More than 100,000 marketers pay for ads on Google now, which may make it the biggest online media seller in terms of accounts.
Over the past three weeks, many MarketingSherpa readers have written in to share their results with Google's new ad option, so-called Content Targeted campaigns. We started to notice a discrepancy between the rave reviews Google's PR gave itself, and the actual data we got from users.
Last week we sent out a survey, interviewed experts and collected data for this Special Report. Hope you find it useful!
1. Quick backgrounder on Google's New Ad Option 2. Survey Results: Click rates 3. Conversion rates 4. Sherpa's recommendations for your campaigns 5. Watch out: Google Uses Opt-out 6. Research notes & useful links
-> 1. Quick backgrounder on Google's New Ad Option
On February 26th, Google let its AdWords advertisers know that they would be automatically getting extra ads on a new service, 'Content Targeted Advertising' at no cost until March 12th.
Everyone could try it out, and if they did not like it, cancel that part of their account. If they did like results, they would keep on getting these extra ads but at the regular cost (based on what they paid for clicks in the search ads system).
The concept of putting ads next to related content is not new. It is called contextual advertising.
Plenty of other companies, including Lee Enterprises, CMP's TechWeb network, YellowBrix, and even Google's competitor Overture, offer some form of contextual advertising against editorial content.
Historically, in general contextually-placed ads have gotten better click results than ads that were placed in other ways such as general run-of-site or run-of-network. Few people can speak to whether these clicks wound up with better conversions or not, because most marketers were not counting conversions until fairly recently.
Also, much anecdotal evidence in MarketingSherpa Case Studies reveals that text-based ads are winning over basic graphical ads online. Broadly speaking, unless your graphical ad sings and dances to attract attention (i.e. rich media), you are probably better off with text.
Taken together these two points, contextually served ads work and text-ads work, would indicate that Google's new Targeted Content Program would be a success, as long as they could be sure ads really matched the content (articles, newsgroup postings, etc.) they were displayed next to.
Susan Wojcicki, Google's Director of Product Management, told us for the Targeted Content program their tech team adjusted specs to ignore anything that was boilerplate and/or related to navigation. Presumably your ad would be displayed only on pages with actual content relating to your product or service.
The other factor that can make a break a contextual ad campaign's success is the type of content that ads are placed against.
Generally newsy, how-to, and highly targeted articles on niche sites tend to get far better ad clicks than newsgroups, bulletin boards, general interest sites, or stagnant info pages.
Unfortunately Google did not take this factor into consideration when designing the program. They chose the partner sites for contextual ads mainly based on traffic (sites had to have more than 20-million pageviews a month, which very few niche sites do) and "quality" which seems to mean being G-rated.
However, partner content sites ran the gamut from newsgroups to newspapers.
How well did ads work? Keep reading.
-> 2. Survey Results: Click rates
Google's Susan Wojcicki admits, "It's true clicks may be lower."
Most MarketingSherpa readers surveyed agreed vehemently. "My regular AdWords yield a 4-6% click though, the context AdWord ads yield a .001% click through, said one. "Click rates for the content-targeted ads are abysmal," reported another.
A handful of responders had equal or higher clicks with content ads. Elizabeth Karolczak of Oskar Consulting noted, "I got a lot more clicks but I have really weird keywords. I get .5% on AdWords and 4.4% on the content ads. My monthly costs went up pretty significantly."
Unfortunately Karolczak is in such a niche industry (content syndication and licensing), that the extra clicks turned out to be people who were looking for something else entirely. "I wasn't getting as good traffic as someone who has typed my keywords into Google." She cancelled the Targeted Content part of her Google account.
The number of clicks the average AdWords user may be getting from the Targeted Content program is still fairly low. Wojcicki says that although numbers vary by advertiser, generally "it's going to be less than 10% of your clicks."
Google's execs are searching out new content site partners aggressively, so that number will almost certainly rise. Still, Wojcicki remarked, "We are only charging for the click, and ads will not be disabled in any way for the lower click rate." (Normally, your ad would be cut by Google the minute it slipped under .5% click rate.)
Why should anyone fuss if click rates are lower? (Plenty of our surveyed readers are worried about this.) If all you are only being charged based on clicks, what is the problem?
