SEM News, The Ultimate Guide To Search Marketing Optimization, & Broad Match Or Not?

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 and today’s in-depth look, The Ultimate Guide to Search Marketing Optimization Part 1, and To Broad Match or To Not Broad Match: That is the Question.

News from the search engines

Google AdWords: Pay Per Action beta phase out. A few weeks ago, you may have heard that Google was deleting its pay-per-action feature to create the Google Affiliate Network. This was the original announcement:

“As part of Google’s recent acquisition of DoubleClick, the Performics affiliate network is now a part of Google. To consolidate our offerings, we will be phasing out the AdWords pay-per-action beta, and the product will be retired on during the last week of August. Pay-per-action campaigns and all related data will be removed from all AdWords accounts the last week of October.”

So, if you have any CPA business in AdWords right now, it would seem that you should make sure to back up all of your data immediately…

A follow-up announcement on the AdWords blog unveils the next step: “The Google Affiliate Network, previously known as DoubleClick Performics Affiliate, has been in operation since 1998. Through the network, advertisers can open their ads to all publishers in the network, or select specific publishers that match their criteria. You can set a CPA for your entire campaign or establish custom payment schedules for specific publishers — such as a higher CPA for a particularly optimal placement. The Google Affiliate Network is currently a separate product from AdWords and AdSense. As with AdSense, publishers must apply and be accepted into the network.”

You can check out the home page for the new Google Affiliate Network here. I think this will be a very smart media channel and I’ve already signed up to learn more and get started.

Yahoo Search Marketing: Those of you who read this column know that I usually don’t report a lot of the search industry business news, but this Yahoo/Google deal is keeping my attention these days. Just like the rest of you, I’m trying to think ahead here to see how this whole thing is going to affect my business. Well, news of a recently released white paper by SearchIgnite caught my eye with its headline: “Yahoo!-Google Partnership to Raise Cost for Marketers, Keyword Prices on Yahoo! Could Jump over 20%.” (You can download the PDF whitepaper from their website after registering for free.) Basically, the 12 page report compares current keyword prices of the two companies and found that Yahoo may be able to maximize their return with the Google deal in place and effectively raise keyword prices.

This is only a hypothesis right now, but it certainly seems plausible that we might see something like this on the horizon. Google’s all about optimization and I don’t see them sitting back and not helping Yahoo generate more money for them if the potential is there.

Microsoft: Not much news right now, but I did find an interesting thread on their community site, “adCenter feedback & feature requests,” which has been started by adCenter Community Team PM, Carolyn Miller. She asks that you “let us know ‘why’ a certain feature is important to you, and if you have more than one request, let us know which would [be] higher priority than others.”

Many of the requests had to do with adding image ads and more Google-like reporting features. Here are some of the more interesting comments that all have some merit:

  • Increase the system speed

  • “Make the Remember Me button mean something. I’ve never had it actually remember me.” (ROFL! I’m with you there!) “Change geotargeting from ad group to campaign level.” (another good one)
  • If I can only create 20 ads in a group, is it really necessary to have pagination? Let me just see all 20 ads.
  • Tell me the time the performance data was updated, and not just the date. I don’t know if this would be possible, but it’d be nice.

For me, right now, the most useful new feature I could see would be a custom date field at every date drop-down instead of just “This Month, Today, etc.” Right now, you have to go pull a report when you just want to see a quick data point. Bah!

If you have any ideas or want to comment, please go to the thread and post.

In depth: the ultimate search marketing optimization guide, part 1: the basics

In last week’s article, I mentioned a post called the AdCenter Optimization Quick Reference Guide on the adCenter Community Site by Shefali Singla. It has some basic tips and tricks (albeit Microsoft specific) for optimizing accounts. I remember having something similar when I worked at a search agency some years ago, so I thought I’d expand upon that listing, make it more platform generic, and hopefully create a good checklist of things to think about when doing your daily optimizing.

A few best practices

First, some ground rules. These are some fundamental guidelines that I’ve found to be very helpful during any optimization.

  • The digital marketer’s mantra: test, optimize, then test again.
  • Make small adjustments… incremental bid increases or decreases in small amounts; only pause a few words at a time, not hundreds. Everything affects everything in an SEM account, so don’t overdo it and mess up other variables that are working well.

  • Use the scientific method or you won’t learn anything. In short, do your research, formulate a hypothesis, take deliberate and recorded actions, and then measure the results. In my experience, it’s almost better in the long run to be wrong but know why you were wrong than to be right by accident.

  • When looking at results, know what you’re looking at. For example, don’t compare Q4 sales with slow summer business or last month to this month if the website has been changed. Conversion rate, search volume, etc are all going to be very different. In the same vein, when trying to see what’s going on now, make sure that you’re always looking at what I call “the most recent version of the account.” That is, a similar time of year (no more than 30 days back) and when no major changes such as bids or budgets have occurred. I tend to only look a week back in time if I really want to gauge the health the account today.
  • Use a mix of intuition and data. You can’t be completely a data geek or completely a search marketing artist. You have to be both to be good at SEM.

Optimization settings available to you

Although it varies by platforms, the following are usual settings (or “levers,” as some call them) that can be affected. There are no good or bad switches. Performance and success of your campaigns depend what you’re trying to do and how these settings can help you.

