Google Conversion Tracking Issues

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The constant benefit of Search as a direct marketing channel is its ability to track every penny spent on advertising, and to see how much of a return you’re getting on your marketing budget. It allows a new generation of marketers to turn their practice into an investment instead of an expense, which is very helpful when managers see a softening economy and view marketing as an easy expense to cut back on. However, what if the key piece of tracking in a search campaign–the conversion tracking code provided by the engines–is flawed? Even worse, what if it’s just unreliable?

Note: The issues portrayed in this posting impact people who run on more than four accounts simultaneously

Recently I discovered through some contacts at Google that their conversion tracking is not as strong as I originally thought it was. If you run a modest account–which the vast majority of advertisers do–then you are fine, as this problem doesn’t impact single accounts. However, if you’re like me and run multiple accounts on the same engine, then this pertains to you:

Google conversion code becomes unreliable if you have more than 4 (four) pieces of conversion code on the same page. Let’s be careful with how we define reliability. The conversion code won’t stop working. It also won’t stop reporting conversions. What could happen is that conversions could start getting double-counted, and if you have it set up to import revenue data into your AdWords reports, that data will also get double-counted. This will make your accounts look a lot more successful than they really are. To understand why it’s an issue, keep in mind that Google and Yahoo conversion cookies last 30 days on a searcher’s computer, and MSN’s code lasts for 7 days. If a searcher comes back to your site within that cookie window, any additional conversion actions will not be registered as a new conversion, but a new transaction within the original conversion. Now let’s look at why this is an issue:

Let’s say you run a website that sells apples and oranges. Since you have so many keywords in so many campaigns, you decide to have two separate accounts: one for apples, and one for oranges. You access both through your umbrella My Client Center account, also referred to as the MCC account. One day someone clicks on your ad and buys a couple apples. Then two weeks later they go to Google and click another one of your ads for oranges. If they then buy an orange, the sale will get registered as a conversion within your orange account AND a transaction within your apple account. The problem is the searcher now has two conversion cookies on her computer from your separate accounts.

Why Google sees an issue with four accounts and not two, I’m not quite sure, but now you understand where the underlying problem is. So how do we fix it? There are a couple options:

  • Separate order confirmation pages: If your system can handle it, you may try having different order confirmation pages based on the items purchased. This is easiest if you have specific sites that separate your apple sales from oranges sales, but I’m told from IT people who know a lot more than I do that it’s possible within individual sites as well.
  • Use Analytics Tracking: Google has a modified analytics tracking that will allow them to import adWords cost data from multiple accounts into one Analytics account. You can then use filters inside adWords to separate the costs from the different accounts. (More on this later in the week)
  • Be Selective with how you use conversion tracking: If you’re running a TOMA or other brand awareness campaign in a separate account for budgeting purposes, do you really need conversion tracking activated? The bidding strategies used for such campaigns are usually based on position and CTR more than ROI, so you probably don’t even need to really track it. And if you do, use Analytics with your destination URLs tagged.

If you’re concerned that you might be receiving inaccurate data I would suggest using Analytics as your primary goal tracking and take the conversion data in the Google account with a grain of salt. This post will be updated over time as I get new and updated information from Google.

The 7 Handiest Excel Equations for PPC

Excel is undoubtedly the most important program I use in conjunction with my PPC work. It’s the Swiss Army Knife of online tools where I build my keyword lists, write my ad copy, prep campaigns and ad groups for uploading, and the center of my analysis of historical data that my campaigns have produced. I have to assume that others use it as often as I do for these and other tasks, so I thought this would be a good time to go over what I consider the most useful tools to use:

Concatenation When I first learned to use this tool several years ago I asked where had it been all my life! This allows you to combine the information in two cells together into one additional cell.

=CONCATENATE(A1,B1)

To automatically include a space between the words in each cell, you can include a space using quote marks between the two cell numbers, so the equation would look like =CONCATENATE(A1,” “,B1). This is best used to combine two groups of words for keyword generation

Character Counting If you’ve done anything in search you know that the character limits in search engine ads are brutally short. That’s why you have the LEN counter to help you:

=LEN(A1)

This will tell you how many characters are in the designated cell. I usually set my ads up in three rows, each with a len equation, so I can play with any of them as needed.

