Scaring Up Fun on Halloween

Today is Halloween and it’s time to have some fun with scary costumes and treats. Kids of all ages love to go out tonight, visit with neighbors, see kids in costume, and paw through the kids candy loot looking for a favorite sweet snack.

I have triplet 11 year olds and if this year is like last year, each kid brought home a pillow case full of candy about the size and weight of a 20 pound turkey. This year they all vow that they will range farther in the neighborhood and stay out later in the search for massive quantities of sugar.

Usually my husband and I take turns minding the house and giving out treats and walking with the kids, but the kids have already told us that this year they are going with friends, in a pack, to be able to move faster, and get more candy. We appear to have been holding them back in their “Holy Grail” search for the home that provides the “biggest candy bar” or the most amount of candy as 8:00 PM rolls around. (For those of you that don’t live in my area 8:00 is when you start dumping the candy on any kids who come to the door so you will not have left overs that you will then have to eat yourself. We start out at 6:00 giving out two pieces to each child but by 8:00 PM it is fist fulls of candy.)

This year I have only bought the candy that my own kids like, not that I expect to have any left though. It is crazy that as much as we do give away, with three wide-ranging kid-candy fiends, the haul at the end of the night will be enough to make our dentist feel that they can now afford college for their youngest child.

I hope that you will have fun tonight either going with your kids, going to your own party, or just even staying home handing out candy. Happy Halloween!

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Great Web Design Does Not Equal SEO

A super great looking website does not equal a well optimized website!

I have found from experience that many excellent web designers simply do not understand the nuts and bolts of search engine optimization. An excellent, good looking website does not mean that your new site will place well organically.

Here are several things to ask your web designer to make sure that your are getting a good balance of design versus SEO:

1. State that you do not want text to be incorporated into your website as images. In many cases a web designer (due to control of elements) will create text with images. I particularly see this in titles above content. Search engines cannot read images and so you lose opportunities to include your keywords by a designer using images where they should use text.

2. Do not over use Flash. Flash is pretty, but search engines including Google still do not do a good job indexing all Flash websites. I cannot begin to tell you how many calls I have fielded from clients whose Flash website is not performing organically and who want my help to improve. You cannot search engine optimize Flash. One thing to think about is that Microsoft’s new Silverlight which is like Flash is search engine spiderable, but many browsers do not have Silverlight enabled at this point. Contain Flash only in your banner at this time for best organic performance if you must use it at all.

3. Make sure that your web designer understands how important the source code title tag is and the meta description tag is. If they do not understand your concern, your designer does not understand SEO. Sometimes to get the best of both worlds it is best to hire a super designer and then an SEO consultant who makes sure that the site architecture, images, file folders, and even page names are built around keywords. We do provide consulting services in this area if you have already selected a great web designer, consider using our consulting services to assure that your website has the best possible chance of top organic placement when it is launched.

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Top Web Design Mistakes You Won’t Want to Make

Based on over eight years of experience working at providing professional web services to business, here’s my top list of web design mistakes you won’t want to make.

1. Don’t let your web designer register your new domain name under their own company name. Make sure you own your domain out right.

2. Make sure you have all the details AND ownership of your web design project in a contract. It is important that you clearly outline and understand who owns your website. You may find out that you do not that you only own a license to use the site and only if the web designer is hosting and webmastering the web site.

3. Make sure that your website is transportable. If you are using Yahoo Web hosting or even Hostway for hosting, if you have built your website using their proprietary tools including their graphics, it is important to know that sites of this nature are NOT transportable to a new web host if you get disenchanted with services.

4. Do not package your web hosting fees with web design and webmaster services. In all cases where clients have asked us to do a review these co-mingled services always cost more than going ala carte. Make sure that you are not tied to your webmaster for future content updates. You may want to stick with them for a while, but have the option to leave if they become unresponsive to your needs.

5. Don’t move to a new web host unless you really need to. Many clients think that they should shop around for price and get the cheapest web host. You may actually pay more to move your site depending on the technology and scripting used to move than you would have saved from a cheaper web host and webmaster. Every client who we have helped to move has always said at the end “this was much more complicated than I had any idea that it would be”. Our recommendation is to stay where you are especially if you have an e-commerce store or database driven application unless there is a real reason to move. Remember that when you move a site like this EVERYTHING will break. Your contact forms, database application, secure socket layer, credit card processing will all need to be set up and tested all over again.

