Google Inflating AdWords Conversion Rates (Allegedly)
WebProNews published a story over the weekend that may spark some controversy in the coming days: “Harvard Professor Claims Google Conversions Inflated“. There may be hordes of SMBs, Mid-Size companies, and a few large corps lamenting outrage (much of it justified). Yet, here’s the problem with the Edelman story: it’s not a big surprise. And so all the lamented horror and outrage will not a change a thing.
Why This Story Has No Shock Value
Google, like other corporations, is a “for-profit” company. “Do no evil” may be the motto, but “we make money” is always the bottom line. And, if you were surprised at this, then you need a reality check. They’re a multi-national corporation, a hydra-headed beast with their tentacles in just about every facet of search marketing and functional web.
Not to mention that the AdWords platform has been a “racket” since it’s inception, under the guise that even the “little man” could get top placement. Any system based off of what particular businesses are willing to pay for keywords is going to be (not that there is a better system out there). Google introduced “Quality Score” as a way to level the playing field (supposedly), but that too still takes into account what you are willing to bid for a particular keyword as a large part of the equation. Don’t bid enough, and it doesn’t matter that you have highly relevant and targeted content around a keyword(s). You get a less than satisfactory quality score and don’t get the impression share you need to drive conversions anyway.
Let’s also not forget to mention that this is the crown jewel of the Google money-machine. It behooves them to show that their product actually works and helps make conversions. After all, it’s a product that anyone can use, right? Sure. Just put down your set budget, pick your keywords, throw the lever wide open, and watch your traffic and conversions roll in.
Edelman’s argument holds some water, as far as the Chrome Ominbox (suggested search), but he delivers no actual numbers of inflation, just that they are inflated. But, I’d trust the argument more if there were actual percentages of inflation, say the conversions offered by AdWords is 5% inflated from what you could normally expect to see in ROI.
In The End, It Doesn’t Matter
That statement may seem overly simplified and cynical, but the fact is, no one is going to stop using Google or Google AdWords, inflated conversion rates or not. They have captured over 70% of the seach market and have become a verb synomomous with search. Not being there is search marketing suicide, frankly, because Yahoo and MSN don’t hold enough of the market to be competitive and return a profitable enough ROI.
Not being in AdWords ultimately does mean less conversions, especially for those with newly begun SEO programs. The two are intwined in such a fashion that, unfortunately, one without the other means that it will only take more time to build a strong(er) presence within the SERPs. Remember that Google tailors its algorithm from everywhere, grabbing all the data it can to deliver the most trustworthy, relevant results for any given query. That includes AdWords data. Sorry, but it’s true.
And, if you’re just now starting to realize that this “search thing” is essential, then:
1) Please remove the incredibly dark and heavy boulder you’ve been living under and join us
2) You need this shot of “search adrenaline” not only for search presence, but so you can give the GOOG the inside track to discovering your pages. I’m not talking about indexing, that’s what XML sitemaps are for; I’m talking about Google discover what pages should be making their way up organically because they do a great job on the pay-per-click side.
Established sites within the SERPs don’t need to worry about this as much; hence the reason they’ve established themselves organically. They’ll feel it in traffic numbers to be sure, but may likely see their bounce rate drop and their overall site conversions increase. They could drop out of PPC and not feel it at all on the bottom line.
In the end, you have to play the AdWords game. It’s not a choice, it’s not an option: you play or you perish. It’s that simple. Don’t depend on PPC as your life-line, but use it to your advantage. It’ll do no good to bitch and moan about inflationary conversion rates because Google doesn’t care. And neither should you.
Indispensable Tips For B2B Search Engine Marketing
The elephant in the room that everyone is talking about: the economy’s taken a dive; it’s down for the count. Your B2C clients, while realizing that search marketing is a cornerstone in any successful campaign, have cut back their spending (drastically). It’s the ultimate domino effect, and it finally hit you. There’s a corporate brainstorming session. The one big idea (a no-brainer, really); let’s get business we have never bothered with: B2B.
Why you haven’t bothered with B2B until now:
Not surprisingly, there are very few Search Marketing Firms and SEOs out there willing to take them on. It’s not exactly a gold mine, not by any stretch, but it is a relatively virgin segment. For those with patience and moxy, it can be a very successful venture.
1) Build The Right IA
Most B2B companies want/believe that their website IA should accurately reflect what already exists in print or a catalog. Wrong. To construct the “right” IA, it takes a two-fold effort:
a) You, as the SEO/SEM, really have to TALK with them. Not simply let them tell you what they want to see represented, but consider their products and industries they serve. It may not change the main buckets of product engagement with the user, but you may find/add another way to engage users.
b) It’s got to be a team effort. As I mentioned before, the majority of B2B is very niche. They, whether you believe it or not, know their customers well. What they don’t know, is how to engage them outside of their traditional media, and you do. These two knowledges clash: in some cases violently.
Each side has to be willing to make a concession or two in order to get an IA that’s going to be able to target trafficked keywords, convert users, and that all parties are happy.