Trimming There have been numerous times where I’ve spent much more time than it should have taken trying to format the ideal piece of ad copy to fit within character guidelines only to later find out I had an extra space or useless character taking up room. Using the trim equation will remove all of them and leave only one space between words, and remove any unneeded spaces at the beginning or end of the cell.

=TRIM(A1)

If you duplicated my character counting example in Excel, you’ll notice that the second description line (I Love Writing PPC Ads. Don’t You?) is actually 34 characters, with an extra space at the end. If you put the trim equation in C3 for A3, the LEN count in B3 will drop to 34 characters instead of the listed 35. Try it!

Left/Right Trimming Instead of removing all floating spaces regardless of position, this formula removes the dictated number of characters from either the left or right side of the cell. This is handy when editing URLs, where part of the cell stays constant, but other parts need to be removed.

=RIGHT(A1,2)

=LEFT(A1,2)

The formula will remove the number of characters stated after the comma starting on either the right or left side of the cell, depending on which formula you use. For example, if you have a URL that looks like /p>

Word Counting Word counting is good as an analysis tool to see how many words within a keyword string perform best. I go into some detail on how to use it here.

=LEN(A1)-LEN(SUBSTITUTE(A1,” “,”"))+1

This will return only a number. For example, if your keyword was “White car”, then this formula would return a value of “2″. If your keyword is “New Used Car”, then the formula would return a value of “3″.

VLOOKUPs Vlookups–short for vertical lookups–are probably one of the most powerful analysis tools, since they allow you to compare data for the same source cell to different entries within a table of data. In search, this is usually comparing a keyword’s performance over a given length of time.

=VLOOKUP(A2,$F$3:$J$247,3,)

There are some very important issues you need to be aware of when using these formulas:

  • The first entry (A2) is your source cell, or most commonly your keyword. If you have the same keyword in multiple match types, you’ll need to concatenate the keyword and the match type so the two are in a single cell, otherwise you won’t get correct data. Be sure to concatenate your data the same way over all data periods.
  • Do not forget to include the dollar signs ($) in the table field, which is the group of numbers between the first and second commas ($F$3:$J$247). If you forget the dollar sign, your data table will move down with each new Vlookup. The dollar signs keep the data table static.
  • The number between the second and third commas is the column number in the data table that you want to retrieve the information from. This includes the column with your source data! Count by starting with the column your source data in as column 1, and count over the number of columns until you come to the data you want to see.
  • Don’t forget the last comma after the column number. The help section states that this comma is used to lookup a range in the value, but in all honesty I have no clue what that means. All I know is that it works well with the comma and doesn’t work well without the comma.
  • Be sure to use Excel’s formula help section to understand how to best use this formula for your specific data.

Proper Statements It’s always good to have proper punctuation! This formula will capitalize the first letter of each word in a cell, which I think is the most attractive formatting for ad copy text.

=PROPER(A1)

Using the formula will turn a sentence like “this is a ppc headline copy” into “This Is A Ppc Headline Copy”. After the cells have been PROPER-tized, copy it and right click on an empty cell. Select “Paste Special” and then “paste values” to turn the text from a formula result into editable text. Then you can make the minor adjustments like capitalizing all of “PPC” in the example, and maybe making the “A” lowercase for proper formatting and grammar.

Do you have some other tricks? Share them with the group and spread the knowledge!

Updates Coming Soon

I’ve been a bad blogger, and for that I’m sorry.  The site is still active, and will be back to normal updates again in the near future.  Between my day job, and planning a wedding, I just haven’t had time to write like I used to. 

My bride-to-be and I are headed off to a tropical beach with umbrellas in the drinks very soon.  You can expect to see regular posts again around the middle of June. 

How to Compete with Bigger Advertisers on Popular Keywords

One of the most frustrating things I can imagine while managing small PPC accounts is getting priced out of a keyword that has the potential for a lot of traffic and lots of sales. If you’re in that situation, there are ways to compete by getting maximum exposure and going beyond Google’s quality score. The secret: Advanced day-parting.