These are just a few tips to consider before you start a new design or look for a new webmaster for your project.

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Google Using Organic Search to Determine Cost Per Click Values in AdWords

Jeremy Chatfield of Merjis has said it best in this post detailing why some keywords in AdWords accounts will never generate impressions. Additionally he predicted on 9-16-08 some of the impacts of the 9-15-08 AdWords quality score updates would actually mean for advertisers. His predictions have come true. Read this interesting article on how he feels that Google develops the cost per click for brand new accounts before the ads even start to run in this post from his blog from trends in organic search.

I have gone back to read this post several times over the last month and feel that Jeremy has nailed what happens in AdWords and that Google uses trends and histories accumulated from activity in organic search to determine the value of a click in their network. If you have ever wondered why great keywords in your accounts will not show impressions no matter what you do, you will find the answers in his post.

Jeremy Chatfield is a leader in the Google AdWords professional account manager community. We became friends in one of the Google AdWords support forums (even before social networking). I think that you will agree that several of his key points deserve particular merit and consideration.

1. …in addition the PageRank derived algorithms, some kind of AI that collects information about clusters of words and their proximity.

2. [In regards to cost per click]…The weaker the synonym, the higher the very first (Initial) MinCPC you are offered.

3.  …When I see “$0.22″ in a new account, I immediately assume that it is the Initial MinCPC, just after the AdGroup has been made, and that the keyword is a close synonym of advert copy. If I see a $0.50, I assume a weaker synonym.

4.  …[On the Google Slap] When this happens with rarer searches, and a business depends on that stream, it can look as though Google has made a decision to pull the plug on the business. Impressions on a carefully chosen set of keywords can die to nothing, overnight. Phone calls to Google will result in denials of any changes to the system. But still the business is in the pits.

Transparency has not been one of Google’s strong suits and with the Google announcement that they make between 10 to 50 quality score updates a month (see this past Wednesday’s post) it has to be assumed that this is really all about profit generation and not improving the consumer experience in reality.

Google’s motto used to be “Do No Harm”. I now recommend that the motto be changed to “Get What You Can, Fool!”

Unfortunately we in the professional and advertising community have helped Google to control us in this manner, we jumped when Google Analytics was offered! How do you think that Google has leared the value of a click and the value of click through rate on websites, but by taking the proprietary information, that we used to guard closely, that they now harvest from Google Analytics, as well as trends in Google.com search activity and history from iGoogle and personalized search results to create golden handcuffs for us and to bleed us for cash in AdWords.

What is particularly unfortunate in this whole scenario is that there is not really a strong viable platform alternative to Google AdWords. If there was, then Google would not be able to exert the control that it does on advertisers and their pocket books. If there was ever a case to prevent Google AdWords ads from showing on the Yahoo Search network, this is it!

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Google Quality Score = Yield Maximization or More $$ for Google

I watch a number of forums and I wanted to post an extremely insightful quote from Chris Zaharias of Omniture, Inc. posted on the Webmaster Forum (used with approval of Chris Zaharias). The comment is indicative of the grab for cash that Google is doing when it comes the quality score updates and the lack of transparency into the workings of AdWords keeping advertisers at an increasing disadvantage in regards to paying a “real” market value for clicks.

On Google’s earnings call this afternoon a Wall Street analyst asked what effects the company saw from the AdWords changes implemented early September (1st Page Bid, no more Inactive KWs, real-time Q.S. calculation), and Jonathan Rosenberg replied that Google makes 10-50 (yes, *50*) ‘quality improvements’ *each quarter*. Two things worth noting:
1) If they have been and continue to make 10-50 changes to AdWords every quarter – and that *was* the clear implication from Rosenberg’s statement – then no wonder Google never fully explains Quality Score. They *can’t*, because it’s a yield optimization set of calculations that change frequently, do not necessarily hold true to what Google tells the advertiser community, and aren’t, in fact, all about ad quality;

2) I’ve listened to virtually every Google earnings call, and each time an analyst has asked a question about monetization improvements, Google execs have responded by talking about Quality Score and ‘quality improvements’. That QS and monetization are synonymous inside Google, coupled with 10-50 ‘quality improvements’ per quarter, together means that Quality Score is not the Newtonian, relatively stable system Google tells advertisers and agencies it is, but much more like a quantum particle whose traits can only be understood in terms of probability.

