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.
Google AdSense: Behavioral Targeting?
Barry Schwartz posted an interesting piece on Search Engine Land today about Google submitting a patent application for behaviorally targeting PPC. Besides being intellectually stimulating, instituting behaviorally targeted PPC to users based off Google Tool Bar data and, of course through, as I talked about in Search 4.0, user login (remember, when you sign up for an account, you provide them geographic data) could have some pretty large ramifications in the paid search world.
1) Quality Score Irrelevant?
Quality Score may become irrelevant down the road. If a user continually searches in specific geographic location, then the behavioral algorithm “should” produce only ads in or around that location. Assuming the advertiser is paying the requisite amount to show in a high position, users may be going to garbage sites. Per the new regulations, Google set in motion in April (not allowing the Destination URL differ from the Display URL) it won’t be true SPAM, but for those of us who spend time optimizing landing pages for the keywords we are buying, it seems a bit ludicrous. Moreover, this seems like another way Google will start a bidding war between paid advertisers and generate higher bids (again).
2) Leveling the Playing Field Further
This is, however, better news for smaller companies and organizations struggling to keep up. Paid ads were meant to level the field for websites who were in the process of, or have yet to, SEO their site. Small sites could get the needed exposure necessary to “play ball” with the “big kids”. Grabbing more detailed information on users’ habits, it only stands to reason that smaller companies who have yet to make SEO improvements, it will allow them to be seen for valuable keywords. (Not withstanding these companies have usable and content-developed site to take advantage of this exposure) The little man gets a semi-fair shake from the big guy.
3) Users’ Privacy
It’s gone, and we’re all going to have to be ok with that. It is what is it. Google owns search, and, therefore, gets to dictate how search functions, how search collects data, and how search is displayed to users. The same is true of Search 4.0 (Personalized Search), and I didn’t hear any complaints about that from the crowd. Think of it this way: (which is how I’m pretty sure Google is thinking about it) users are getting the most, nearly in absolute, relevant results possible for that particular user. And, that’s the key phrase “for that particular user”. Google’s entire mission is to provide the most relevant results possible for each query performed by a user (not to mention making money). This fits into that mission. It’s the where the web has been for the last couple of years, and it’s definitely where it’s going: complete transparency. No more secrets (thank you Ben Kingsley). I’m not too worried about my privacy, everything is available out there anyway, if you know the right people and know where to look. The web is evolving once again and, once again, it’s our job as SEOs and Search Marketers to help our clients understand it, compete in it, and win in it.