Each engine has its pluses and minuses and I thought I would write a short blurb describing my experiences using the interface for each of these. The first engine I will be looking at is the lesser utilized of the three, MSN Adcenter.
One of the things I like about working within Adcenter is the clean look. Although from time to time I wonder if the uncluttered interface is more a product of its relative youth, there’s no denying it’s easier on the eyes than either of its competitors. In part, this appears to be due to the lack of clutter that plagues both Panama and AdWords. Perhaps Microsoft hasn’t had time to fill every gap on each page as seems to be the case with the others. Part of the reason however, is the use of bullet links. More often than not, clicking on these causes the additional information to appear in place, without having to navigate to another page. This is a refreshing change, as most of my time using these seems to be spent hitting my back button and waiting for complete pages to load.
The layout of subsections is based on 4 tabs; Campaigns, Accounts & Billing, Research and Reports. Clicking on these takes you to exactly what you would expect, no more no less. Everything is laid out in a logical format and it’s pretty quick and easy to find what you’re looking for. After struggling to navigate through Panama in particular, I find this refreshingly simple.
Setting up is a 5 step process.
- First off, you lay out your basic campaign structure by naming the campaign and initial ad group. One of the nifty features at this stage is a checkbox allowing you to copy an existing ad group. I have found this can be a useful time saving feature. Network targeting, campaign scheduling, language and regional targeting can all be set up on this same page. Also, conversion tracking can either be set up here or later in the campaign interface with a single click.
- The next step is writing ad copy. The biggest advantage I have found in this stage is that the interface allows you to paste the entire ad description in one line rather than having to fuss with the character limitations for 2 lines of ad text, such as in both Google and Yahoo.
- Now you can add your keywords. This is a very straightforward process, You have the option to add your own pre-made list of keywords and/or using a keyword tool that scans a site, or the ad destination URLs. This tool can generate a list of synonyms based on a suggested term, including the number of searches conducted in the previous month.
- The last main step is to determine pricing settings. This includes setting a budget (see annoyances and oddities section), bidding and setting bidding options, such as incremental bidding. Here also you can set bids specifically targeting for location, day, time, age, or gender.
- The final step is simply a review of all the information entered to this point and the option to change settings. I find this a bit annoying, as opting to change anything takes you back to that stage and after making your adjustment you have to cycle back through the entire process to the review page once again.
The only tool this interface has at the moment is the keyword research tool. This can be accessed under the research tab or when editing keyword settings. I have found this far less awkward and time consuming to use than either of the other 2 engines. One thing to note about adjusting keyword settings is how robust the options are generally. When adjusting existing keywords it is simple to add negative keywords to individual keywords, as well as adjust the match types and specific destination URLs by keyword. Another interesting feature is the trend charts, viewable by keyword. With this handy feature you can view individual keyword trends by age and gender, geographical location, social class and affluence.
One major difference with keywords between MSN and the others is the level of editorial control exerted. Recently I was managing a campaign with a particular ad group that had quite a few different ads. Some keywords were reported by MSN as being declined for certain ads, but approved for others. This is certainly a departure from my experiences with either AdWords or Panama, where if a keyword is declined for any reason, that’s that.
The reporting feature is also quite robust. One can run single use reports or create saved templates for performance, accounting or targeting. It allows for quite a number of specific report types from account overview down to specific ad or keyword performance. A report can be set to display information from hourly, daily, weekly, monthly or yearly. Additionally, filters can be set to customize reports to only display information you wish to view. Automated report scheduling is also an option if you wish to receive emails periodically, without having to fetch them personally. The format for these reports are limited. Currently downloading one gets you a zipped csv file. Hopefully they’ll expand that to allow options for other file formats.
Annoyances and Oddities
These are some of the gripes I have with Adcenter.
- For some reason, they’ve incorporated the option to select campaign settings for either daily budgeting or monthly. While this isn’t really a bad thing, if you select daily budgeting, it requires you to set a monthly budget as well. In my experience, doing this seems to have little effect on the amount spent on a given day. For example, I had set a daily budget of $10.00 while selecting a monthly cap of $310.00 to reflect 31 days in a month. Day by day this particular campaign was spending regularly up to and in excess of $20.00 daily. No amount of fiddling seemed to change that behavior, so consequently the monthly budget was used up in half the time.
- Normally, when optimizing ads and keywords, I like to pause poorly performing ads. Pausing them, rather than deleting them, allows me to retain the statistics for later viewing. This is handy because sometimes I do not wish to drop an ad or a keyword entirely, but just want to turn it off for a time, for whatever reason. Unfortunately, there is no option to pause either an ad or a specific keyword. There is no way short of deletion to stop displaying a specific ad and the only way to “pause” a keyword without deleting it, is to drop the max CPC to the absolute minimum.
- There is a limitation on viewing data at campaign, ad group or even ad or keyword level. One can only view yesterday, this month, last month, this year, last year or entire time. I find it very strange that unlike anywhere else in this interface, you cannot specify a custom date range. To get around this, you have to go to reports and create and run a report specifying what start and end date you wish to view data for. This can be time consuming and is an obvious flaw that will hopefully be worked out soon.
- The timeout is quite short. Many times while working in Adcenter, I’ve tabbed back after only several minutes, only to find the system has logged me out and I have to re-login and navigate back to what I’d been working on.
Overall, I’d have to say that MSN Adcenter is quite easy to use. Although MSN gets the least amount of traffic of the 3 engines, this isn’t entirely disadvantageous. One result of this disparity is that spend for a given campaign is generally significantly less than in either Adwords or Panama. Given that, when a conversion is achieved the difference in ROI is notable. This engine is certainly worth advertising on and with some improvements will be a fine choice.