Category Archives: SEM

Why Google is covering up its own ads

At first we were confused about why Google would launch a new feature in its search results that covers up the very ads that make Google money. Google’s new Instant Previews allow users (if you first click on a magnifying glass symbol) to see previews of the web pages you may click through to. It’s a very nice feature, potentially modeled after Twitter’s recent redesign, and is an obvious attempt to keep Google your main portal on the web. Google faces significant threats from mobile apps and social media referrals, and this summer Nielsen reported that U.S. total search volume had declined year over year by 16% — with Google use down 17%. So, yep, Google needs to play usability defense.

But back to dollars — why would Google block the ads that make it money with such a graphics feature? The preview window pops up to the right, covering all the CPC ads at the right of your browser window. Blocked view, no clicks, no Google ad revenue … right?

And then we thought, perhaps Google is being even more clever. Remember, it costs you most to bid on the No. 1 ad spot at the top of the search results, with every subsequent spot on a Google results page costing less. The new preview interface covers up only ads in positions 5 or higher — while the top 4 sponsored links, the most expensive and thus the most lucrative to Google, are still visible up top, uncovered by Instant Previews. So Google has now created an incentive for advertisers to bid higher on CPC ads to achieve positions 1 through 4, and to avoid the lower positions 5+ in paid search results, which could be hidden and thus achieve worse click-through rates.

Smart. Google has added a clever new feature to attract more users, while pushing advertisers to pay more to avoid being blocked on search results pages. Google has maximized consumer utility and advertising spending. Wow, Google. It’s almost like you’re optimizing us instead of search results.

And the feel-good campaign award for the holidays goes to …

… Oxfam America, for a brilliant, funny, charitable gift-giving web site. Google “silly gift” on a whim and the No. 1 pay-per-click ad is Oxfam, taking you to its web site where you can buy a camel for a country in need. Oxfam’s site makes charitable giving a blast, repositioning requests for aid as if you were purchasing a hot leather bag or pair of sneakers for a loved one. We love this idea, and how it integrates Google SEM with strong creative and simple web usability.

When you make a donation at Oxfam, your friend receives a gift card showing the “item” you purchased — say, a camel or sheep or emergency rescue kit or school uniforms. A donation for that amount goes to Oxfam, and eventually to the people in the world who need support. So much cooler than just giving cash.

Note how visible the customer support number is at the top right of the Oxfam web page. Take that, Amazon!

Paging Dr. Google: Why physicians need search advertising

About twice a month we get a phone call from a doctor wondering how to advertise her practice or hospital in her local area. She usually has a preconception — radio! cable TV! — and as our first step, if the medical practice has a small marketing budget, we recommend Google search engine ads. These Adword campaigns can be targeted locally (and agencies such as Mediassociates can run the campaigns using thousands of keyword search terms to drive down costs).

Alas, we usually get a skeptical response: Nope. Listen, I’ve been a doctor for 30 years, and I don’t believe that consumers will find me on the web. Or, Look, I already have a web site. Isn’t that enough?

Unfortunately, both answers are wrong. So we’re sharing, again, the Pew Internet & American Life Project’s study on how U.S. consumers are flocking to search engines for health care information. Last fall Pew found that 8 out of 10 consumers with internet access use the web to research health care information, and of them, 66% of health seekers started at a search engine vs. only 27% at a specific health-related site. On a typical single day, about 8 million Americans are searching for health-care information online.

And then the data got really interesting. The table below shows what these consumers are looking for. Note the top category — specialty services, which are usually the highest-contribution practices within hospitals.

Some health pros recognized the trend early. Big pharma has gone DTC for years, with ad spending up from $700 million in 1997 to $4 billion in 2004. 2007 estimates are as high as $12 billion. Bariatrics programs in particular are very aggressive on Google. But we know that inside the board rooms of hospitals, skeptics still think physician referrals drive 99% of patient volume.

So we tested it. Back in February of this year, we ran a Google search campaign for terms related to radiology in a 15-mile driving radius of Ridgefield, Conn. Radiology is one of the health-care specialties that has supposed low consumer interest, and many hospital marketing execs will argue vehemently that only physician referrals drive volume. Guess how many times consumers searched for radiology in one month on Google in a 20-minute drive around one radiology facility? 18,000.

