To: Google Founders, From: Advertisers, RE: AdWords Rotation & Other Flaws Need Fixing

Last week, my colleague and fellow columnist, Brad Geddes outlined 8 Features Advertisers Really Need from Google AdWords and I couldn’t agree more with the points he brought up.

Back in December, I ran a wish list of my own, 7 Things On My Google AdWords Wishlist For Santa and many advertisers jumped in with their own wishlists. Actually, many of the items on my list weren’t so much features as they were requests for re-engineering of incompletely or illogically-implemented features, some so old and ingrained that many advertisers had forgotten about them until Microsoft implemented them in a more sensible way – 5 years ago!

I realize now my mistake back in December was making my appeal to Santa Claus, instead of higher powers. So, this month, I am take case right to the top, Google founders, Sergey Brin and Larry Page and hope that we can get some quicker action.

Google CEO and Co-Founder Larry Page

Simpler times: I snapped this picture of Google's CEO Larry Page at Google Dance in 2003 pausing for photo op with Judy Miller.

Hi Larry, Hi Sergey -

It’s been a long time. I know that things have changed a lot since 2003 when these photos were taken. Times were simpler then. There was no Bing, no Facebook. No Google+, YouTube, and no Google Images. These were pre-IPO times, when all you had to worry about was Google organic search and the new baby, Google AdWords. No wonder everyone is smiling and having a good time in these pictures!

Sergey Brin and Matt Van Wagner

Simpler Times. Author with Google Founder Sergey Brin on his 30th Birthday.

Now, I know that things have changed quite a bit since then, and your company has grown into quite the big corporation, and so, in order to go through proper channels, I’ll put my request in memo format.


Date: 26-May-2012

To: Larry Page and Sergey Brin

From: Matt VW and all other Adwords advertisers

RE: Very Strange Changes to AdWords in Recent Days


Can you please take a quick look inside the AdWords Engineering department and in particular, the sustaining engineering group responsible for core AdWords functionality?

There have been a number of policy and interface changes and half-implemented features coming out of there in the past few years, and the pace seems to be accelerating in pace over the past 2-3 months.

Advertisers are usually cool with changes, even rapid-fire ones, as long as:

  1. They make sense
  2. They are not rushed to market and are simply bolted into the AdWords interface without regard to tracking and reporting
  3. They aren’t foisted on advertisers with two weeks’ notice or less especially when these AdWords policy updates require substantial re-engineering or wipe away years of best practice development. What’s the big rush?

One recent change in particular – the removal of AdWords even ad rotation has really rankled your entire advertising community, so I’ll use it as example of why I believe things may be amiss in your AdWords engineering group. This single, highly-controversial change violates three important principles of working with business partners.

The first principle is not to pull the rug out from under your business partners. And yet, this is exactly what your engineering group did a few weeks ago. Here is the announcement made by Karen Yao, Senior Product Manager on April 30th, 2012:

“…Starting next week, the “rotate” setting for ad rotation will change…”

Next week? What? This long-standing protocol has been in place for over ten years! What’s the rush?

Advertisers pay Google for each and every click that comes our way, and we have built best practices around the way AdWords operates. It is just not right for your engineering groups to destroy all that by pronouncing a change that requires re-engineering on a moment’s notice.

Paid search is a different beast than organic search where you make algorithm changes all the time to keep ahead of spammers. Companies that optimize websites to influence rankings don’t pay you, and so you don’t owe them anything really. They can kick and scream all they want, but at the end of the day, your allegiance is solely to your best efforts to providing the best user search results.

Advertisers, on the other hand, pay you lots of money to place ads on your network and we make similar investments in best practices, ad testing and revenue-maximization. Those best practices included working with even ad rotation. Removing this functionality with no notice is incredibly disruptive to the business operations of advertisers.

The second principle is ‘don’t be an arrogant smarty-pants’ with your business partners. It sure feels like that was the prevailing attitude that resulted in this recent ad rotation change, since there was nothing but a timid  ‘a priori’ declaration justifying its purpose in the announcement from the same product manager, to wit:

“…Using the “rotate” setting for ad rotation is helpful for testing new creatives, but when run indefinitely can inhibit advertiser performance and deliver less relevant ads to our users. “

Two issues here. First, Sr Product Manager Yao does not come out and say this “will” inhibit advertiser performance – she says it “can” inhibit performance. This is what we call in the copywriting business, a weasel word. To remove a long-standing AdWords protocol like removing even ad rotation should require an unequivocal statement. Second, 30 days does not equal indefinitely.

There are many ad groups throughout all of our accounts where search volume takes much longer to develop performance profiles, especially when conversions are factored in.

For example, an ad group that gets 200 clicks in a month may have enough volume to start deciding a winner based on CTR, but may only get 5-10 conversions, which is not enough data on which to act. Optimizing to CTR can actually worsen advertiser performance. The most relevant ads are the ones that lead users to successful conversion activities, not just initial clicks.

