How to Medal in the Sprints of Search

Finish Line photo: Natursports /
Photo: Natursports /

Spring has sprung, which means track & field season is upon us. And that makes me think of how much competing for prime positions in search results is like competing in sprinting events. So often the margins between finishers in one of the medal spots – i.e., 1st, 2nd or 3rd – are so thin that using high-speed cameras to determine outcomes is common practice.

Just as sprinters at every level train for months, pushing themselves harder every day, persisting through pain to prepare for what may be one chance at glory, pay-per-click (PPC) marketers must continually plot, plan and tweak, tweak, tweak just to win a couple more leads or sales than their nearest competitors. And let’s be real, despite all the effort and sacrifice, few searchers will notice anything beyond those top three spots. Who remembers who came in 8th, 6th or 5th in a sprint? Even 4th place is an iffy proposition.

This reality is more challenging than ever for digital marketers this season as Google recently announced changes to its Search Engine Results Page (SERP) layout. Google has added one more paid search result at the top, bringing the total to a maximum of four while eliminating the side ad positions. The new SERP layout also has three ads at the bottom, but much like the sprinters who finish 5th through 7th, these ads will not gain the recognition of the top spots.

This significant change means there is now 30% less advertising opportunity on the page – from a maximum of 11 to a maximum of 7 – which makes winning one of those places on top about as rigorous for marketers as placing in a sprint race.

These changes also have another effect: They continue Google’s concentration on larger advertisers with significant budgets, as those are the ones who are in the best position to bid on coveted top positions. Small and mid-sizes businesses (SMBS) are less likely to be able to compete for those top spots — just as this summer in Rio Olympic sprinters from smaller countries will have trouble competing with the Big 3 powerhouse nations: U.S., China and Russia.

However, even if you are a “small nation” advertiser, there are a few things you can do to improve your chances of “medaling” in the sprint events like PPC and click-through rates (CTR). We will cover those in an upcoming series of posts, starting with a look at how to improve your strategy and targeting.

Solving Paid Search Mysteries with Analytics

Analytics Spotlights

ANALYTICS in PALMWhen analyzing the effectiveness of paid search marketing campaigns, many marketers turn first to key performance indicators (KPIs) like clicks, impressions and conversion rates. After all, if your campaigns are not reaching people and enticing them to visit your website, they are not working.

However, if you approach search engine marketing (SEM) like a skilled detective, you can discover many more pieces of evidence to prove what truly works – and doesn’t – in your paid campaigns.

In “Five Ways Google Analytics Turns You Into the Sherlock of Paid Search,” which originally appeared in MarketingProfs (June 19, 2015), I explain how to complement basic KPIs with analytics to gain richer insights. Using a tool like Google Analytics, you can go beyond seeing how many people you’re attracting with your digital marketing to understanding whether they are prospective buyers—people who have a need for what you’re selling, either now or in the future.

Google Analytics lets you examine kernels of evidence, such as bounce rate, average session duration and how well individual pages are performing, to convert site visitors to leads. You can even point a magnifying glass on cross-platform performance to see how campaigns compare across devices – a critical component in today’s omni-channel marketing.

Once you understand what is working at this deeper level, you can make more-informed decisions about your paid search campaigns. Using analytics will help ensure you’re relying on data rather than instinct—just as any skilled detective would do.

Discovering Your Hidden Paid-Search Sleuthing Skills

Analytics Spotlights

Retailers Eye Analytics - KeywordFirstThe process of sniffing out the right keywords that lead to strong, cost-effective leads requires the skillset of a top-notch detective. You must ferret out the right mix of short- and long-tail terms, scan for negative keywords to use, and determine the proper mix of exact match, phrase match or broad match. And you must do it quickly so you aren’t paying for prospects that aren’t likely to convert into leads and sales.

What you need are the super-sleuthing skills of Sherlock Holmes. The famous pop-culture character could quickly scan a crime scene, see beyond the obvious and, through his famous deductive reasoning, discover what was (at least to him) quite obvious and elementary.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could possess the power of Sherlock Holmes, so you could solve the mysteries of your paid search advertising? Actually, you can. And you needn’t don a checked cap or puff on a curved pipe – though you can, if you’re into that sort of thing.

MarketingProfs logoIn “Five Ways Google Analytics Turns You Into the Sherlock of Paid Search,” which originally appeared in Marketing Profs (June 19, 2015), I describe how analytics applications help you dig deeper into Web visitor behaviors to gain a better understanding of whether your paid search/digital marketing efforts are bringing the right prospects to your site.

In that post, you will learn how to examine the difference between the information you get from Google Analytics and what analytics packages add to the mix. Both tools can be valuable. But while most analytics packages come with a cost, Google Analytics is free. I put the microscope on the key performance indicators you can get from Google Analytics and help you determine if the best solution for you is, indeed, elementary.

Close Variant Matching: How to Know When “Close Enough” Is Good Enough

Close Variant Matching Spotlights

Horseshoes ClusterAbout 18 months ago, Google AdWords made a significant change in how keywords trigger ads. If you use Phrase and Exact Match ads, AdWords also now automatically uses Close Variant Matching. Previously, this was the default but you could – and many did – opt out of it. Now, that’s not possible.

What does this change mean and why should you care? We cover that in some detail in “Horseshoes, Hand Grenades…and Now Google Close Variant Matching,” which was originally published on The Social Media Monthly (February 2, 2015.)