We invite physicians and hospitals to think beyond their walls, their web site, and their physician feeder networks. Yes, physicians give specialists referrals. Yes, your hospital probably just spent $200,000 to relaunch a fancy web site.

But many consumers of health care aren’t researching your specialty from a doctor’s office, and they are not typing in your hospital URL. They are sitting in their bedroom in front of a computer, thinking, Oh my God, I may have cancer, and they are punching obscure medical phrases in to Google to try to find help. It’s happening all around you, doc. Please get on Google and let these patients find you.

Forget $100,000 consultants. Redo your web strategy for 67 bucks.

Back in the day, web sites were mysterious, and marketers had to hire consultants who could speak Latin for $100,000 a month to help draft a list of magical portal doors that would let every customer in the world in. Big PowerPoint decks debated web ROI with gravitas, and after a year of expostulation before the Board, maybe someone would boot up Photoshop and sketch a wireframe. If anyone doubted this process, an IT voice would whisper, “what about the CMS?” and naysayers would pale and quake.

We still know execs in their 50s who buy in to this baloney. (If you’re one, don’t read further. Just call us for a quote.)

For the rest of you, take a shortcut. Find sites you want to emulate. Then copy them. The great Seth notes that good web design starts the process, and if you just find a site you like — out of the kabillion out there — and tell your team to modify it, you’ve jump-started the process. Or, go to, download a fully loaded site like the one above for $67, and ask a 15-year-old to rewrite the copy and tweak the code.

What’s more important than sites these days is an Internet presence. The web isn’t your little star; it’s the entire constellation. Get yourself visible in this vast universe with the three modern lead funnels online: pay per click, search engine optimization, and direct links from other high profile sites to you. You can buy some of this presence with Google pay per click. But to really get noticed online, you’ll have to become relevant. Start a community. Enlist customer advocates to blog. Incorporate viral techniques. Make B2B linkages to your peers, your suppliers, and your clients. Make your site helpful, a commentary, a forum. In short: get meaningful yourself, and get connected to others.

We’ll soon relaunch our own agency site at We’ve hired pros, really good ones. (Right now, they’re drinking tequila in Mexico. No kidding.) Their designs rock, hell, they’ve worked with Janet Jackson and David Gilmour. But we still wonder … could maybe $67 have gotten us the new Web 2.0?

Why Apple isn’t green with envy

NY Times missed the mark today when it chided Apple for still having only 3 percent of the personal computer market — a failing, the Times suggests, given the iPhone buzz halo and Vista’s unpleasant idiosyncrasies. Microsoft messed the launch. Apple share ain’t climbing. The Times’ point: what gives?

Maybe it’s not PC market share Apple wants, but share of market entrant. Porter’s five forces model talks about competition as five pressures — direct competitors, downstream and upstream buyers and suppliers, substitutions, and market entrants. On the tilted table of technology adoption, where every gadget eventually slides into oblivion, entrants are what to watch for.

So, where is Apple looking? Follow the path of recent Apple design and you’ll see only four things: simpler mobility, interface, content distribution, and wireless. Untethering the masses from T1 lines and profiting off the passage of content into their pockets is Apple’s future; I don’t see a PC in my pocket soon.

Another way of looking at this is that Apple is investing in future market share, by setting up a parade of products that open the funnel for where consumers will be in 2009. They are not pushing desktops hard, just as they are not pushing horses and buggies.

Media planners or marketing directors might take note of this trend, and start testing at least 5 percent of their ad budgets on emerging internet or mobile advertising formats. The results today can be strong (SEM is still the lowest-cost lead generator in most industries), but you’ll also build a knowledge base about new formats for the future.

That way, when the wafer-thin glass Apple iScreen takes even more readers away from print publications and desktop PCs in 2009, your advertising strategy will be ready. (Watch for the iScreen here.)

The end of the world as SEM knows it

Holy devastation, ad man. A little add-on to Firefox called Adblock Plus is getting buzz in the blogosphere by allowing consumers to wipe off all forms of advertising from web pages. No more pop-ups, video-in-banners, refinance offers, or personalized text ads from Google. All gone.

What would happen if the gold rush of advertisers panning for consumers on the Internet went dry? Industry experts say web sites might have to make money the old fashioned way, by charging admission. Good news is it’s an add-on, and not many consumers like mucking around with web browsers that work fine already, thank you. Bad news is 2.5 million people around the world have downloaded it already, and adoption is climbing at about 300,000 to 400,000 users per month.