The original purpose of day-parting was to let advertisers turn their ads off when they don’t want ads within a campaign to be seen. This could be due to call center hours, or perhaps a drop in the conversion rate. Here’s a better idea: Use day-parting across multiple mirrored campaigns to make sure you get exposure at different parts of the day. Let’s walk through it step-by-step:

1) Go into Google’s reporting interface and run an hourly report regardless of date for a sufficient time period at the campaign level, preferably for a single campaign. Be sure to check the boxes labeled “impression share”A sufficient time period is usually at least 30 days, but possibly up to 90, depending on your conversion volumes.

Make Your Report Screen Look Like This

2) Export to Excel, and sort by hour of day. You should have 24 entries, ranging from 0-23. You need to look for a couple things:

  • At what hours of the day is your impression share lowest?
  • At what hours of the day is your conversion rate the highest?

Your impression share is what percentage of search queries are you getting for the keywords within the given campaign. Low numbers mean you’re losing out on opportunities. High numbers mean you show up often.

3) For example’s sake, let’s say that our busiest hours are 6:00-7:00am, 12:00-2:00pm, and 5:00-7:00pm on weekdays. For these hours we’d set our ad scheduling to look like this:

The above example is an extreme where you only run the ads during these peak times. However, if you’re using advanced day-parting also allows you to change your max bids during these different periods within a day. So if you know the 12-2 hour is where you’re going to make all your money, you can dictate that those bids automatically be raised any percentage over the Max CPC at the keyword level that you’re comfortable with. During the other hours of the day you can run the ads at a lower percentage than the max CPC, so you don’t get charged as much per click. Keep in mind that your average position will decline.

This seems pretty thorough as-is, so why use mirrored campaigns? For some really competitive keywords, you may not even last through this small peak hours to get the exposure you’re looking for. In those cases you need more than one campaign with different daily budget caps to make sure your traffic is getting spread across the times that you want, and not whenever Google thinks its best.

Expect to spend 2-3 hours of research per campaign in reports before deciding which hours are best suited for your campaign. Due to that time requirement, I’d recommend doing this on only your top 1 or 2 campaigns, and only if you see your daily budget being maxed out constantly, but can’t afford to raise it. Another good sign is when Google suggest that you should at least double your daily budget to get max exposure.

Remember, the goal is not to get more impressions or clicks for the sake of getting traffic, but instead to maximize conversions at peak times of the day. If you execute this tactic and you’re not seeing an overall increase in sales within a month or so, don’t bother with the extra management. Kill the test and go back to what you were doing originally.

Jumping on the Social Bandwagon

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you probably have heard about Social Media Marketing.  I’ve been experimenting by becoming active with lots of social groups like Digg, Sphinn, Reddit, Propeller, Facebook, and everyone’s latest rave, Twitter.

Twitter is a micro blogging platform that allows 140 character messages to be broadcast to all your followers.  It is exactly why I haven’t been blogging lately.  The ideas I’ve had for blog postings have often found their primary points condensed and published via Twitter instead of making it way here to the SERPzone.  I’ve heard from many other bloggers that there seems to be an inverse correlation to the number of Twitter messages (or “tweets”) to the amount of time spent on the full blog.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because many bloggers use it to collect data that they then use in their blogs.  I haven’t used it for that purpose much yet, but who knows what the future will bring.

The point is that I have been building a list of ideas for articles that I will be writing about in detail the next couple of weeks.  I want to thank all of you for sending in your suggestions and ideas for blog articles.  I will be getting to all of them as best as I can.

The Back to Basics series will be back in full swing in no time!  If you want to know what’s going on more often, feel free to find me on Twitter and strike up a conversation.  My Twitter handle is @doubleohd.

3 Unique Ways to Use Conversion Tracking

Conversion tracking is one of the most important pieces of the PPC puzzle, because it lets you track results at the keyword level. Ideally your site is also equipped with an analytics package that lets you see your site’s performance in a lot more detail to see what happens between click and conversion, but if for some reason it isn’t, here are a couple quick ways to use engine conversion code to get a little more information.

In order to keep your original data valid, I’d recommend a test of any of these ideas in a mirrored account (not campaign).