The Social Media MonthlyBut the short answer is this change means your costs could rise and control over your keywords could drop – if you don’t actively manage your campaigns. For example, if you use “hard drive” in an ad group, it could be shown to people who search for “hardly driven” used cars. That’s not exactly an ideal prospect for you.

However, Close Variant Matching can be extremely beneficial to you by pulling in “hits” from people who misspell, mistype or fall victim to dreaded “autocorrect” errors. Close Variant Matching also accommodates abbreviations and acronyms, so you can gain exposure for some terms without having to pay for another keyword.

We explained this in the Google AdWords Workshop: How Consistent Evaluation & Consolidated Keywords Yield Greater Exposure with Your Prospects. You can review the presentation from that workshop below.

In many cases, “Close enough” might be good enough. That’s your call. Once you understand how Close Variant Matching works and how you can regain control over your Google AdWords campaigns, you’ll be in a better position to make the right decision for your business.

Want to Raise Your Google Quality Score? Shun the “Set It & Forget It” Mindset

Quality Score Spotlights

DONT FORGETTweak, tweak, tweak, tweak. If you want optimal results from your paid search program, that’s what you must do. Tweak, tweak, tweak, tweak.

You can build a successful paid-search advertising campaign using sound fundamentals, but you need to be willing to monitor closely and make adjustments continually – if you want success to last or increase. Tweaking for success will cause the Google Gods to smile down upon your ads and lead to better placements. We talk about this approach in “Want to Raise Your Google Quality Score? Shut the ‘Set It and Forget It’ Mindset,” which was originally published on The Social Media Monthly (January 21, 2015.)

The Social Media MonthlyIn that post, we explain the five factors that greatly influence your ad’s Quality Score:

  1. Click-through Rate (CTR)
  2. Ad Relevancy
  3. Keyword Relevancy / Campaign Structure
  4. Landing Page Relevancy
  5. Account History

In a recent workshop, we further described each of these factors and covered the three powerful ways you can influence higher Quality Scores.

  • Improve CTR
  • Improve Landing Pages
  • Build Quality History


While the algorithms that drive search results change frequently, these factors and techniques continue to be important in helping you achieve optimal success with your paid search program … as long as you don’t “Set It and Forget It.”

Always be tweaking.

Nuts & Bolts: Close Variant Matching

Analytics Close Variant Matching Nuts & Bolts

horseshoe and handgrenadeEach month, we plan to post an installment to our blog that delves into the nitty gritty of paid search.

For our inaugural “Nuts & Bolts” post, I’d like to share our Google AdWords Workshop from earlier this year. Following my recent 3-part series of posts focused on analytics, I feel this topic follows theme. Managing issues such as Close Variant Matching is an excellent reason to plunge into web analytics, gain a better understanding of them and then apply them to sharpen the strategy and execution of your paid search campaigns.

Retailers: How to Turn Browsers into Buyers

Analytics Retail Analytics

Retailers Eye Analytics - KeywordFirstIn the future, retailers won’t have to work hard to find prospective buyers. Every person’s purchasing patterns and “wish list” will be readily accessible as they stroll by a store or digital signage. Retina scans and other biometric monitoring tools will read the “digital exhaust” emanating from our bodies and instantly serve up dynamic, contextually relevant ads to each passerby.

At least that’s the future depicted in the sci-fi blockbuster “Minority Report.” But for now, most retailers understand they need to make the best use of data to identify and attract people through their digital marketing campaigns.

In an earlier post, I described how Google AdWords helps retailers quantify the effectiveness of their digital marketing efforts in driving traffic to their websites. My last post discussed the value of session metrics, like you can get from Google Analytics, in studying customers’ behavior during a specific visit to a website.

The goal, of course, is to discover which campaigns are turning browsers into buyers. That is where analyzing performance metrics proves invaluable. Whereas session metrics deliver information about customers’ behavior during a specific visit to the site, performance metrics can be used to gauge a campaign’s overall performance and the site’s effectiveness as a whole. Let’s examine two key performance metrics:

  • Individual page performance lets retailers track what visitors do when they are on specific pages, such as whether they click through to a third-party partner’s site. This can help retailers identify the pages they should lead visitors to the most and which are underperforming.
  • Cross-platform performance is important for retailers doing omni-channel, or multi-device marketing, because it lets them measure performance across devices. This can lead to insights about users who start their searches on one device and continue on another one, and it allows retailers to see how well an entire digital marketing effort is performing and avoid the trap of last-click attribution.

Using both Google AdWords and Google Analytics to track and analyze session and performance metrics, retailers can gain insights into which campaigns are most effective in generating real leads and increasing conversion rates. Or in other words—turn browsers into buyers.

Effective analysis can also help retailers improve branding campaigns by helping them determine the best words and approaches to use, based on performance results—even down to the page level. Understanding what is working at this deep level will enable retailers to make the best decisions about budgets, bids, landing pages, ad copy and other program elements. They can then target their dollars toward tactics that are working and cut back or remove entirely those that aren’t—even if they’re driving traffic.

In short, it will enable retailers to rely on data rather than instinct.

A recent Google report, cited in Advertising Age, asserted that 56 percent of digital ads are never seen. That means there is a startling number of ads that never even have a chance to attract prospective buyers to an e-commerce website, and it highlights the critical need to build paid-search campaigns honed by analytics.

The technology from “Minority Report” that allowed businesses to assail individuals with targeted ads might not exist yet, but with today’s analytics applications, retailers can use data to improve their digital marketing campaigns’ performance and attract the right prospects to their e-commerce sites.

Read more on our blog about how retailers can benefit from analytics and visit our website.