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Thursday, May 22nd, 2008

PPC Management – A User's Review of Google AdWords

 

Google Adwords sample listingThis is the third in a series of articles intended to convey my personal impressions of managing PPC through Google AdWords, Yahoo Panama and MSN Adcenter. If you missed the earlier posts, you can find them here: Part 1 – A User’s Review of MSN adCenter; Part 2 – A User’s Review of Yahoo Search Marketing

Google is still by far the most popular of the 3 engines and therefore the AdWords Pay-Per-Click management system is the most utilized. As a result, AdWords is the most developed of the 3 systems.

Google Adwords LogoIf there is one thing I can say about Google it is that they are constantly coming out with new features. As there are a great many tools to cover, I have decided to leave off any sort of in depth look at them in this post. I will however, be writing a follow up looking exclusively at some additional features, particularly my personal favourite, which is AdWords Editor.

One important thing to note when first setting up a Google AdWords account, is the account type you select. The Starter Edition is very simple to use, but at a cost of being very limited in utility. If you select the Starter Edition, you can upgrade at any time to the much more robust Standard Edition. If however, you initially select or upgrade to the Standard Edition, you cannot revert to the Starter version. This generally should not be an issue unless you find the Standard issue too involved.

MCC

When I log in to AdWords, it’s generally into the MCC (My Client Center). This is a master account management shell that allows individual client accounts to be easily linked and navigated through from a single login. This isn’t for an advertiser that simply wants to promote their products or services through a single account. For management of multiple accounts, using this provides a number of advantages:

  • You can jump from account to account using the top client list drop down or via the more detailed dashboard list.
  • It allows for a wide variety of customizable reports for any or all client accounts, including scheduling, creation of templates and emailing.
  • You can easily view alerts from any linked accounts.
  • You can create customizable templates for keyword or site targeted campaigns that can be used from any linked account. I find this extremely useful, as my initial setup for a lot of new campaigns is very similar and this saves time getting a basic structure up.
  • If you are AdWords Certified, the Pro Center tab allows access to your status page, access to various marketing tools as well as a link to your Promotional credits, which can be applied to any linked accounts, within the first 2 weeks of account creation.

Using the MCC is pretty straightforward and it allows for individual login information. This makes it simple for the client as well. They can log in and view their account details separately and even unlink their account from the MCC if they decide to move on their own or with another PPC management company.

Interface

Logging into a single account brings you to the account snapshot tab under the Campaign Management Section. In addition, there are 3 more top level tabs; these being Reports, Analytics and My Account. I’ll describe the features contained within these briefly.

A picture of a mouse being clicked on a desktop of moneyCampaign Management

This section contains most of the “meat and potatoes” of what you’ll use to set up and run the account.

Account Snapshot – This provides an overview of basic information at a glance. It includes alerts, account status, announcements and a quick reference chart showing campaign performance. There is also an option at the bottom to make the Campaign Summary tab your start up page.

Campaign Summary – This is where most of the work is done. All of your campaigns are displayed with basic campaign level performance data. This page is where you can create new campaigns and is the entry point into the ad groups and the details of existing campaigns. I won’t go into detail as the process and the interface are pretty intuitive. I would like to say however, that the overall usability in this section of the interface is first rate. The ability to view data by date range up to and including the current day is something only Google provides easily.

Tools – This section contains a variety of tools to assist in optimization, analysis and a link to download the AdWords Editor software.

Template Library – This section only shows up in accounts linked to an MCC account. Campaign templates from the MCC will only be available here for use if they have been created and published from the MCC Template.

Conversion Tracking – In this section you can set up conversion tracking for the account. Multiple types can be set up for tracking leads, sign ups, views of a particular page or ecommerce purchases. When setting up tracking, Google will install a small bit of text with a feedback submission text snippet. The background colour for this is customizable, so it is a good idea to know what the page (where this code will be placed) looks like, to avoid a contrasting display.

Once the tracking type is set up and saved, you will have access to your conversion tracking code snippet, along with instructions on placement.

Website Optimizer – This is one of the features included in the Tools section. I guess by adding it prominently here as well means Google really, really wants this to be used. I will go into more detail on this feature in my next post.

Reports

In this section, you can create, view or export fully customizable reports. These can be set up for automatic scheduling and configured to email to multiple addresses.

Reports can be created for a variety of information, such as: Keyword, AD, URL, Ad Group, Campaign, Account, Search Query and Placement Performance.

