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.

Five Options for Attribution Modeling With Analytics Engines

Analytics Attribution Modeling Spotlights

Man-outstretched-arms2Making adjustments. That’s the key to success, regardless of whether we’re talking about half-time adjustments in a big game or changes you make in your marketing plan. You have to observe, learn and adjust to what’s happening in your field of play.

That is what you will learn from our article “Five Options for Attribution Modeling With Analytics Engines,” a version of which initially was published on MarketingProfs (December 11, 2014), though its principles remain relevant today.

The objective of attribution modeling is to evaluate (by using analytics) what led to every sale—so we can replicate success.

In that post, we described five methods that command the most attention or offer the most promise.

  1. Last Click
  2. First Interaction
  3. Position-based
  4. Time-delay
  5. Linear

While “Last Click” used to be the only game in town, the rise of powerful – and often-times free – analytics tools like Google Analytics have greatly expanded the playbook for marketers.

Busy marketers often stick with what they’ve previously used. We get it. Learning and implementing a new model can take time. But the payoff is often worth the effort. For example, here are “3 Reasons to Drop Your ‘Last-Click’ Crutch.” When you’re ready to change your game plan, our previous post “4 Alternatives to Last-Click Attribution Modeling” also gives you guidance on choosing the model that’s best for you.

But never fear. Despite our admonishment to drop the “last-click” crutch, we let you know in “3 Tips for Managing Attribution Modeling” that it’s okay to use that crutch to prop up your analytics.

Today’s digital commerce is complex. In turn, smart marketing dictates that you make adjustments and invest your budget dollars where they will do the most good. We believe our tips will help point you in the direction of success.

Why Mom’s Advice Applies to Video Marketing

Analytics Attribution Modeling Video

Think of mom's advice when doing video marketingMoms love to toss out quips to keep their kids in line. Funny thing is many of them apply to marketers just as much as to children. (And let’s not read too much into that!) One Mom-ism you’ve probably heard is “It’s not that I don’t trust you, it’s that I don’t trust everyone else.”

She might as well have been talking about marketers who are hanging out with all the “cool kids” running video marketing campaigns. You shouldn’t blindly jump in just because they are. Do they know what they’re doing? And if their marketing spending is making a difference?

We previously looked at the explosive growth of video search. With video accounting for 64% of all Web traffic – and growing – clearly there is a huge opportunity. But opportunity alone isn’t reason enough to leap into video.

To be effective, at least at present, you need to be sure your attribution modeling is in place so you can judge the success of your paid video search. Start there, especially if your product or service is more of a considered purchase. You will drive more value throughout your campaign if you spend time upfront to understand your buyers and build models that help you know what’s driving their actions.

It’s also important to be patient with your campaigns. The downside of consumers viewing content when and how they want is it could take a while for your videos to be discovered and viewed by your target audience. Again, this is another good reason to ensure your attribution models are in order, so you won’t pull the plug too soon.

Once you have your attribution models set, should you immediately press the “on” button and recline with a bowl of popcorn and your favorite beverage? Maybe… maybe not.

To video or not to video

Essentially, there are three ways you can proceed:

  • Wait for the right time for you and your customers
  • Proceed slowly and cautiously, at a pace that avoids major gaffes
  • As quickly as possible; the Internet moves so fast, any mistakes will be behind you quickly

Which is the right way to go? Mom would say “I don’t know” is not an answer. And she’s right. Actually, any of them could be correct.

If you are an industrial or B2B marketer, and video isn’t prevalent in your industry, you can probably afford to wait. Particularly if you don’t currently have any video assets and your customers aren’t demanding that you get some.

If you are a retailer, or sell products or services through direct response, right now is a great time to get involved — especially if you already have some video available. The market is primed and the competition level is relatively low. You can “own” video search for much less than it might cost for text-based search. Even if you don’t have video right now, however, there are specialty companies that can help you develop some quickly – and at low cost.

If your organization is risk-averse, proceeding slowly might be the best bet. Try video on your website and gauge the reaction. Use your Google analytics to monitor how often your videos are viewed, if visitors are staying through them and if they are going from one to the next. That will tell you whether your content has the potential to work on a broader scale so you can expand into channels such as YouTube. (See my previous posts on quantifying the effectiveness of campaigns and using session metrics to learn more about insights you can gain from your analytics.) Even if you make a few missteps, the learning effort will be worth it, and those errors likely will be forgotten quickly.

Remember Mom

“Everyone else is doing it” wasn’t a good reason when you were a kid, and it’s not a good reason now. Having a solid business reason for launching a video search campaign – and the mechanisms to manage its effectiveness – will drive greater success in the short- and long-term. And make your mother proud.