By the way: Survey respondents reported the following general click rates across all the Google ads in total:
Given the breadth of industries and offers represented, this wide spread makes sense. Anyway, what really matters is: Are you getting a good enough conversion to make your clicks worth paying for?
-> 3. Conversion rates
Although Google's Wojcicki told us, "initial data suggests [conversion rates are] the same," she is about the only person we could find who expected Content Targeted ads to convert at the same rate as clicks from Search ads.
We suspect that, psychologically, readers and surfers may be generally in a different part of the sales cycle than searchers. Even if they click, they may be less likely to take that next step and convert to buying something or signing up for something.
Unfortunately, we can not back this with exact numbers for Targeted Content ad conversions yet because most people are not able to track them versus regular ads. Although many surveyed readers suspect conversions may be lower, few knew for sure.
We asked two experts who do have tracking software for their results so far.
Kevin Lee, CEO DID-IT.COM, who tracked conversions on behalf of several clients, said, "The results vary by client and industry, as well as other factors we could not identify. Overall we were pleasantly surprised by the quality of the contextual traffic, but do recommend that marketers measure for themselves, because there were instances where the conversion did drop significantly."
John Marshall, CEO ClickTracks, who tracked conversions on behalf of his own company's B2B ads said, "We can see big differences in the behavior of Targeted Content visitors. They spend much less time on the site (33 seconds) than regular AdWords visitors (79 seconds). They can't wait to get out of here."
He adds, "After one month we can say that on our own site, the Content Targeted advertising repeatedly leads to one specific action: The user clicking the 'back' button and leaving our site."
Why? He thinks, "people aren't in decision-making' or 'buying' mode."
Lesson learned: All Google clicks are not necessarily equal. You should track results to decide if it is worth investing in Targeted Content ads for yourself. The more niche (and possibly B2B) your offer is, the less likely it is your offer will match the profile of the general 20-million+ pageview sites these new AdWords are running on anyway.
Lee offered this suggestion for MarketingSherpa readers who do not know how to track Targeted Content Ads separate from regular AdWords:
"To separate out your content traffic, you need to use your log files or tag the content visitors when they arrive. For either, you need to examine the referrer. look at the referrer for "pagead.googlesyndication.com," and see not only the fact that the ad was a content ad, but also the original site where the ad ran. For example, from my wife's site log file (she is a psychologist): http://pagead.googlesyndication.com/search?output=cahtm &num=0&client=ca -burst2_bnr&ca_format=468x60&ca_random=1047344452796&q=http%3A//venusenv y.keenspace.com/main.html
All the information you need to tag (identify) a visitor as being from a content ad is right in that referrer."
By the way: Survey respondents who track conversion rates, got these overall rates for all of their various Google accounts (not breaking out Content vs. Premium vs. AdWords):
a. Marketers measuring a direct sale as a conversion (Note: These respondents as a group were 70% B2C):
Under 1% = 43% 1-1.99% = 17% 2-2.99% = 20% 3-4.99% = 9% 5% and over = 11% (mostly under 15%)
b. Marketers measuring a no-cost registration (or sign-up) as a conversion: (Note: these respondents as a group were 56% B2B)
Under 1% = 14% 1-1.99% = 14% 2-2.99% = 14% 3-4.99% = 17% 5% and over = 41% (mostly under 15%)
-> 4. Sherpa's recommendations for your campaigns
Keep using Google's Content Ads if:
a. You are seeking brand awareness. Especially for B2C (business to consumer) brands with broad appeal. The current pricing model means you may be getting a whole lot of impressions for a fairly low CPM (when you do the math and count your PPC that way) and at least content targeting does imply that your ad will show up on a page somewhat related to your business.
- and/or -
b. You can count conversions from these specific ads and your ROI is good enough for your needs.
- and/or -
c. You are getting so few clicks (and several dozen of our readers surveyed said they had not gotten any Content clicks at all yet) that it is not costing you anything, so what the heck. For now anyway.
Bail on Google's Content Ads for now if:
a. Your goal is to reinforce your brand's essence or positioning. You cannot control which sites your ads will turn up on at all beyond the "relevance" of content which may or may not be perfect. Brand positioning campaigns rely to a great deal on the media they appear in as reinforcement of your message. Showing up on any site that happens to have info on your topic is not good enough.
