Category Archives: search engine marketing

Google use down 17%. Is tide of search going out?

If you’ve been having trouble lately with your Google PPC campaign, the table above explains why.

Search remains a vital part of any marketing plan, but shifts in consumer behavior are giving it a smaller slice of the media pie. Nielsen is reporting that the total volume of U.S. searches is down significantly year-over-year, with all searches down 16%, Google down 17%, Yahoo off 30%, and Bing making some gains. We noticed this trend back in February 2008, and it is rather obvious to anyone who has seen the rising tide of social media — with only so many hours in the day, time spent asking friends online what to do is time spent away from a search engine.

The solution is not to exclude Google, Yahoo or Bing from media plans, but to become sophisticated in how to make them work harder. Search is still the ultimate marketer’s dream — it provides people looking for exactly what you sell, and you pay advertising fees only if you get them to click. But search is also evolving into many other ways that consumers seek information — via video, friend recommendations, serendipitous Twitter or Facebook updates, product review sites, personalization, mobile proximity, location-based service Shopkick-type temptations. Rather than think of search as a PPC line item, think of it as a series of channels and modalities that people use. Then ask, how do we cover all the new search bases?

Via Dirk Singer, who gosh, wrote very nice things about us.

Google market share slips. Is its redesign backfiring?

Web stats go up and down, but it’s noteworthy that Google’s share of total U.S. search volume has plummeted since it redesigned its main page back in May. In April, just before adding bells and whistles to its search venue, Google led U.S. search volume with 71.4% share. In June, its share had fallen to 62.6%. Third-place chaser Bing is gaining fast, up from 9.4% to 12.7% of all U.S. searches in the same period.

(Update: Bloomberg tells us this data is based on two monitoring sources, Hitwise and comScore, and the shift may be a function of their different methodologies rather than a decrease in Google share over time. However, we’ll continue with this little post to let you see where it could go…)

Google received a lot of press for its redesign, a bold and risky move we believe was meant to make its search functionality “stickier” and thus increase Google’s ad inventory, sponsored link clicks, and corresponding revenue. Google is under immense threat from both mobile smart phones (whose users love push-button apps that avoid Google search altogether) and social media (Facebook crossed 500 million users this week and has become an entirely new ecosystem for users to share information, again without Google search). Search remains an incredibly powerful tool for consumers, but it seems the days of Google being the single portal to find information are waning as consumers tap new search engines, apps, and social media recommendations to find what they want.

Image: Massless

Google: Oh won’t you stay just a little bit loooonger

Web strategists are scratching their heads over why Google would risk redesigning its $23 billion search results baby, adding complex features such as subcategories and real time results.

We say it’s simple: The more complexity, the more likely consumers are to linger, the more likely they are to click on a “sponsored link” ad, the more likely Google is to make more revenue. It’s an inventory play, giving Google more shots at you as you rush through its doors looking for vacation deals, similar to weather web sites that force you to click through four pages to find a local forecast. More page options equal more ad potential.

Let’s do the math:

> Assume 10% of Google’s 268 million daily users decide to click on one more search results page before rushing off
> Assume also the odds remain the same on a second page that users click on a search ad
> Google gets a 10% lift in ad clicks.

Hmm. What’s 10% on $23 billion?

The risk, of course, is by adding complexity Google diminishes its utility which pushes consumers away. But similar redesigns, such as Microsoft’s Bing, have gained traction by making the act of finding stuff nuanced. And we bet Google has a fancy math formula somewhere predicting risk vs. reward.

Uberdesigner Jakob Nielsen told BusinessWeek, “People don’t want to use a search engine. They want to get away from a search engine.” Exactly, Jakob: Now it’s harder to run away.

Google hunts Big Business (while mobile throws the spear)

An editor we know noticed today that Google is running banner ads at the top of, enticing a corporate audience to click through and learn how Google apps can run their enterprise better. The “Go Google” campaign has been out since mid-summer, so it’s time to wonder: What in the world is Google thinking, chasing big organizations?

Los Angeles, for one. The entire city government announced Tuesday it has approved a $7.2 million deal to run Google applications via contractor Computer Sciences Corp. That’s right. Police officer and firefighter email and related web apps will now float off local desktops into the cloud.

Google, whassup?