Basic Sales Funnel: Google allows for five different conversion code names. Add conversion code to every page of your checkout process or important conversion steps, making sure a unique named code is on each page. After a desired amount of time run an account report with each of the conversion types selected, and you’ll see each page leading towards your final conversion has fewer and fewer conversions. This is a basic sales funnel. You can use the difference in numbers between each page to determine where you’re losing people, and how to optimize the page to minimizing that right now.

Landing Page Testing: If you have a new page you want to test performance on (which you should do occasionally), you can use Google’s 3rd party tracking on that page to measure conversion rate on the new page instead of your current page.  Copy an ad within an ad group and modify the destination URL, and then compare conversion rates between the two ads.

Measuring Bounce Rates In case you’re not running analytics (and why aren’t you?) you could add the conversion code to every page of a website except landing pages.  What this will do is show you how many people moved beyond the landing page to other areas of the site, vs. how many people clicked on an ad, and then left the site.  Divide the number of conversions by the number of clicks, and subtract 1, and this is your bounce rate in a percentage.

When performing any of these tests, keep in mind the difference between the number of conversions and the number of transactions.  If you run a report, make sure the “transactions” checkbox is checked, as this will tell you how many additional conversions got counted from the same person.  If a visitor comes back to your site within 30 days on Google or Yahoo, or 7 days from MSN, any other actions taken will still count as 1 conversion, but multiple transactions.

Back to Fundamentals

Go Seahawks!

Today I was reading an interesting article on the blog Search Insider, discussing the issues with companies and agencies have when trying to hire people for SEM work. Its number 1 requirement for people who can succeed in search is knowing the fundamentals of business and marketing. It provides what I think is the ideal metaphor for this situation:

Fundamentals are crucial; there are countless examples of less talented athletes whose success came from being grounded in fundamentally sound practices executed with discipline. Their reliance on fundamentals as their foundation is usually what creates their greatness.

That’s also one of the main reasons why I started the blog: Help people learn the fundamentals of search marketing. However, the fundamentals of this industry are still maturing, and everyone might have different definitions of what counts as a fundamental. So I’d like your help to figure out what you want to hear and learn about. Here are a couple ideas that I’m working on at the moment, but please feel free to add any to the list via the comments box. Nothing is too simple or complex.

Current Drafted Topics Include (in no particular order):

  • How to fully utilize conversion tracking for different business models
  • How to install Google Analytics filters
  • How to setup multiple Google Analytics web profiles for individual sites (and why)
  • How to analyze individual keyword trends over time
  • The best Excel formulas for PPC
  • Various ad agency pricing structures
  • Various Tool Reviews
  • ntgas-lowco2.com
  • Ad Copy testing: Part Deux
  • Listing of blogs I read on a regular basis to keep up-to-date in the industry

Reader feedback on importance of these ideas, as well as any submitted ideas will influence in what order I publish, so please be as open and honest as you want.  So, what do you want to talk about?

WARNING! AdWords Phishing Scam

Recently I got an email with an apparent letter from the Google AdWords team saying that I need to update my billing information that read as follows:

This message was sent from a notification-only email address that does
not accept incoming email. Please do not reply to this message.

—————————————–

Dear AdWords Customer,

Your ads have stopped running because we were unable to process your billing information.
To activate your account and start running your ads, enter your billing information.

In order to activate your account and start running your ads, enter your billing information.
Pease sign into your account at /select/login, and update
your billing information.

Once your account is reactivated and your billing information has been processed,
any your ads and campaigns can begin running immediately on Google.
———————-

The Google-AdWords Team

The link was even the normal Google login link, but when I hovered over the link, I saw the address was sending me to /select/Login.

Hmm…last time i logged in I don’t recall seeing numbers in my URL with a .cn extension. Besides the URL data, the page looked very similar, with the only difference being they built it off the account sign-up page instead of the current advertiser login page (slightly different wording).

This is a classic phishing scam, but instead of saying you need to login and change your bank password or your MySpace password, they’re asking for adWords passwords and billing info. If this happens to you, don’t login, but DO report it to Google.

From the time I reported this to Google until the time I’m writing this post (less than 24 hours) the site was already taken down, but I’m willing to be new addresses will be created with the same page. Please don’t give them any CC information or login information. Even with just your login they could put spammy ads up for drugs, casinos, porn, or other regulated industries that could get your account closed or punished. And that’s not including any of the charges incurred by you for any clicks those spammy ads get!

