. Their massive trunks can weather fierce storms that would wash away or knock over less established plants. Their growth potential is nearly unlimited but it’s so slow that hardly anybody notices at first.
However, they take a long time to grow, are difficult to move and not very adaptable to new or extreme conditions. Their foliage is utilitarian and not very showy.
Dandelions, on the other hand, are highly adaptable and can survive in a wide variety of conditions. Their ability to grow and spread quickly allows them to adapt and survive in sub-optimal soil or even between the cracks in a sidewalk. Plus, they evolved to be interactive! Their seeds are meant to be spread when the wind whips up to scatter them far and wide.
Life’s not easy for a dandelion though. Their slender stalks are fragile and easily trampled underfoot. They don’t live long in one place and have been known to appear and disappear without anybody noticing.
Life at the Extremes
Sure, these are extreme examples but I’ve found most of my clients exist closer to one end of the spectrum or another. Neither business model is right or wrong, just suited to meet different needs in different ways.
How would you classify your business? Am I missing an entire category?
Most companies are not sure what kind of ROI to expect from SEO efforts. Some want a guarantee, others trust that the results will come with proper implementation and support from a qualified consultant.
I thought I’d share a quick glimpse into the results I achieved for one of my favorite clients in Ann Arbor in early 2009. We are not talking about huge traffic numbers, but when you sell a niche service in a small market, even a few hundred extra visits a month can be the difference between a good month and a GREAT month!
For those not intimately familiar with Google Analytics, here’s what we’re looking at:
- A comparison of March 2010 (blue line) to March 2009 (green line)
- Organic (non-paid) visits from search engines
- Non-branded keywords that do not include the company name (important!)
The results speak for themselves:
- Visits more than doubled (+103%)
- Visitors are spending more time on the site and viewing more pages
- More visitors click through beyond the page they land on instead of abandoning the site without clicking deeper (bounce rate)
The results for other clients have been as dramatic (or better in a lot of cases), but this a simple way to measure the success of any SEO effort.
Perhaps even simpler, the client has mentioned he is overwhelmed with new customers and has to hire more help to fill the need. Those are the types of results I like to see!
As a consultant, it’s always important to take a moment to welcome and thank your clients. I’m honored to be working with these folks and their talented teams!
Probility Physical Therapy (Ann Arbor, MI)
The Probility team are some of the area’s foremost experts on physical therapy and manual therapy. Their 4 clinics cover the greater Ann Arbor area but their manual therapy blog and YouTube channel carry their educational content to runners, athletes, and anybody else suffering from injury or pain.
StyleCraft Homes (Richmond, VA)
StyleCraft Homes competes against the “big boys” in new home construction by focusing on quality, not quantity. Check out any of their new home communities, the difference is apparent. New home buyers have the upper hand in this market and are opting for quality homes that will maintain their value.
Atkins, Maestrello & Associates (Richmond, VA)
These pediatric dentists have been serving the community for over 25 years. The practice has helped thousands of children lead happier, healthier lives. It takes a special type of person to enjoy working with children (especially apprehensive children) every day. Thankfully the doctors and staff at this practice have this gift!
Great Lakes Seminars (Sylvania, OH)
A nationwide series of physical therapy continuing education seminars, Great Lakes Seminars offers PT and OT professionals the opportunity to learn new skills and earn continuing education hours. The team travels the country with their “tell-show-do” approach to teaching physical therapy treatments.
Natural Gas Campaign for Consumer Choice (Atlanta, GA)
Sponsored by the Georgia Public Service Commission, MyNaturalGasCoach.com educates Georgia natural gas consumers about their choice of natural gas marketers.
Agency Partners and Friends
These new client relationships (and some forthcoming announcements) wouldn’t be possible without some good friends at Hile Design, StudioSavvy Design, RedShift, Rick Whittington Consulting and Frederick+Swanston.
Thanks for a great start to 2010, and here’s to a prosperous year!
[Update 3.18.10] How could I forget a barter agreement with Professional Turf Management? They got a website, I get top-notch lawn treatment services (fertilization, aeration, seeding, weed control, etc.)!
“How much more traffic will I get to my website if I optimize it for keyword X?”
It’s a very common question from prospective clients and was posed by Rick Whittington on Twitter. The answer should help build value for the SEO engagement by demonstrating the potential gains and how to measure them. In this example, we’ll focus on ACME, Inc., a Richmond-based widget reseller with operations throughout Virginia.
Step 1: Determine Your Current Search Traffic Segments
Segmentation is the key to deriving value from your website analytics package. In this case, I am talking about segments of keywords related to a particular theme. For ACME, the keyword segments can be defined as:
- “Branded” – Company name, brand names, etc. (including common misspellings)
- “Virginia” – Containing “VA” or “Virginia”
- “Richmond” – Containing “Richmond” and surrounding towns
- “Widgets” – Containing “widget” or “widgets”, i.e. “blue widgets” or “widget for sale”
- “Doo Dads” – Other names for widgets and keywords consumers are also likely to use
In your Google Analytics Keywords Report, select only the keywords from each segment. For example, to select only “Virginia” OR “VA” keywords, use the | separator in the Filter Keyword box at the bottom:
Do this for each segment, noting the total traffic volume and number of unique keywords for non-paid search traffic:
Plot all of your keyword segments on a chart and you’ll end up with something like this:
Now we know how many unique keywords we have and much traffic we are getting from each segment. Hold on to this chart for a minute.
Step 2: Gather Search Volume Estimates
Use the Google AdWords Keyword Tool to calculate rough estimates of search volume for particular keywords. To find it, click on the “Opportunities” tab in AdWords, then “Keyword Tool” in the Tools section on the left.
Type in your keyword segment seed keywords and make a table of the estimate local (U.S.) search volume for Phrase Match to include all combinations of your keywords. DO NOT use Broad Match, it will give you the wrong results for this analysis. You’ll end up with something like this:
Step 3: Look for Patterns and Gaps
Notice the pattern in the search volume data? “widgets” keywords (and many of the most popular variations) are searched more frequently than the same variations of “doo dads”, by anywhere from 25-100%. Example: “virginia widgets” and “virginia doo dads”.
Now, look back at your chart from step 1. ACME’s site is drawing a fair amount of traffic from a wide variety of “widgets”-related keywords but almost no traffic from “doo dads” keywords.
This is certainly not in proportion to the search volume that we KNOW exists for “doo dads” keywords. Hence, a gap in the SEO strategy and an opportunity to optimize the site for “doo dads” keywords (without taking your eye off of the “widgets”) keywords.
Step 4: Take it One Step Further
Want to be a true analysis ninja and really impress the client? Perform the same analysis but instead of looking at JUST organic search visits in Step 1, substitute conversion rates or conversion counts (leads, sales, revenue, or whatever) by keyword segment and demonstrate a tangible benefit to their business.
But This Doesn’t Answer the Question!
Before you say that this analysis doesn’t tell the client exactly how many more visits their site will receive, keep in mind that that is an unknowable number and no legitimate SEO consultant will guarantee particular rankings or traffic volumes. Clients that are only focused on traffic volume are usually focused on the wrong metrics. It’s all about finding the RIGHT traffic, not just the MOST traffic.
It’s not a perfect answer, but it’s an honest, fact-based assessment of how to improve the client’s business by segmenting data and looking for patterns and gaps. That should make any client happy. I know mine are.