They can be downloaded in either CSV, CSV (Excel), TSV formats. Alternatively, they can be exported as a Google spreadsheet, although I have yet to find any advantage to using a Google spreadsheet.

This interface will save your 15 most recent reports, although oddly enough there is a drop down to allow viewing of the last 100 reports, which still only shows the last 15 when selected. You can also create templates to save time with creation of similar types. There appears to be no restriction on the number of templates that can be created and saved.

Analytics

This section allows you to link your AdWords account to a Google Analytics account. Essentially, Google Analytics is the free, web-based version of the server-side Google Urchin program.
This service can provide very useful metrics for determining traffic patterns, user behaviour and site or campaign performance. I plan on going into more detail on this service in a future post.

There are a few things to remember when linking these:

  • Only one AdWords account can be linked to a specific Analytics account. If you are working from within the MCC shell account, log out and login into the client account you wish to link. If you have 2 separate AdWords accounts, for best results, make a separate Google Analytics account for each, not just 2 different site profiles in one Analytics account.
  • Ensure you enable auto-tagging for the most accurate results.
  • For ease of disseminating PPC data, create a separate profile within your Analytics account specifically for AdWords information only.
  • Remember to correctly install the tracking code snippet on all pages of your site for the best possible coverage.
  • If this is set up incorrectly, you will need to make a request to Google support to have the account unlinked.

Note: When you set up the Analytics account, you are provided with a Javascript tracking code snippet. When you get to this stage, you’ll notice the code section has 2 tabs, one for legacy code (which you must use if you have Google Urchin installed on your web server) and the second is the newer code. Both codes work for Analytics, but if you have Urchin you must specifically use that code.

My Account

This section includes tabs containing information on editing for account settings, user access management and billing preferences.

Noteworthy is the one for viewing and downloading a billing summary. This summary is quite detailed, showing click charges day by day, credit adjustments applied for invalid clicks and invoicing/payment information.

Learning resources

Of the 3 engines, AdWords has by far the best materials available for learning how to use their system. The AdWords Learning Center provides detailed learning modules in both video and text format and has links for quizzes on most modules to test your retention.

If you are planning on taking the Google certification exam, prepare to spend a fair amount of time at the learning center. You will likely need it if you do not want to waste the $50 exam fee.

The help section within AdWords itself is also fairly useful and easier to navigate than most.

Support

Like the majority of other client support systems, you seem to get good and not so good support depending on how busy they are; it is the luck of the draw. Overall I would say that the response time to emails is generally pretty slow. I realize they are likely pretty busy all the time, but replies can often take days.

One tip I recommend to save time, and this is actually for any customer support resolution not just Google, is to make sure you define the exact nature of your request concisely and in the very first sentence of your email.

Every support system has its share of reps that skim the first line or 2 and fire off a cut and paste standard response to what they think your issue is and Google is no exception. Unfortunately, this quite often turns out to be completely irrelevant to your request and if you have waited 4 days to get a reply, that is a fair chunk of wasted time.

Google does not display their phone number anywhere. However, it is possible to get the support number if you request it from them, but even then their automated phone system is a bit of a maze to navigate through.

They do have one unique feature that I heartily approve of and that is the live chat system. You can access this through a link found in the Help section or through a somewhat more convoluted path via the “Contact Us” tab. Look for one of the images as displayed below and click on it to start an IM session with a support specialist.

While the live chat is certainly better than email, it is not very user friendly. A word wrap feature would go a long way, as it displays each message on one line. The window cannot be resized and you have to horizontally scroll through the entire length of each message.

Annoyances and Oddities

These are some of the gripes I have with AdWords.

  • Marginally annoying is the use of 2 separate fields for each Ad description line in the Ad creation process. Trying to fit in a useful description into 2 separate fields with a maximum of 35 characters in each can be awkward. In Yahoo and MSN you just plunk in the complete description and it will auto fit, unless you have too many characters of course. Still it is easier to adjust one big description than the 2 separate lines.
  • I’m not particularly impressed by the information displayed when looking up keyword status and quality score. Some of the explanations range from poorly worded and confusing to absolutely useless:

Although I know the reason why I got this one for that particular key phrase, the explanation seems contradictory.

This one’s a charm:

This is not even remotely about a similar range of issues. Now if the system identifies a problem and disallows the use of a word, surely the specific reason for the problem could be isolated and reported. This seems pretty sloppy Google.