So… do everyone a favor and stay away from these scams and report any emails to Google. They have a lot more resources to go after these guys than us advertisers. After all, the best way to stop a scammer is to make sure he can’t profit from his scams.

How I Save Hours of Work By Letting Google Do Keyword Research For Me

I’m a huge fan of the search query report that Google provides in the reporting center.  It shows you the raw keywords that get multiple searches that generates impressions on your ads.  It’s keyword research that I don’t have to do myself, because it shows keywords I wouldn’t have thought to bid on and want to add, as well as keywords I’m inadvertantly bidding on that I want nothing to do with.

The downside is the data is arranged poorly, and can be hard to navigate through quickly to determine what is valuable information and what’s not.  So here’s a way to make quick use of this valuable report to find new keywords and negative keywords.  The research that once took me 2-3 hours to do extensively now only takes me 5-10 minutes.  Here’s how I do it:

  1. Go to Google’s reporting center and create a new report
  2. Click on the Search Query Performance Report, and set the detail level to the ad group for the appropriate time duration.  I typically do last 30 days.
  3. To save yourself time, only select campaigns and ad groups that are currently running.

After the report runs, export it into Excel.  The basic process the next steps will take you through is how to rearrange the data by ad group and search query volume using a pivot table, so you can look at the importance of each keyword quickly to determine if it should be added (if not included already) or added as a negative keyword. 

Where to Start - Organize the Data

Start by removing all entries that say “other unique queries”.  This is data we can get from Google Analytics, and won’t do much use today. 

  • If you’re using Excel 2007, you can do this by hitting Ctrl+H and typing in “queries” in both the “find” and “replace” fields. 
  • Instead of hitting “replace all”, hit the options button.  Then hit the format button for the “replace with” row and click on the tab labeled “fill”. Pick a color (any color) and hit OK.
  • Now hit “replace all”
  • Click on the data tab in Excel and select “sort”
  • Sort by “search query” in the left box, and select “cell color” from the middle box. Under the right box you’ll see “no cell color”. Click the down arrow and pick the color you made for the word “queries” and hit OK
  • Highlight all rows with the mouse by clicking on the numbers and deleting them.

Now we have usable data!

Building the Pivot Table

  • If you’ve never done this before, you’ll be surprised at how easy it is.  Start by making sure you erase any of the rows that have report heading data in it, like your account name, report name, etc.  We don’t need that.
  • Click on the “insert” tab in Excel, and click on “Pivot Table” once.  It should highlight all of your data with dotted lines and bring up a box.
  • Hit OK
  • An empty box will show up, along with a floating box called “Pivot Table Field List”.  This is the magic of the Pivot Table.
  • In the floating pivot table field list, click and drag the box called “Ad Group” to the “Row Labels” box, and you’ll see all your ad group names pop up.
  • Now click and drag the title “Search Query” and drop it into the Row Labels box as well, but make sure it’s placed below the Ad Group. You’ll see all the keywords pop up slightly indented with the Ad Group names in bold with a little box with a minus symbol (-) next to it.
  • Click and drag the impressions box over and drop it into the Values section of the floating Pivot Table Field List
  • Right click on the first impression value that is bolded.  Hover the mouse over “sort”, and then click on “largest to smallest”.
  • Finally, right click on the first non-bolded number that’s not associated with “blank” and again hover over “sort”, and click on “largest to smallest”

And you’re done!  Now you have your ad groups sorted by importance based on search volume, and the raw queries within each ad group sorted by impression volume from the most searched to the least searched.  Look for words that you don’t want that ad group delivering ads for and add it as a negative term.  Often times you’ll find that you’ll need to add keywords that you’re bidding on in one ad group as a negative in other ad groups to get the best results.

From the point of opening the downloaded report to where I have it organized to look for keywords, I can usually start finding good negative keywords to load via adwords Editor within 2-6 minutes (yes, I’ve timed myself). 

Now, if you want to do the same thing for adding converting keywords, all you have to do is uncheck the box next to impressions and check the box next to conversions. Follow the same sorting methods described above and you’re all set.  (You can also simply check the conversion box without unchecking the impressions box, but I find it easier to do sorting with only one field in the value box.