One intriguing scenario is that if ad-blocking software did take off, search engine marketing (SEM) on Google might become even more dominant over banner advertising on web sites. Consumers punching keywords into search engines will still want to see paid search results with the organic listings, because those little text ads match exactly what they are looking for. Banner advertisers and ad networks, with their very cool but intrusive behavioral targeting, might lose far more as fills up with lots of white space. And pity the poor newspapers, already hammered by falling advertising revenue in print, if their online slips too.

‘Course, ad-blocking may white out SEM too. I’d give you a link to the Adblock site, but frankly, I’m too scared.

Paging Dr. Who? Dr. Who?

Doctor who? That’s the question healthcare consumers will have if they can’t find you. We are constantly amazed by the number of healthcare organizations reluctant to use the Internet to help consumers find them.

By internet, we don’t mean your web site. Sites are great, and we love them. But web search is what brings home the bacon. Eighty percent of Americans use the internet to search for health information, and of these 66% of consumers begin at a search engine vs. only 27% at a specific web site. Specialists in elective surgery such as bariatrics have been the groundbreakers on the internet, but conventional wisdom inside hospitals has said that physician referrals drive the majority of patient volume, so why bother?

Hmm. We ran a few Google tests for supposed low-interest consumer categories such as radiology, and found 18,000 impressions on a test ad within a 15-mile radius in a single month. Pause. Think. Impressions in pay-per-click mean that the Google text ad was served up on the screen only after the consumer had typed one of several specific radiology phrases — MRI, radiologist, breast screening — into the Google search window. 18,000 consumer web searches. In one month. For radiology. Within 15 miles of a small town in Connecticut.

Conclusion: If you think physician referrals drive all healthcare decisions, you are wrong. The pharma marketers have known for decades that consumers make up their own minds (Purple Pill, anyone?), and hospitals and small-town practitioners are just catching on. The cheapest way to advertise to consumers is to catch them on Google, when they are already looking for you. Pay-per-click campaigns can be targeted to tight geographic areas and even single PCPs can test the channel for a few hundred dollars.

Harley takes the lead (form)

Draw a Venn diagram around marketing, sales and the internet, and the little overlap in the middle will be a dark hole called your web lead form. This is where most internet campaigns fall down, because most marketers ask too much.

Harley-Davidson gets it right. Punch Harley-Davidson into Google and you’ll end up at a tight lead form with only 6 data entry fields — not too much info to give, but enough for Harley to find out if you’re old enough to ride, what town you live in, if there is a dealer near you, and whether you’ve previously owned a bike. Harley generates a qualified lead, and you don’t feel overburdened.

Harley has some other nice touches — a free newsletter offer to entice you to complete the lead form, minimal graphics to distract you on the lead page, and a second page to complete more information (if you retreat from the next page, too late, they already know who you are!). Nice. Marketers with more than 6 data fields on a lead form should think about Harley, and how trimming back could boost lead volume.

The one thing you won’t see on the Harley-Davidson lead page is a sweet photo like the one at top — probably too distracting.

Lower your SEM handicap

Don’t believe the hype. The number one position is not always beneficial to a search engine marketing (SEM) campaign…it is often harmful.

The number one position statistically generates the highest average click-through-rate (CTR) among all other positions. Therefore, on an unlimited budget, your campaign will most likely gain the maximum amount of clicks when your ads stay atop the sponsored listings (left-side listings, of course). This seems to be a great piece of information; however, let’s face it: simply driving traffic to your site means absolutely nothing if your end goal is to convert these website visitors to sales or leads (conversions).

Position numero uno often lacks when it comes to conversion rate. The reason: prospective customers/clients often “feel out” their options before they commit to a purchase or a lead form; the very nature of shopping. Before purchasing, searchers are very likely to visit several sites by clicking multiple paid ads during the pre-buy information gathering stage. For instance, if you were in the market for the new Titlest driver, would you go ahead and buy it on the first site that you clicked on? Not a chance. It is not until you find the most competitive price with free shipping that you commit to duck-hooking and/or power fading yet another over-priced driver.

Much like finding the right driver, finding the right ad position (sweet spot) involves testing, testing, testing. Ad copy testing, although burdensome and lengthy, can dramatically lower cost-per-lead values and thus increase ROI. It is not worth doing…it is absolutely necessary.