- and/or -
b. You can not measure conversions or awareness created by these ads, and you are spending what you consider to be a significant amount on them.
Plus, here are three more MarketingSherpa recommendations to improve your Google results of all kinds:
Recommendation #1: Send clicks to a specialized page whenever possible.
75% of marketers tracking conversions who sent clicks to specialized pages got a 1% or higher conversion rate. Only 52% of marketers tracking conversions who sent clicks to a general page such as their home page got a 1% of higher conversion rate.
That is a big difference. Pay attention to it!
Recommendation #2: Check your Google campaign management screen frequently, at least a couple of times a week, and tweak your campaign accordingly.
Over and over again, as we looked at respondents with the highest conversion rates, one thing was blatantly clear. As a group 33.5% checked campaigns daily, another 28% checked at least twice a week.
As a group, marketers with the lowest conversion rates, checked their campaigns far less frequently (43% checked only two) three times per month, monthly or even less frequently than that.
Recommendation #3: Track your conversion rates.
We were sad to learn that 37.8% of survey respondents were not tracking conversions from Google clicks whatsoever. Another 33.4% were tracking but only from all their Google clicks combined irregardless of search term or Google ad type.
19.3% of marketers said their goal for Google campaigns is "awareness" instead of conversions. They want people to click over and check out their sites but not to take any immediate action such as buying or signing up for a newsletter.
If you are in that pool of marketers, you should not consider yourself "off the hook" when it comes to conversion tracking. Instead, you should track clickstreams, visit length, and return visits, to determine whether those clicks really looked over your site and will remember it, or if they hit the back button and left ASAP.
At the very least, this data will arm you to defend your advertising budget the next time management questions it.
-> 5. Watch out: Google Uses Opt-out
Some marketers we talked to were unaware that Google was using opt-out for the new advertising, and that they would be charged for all clicks received after the two-week trial ended on March 12th unless they took action.
Google's Wojcicki said, "We sent them a newsletter, and it's obvious every time an advertiser goes to the online reports."
The problem is most people don't read every word of an email newsletter and as our survey showed, 27% of Google advertisers responding checked their campaign results less than fortnightly.
Marketer Bob Schnyder of ECD Inc who checks his campaigns twice daily and spends thousands each month on search marketing said, "What they don't realize as big as they are is they need to tell you many times more. To be honest I got something about it, and I looked internally when I log on to AdWords, but I didn't see the little button to stop it."
Michael Herman, Manager of Internet R&D for ChristianityToday.com said, "I assumed it was opt-in - that was my first assumption. They didn't do a good job of letting even us geeks know."
Andrew Goodman, author of '21 Ways to Maximize Your ROI from Google AdWords Select' said, "The opt-out is not evident on the main campaign summary page. It's not that easy to notice."
Our take on this: Google may be a beloved brand and a great place to advertise, but charging clients for a new service without proactively asking first is not best practices in doing business.
That said, Goodman and others pointed out that at least with Google you have the option to stop the Content ads. Overture, which many praise for better campaign reports than Google, offers no such option.
-> 6. Research notes & useful links
We collected much of the data in this Special Report by running a survey to a selection of MarketingSherpa newsletter readers who tend to be professional marketers working for mid-size corporations in the US, with a 60% bias towards B2B.
Although we sent the survey link to approximately 38,000 people, we asked that only marketers who had conducted a paid Google campaign in 2003 respond. 406 actually took the survey.
Admitting our mistakes. Two of the questions in the initial survey were set up incorrectly so answers were not always accurate. Luckily this bug was caught quickly and corrected. We did not include data from the "broken" answers in our results data because we did not want to skew results.
Last word: It is early days yet in the Targeted Content front, so no results can be considered complete or official. These are only indicators. Also, results from various industries and offers can vary so widely that no single set of data will every work for everyone.
That is why individual campaign measurement is so important.
We will return with further surveys in the future. Get yourself in shape now so you have useful results to share.
The views and opinions expressed in the articles of this website are strictly those of the author and do not necessarily reflect in any way the views of MarketingSherpa, its affiliates, or its employees.