This is a contributed post from Todd Mintz, SEM expert at 3Q Digital.
I love Marin’s bidding algorithm, and given the opportunity, I can write geeky, complex blog posts on its power that would confuse most of the folks on the bidding team. Since I do wish to contribute to this blog again in the future, I will refrain from doing so and focus my initial post on something super-basic that even Marin neophytes can implement and benefit from.
When onboarding a new account to the Marin platform, the project manager assigned to the account will stress to you that the system needs 30 days of data before Marin bidding can be safely launched. Since you’re likely a few weeks into the onboarding of the account, it’s tough to stay patient while continuing to rely upon lesser methods for bidding your accounts. Luckily for you, I’ve figured out a bidding technique that can be implemented immediately and doesn’t require 30 days of data.
For a while now, Marin’s system has been capturing Google Quality Score (and has recently begun to capture Bing’s). Smart marketers like Larry Kim have correlated high quality score to low CPAs. So, at a very basic level, we can use Marin to severely bid down low-QS terms while bidding up high-QS terms.
I divided my Google keywords into two folders: The Main Campaign and the Low-QS Campaign. All keywords with QS < 4 were placed into the Low-QS Campaign, and the remainder were placed in the Main Campaign. The Boost percentages here are good starting points but are somewhat arbitrary…different situations might require different percentages, and these numbers should be tweaked through the month based upon account performance
In 100% of the accounts I’ve worked with, this technique has boosted performance for the first 30 days of an account on the Marin platform. You can implement this hack while continuing to do all your other pre-Marin, non-automated bidding tactics. Once the 30-day mark passes, you can then do your full Marin bidding segmentation – though in all my accounts, I’ve kept the low-QS bucket. What’s really cool is that with Marin’s assistance, I’ve turned low-QS keywords into a profit center, which you’re not supposed to be able to do. 🙂
Please also note that Quality Score is a dynamic metric; certain keywords will rise out of the Low-QS Folder and others will fall into it. One needs to periodically update the distribution of the keywords in the folders in order to insure optimum bidding performance. Also, I have seen a correlation between this bidding technique for low-QS terms and an increase in Quality Score for many of said terms, though I’m not able to prove causation.
Good luck and feel free to add any questions or comments below!
Todd Mintz, who has been with 3Q Digital since March 2011, has worked in search engine marketing since 2000 and has used Google AdWords since it began. He also is very visible in the SEM social media space and is a curator/contributor at MarketingLand. He was one of the founding members of SEMpdx (Portland’s Search Engine Marketing Group), is a current board member, and writes regularly on their blog.
From time to time Google makes changes to the algorithms that calculate Quality Score. If those changes result in a drop in Quality Score, advertisers are negatively impacted; position is likely to drop and harm the click through rate. Maintaining the same position will likely result in higher CPCs, meaning fewer clicks and conversions within a given budget. Staying on top of Quality Score changes is therefore crucial, but we all know that manually running reports can be time-consuming.
Leading UK agency Croud’s mission is to make digital marketing accessible to all advertisers, regardless of their size and budget. They follow a strict set of best practices designed to keep accounts in tip-top condition. To monitor Quality Score, Croud set up a series of automated alerts using Marin Software’s reporting suite. It was through these alerts that they spotted a recent change in AdWords Quality Score and assessed the impact it had on their accounts. Google does not store historical Quality Score, so without Marin, Croud would not have been able to do this without taking the time to manually record data each day.
Last week, AdWords started reporting lower Quality Scores across many clients. Brand terms and high-volume generic keywords were affected most, and in some instances the drop lasted for two days. By being alerted to this change as soon as it happened, Croud was able to optimize their account accordingly to remain as efficient as possible and manage client expectations.
Of all the search publisher metrics available, Quality Score seems to always receive the most attention; yet search marketers have the least amount of visibility into how to effectively improve it and its impact on performance. What we do know is that every time a user conducts a search that triggers ads, a Quality Score is calculated based on a number of factors, including:
Notice that the first three factors on Google’s list reference performance history, even though the history of a keyword’s Quality Score is unavailable within the AdWords interface. Instead, rather than showing different Quality Scores across time, Google displays a single Quality Score that provides an estimate of that keyword’s overall quality.