  • I have had issues at times where very similar keywords in the ad group for the same amount of time, at the same max bid and similar levels of competition have 2 different quality scores. This in and of itself should not be unusual, however the more relevant keyword receives the lower score. In these instances the lower scoring keyword is what I would consider more relevant as it is the exact keyword used in both the ad and on the landing page. While close but not exact, the higher scoring keyword receives an ok score, even though it is not in the ad or on the landing page as such. This makes me question sometimes how relevant relevancy is :)
  • AdWords seems to have a built in governor, designed to not display ads if keyword bids are high and the daily budget is insufficient to sustain more than a few clicks. I was running a campaign with a particularly competitive keyword set and was getting little to no impressions. My colleague suggested that perhaps the budget was a problem, so I tested this by increasing the daily budget by a factor of 10. Almost immediately the number of impressions increased to the point that there was no doubt this was what had been blocking ad display.If the budget is too low for more than a few clicks, Google should not arbitrarily decide to not show ads. Instead, the ads should be displayed until the budget is depleted, at which time ad display should cease. I would have thought this an anomaly; except that it happened on two separate accounts we were running for the same client.
  • Another thing that seems an unnecessary restriction, is limiting the use of the same keywords within the same account. Recently, we queried Google support about using the same keyword set for a client that has the same services, but in different and specific geographic locations. We were told, regardless of the difference in geo targeting we could not use the same keywords in the same account. This seems ridiculous to me. I had a client wanting to advertise a franchise in a number of different cities.In this case it would make sense to use the same set of keywords, but with a separate campaign for each location, so ad copy could be tailored specifically to the area. I cannot see a disadvantage to searchers for allowing this. I can see, however, additional cost to the client if this is not allowed, both in the relatively minor fees for setting up additional accounts and in the amount of time it takes to set up and monitor these accounts.

This rant is not specific to Google alone, but I thought I would add it anyway. One thing I do a lot of is viewing data by date range; particularly when running forensics on a new client’s pre-existing account. I can view campaign performance from years ago and get lots of historical data on everything… except for the budget and the bids. Regardless of what year, month or day I am looking at, the budget and the assigned max bid reflect the current settings only. I guess it is because of the dynamic nature of the quality score and competition for the keywords that makes this difficult, but it is data I wish I could view.

There is also no ability to filter out newer campaigns, or ad groups, etc. when looking at older campaigns. Recently I was sifting through an account with a large number of campaigns that had been running for years. I wanted to get an overview of everything that had transpired with this over time and it made it that much more time consuming with all the clutter from additional ad groups and campaigns that did not even exist during the date ranges I was viewing.

Summary

Overall, I would have to say that Google AdWords is still the cream of the crop. It is still the provider for the largest share of traffic and they continue to improve its usability. The only big downside to this is there is a lot more competition in Google than in the smaller engines.

AdWords is also the only one to provide offline editing software, which means that they continue to be number one in my book at least until the others can get their act together on that score.

by Tim Rule, PPC Specialist, StepForth Web Marketing Inc.
Celebrating over 10 years of Web Marketing Excellence

5 Responses to “PPC Management – A User's Review of Google AdWords”

  1. Mark

    Tim,
    What are your feelings on the new “Automatic matching” with Adwords?

    Mark

  2. Timothy Rule

    Ah…Well, I think that if you’ve been invited to the beta and hate leaving a portion of your budget unspent, this is a fine way to avoid the tedious effort of doing additional keyword research or even manually selecting relevant keywords through Google’s Keyword tool.

    But seriously, I cannot think of a viable reason to use this for running an efficient campaign.
    If you just want to spend more money, give it to charity. That would undoubtedly be more effective than this…feature.

    Instinctively, I feel the same skepticism about this as I feel towards using the Content Network. Rarely have I seen worthwhile results advertising there and some of the ad placements I have seen are so wildly irrelevant that I found it difficult to stop laughing.

    I think it’s safe to say this will never be turned on in any of our client’s accounts :)

  3. Shan

    This is a great article! Can you help me? I have three google Adword campaigns under one account and want to use X dollars a month for all three campaigns. How do I set this up?

    Thanks!

  4. Mayola Opp

    PPC is , in reality, pretty easy and your guidelines will surely help any Search Marketer. Already bookmarked.

  5. Fred

    very nice article,
    Thanks for sharing

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