Google makes the vast majority of its moola from advertising associated with consumer web searches. Even if it were successful in making a dent in Corporate America, selling apps to seats for small fees, it might get a minor uptick in revenues. So why chase the enterprise software market? We see five reasons:

1. Search is going down. Consumer search usage is slipping. Google constantly releases data showing paid clicks are up, but much of that comes from overseas growth. Click over to Google Trends and type in any common products or services, and you’ll see aggregate search volumes in the United States and globally are sliding in most categories. (Try it here: Punch in “flowers,” “diamonds,” “auto repair,” and watch the demand curve fall.) This is driven by consumer adoption of social media and online networking as a new, real-time, more-trusted way to find things. Search still works … but like three broadcast TV channels suddenly surrounded by thousands of new cable options, the triad of Google, Yahoo and Bing face stiff competition from your college buddy making recommendations on Facebook.

2. Businesses are market levers. To fight search slippage, Google needs a one-to-many sale. Business organizations are the easiest point of entry to get thousands of users re-enamored with Google free apps … and search.

3. Redmond will get mad. The “Go Google” campaign also hurts Microsoft. You know, that bad boy that just launched the oh-so-sexy Bing. Google can’t be happy to see Redmond finally out with a hot search product, backed by a $100 million ad campaign launch. So Google is slapping Microsoft back where it hurts, in the business software arena.

4. Business users love cell phones. Google is getting buzz. And who is out with a hot new cell phone operating system? Why, Google Android, popping the lid off the smoking-hot Droid phone. Buzz on one side (apps) supports buzz on the other (mobile).

5. And Google needs cell phones to survive. This is the final, most telling point: mobile advertising. Google’s biggest threat is from mobile, where smart phones now come with do-anything apps that provide hundreds of points of entry into the internet … all bypassing the traditional Google search engine. Log on to an app for weather or traffic or sports scores and you’ve likely just skipped over In addition, mobile screens are tiny compared to PC screens, so even if you do use Google as your internet on-ramp, there’s less ad space to sell. So Google needs to own the mobile space, and fast.

Four billion proof points

This is no idle threat. There are now more than 4 billion mobile phone subscribers in the world, compared to about 1 billion computers. Wall Street tech guru Mary Meeker just noted that by 2010 we’ll have 10 billion total gadgets with screens in the world … and most won’t have an interface that houses Google search windows on web browsers. Markets with the greatest growth potential, such as China and India, are leaping right over computers to cell phones which are more affordable, just as powerful, and fit into a peripatetic lifestyle. Human interactivity is moving past your old-fashioned computer, and Google’s core business — search with lots of text ads — works best on those soon-to-be-outdated wide screens.

So Google wants office workers to notice that Google is the place to go for apps, and mobile phones, and yes, search. Put apps and mobile together, and you’ve got a survival strategy. Go, Google.

He doesn’t use Google to search anymore

Back in February we reported Google Trends data showing search volumes declining for numerous common categories. In the past four years, searches for movie reviews, financial services, florists, digital cameras, cancer treatment and sexy lingerie are all down about 50 percent. Now Alex Campbell, a strategy consultant at DTDigital / OgilvyInteractive in Melbourne, posits that consumers are migrating to social media instead of search engines to find what they need online. He lists three factors:

1. “Social networks have dramatically expanded my network of contacts” who “share similar interests,” Alex says, so he trusts their recommendations more than those from Google.

2. SEO experts have killed their own game. “The SEO industry has transformed from ‘help Google index my site better’ to ‘how can I beat Google’s relevance algorithms to show people results they don’t want’.” The natural result is many common searches turn up companies that are not the most relevant, but have gamed their way to the top of the listings.

3. “The flow of information has changed,” Alex suggests. “In times past, I was always seeking out information through Google search. Now the vast majority of the information I am interested in comes to me, rather than me having to go out and find it.” As people become skilled in setting up human networks among experts with ideas they like, they build their own information feeds that often supplant Google.

The movie review test

Here’s a test. Want to know if “District 9” is a good movie? Here’s what Google returns; and here is what gives you. Which results provide a better feel for the film?

Alex is not predicting the death of Google, and neither are we. Search engine marketing, especially paid search, remains a powerful tool for marketers to share wares with the customers searching for them. We believe, though, that Google requires ever more careful management of paid search campaigns due to rising competition and diminished consumer interest. With only 24 hours in a day, it is obvious that Google will reset at a lower search volume … because people seeking information via human networks spend less time asking computer algorithms for help.

University teaches nonprofits a secret: How to get $120,000 in free Google advertising.

Google offers up to $120,000 in free annual advertising to qualifying nonprofit organizations. Surprised? So are most nonprofits, who often don’t know about the program — which requires filling out a simple AdWords grant application — and even when they do, they stumble. Do nonprofits spend the funds promoting their mission? Chasing individual donations? Courting corporate sponsorships? And how do they manage the nuances of bidding on thousands of potential Google search phrases?

A poorly thought-out campaign is a sad thing because if a nonprofit doesn’t get enough Google clicks, it will miss some of the $10,000 per month in free funding.

Eastern Michigan University professor Bud Gibson is bridging this nonprofit knowledge gap with a unique college course. “The idea,” Bud says, “is to train students in running Google campaigns while the students also help nonprofits.” The EMU course instructs students over 14 weeks in managing real-world Google campaigns for nonprofits such as the National Kidney Foundation who have qualified for Google AdWords grants. Students are graded on a 1,000-point system, with 30% of the score tied to their writing five blog posts per week on successes or failures. A strong focus is put on A/B comparisons, with the motto “Always Be Testing.”

The landing page hang-up

The program has been rocking, with a catch. In the first winter 2008 session students produced nearly 3.8 million ad impressions and 85,000 clicks — or web site visitors — for nonprofits. But Bud’s students discovered a key obstacle: the lack of a well-designed landing page to speak to the different audiences and convert them to donors or participants. The students built new landing pages, but nonprofits “did not internally possess the skill to put the pages on the web,” Bud notes. Bud met with Google personnel to brainstorm a second course offering that would again have students work with nonprofits, but deeper into the web conversion funnel, installing tracking code on landing pages, running A/B testing for different landing page designs, and establishing a series of benchmarks for nonprofit performance.

So what should students learn to help organizations improve landing pages? Bud asked our agency for some ideas. We suggest:

– First, segmenting nonprofit targets to different demographics. This should guide every step of the online lead funnel (and multiple funnels can be set up). What is the demographic target? What drives their behavior? How should every step in the online flow meet their needs?
– Matching nonprofit services to each demographic. Most nonprofits have a range of services, from support groups to seminars to triathlons to awards ceremonies; which dovetail with the demo target?
– Matching nonprofit “offers” to each demographic. Offers can include information (whitepapers), savings (tax write-offs), altruism, competitions, and price framing. In direct marketing the “offer” accounts for at least 40% of the response. Nonprofit ad copy and corresponding landing pages should be specific about the offer that drives the desired action.
– Matching content all the way through each lead process (keyword term matched to ad copy matched to promotional copy on landing page).
– Matching Google campaign content to other nonprofit marketing messages. What’s going on offline? How should the SEM campaign support, and catch inquiries, from other advertising or public relations messages in the marketplace?
– Testing different contact structural options (phone, email, contact submission lead form, click to call). Banks, for example, are a low-interest consumer category that often use “click to call” systems to rapidly get web visitors on the phone with a service rep. This type of system might be beneficial for nonprofits trying to land large corporate donors. What is the range of response systems, and how can each be tested?
– Testing different contact design options (placement on page, size, animation).
– Testing landing page offers against each demo and keyword group.
– Developing a data dictionary (what data fields will be collected from site visitors, and how are fields prioritized?).
– Testing different quantities of data to be collected in lead forms. This is a potential minefield in achieving success, since organizations often want far too much data, and too many fields turn off web visitors. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama boiled their own web lead forms down to four data elements in the past presidential campaign, a sign that professional internet strategists know that less is more.
– Installing unique 800 numbers on landing pages. Typically 50% or more of responses from web campaigns come in via the telephone; calls should be tracked with the same isolation as every other ad component.
– Setting up measurement systems to assess call data. The three-digit prefix of inbound phone numbers can be matched to ZIP Codes for heatmapping of market demand, for example.
– Defining systems to collect and maintain data gathered through the web site. Where does the data go? Will it fit into a prospect database? Nonprofits that invest money or time in collecting information should safeguard it like any other valuable asset.
– Defining the operational follow-up procedures — a key area where organizations often falter, by not responding to inbound inquiries in a timely manner. Leads do no good if you take no action.

Bud, those are all the thoughts we can muster. If anyone else has ideas, please comment below, or learn more about EMU here and here.

Debating the ethics of SEO

Ad guru Bob Knorpp asked recently “Why do tech people hate SEO?” As you probably know, SEO stands for “search engine optimization,” a controversial approach to elevate a web site in Google search results by either stuffing it with content that Google may pick up on or creating inbound links from other web sites to make the content on the site appear more relevant. It’s all a bit of gamesmanship to put your brand somewhere it may (or may not) belong.

(UPDATE: SEO expert Michael Gray suggests that the description above is flagrantly inaccurate. For the record, SEO involves changing web site content, HTML coding, and relations to other web sites to allow content to be found more easily by search engines. Poor examples, or so-called Black Hat SEO, can include “keyword stuffing” or filling pages with tons of keywords to try to trick search engines, a naughty no-no, but if you read Michael’s comments in full below you’ll see there’s more than one way to skin an SEO cat.)

Bob wrote,

“Internet purists pride themselves on the idea that the Web is a world-wide leveling of the playing field. It is a place where anyone can rise to the top based purely on the quality of their thinking and expression. In-bound links and being part of the conversation online are benefits that are earned over time…

“SEO, however, ‘cheats’ that cycle. Thoughts and ideas that have no relevance or that may not offer the best solution can be transported to the top of the search results over-night. And frankly, that drives the tech community crazy.”

We responded,

“We have met the SEO enemy and it is us … because humans have a tendency to pollute every ecosystem, including advertising systems. We did it with phones (telemarketing, now almost dead), email (spam, now wildly annoying and ineffective), radio (Clear Channel once ran 12 minutes of spots per hour and killed ratings, then later retrenched to 9+ minutes with a ‘Less is More’ campaign to try to woo advertisers and listeners back), and now social media (think of bloggers shilling $500 Kmart gift cards to try to build link Ponzi schemes, throwing the beautiful names their mommies gave them out the ethics window).

“I write this not to say that any form of media is ‘bad’ — but rather, just as farmers who rush to herd their sheep into a common grass area to feed their own flocks might destroy the grassy commons, every individual’s incentive to be heard can destroy the greater ecosystem. What marketers usually fail to see, in their individual lack of self-control, is we *all* need a healthy environment for advertising to succeed.”

What do you think? Is it fair to try to manipulate the link structure of the web to make your own material rise to the top? Or is there a point where exploiting a networked system goes too far?

Photo: Hobo

Is Google search usage falling?

Something funny is happening at Google.

Organizations using pay-per-click Google ads are seeing costs rise, and to date the excuse has been increased competition. (Google ads are an auction-based system, and as more companies shift ad dollars online, even in a recession, the jostling pushes prices up.) Google reported healthy results in fourth quarter 2008 with $5.7 billion in revenue, up 18% from Q4 2007. “Search query growth was strong,” said Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google.

But Google’s rising revenue may mask that people are using its search engine less.

When we visit the search giant’s own Google Trends for assessing search volume, all signals are down. These graphs from Google show five years of search volume based on the average for the entire time period. We punched in a series of common phrases (see blue text at top of each chart) that people would seek online.

As the economy slowly entered a tailspin, search queries for “financial services” trended down — when you’d think people would be researching brokers. “Debt consolidation,” perhaps the hottest topic as people fear losing their mortgages, also declined after a peak of interest in 2006.

Love is perennial, but apparently guys searching for flowers are about 20% off since 2004.

Well, let’s see how tech enthusiasts are using it. Surely people researching shiny new digital toys would start at a search engine …

Or we could try disease. The aging U.S. population continues to age, and unfortunately cancer occurrences rise as people get older.

Last try. Sex. A human need. Let’s pick a phrase that might be queried by both men and women:

Aggregate use of Google for common search terms is fading. Why? Consumers continue to grow more comfortable with the internet and may not need a search front-door to navigate. If you want lingerie, you now know that Victoria’s Secret has a web site. And the shift of consumers to user reviews, blogs, Facebook, and user-generated video are hours not using Google.

Google remains the single most effective form of advertising media — because you only pay when a customer actively searching for your service clicks on your ads, and the costs to generate leads are still far below all other media. Even with escalating competition and slight decreases in demand, PPC Adwords must be part of most marketing budgets. But the trend is one to watch. Consumers are already moving to social media, and soon cell phones with tiny screens will be the main path online. Google is still the leader, but its pace is slowing down.

Sometimes with Google it’s flirtation, not a wedding ring

You didn’t marry your spouse on the first date — but didn’t that first kiss count? Of course it did. Online marketers need to realize the same and not just measure “the last click” when quantifying online advertising performance.

Web consultant Avinash Kaushik points out that marketers running paid search campaigns on Google, Yahoo or MSN need to evaluate search terms based on how they fit into the consumer purchase cycle. Some terms may appear initially to have poor performance … but be a required step to lure the customer to your door. He suggests:

1. Category keywords are used by consumers in the early consideration phase. These terms are typically numerous, have low costs per click, and low results in terms of conversion to leads or sales.
2. Category and brand keywords are used as consumers enter active consideration. Results begin to improve, but bids on these terms become more expensive.
3. High-cost brand keywords are dominant as consumers get close to purchase.
4. And so-called “conversion keywords” are the terms that consumers type in when they are most likely to submit a lead or make a sale.

His point is all the terms are needed to provide a sequence that guides customers from learning about you to considering you to actually buying. Marketers who hope to manage the entire process most effectively should examine metrics other than hard results; flirting may take more than a single click.