For the most part this is adequate—search marketers analyze Quality Score at individual moments in time to understand keyword relevance and performance issues. However, this one-off-style approach to analyzing Quality Score fails to provide insight into how search marketers’ continuous efforts to optimize campaigns impact Quality Score, either positively or negatively.
Whether it’s testing brand new creative or introducing additional negative keywords, improving a keyword’s Quality Score can lead to a lower cost-per-click (CPC) and a higher ad position. Changes in these two metrics can subsequently impact, among other things: CTR, costs, and return on investment (ROI). Unfortunately, the influence each of those best practices has on keyword Quality Score is frequently lost with time, especially within larger accounts. Imagine having to record the daily Quality Score for two million keywords affected by new creative messaging.
To understand the impact of optimization efforts on Quality Score, search marketers need the ability to trend historical Quality Score, against other performance metrics, over time.
For example, by trending Quality Score and average CPC over a 3 month period, search marketers can understand the exact impact on cost that comes from an increase in Quality Score from 6 to 8. Trends that include other metrics like ROI and conversion rate highlight the indirect impact that Quality Score has on conversion and revenue goals. Though the concept of trending Quality Score over time appears basic, many search marketers are unable to do so.
To see a demo of historical Quality Score and other advance metrics in action, please contact Marin.
Keyword expansion can take many forms. Larger paid search programs that lean heavily on click volume tend to expand on and add keywords in bulk, favoring scale over micro-managing. For smaller programs, or when expanding keywords based on a prioritized list, taking a more methodical approach often makes more sense. To ensure effective keyword expansion and proper search query matching, search marketers should leverage modified broad match keywords, create separate ad groups, and implement a focused negative keyword strategy.
1. Limit Irrelevant Queries with Modified Broad Match
For the longest time, search marketers relied on broad match keywords to capture converting traffic from long tail queries. Historically, this was how a keyword like “hiking shoe” would lead to expanded keywords like “mens hiker shoes” or “black shoes for hiking”. Then Google introduced modified broad match, which provides search marketers with the control of phrase match and the reach of broad match. You can now maintain keyword relevance and scale negative keyword research, without sacrificing the ability to drive conversions through longer tail queries.
To leverage modified broad match, add the modifier (+) to your broad match keywords*. As a result, each keyword token that uses this modifier must appear in the search query exactly or as a close variant; this includes misspellings, plurals, abbreviations and acronyms. Though click and conversion volume may dip slightly compared the same keyword on broad match, clickthrough-rate (CTR) should drastically improve. Furthermore, spend due to irrelevant clicks will decrease as Google will stop matching your keywords to synonyms and “relevant” searches. As always, continue to generate and mine publisher search query reports for irrelevant queries and add them as negative keywords. With modified broad match keywords, you should notice a significant drop in the number of irrelevant queries found in these reports.
*As a best practice, when adding modified broad match keywords, pause existing broad match keywords (rather than delete) and create new modified broad match versions. This will allow you to maintain historical Quality Scores should you need to revert back to broad match in the future.
2. Improve Quality Score with a Separate Ad Group
As you discover new longer-tail, converting queries, add them to new ad groups. For example, if the modified broad keyword “+hiking +shoe” expands to “mens hiker shoes”, add the new keyword on exact match type to a new “Mens Hiker Shoes” ad group. This allows you to generate ad creative specific to men’s hiker shoes, rather than relying on the fairly generic hiking shoes ad creative. Always generate new ad creative and incorporate the keyword into the ad as much as possible. If a higher quality landing page exists, be sure to leverage that as well to improve Quality Score. Introduce new keywords with an aggressive initial bid. A high average position and CTR will go a long way in establishing a strong Quality Score.
As more keywords convert, and are expanded upon and placed into their own ad groups, the original modified broad match keyword will become less and less profitable. Keep this in mind as part of your bidding strategy. Set appropriate goals for these modified broad keywords and continue to leverage them more for keyword expansion rather than hitting business targets.
