Keywords & Search In 2013: Interview With Andrew Goodman & Matt Van Wagner

Recently I had a chance to sit down with two veterans of the search industry, Andrew Goodman of Page Zero Media and fellow Search Engine Land contributor, Matt Van Wagner of Find Me Faster, after their session “From Keywords to Buy Words” at SES Chicago. The conversation started with keywords, but took on a life of its own as we discussed Google, Bing, attribution, and even urinal advertising.

Jenny Halasz (JH): What do you think are the most important issues facing how we think about keywords?

Andrew Goodman (AG): Evolution is what we feel most comfortable with, and we are hoping that we can just continue to react to different consumer search patterns. People are getting more savvy about how they search. They know to enter a geo-modifier… people are giving us more intent than we used to get.

But that’s beginning to change as Google puts more and more things into a black box, and tries to determine intent before the keyword is even used. People need to be on the lookout for this, and recognize that the tradeoff of convenience may be the loss of pieces of micro data they’re used to getting.

Matt Van Wagner (MV): Well, it’s interesting, and over the last 10 years, people have been trained on how to use search engines more effectively.

For me, the most interesting thing is that something that should be stable, which is the lexicon, what keywords really are, has been stable for a particular period of time… Google, within the last year, they changed the protocols – started to do some monkeying around inside the black box – in a way that’s incredibly disruptive to the nuances of search query distinction.

To Andrew’s point, Google does want to continue to make things easier, but profitability is at the edge of differentiation between companies… Google is not omniscient so that they know your company’s competitive advantages and what works and what doesn’t as it relates to the way that you communicate out to your potential customers. I find it really odd that after so many years they would have fundamentally changed so many things.

In my mind, clarity in search keywords should be better than it was 10 years ago… but, the recent changes to match types and reporting have caused so much disruption to our own accounts that we’ve basically had to retool almost every account that we have.

AG: At an even higher level of abstraction, Google’s found themselves in a place of fiduciary responsibility. To some extent, they have implied a level of stability [that many businesses have invested in]. I was reading about car dealers who are suing manufacturers for doing things like dumping rental fleet cheaply. So of course, we can’t sue Google for changing the rules, but people do have a moral economy, certain built-up expectations that react negatively to disruption.

MV: The problem is that there are millions and millions of us, with very little bargaining power, and Google basically controls a good part of the economic engine that drives the world. Everyone was hoping that Microsoft would give them some competition, but they’re just not there yet. I mean, a car dealer who is upset with a manufacturer can just say goodbye and go off and carry a different line of cars.

JH: We don’t have that luxury.

MV: Well, go do print, go do TV. [laughs]

AG: Yeah, go do above urinal advertising. [all laughing] But Google is going to have a deal with the urinal people soon…

[Conversation digresses into jokes about Google’s “did you mean” at the urinal.]

JH: What do you think about the expansion of the exact match type and the option to opt-out? Google’s history has always been that you can opt out of something for a little while, but eventually you won’t be able to opt out anymore.

AG: I would argue that Google’s history always was a lot of opt-outs compared to everyone else (Yahoo, Overture)…

MV: Well, speaking of opt-outs, there was the whole brouhaha with the ad rotation thing. Everybody whined loudly and long about that, and Google reluctantly put that back in… even though it’s [not that great].

AG: Do not optimize. Have worse ads run indefinitely.

JH: I won’t quote you on that.

AG: I probably wrote that already. It’s out there, it’s public.

MV: I think they changed that, right?

AG: ‘Rotate indefinitely and do not optimize.’

MV: But also, that’s a “not recommended” thing.

AG: Is that a Zagat recommendation? What does ‘recommending’ even mean?

[Conversation digresses into jokes about who recommends what.]

MV: The best ad is not the same thing as the best ad group. And the best click-through-rate isn’t the same thing as the most profitable ad or ad group. Although they’ve tried with analytics and everything, they haven’t gotten to the point of being able to optimize every company in America. And they can’t do that because that would be completely anticompetitive.

JH: Leaving Google for a minute, I assume you both run campaigns on MSN?

MV: What’s MSN?

AG: Oh, right, isn’t it called Bing Ads now?

JH: Old habits die hard.

MV: Oh, we do it all the time. I had just trained everyone in my office to call it adCenter.

[Conversation digresses into discussion of trademarks…]

JH: Ok, so what is your impression of ads on Bing, and do you think they will continue to compete in the space?

MV: Yes, absolutely, they will continue to compete. Bing is all in. There are some questions about Yahoo, with the introduction of Marissa Mayer, whether that will help solidify the relationship, help things like display advertising get directly into Bing.

The contextual and display and other groups are so disparate, it’s like when you advertise in different countries; and, you have to make a contract with each country. What’s really cool about what’s going on with Microsoft right now is that they’re going to full synchronization with Adwords. They’re definitely trying to keep up with Google, but Google keeps changing things.

AG: Synchronization… is really what everyone wants. Ninety percent market share for paid clicks for Google is really what we’re dealing with here, so people are really focused on optimizing everything very detailed in their Google account. So, to have a separate setup in Bing is… people give up.

So this would be a lot of money to Microsoft’s bottom line if they can bring everyone on board [with synchronization]. A lot of people are sort of frustrated with it.

MV: I think they’ve settled out some should we or shouldn’t we issues and… they have a lot of things they feel will give them the ability to compete and outcompete Google on a lot of things. But the very first thing is they’ve got to get enough revenue pushing through there to make it a profitable division.

AG: I think the big difference beyond that is that it’s mainly a US success story as far as market share [for Bing] goes.

JH: Both of you mentioned in your presentation that segmentation of platforms and channels are impacting the type of data we’re getting from our tools. Do you think that’s likely to continue? Do marketers need to be thinking about advertising in all those different channels?

AG: There’s all this granularity of how people are searching, and… I think the question is, can we effectively segment our data and respond to it vs. should we be segmenting our strategies?

There’s a real tradeoff between aggregating for useful convenient narratives and analysis that are easily actionable vs. this infinite splintering… chopping data up into pieces that won’t be statistically significant, and the novice will certainly see things that don’t perform in smaller and smaller buckets and call them non-performers even though they’re just random holes and noise in the data.

MV: One of the things people are running into is cross-device attribution, and of course, they want to solve it. I don’t think it’s a solvable problem. But you can model out the data and [make inferences]. Until… you have an embedded chip in you, we are going to have to be living with more data not provided, but just structurally because people like you [gestures to Jenny] are holding two devices at the same time.

AG: Someone like Google would want to get closer to solving [this problem]. The only thing that stops them is Apple. The fact that some of these companies hate each other is at least preserving some of our privacy.

MV: 2013 is going to be the year of complexity. I’m going to go buy a farm and plant some chia seeds.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Keywords & Content | SEM Industry: Conferences

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About The Author: is the President of an online marketing consulting company offering SEO, PPC, and Web Design services. She's been in search since 2000 and focuses on long term strategies, intuitive user experience and successful customer acquisition. She occasionally offers her personal insights on her blog, JLH Marketing.

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