For example, an ad group that gets 200 clicks in a month is a perfectly fine ad group and one in which it is possible to determine which ad is best based on CTR. However, if conversions are factored in, it could take months. Destroying the experiment before enough conversion data is available is not in anyone’s best interest.

A third principle in working with paying customers is to finish all the engineering work before introducing new features into a general release. The recent ad rotation change is a prime example of a sloppy implementation that could have been avoided had more time been given to the engineering effort. Here is what the AdWords Online Help has to say about the new ad rotation [Bold is mine for emphasis]:

“Rotate evenly: Delivers your ads more evenly into the ad auction for 30 days, then optimizes for clicks. Even though this setting is at the campaign level, the even rotation period is tracked separately for each ad group. It starts (and resets) for an ad group whenever the ads in that ad group change: specifically, when a new ad gets added, when an existing ad is changed, or when a paused/deleted ad is enabled. When the even rotation period ends and we optimize for clicks, the campaign setting will continue to say ‘Rotate evenly’.

So, basically the documentation admits that while your ads are not rotating evenly, the campaign setting will still say they are. This is inaccurate and misleading, and very lazy engineering – and not what one would deem worthy of Google’s engineering imprimatur. What was so important and pressing time-wise that you’d leave the reporting and documentation such a mess?

On top of that, the engineering team left a big loophole in the rotation scheme which enables advertisers to keep their ads in even rotation by simply pausing them and unpausing them once every 30 days.

Advertisers are starting to use campaign automation rules to automatically pause and then unpause ads a few times a month as a workaround to continue using their existing testing protocols. Why leave this workaround in place if you truly believe that the even rotation is bad for advertisers? And is this really what you want people using automation for?

Now, to be fair, we know that the AdWords engineering group are working extremely hard to impress everyone and they are introducing useful new features and targeting options at a breathtaking rate. You’ve got some of the most talented programmers on the planet working in the AdWords engineering group.

However, it appears that the balance between new feature introduction and sustaining engineering may be out of whack and may need to be addressed. We love the new features, but we’d also love to have all of the recently introduced products working the way they should work and to get some long-standing AdWords inefficiencies brought up to 2012 standards.

Many recent columns from paid search writers have talked about these things, but two features I think are seriously overdue for engineering attention are these:

Ad Site Links: These are links that are associated with the way ads are presented, and yet they have been bolted onto AdWords at the campaign level. That makes no sense. If they are ad elements, why wouldn’t they live at the ad or ad group level? Because of the implementation at the campaign level, it has been impossible to get any decent reporting on how or if they are working. This ‘new’ feature was added two years ago, and is still miserably mired in workarounds for reporting and implementation.

Ad Scheduling: Here we are in 2012, and advertisers still have to manually train AdWords ad scheduler to know what time lunch is in Mountain View versus Chicago. As it stands now, in order to deliver ads at lunch time across the continental United States requires advertisers to duplicate the same campaign 3 times. This is so 20th century! Microsoft figured this out years ago.

So, instead of bolting new features on top of the existing AdWords platform, and adding automation onto a system that is getting a little long in the tooth, perhaps it is time to consider a major overhaul of the AdWords system? Has AdWords has become an unsustainable nightmare of a system for sustaining engineers to work on?

I get it that AdWords is incredibly complex and is reliably serving up millions of ads created by hundreds of thousands of advertisers every day at every point of the globe. A major overhaul is not an easy thing to design, develop and implement when you carry the weight of the world’s commerce on your shoulders.

But let’s face it, Larry and Sergey, AdWords was originally built when none of us had gray hair, so instead of nibbling away at the edges with silly policy things like forcing advertisers to change ads every 30 days, or adding fuzzy logic to phrase and exact match, perhaps it’s time to build a new AdWords platform from scratch.

At the very least, can you please ask your engineering department not to make any more changes that require advertisers to change all their processes, campaigns, and accounts at least until Labor Day? I’d sure like to take some time this summer, and not spend it fixing campaigns that aren’t yet broken.


Matt VW

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

Related Topics: Channel: SEM | Paid Search Column


About The Author: is President and founder of Find Me Faster a search engine marketing firm based in Nashua, NH. He is a member of SEMNE (Search Engine Marketing New England), and SEMPO, the Search Engine Marketing Professionals Organization as a member and contributing courseware developer for the SEMPO Institute. Matt writes occasionally on internet, search engines and technology topics for IMedia, The NH Business Review and other publications.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | LinkedIn


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  • James Hu

    i’d check out retargeter and the bing ad platform for clients in the hospitality space. 

  • Terry Whalen

    Here here – much agreed.

  • Aaron Levy

    This is so much more elegantly written than all the other posts I’ve seen written (my own included). 

    Let’s see if “please sir” along with reasoning has more of an affect than “#$!@#$ YOU GUYSSSS CHANGE IT BACK” like the rest of us are yelling

  • riprooney

    My Google Adwords wish list includes a return to realistically priced keyword bids. They originally sold us AdWords on the basis that small companies could now swim in the same pond as bigger ones. Now a company selling dog treats, for example, has to bid $3 to sell a $7 product. In what universe does that make sense? An attorney has to pay $100 for a click – great if you work in a company with 150 attorneys. But what about the hundreds of thousands of private practice attorneys?  Sorry, I know this is a tad off topic…but it IS on my wish list and has been for a long time now.