3. Shape Traffic with Exact Match Negative Keywords
The most critical step when adding expanded keywords to a new ad group is remembering to add the exact match negative of that same keyword to the original ad group. In our example above, the new exact match keyword “mens hiker shoes” was added to the new “Mens Hiker Shoes” ad group. As a result, the exact match negative keyword “-mens hiker shoes” should be added to the original “Hiking Shoes” ad group. This forces Google to match the query to the exact match keyword, rather than the modified broad match keyword. In other words, a search for “mens hiker shoes” will match to the “mens hiker shoes” exact match keyword, and not “+hiking +shoe”. If the exact match negative keyword isn’t added to the old ad group, it’s possible that Google will incorrectly match queries to modified broad keywords based on a number of factors, including max cost-per-click (CPC) or Quality Score.
For additional best practices on keyword expansion and how to maximize keyword opportunities, click here.
For an introduction to competitive keyword analysis, click here.
If you’ve ever browsed through your AdWords account, you’ve most likely encountered Google’s pesky keyword status, “Below first page bid”. This estimate is based on your keyword’s Quality Score and competition, and is the bid you’ll likely need to set in order for your creative to show on the first page of search results. Though these keywords are active, they’re most likely missing out on a large chunk of impressions, and potential clicks and conversions. Since this first page bid is directly linked to Quality Score, marketers that regularly experience high first page bid estimates will likely benefit from improvements to their keyword’s Quality Score. Today we’ll review two strategies for decreasing your first page minimum bid.
When adding a new keyword, you’ll notice that Google automatically assigns an initial Quality Score. Whether that score is high or low, it’s determined by the keyword’s historical performance for other advertisers who have targeted that same keyword. As a result of this assigned Quality Score, your initial keyword bid might be below the first page bid estimate. As a best practice, be sure to check the status of all your newly added keywords and ensure that you’ve set appropriate bids that are above the first page minimum. It’s critical that marketers do this, since a keyword’s initial performance will dictate whether or not its Quality Scores move above or below the assigned score. Give your keyword bids an initial boost to help facilitate a higher ad position. A higher ad position promotes a higher click-through-rate (CTR), which remains one of the most significant factors in improving Quality Score. Once your keywords have established their own Quality Score, hopefully better than what was inherited, reassess your bids. With higher Quality Scores, your first page bid estimates will have dropped, allowing you to bid less for the same ad position.
For keywords that have an established Quality Score, decreasing the first page minimum bid can be a long and difficult task. In addition to setting an appropriate bid above the first page minimum, marketers must take the necessary steps to increase keyword relevance to promote higher CTRs. Create an organized campaign structure that promotes granular groups containing a highly focused set of keywords. In addition, generate relevant and engaging creative to support your keyword set. Finally, assign appropriate landing pages that focus on providing the best customer experience. These tried and true best practices not only ensure that relevancy is maintained from impression to conversion, but will result in Quality Score improvements and decreases to first page minimum bids.
For additional best practices on improving Quality Score, click here.
About a month ago, Google announced the global roll-out of an update to the AdWords algorithm that increases the value of landing page relevancy and quality when determining Quality Score. Google predicted with these changes, some campaigns would see variations in keyword Quality Scores and ad positions, but most would not see a significant change in overall performance. At Marin, we decided to investigate.
We sampled a population of 240 accounts across our Marin Enterprise client base that had limited average bid movements, consistent keyword counts, and consistently received greater than 1,000 impressions per day. For these 240 accounts, we examined the daily impression-weighted Quality Score at the publisher account level.
From the sample accounts, we observed 12 accounts with an increase in Quality Score greater than 0.25.
When taking a closer look at two of these accounts, we see the spike in Quality Score occurred on 10/2/2011 – 10/4/2011. Furthermore, there was little change to Click-Through Rates during this time, which suggests that the increase in Quality Score was related to the quality of their landing page.
We also identified 15 accounts that had a week-over-week drop in Quality Score of 0.25 or more.
After further investigation into four of these accounts, we see the drop in Quality Score took place between 10/2/2011 – 10/4/2011, with minimal change in Click-Through Rates, indicating these accounts had landing pages that Google deemed to be less relevant, adversely impacting quality.
What our investigation and findings suggest: