SEM News, Conversion Tracking Tools, & A Close-Up Look At SearchREv

In The Trenches is a weekly spotlight of tips, tricks, and news about the tools search engine marketing professionals use to give them a leg up on the competition. Today: News from the search engines, today’s in-depth look, “Tracking Your Conversions on the Engines,” and this week’s free tips and tools.

News from the search engines

Google AdWords: Google’s great offline search management tool, AdWords Editor, has been updated to version 6.0. You can check out all of their release notes here and download the tool here. Important: As Google notes, “Before you upgrade, be sure to export an archive of your account in order to preserve comments and unposted changes. After you’ve installed version 6.0, download your account, then import the archive file.”

Some of the new features include:

  • Account statistics – export a CSV file that includes performance statistics

  • Editing tools – spell check, drag and drop, formula words in the replace tool
  • AdWords feature support – now supports CPC Placement Targeting!
  • Duplicate keywords – find and sort dupes
  • Progress Bar – now you’ll know just how long you have until the load is completed

Yahoo Search Marketing: Not much news from YSM right now. While sifting through their blog, I did find an interesting article entitled Five Burning Questions in which the most popular questions from advertiser webinars are answered. I’d hope all of you SEM pros out there already know the answers, but even if you learn one thing new from that article, it’s time well spent.

MSN adCenter: According to an announcement on the adCenter Community site, at the SMX Advanced conference, “Kevin Johnson, President, Microsoft Platform & Services Division, mentioned a new adCenter tool we’re piloting called the adCenter Desktop Beta. The adCenter Desktop Beta is a free tool that enables advertisers and agencies to bulk manage their adCenter accounts from a desktop application which can be uploaded to an adCenter account. This is the first time we’ve offered offline campaign management for adCenter customers.

“We developed adCenter Desktop in response to customer requests to have the ability to bulk manage their adCenter accounts quickly and easily with an offline tool. It also complements our other Paid Search offerings, including the adCenter Add-in for Excel tool we introduced last winter, by utilizing keyword research functionality to provide advertisers and agencies with maximum transparency into historical keyword performance in adCenter. And unlike other desktop management applications, adCenter Desktop includes the Creation Wizard, a tool that provides a step-by-step guide to create online advertising campaigns—from the selection of specific ad features to previewing the final ad copy.”

Sounds great! The AdWords Editor is such a great tool that I’m glad to see someone else follow suit. Right now, this tool is in beta. As covered in this column before, you can register to become a beta user of Microsoft’s ad platform on the form found here.

In depth: Tracking your conversions on the engines

Search engine marketing technology has come very far in the last five years. There are now a variety of bid management and analytics tools to better measure how our search marketing efforts are working and converting. For some time, the engines have offered Conversion Tracking on their platforms. Although many SEM pros use a search bid tool or analytics tool that has its own conversion tracking capabilities, as a best practice, I still track basic conversions with the engine native tools as a backup and to audit the aggregate tools I use. This may seem like overkill to some of you, but I’ve found it very helpful in understanding the engines and the backup has come in handy on occasion.

What is a conversion?

A conversion can be any event on your site that you want to track…in SEM, you’re tracking the clicks of your marketing efforts that caused users to take the action you wanted them to take. Common examples of conversions include sales, completion of a lead generation form, a signup for a newsletter, etc. You can track any page on your site as a conversion, so you could also track views of your FAQ page, downloads of your videos, etc.

How do conversion tracking tools work?

Basically, the engines provide to you a “snippet of tracking code” that you or your web manager place on the page that follows the click in which a conversion takes place. It is invisible to users but reports a conversion in the system when it “sees” a user who has been cookied by the search engine. The cookie lets the system know which actual keyword generated that conversion and attributes it accordingly. So, if you want to track sales conversions, you would put the tracking code on your receipt or order confirmation page (commonly called the “thank you” page) which comes up after a user clicks SUBMIT on the final part of the shopping cart. By knowing at the keyword level what generated the conversion, you will also know how your ad groups and campaigns are performing aggregately.

Several things to note:

The conversion doesn’t have to happen during the visit in which the ad was clicked. If a cookied user comes back later and converts, the conversion is still attributed to the last ad clicked

Most engine cookies only last 30 days. I guess the engines feel that a conversion past 30 days doesn’t necessarily mean it was the keyword that was clicked. Plus, there’s a ton of data being tracked and even 30 days of data is a lot to keep track of for every advertiser.