  • victorpan

    Thought I’d point out that the work-around for ad rotation doesn’t work. 

  • smoMashup

     I don’t know if that’s entirely true. Conflicting report over here:

  • Matt Van Wagner

    Thanks Aaron.  For me, the issue boils down to balance between sustaining engineering and new features.  Most engineers would rather work on new, exciting new things than fix bugs and deficiencies left by other engineers. 

    I rewrote this post a thousand times, believe me, because it this recent change was the ”straw that broke the camels back” issue for me.  It seemed so cavalier, and unnecessary, especially the drop-everything-else-you-are-doing-and-do-this-now-thing. 

    Problems like this are systemic problems not failure of individuals.  As I said, Google has many talented engineers, and I’ve had the priviledge of working with amazingly talented account reps and teams over the years.  

    When I mentioned this to Susan Wojicki at SMX West earlier this year, she pretty much acknowledged the difficulty of balancing new dev, with sustaining engineering. Every tecnology company faces it – it’s not unique to Google.
    So, I hope this article sparks some good internal discussion and re-allocation of resources. 

  • Matt Van Wagner

    In general, I would not put a lot of effort into a workaround because even though Google suggests that the action of pausing and unpausing resets the timer, who knows if it works and if it is allowed, for how long.

    I’d like Google to start walking this one back by simply adding a opt-in button or adding true ad rotation as Brad Geddes outlined.  

  • Danny Fendler


  • Aji Issac Mathew

    How about only running ads for “Managed placements” … having difficulty there. 

  • smoMashup

     Agreed. It’s not like the UI will update to let you know if it worked or not. Cheers on the great plea for sensibility!

  • Shane Herrell

    I’d agree with your comments. If most of Google’s revenue comes from advertisers, then why not listen to them and develop an advertising platform that is what the users need and want. If anyone has tried the new video advertising platform in Adwords, it is missing a bunch of features, some of them very basic ones.
     I’d much rather start shifting some advertising dollars to Bing and Yahoo if they will pay attention to the user interface. In the case of Google removing the ad rotation, that was simply to get them more clicks which will result in more income for them. They didn’t care if people were using the feature to actually test out ads. I say let me decide when I want to rotate or not.
    Google- put effort into your advertising platform if you want my continued business..Put out finished products… Listen to you customers and design around them. Don’t be afraid of a nice looking GUI.
    On a slightly different topic, the automated rules are nice, but what it has done to all the advertisers is driven up the cost per click.. Great for Google, not great for everyone else, especially small businesses who can’t afford to compete anymore. If every day each of the advertisers is increasing their bids, who wins?

  • riprooney

    Spot on Shane. It disappoints my smaller clients when I tell them PPC on Google is no longer a realistic option for the them.

  • Matt Van Wagner

    Thank you for the comments, Shane.   

    I think actually that Google’s decision to auto-optimize to CTR may be detrimental to them in the long run because 1) optimizing to select the ad with the highest CTR is not the same as optimizing an ad group that contains multiple ads, and 2) highest CTR does not imply highest performing ad for the advertiser, and could lead to download pressure on profits. 

    Automated rules are tools that can be used well or poorly, but I’d say that offering the tools for free inside the interface is generally a good thing.  It is true that click prices keep increasing, especially in areas where there are a lot of inexperienced advertisers. 

  • Pat Grady

    Search Partner Control
    Ad Group Level Extensions

    Two Month Vacation for AdWords Product Managers
    Pretty please, may we have these?  :-)

  • Ariel Bardin

    Matt, thanks for your great post. I’m one of the PMs on AdWords. We are reading all such feedback with great interest and discussing how best to approach the issues you and others have raised. Please keep such feedback flowing. 

  • Matt Van Wagner

    Ariel – Thank you for your comment and for reaching out!  

    I have a pretty good list of issues that I believe fall in the ‘more engineering attention needed’ category.  The even rotation issue I used for illustration was just the “straw the broke the camels back” issue for me. Maybe it makes sense to take this part of the discussion offline – so I can provide more details and dialog back and forth via email?  If so, you can message me on twitter or click on the contact author link below?   

  • Theresa Zook

    For those who have suggestions for features or functionality they’d like to see in AdWords?  It might get better results if you posted those in the AdWords forum. There’s an entire thread dedicated to asking folks what they’d like added or changes they think could be useful.

  • Matt Van Wagner

    Thank you, Theresa.   Great suggestion.  

  • Ariel Bardin

    We’ve just updated our blog with our changes based on the feedback. Please take a look.

  • Matt Van Wagner

    Thank you, Ariel.   This is awe-inspiring.   Thank you for listening and responding so quickly to the concerns of all your business partners who commented and petitioned on this.   Thank you! 


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