  • Account – overall budget

  • Campaign – active/paused, geotargeting, language/demographic targeting, dayparting, daily budget, negative terms
  • Ad group – active/paused, keyword grouping, creative
  • Keyword – active/paused, bid, match type

Three basic optimization scenarios when conversion/goal tracking is a must

High CPCs, low ROI. This is one of the most common goals found in poor performing SEM accounts. Obviously, dropping max bids seems like the easiest and first choice. But definitely take some other steps first, such as only lowering bids on non-converting words, dropping bids slightly on your high volume words first to see if that helps, and focusing your match type from broad to phrase. Those changes will help you immediately. Another good thing to do is change your ad copy to pre-qualify users before they click and waste your budget by not converting. The goal is not traffic—it’s results. I remember on one campaign, we took the “cheap” modifiers out such as “sale,” “discount,” “bulk,” etc. Once we did, we raised sales immediately. I think that users who search on “cheap” terms may be doing a lot of research to find the best deal. Yes, you’d love all of that traffic, but you’d rather bring in users who are just looking to buy now, instead of investigating all of your competitors first.

Good ROI, low volume. So, you’re doing well… you’ve got some good cost per conversion metrics but you just can’t get enough of this traffic. Obviously, raising your budget would help. Spend more. But sometimes that’s not an option. Your daily caps are being reached and the volume on your current search words isn’t enough. Well, try expanding out your terms. In most analytics tools (or AdWords’ query report), you can find which queries from users are triggering your ads. It’s possible there are thousands and thousands of keywords that you just haven’t thought of yet. Also, check your impression levels. Are your keywords getting searched enough? If you were able to double your clickthrough rates, that would double traffic, right? Especially if your CTRs are below 5%, I guarantee you there is room for improvement. Never stop testing new angles for creative. You may even have good ads but they’ve just been active too long and your user base now has creative burnout. My tip is to try out new creative at least every week…especially if you don’t have time-based sales/promos which require you to switch them out regularly. One last tip: Increase branding with “top of the funnel” terms. Your potential customers/visitors may not know to even search for you. By laying a foundation of general terms, you may reach new users on tail terms later on.

Too much volume, no more budget available. Although it’s great to have tons of volume, it still requires optimization. Your accounts may be performing well, but you may be leaving money on the table by not squeezing more clicks out of the budget or running on words that are furthering your goals. Gap Surfing is a great technique in this situation. The goal is to find small position changes that have a major effect on your lowering your CPCs, which in turn lets you get more visitors to your site for the same amount of money. How do you do it? Very carefully. Slowly drop bids by a small percentage day by day until you find some of these great deals. For example, on a particular keyword, it may cost you $3 to be in 2nd place, $2.75 to be in 3rd, but only $.75 to be in fourth. Sure, dropping from 2nd to 4th will affect your CTR and possibly your conversions. But, you are getting 4 times the number of clicks on that word so you can afford to take a slight hit if you’re going to quadruple your volume. As well, you can use dayparting. Find the time of day/week that historically has the highest CTR and run on those times. Turn off your budget at low CTR times.

Next week, in Part 2, I’ll go through some engine specific settings that can help you fine-tune your optimization efforts.

Free tip of the week:

On AdWords… to broad match or to not broad match? That is the question. Many inexperienced advertisers fail to answer to the question—often to their considerable expense. Sophisticated search marketers may avoid broad match like the plague—or use it with (seemingly paradoxically) surgical precision.

Why? First let’s revisit AdWords’ definition of Broad Match:

“With broad match, the Google AdWords system automatically runs your ads on relevant variations of your keywords, even if these terms aren’t in your keyword lists. Keyword variations can include synonyms, singular/plural forms, relevant variants of your keywords, and phrases containing your keywords.

“For example, if you’re currently running ads on the broad-matched keyword web hosting, your ads may show for the search queries web hosting company or web host. The keyword variations that are allowed to trigger your ads will change over time, as the AdWords system continually monitors your keyword quality and performance factors. Your ads will only continue showing on the highest-performing and most relevant keyword variations.”

Although on one hand, broad match is great as it will help you serve ads to users who are looking for your product/service but just aren’t using queries that trigger your ads. On the other hand, it’s still just an algorithm (a.k.a. robot), so it can easily start showing you to users that aren’t interested in you. That drops your CTR, spends your budget on less qualified users, and can easily drop your Quality Score.

So, to broad match or not to broad match?

I did find an interesting blog post at Europe-based Foliovision that I’m now testing on my own accounts. What it proposes is to stop using broad match and rather build out your terms to every combination and then run on them on phrase match. You’re effectively doing something very similar. Yes, you will lose out on some users, but you may not only stop poor broad match results, but also find tail terms that provide lower costs and high returns.

Here’s the example that the blog author uses:

broad match: French DVD films

better with phrase match:

“French DVD films” “DVD French films” “films French DVD” “DVD films French” “French films DVD”

You can read his article, but I think this an intriguing solution and he does boast some pretty great results with this change. There has been some very negative criticism over AdWords’ use of broad match and not all of it is unfounded. Personally, I want to have more granular control over when my ads appear and this setting certainly works against that goal, not with it. I want to know the exact keyword that triggered my ads and optimize accordingly. Broad match may not be providing that.

Has anyone else used this technique with good results?

Next week, I’ll move into Part 2 of the Ultimate Search Marketing Optimization Guide and have another few tips and tricks to share.

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: SEM | Google: AdWords | 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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