“Conversions” is usually an aggregate of total users converted to any of the pages you are tracking. So, if a user comes to your site, signs up for an email and downloads a white paper, you would see only 1 conversion in the “conversion” field. You may still be able to see both conversions on a report, but the main GUI field of “conversions” would still only show 1.

Conversion numbers may vary between the engine, your analytics tool, and your bid management tool. This discrepancy is not uncommon as there are many factors at work here. For example, if a user clicks away from a page before it fully loads, there’s a chance the engine tag may not have time to “fire off” to the system.

Most systems allow you to create a value for each conversion. This lets you get a better calculation of your ROI (such as giving a newsletter signup a $5 value to you). Most tools can track actual sales in their conversion tag. There are some extra things you have to do to set this up, but, obviously, the benefit here is to see the exact dollar amount of what a keyword generated.

Here’s a quick look at the conversion tracking tools offered by the big three:

Google AdWords conversion tracking

Check out the Google AdWords Help Center article on the topic or watch their conversion tracking video to gain a full understanding of what you can do with their tool. One new, great feature of the Google conversion tracking is that you can track up to 30 events in each account. You can access the conversion tracking from the TOOLS menu.

Yahoo Search Marketing conversion tracking

You can get to Yahoo’s conversion tracking in the Analytics link section of the Administration tab. One “ahead of its time” feature that was lauded in the original Panama release a few years ago is its “Assist Technology,” which is defined here: “an assist occurs when a keyword has contributed to a conversion that was credited to a different keyword.” So, this way, if users click “TV” before clicking and converting on your term “Plasma TV”, you will see a conversion for Plasma TV and an assist for TV. This can be helpful to understand which keywords may be working, but just aren’t being attributed to conversions because they weren’t the actual last keyword clicked. You can read more about Yahoo’s conversion tracking and analytics tool here.

Microsoft adCenter conversion tracking

To get your conversion code from adCenter, click Edit Campaign settings from any ad group page. Under Conversion tracking, select the Track conversion check box and a code window will appear. For some really great info on MSN adCenter conversion tracking, check out Charles Thrasher’s 4 part series on the subject, starting with Part 1. That’s a really great resource found on the AdCenter Blog.

Demo of the week: SearchRev

I can hear some of you groaning: another SEM Bid Management tool, right? Wrong. I did a demo last week with SearchRev’s Jim Vetter and was bowled over by some of the unique approaches I saw with this tool. One of the more interesting methodologies is the way the tool offers features not available on the engines by creating seamless workarounds on the backend. For example, SearchRev lets you set different bids and rules for keywords based on individual geographic areas, departs, and even match types. Basically, you choose your options and SearchRev builds whatever new campaigns/ad groups are needed for all of those combinations.

The rep showed me a screenshot of the tool in action. So, you could choose different bids for the same keyword in Houston, Florida, and Boston, and the tool would create a new campaigns/ad groups for that keyword that is geotargetd to those three areas. For AdWords, you can even split bids between Google Search, Google Search Network, and Google Content and manage them side by side. This workaround obviously creates many, many campaign combinations in the engines. With an engine max limit on campaigns, SearchRev manages multiple accounts on the same engine to create the seamless front end single account. Jim said some of his clients require 15 or more Google AdWords account to hold all of these campaigns. I did the quick math, 50 campaign max on AdWords, so that’s more than 750 campaigns for a single account! Ha!

I was shown some case study results of conversion rates going up and CPCs going down, and I didn’t question any of the numbers. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in search, it’s that the more granular control you have, the more opportunities to optimize you have, which leads to better results. Just imagine… by setting a bid on a keyword at the national level, you may be in first position in St. Louis, 5th in New York, and 3rd in Orlando. That’s not efficient. As well, which creative works better for those markets…or different day parts…or on Google Search vs. the entire Google Search Network? SearchRev manages all of that for you.

You can check out their website for more info or request a webinar to see the tool for yourself.

Josh Dreller is the Director of Media Technology for Fuor Digital, an agency concentrated in the research, planning, buying and stewardship of digital media marketing campaigns. Josh can be reached at The In The Trenches column appears Fridays at Search Engine Land.

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

Related Topics: Channel: Search Marketing | Search Marketing Toolbox


About The Author: has been a search marketer since 2003 with a focus on SEM technology. As a media technologist fluent in the use of leading industry systems, Josh stays abreast of cutting edge digital marketing and measurement tools to maximize the effect of digital media on business goals. He has a deep passion to monitor the constantly evolving intersection between marketing and technology. You can follow him on Twitter at @mediatechguy.

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