Probability –> Otherwise said, Google’s system is a real-time yield management system working on Google’s behalf. While publisher & advertiser interests being met feeds into the system, ultimately the system’s goal is yield maximization, and to that goal static explanations (like the ones we in the SEM community are always trying to get out of Google) are like straight answers on quantum entanglement = either you won’t get a straight answer, or the truth will blow you away. . .

So What? –> This means that advertisers and agencies need to ‘instrument’ their SEM efforts with a yield optimization system – working to *their* ROI goals and optimizing to better [=ROI] data than even Google has – in order to continue to thrive. Thrive, first in the yield-drive, fuzzy, world of Google, and thrive second in the wider advertising world – radio, TV, print, banner, etc – that Google’s more efficient system is bound to grow into.

IMO, we in the SEM community need to stop trying to get a static definition of Quality Score, as it will never come for the reasons stated above. Instead, we need to build our own yield maximization systems so that we know at all points in time the nature of the buying intent in the traffic we buy, and optimize our traffic buy and our sites (our businesses, ultimately) to our own goals. Do that and you can give as well as you get from Google.

The bottom line consensus from the community of professional webmasters and AdWords account managers is that Quality Score is a tool that Google uses to their monetary benefit. As you read this, you may consider that I may be overly cynical, but here is a clear portrait in five AdWords accounts and just a sampling of the “grab for cash” that this past AdWords quality score has caused in mature, top performingm high CTR and strongly converting AdWords accounts:

Client One – spends $3,000 per month in AdWords, August average cost per click $1.21, October average cost per click $1.79, that is an increase of 48%.

Client Two – spends $3,000 per month in AdWords, August average cost per click $.66, October average cost per click $1.05, that is an increase of 59%.

Client Three – spends $3,800 per month in AdWords, August average cost per click $3.12, October average cost per click $3.38, that is an increase of 9%.

Client Four – spends $800 per month in AdWords, August average cost per click $7.03, October average cost per click $8.19, that is an increase of 17%.

Client Five – spends $800 per month in AdWords, August average cost per click $4.13, October average cost per click $5.97, that is an increase of 45%.

Although Google has clearly painted this updated, done on 9-15-08, as an improvement to provide better quality ads to viewers and therefore improving the quality of their advertising network benefiting advertisers, in reality, it is clear that this is not the real thrust of this update. Based on our sampling of clients above we have seen on average an increase of 35% in the cost per click since this update. Overall we have seen from a 5% to 200%+ increase in our accounts.

I have to directly challenge Google’s view point that this recent quality score update, which has wreaked havoc for advertisers far and wide, was about “quality”, clearly it is about increasing returns for Google!

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AdWords Shows Activity From Search Partners

Just posted this last week on the Google AdWords blog was a note that AdWords will now show, in the campaign view, separate activity from the Search Partner network. You can read the full article and see a screen shot at the AdWords blog.

For many client accounts we do not enable Search Partners but now we have metrics that will help accounts to decide if this is a good or bad option for them. Previously any Search Partner activity was recorded in the Search activity.

Just what exactly is the Search Partner network and what does it consist of? Well according to Google, they hang the big carrot over your head encouraging you to be in the Search Partner network. Some people even think erroneously that the Search Partner network is Google.com.  Here’s what Google says about the Search Partner network:

Search partners include AOL, Ask.com, and many other search sites around the web.

What Google does not spell out here but any Googler at the customer service phone number will clarify for you is that any site, yes ANY site – even including Joe Plumber’s website, that has a Google search bar is included as a Google Search partner. Some good ones are Adobe.com, AOL.com, ASK.com, but also sites like AskDaveTaylor, Business.com, and others small and large. In fact if I used a Google Search box on my website, I would be considered a Search Partner.

Improving the transparency of activity from Google Search Partners is a very good thing as enabling your ads to be shown in the Search Partner network can be a big budget sapper and render some of your clicks to be of questionable quality. Now you will have a tool to help you decide if showing ads in the Search Partner network is good for you.

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