2) Keyword Targeting
You know, as a seasoned SEO, that the keyword and keyword phrase targeting has to lean more to the longtail. The client, however, thinks the most general terms are going to bring traffic (which they will). For example: the client makes “Micro-Perforated Tubing”, but believe that “Tubing” should bring in all the traffic. Beyond the fact that there are dozens of terms associated with “tubing”, even if we did target the term, what are the chances we’d be driving the most qualified and viable traffic ready to convert? Low to none.
When keyword researching and targeting for B2B, it’s essential as an SEO/SEM to understand that traffic volumes, in the majority of cases, are going to be low, so setting the expectation for the client is paramount. They need to understand that targeting uber-general terms (i.e. “automotive oil”, or “tools”) is not where they’re user base is.
Sure, their consumers may start with these general terms, but the SERPs they get (sites they have no use for) will teach them to refine the searches with more longtail keywords.
So that’s where you as an SEO/SEM need to be: in the mid-longtail and longtail keywords to get the most qualified traffic and those ready to convert.
3) PPC Campaigns
Of course it’s an extra expense. And, yes, they can get costly. The fact is they are a must for B2B; it’s a necessary evil. Why? Because organically, it’s going to take time to get position and traffic for keywords. Consider all the link building that’s got to be done and the onsite optimization, and relying on that alone will take 6-8 months before good movement and results appear.
Consider this effort an “adrenaline shot” for your search marketing. You get instant exposure in the SERPs, you get traffic to deeper pages on the site: ergo telling Google your pages should be considered important, and, most importantly, your SEO/SEM gets instant keyword search query results. They won’t have to guess as to which term(s) are most popular among your consumer base. That, in itself, is worth its weight in gold.
B2B PPC Tips:
Target a small selection of general terms in your campaign. The CPC is high for these terms, not to mention, competitive, so you’ll blow through your daily budgets quick.
Work a big variety of mid-longtail and longail words
Get a good list of negatives to make sure your budget is maximized
4) Get Local
It’s seems so common sense, but I can’t tell you how many B2B’s I’ve seen with no shred of locality at all. Now that the Google Algorithm has changed to show local results for general queries based on IP Address of the searcher, it is more important than ever to make sure your company show up for local.
What B2B Local You Should Have Been Doing:
The Need To Unlearn
It went official this week: Google now has behaviorally-targeted PPC Ads. Before we talk about the ramifications of this act on small/business owners, let’s figure out what this actually means.
Explaining Google Behaviorally-Targeted PPC Ads System:
Google has raised privacy concerns with its newly launched interest-based advertising, which displays ads based on users’ previous searches and page views.
The new Google advertising system, currently in beta, links “categories of interest” to the user’s browser, allowing targeted ads to appear even when the user is looking at a page totally unrelated to the ad’s subject matter.
Let’s not forget to mention, even though Google’s not saying it, they’re targeting by IP Address as well. Meaning, you don’t have to be logged into your Google Account to get “personalized”, behaviorally-targeted ads. And, this is just the beginning folks. While it’s not fully-instituted in SERPs (search engine results pages), the SEO/SEM community has been following this trend for over a year now, and we’ve seen instances of “personalized” results peeking in and out of the SERPs already.
If you read my November 2008 post, I discussed this topic there as well, but briefly.
Why Small Business Owners Need To Unlearn What They Know About SEO:
Unlearning is about the most difficult thing to ask anyone to do, let alone small/business owners who just got on the SEO bandwagon and want to see RANK. For years they’ve resisted, were reluctant to throw their hat in the search/web marketing ring. And, sadly, for them, the rules have changed.
SERP Rank is Dead
RANK is dead. The introduction of behaviorally targeted, personalized search with PPC has now opened up the flood gates. In this new era, it hardly matters where you “rank” for certain keywords. Users will have the most relevant results served up to them based on previous search habits and geographic locality.
Mind you, this does not mean SEO is dead. Far from it. SEO is more important than ever. With this new spin on search, comes decreased visibility for terms that national/global users would have found you for. Competitive or not, you could have sloppy SEO and still do well. Add in the fact that “brands” now have “higher trust”, thanks to the Vince Algorithm change, it makes it all the more important to have solid, core SEO built and implemented onsite.
All this aside, for years owners have been duped, in large part by the SEO community itself, to focus on where you RANK for keywords. And, boy, did they buy in. It consumes them. It perpetuates a never-ending cycle of calls about less-than-business-centric keywords, because they did a search and saw that they went from Position 7 to Position 10. They’re not taking into account the one thing they all got into business for in the first place: to make sales. To pad the bottom-line with profit.
Unlearn Your Obsession With Rank
Yes, that’s right. Stop thinking about it. If you need something to do because it’s a rainy day, or you don’t have meetings, then look at them (and then throw them away). Otherwise, stop it. Instead, focus on if you’re site is converting users to a sale, to a purchase, to an anything, as long as it drives more business through the doors. And, considering, the downward-spiraling economic disaster looming in the coming months, this should be your only focus: get more business coming through the door.
Rank is a luxury. Sales aren’t. Quit wasting your time talking about why a keyword dropped from 3 to 5, and start focusing on if your site is fully-optimized onsite, if your user paths are clean and concise, and if your forms are painless and easy. Once again, in the near-future, everyone’s SERPs are going to be different for the same keyword, based on numerous factors and habits. Make sure you’re focusing on sales and conversions, that’s all that really matters.