 

14 Little-Known Sources for PPC Traffic

Photo Credit: Reid Wolcott

There’s a lot more to search marketing and PPC than just Google AdWords, Yahoo Panama, and MS adCenter. Even though these “Big 3″ account for a vast majority of the traffic available, there’s still plenty of traffic on 2nd tier engines and other programs that the big engines offer. For some reason many of the conversations I’ve had with other search marketers involves them talking down about these programs. I think to myself “fine…stay away from them! Less competition for me.” Less competition means lower costs per click. Lower click costs means lower costs per sales. Lower costs per sales means more money in the pocket, and isn’t that the entire point?

To help navigate the options out there I’ve created a list of 14 traffic sources that charge on a CPC basis that you might not be familiar with. Check them out. Do some research. Run some tests. If they work, great! If not, close the account and move on.

Full Disclosure: I was not compensated in any way for the mentioning of any of the listed platforms. Their mentioning in no way acts as a guarantee of performance, and any tests run should be done so with a separate test budget that won’t interfere with what is already working for you.

Now that the disclosure is out of the way, let’s get on with the list!

Paid Inclusion

Paid Inclusion is one of the unintentionally best kept secrets of Yahoo. The service allows advertisers to have paid ads included in the natural organic listings. They look and feel exactly like organic listings, with only one way to detect them by a redirect link:

Yahoo Paid Inclusion Example

The only way to tell this Nextag link is sponsored is by looking for the RDRW1 seen after the double-asterisks toward the end of the link when you hover the mouse over the link. Another sign of an ad is the fact that the language in the description has a strong call to action and a bit too salesy for my taste. Regardless of my opinions, paid inclusion is an excellent way to get more SERP real estate on Yahoo to get traffic to your site. The upside is the CPC is flat-rate based on the category Yahoo assigns you. It varies from $0.10-$1.00. The biggest downsides are that there is no built-in tracking beyond simple clicks and cost figures, and not everyone can take part. Yahoo is looking for eCommerce sites with a deep catalog of products that can be included. For those who don’t qualify for paid inclusion, there is Search Submit Express. It’s free, but does little more than to tell Yahoo your website exists.

2nd Tier Engines

People write off lower-volume engines too quickly. Just as there is a long-tail with keywords, I think the there is a long tail with search engines and other media channels. Here are a couple of the engines that make up the larger part of the tail:

  • Business.com: Primarily intended for business-to-business sales, I’ve had some success with using it for consumer sites targeting bulk purchasers
  • Thomas.net: Ideal for industrial-based searches like machinery hardware, manufacturing, commodities, engineering, etc. If you sell to those types of companies, you should be here.
  • Looksmart: It has a lot of the same features as the big 3, but less competition means cheaper CPCs. Their content network has always performed reasonably well for me.

Shopping Channels

If you sell products on your site, try submitting a limited feed of your highest margin and/or best selling products to some of the shopping feeds:

  • Nextag
  • Shopzilla
  • Pricegrabber
  • Shopping.com
  • Yahoo Shopping
  • MSN Shopping
  • Amazon’s ClickRiver

Each of the links above will take you to an account sign-up page or info page.

Content Advertising

Just as Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft all have content networks, there are companies that do nothing but targeted PPC content-based ads. Here are a couple good content networks that you can buy links from to get traffic from all corners of the web:

  • Miva: It’s been around for quite a while, but Miva is a solid source of two content networks: One is the typical content network we’re all familiar with, and the other is a vertical network where you can limit the sites to specific industries or topics.
  • Quigo: Quigo hosts AdSonar, which allows you to advertise on any number of special interest or local interest via paid links in local newspapers, online news sites, and many others. CTRs are typically very low, but it’s great if you’re building a TOMA campaign.
  • Industry Brains: Industry Brains manages PPC links on hundreds of well known sites across the net. I love how their character limits allow for some detail, but refrain from the limit and keep it as brief as possible. Many of their other advertisers typically use all of the space, so by keeping your ads short, you’ll stand out due to a white space buffer.

Don’t be suckered into only going with Google because they have 70% of the PPC market. Even though Google is my largest source of traffic from a single site, I have been able to diversify my traffic using many of these sites and platforms. It increases volume, decreases risk, and often have less competition.

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