89% Uplift from Paid Search Clicks

Popular article republished from my Back Azimuth company blog. The above is the headline of a nice shinny object that Google is dangling in front of marketers. One that is being used out of context and I am sure has resulted in significant money being pissed away in paid search. Now, I am not against paid search in any way – I think it is a great tool and works even better when it is in collaboration with organic listings. That is what I advocate – co-optimization. How do we make them work better together.

Over the past few weeks I have heard that 89% quote in four countries, at every conference and at least 20 times alone at SMX in New York. So where did it is come from?

This is essentially the findings of a research study released recently by Google employees titled “Incremental Clicks Impact of Search Advertising” that said the following:

A meta-analysis of several hundred of these studies reveals that over 89% of the ads clicks are incremental, in the sense that the visits to the advertiser’s site would not have occurred without the ad campaigns.

Immediately this was translated by the market place as the following headlines in articles and blogs with the first being my favorite “doom and gloom” heading:

  • “Danger – STOP Paid Search Advertising & Lose Up To 89% Of Your Web Traffic!”
  • “89% lift when Paid Search is added to Organic Search”
  • “Studies show search ads drive 89% incremental traffic”
  • “Paid Search delivers 89% more traffic than organic SEO alone”
  • “Google Study: 89% Uplift from Paid Search Clicks”
  • “Google: Search Ads Drive 89% Incremental Traffic”
  • “Google Research Shows Paid Search Ads Get 89% More Traffic Than Organic Search Results”

Google went on to create an “idiot proof” Paid Search is Great video that showed that in some cases 98% of the traffic

For those of you that actually read Google’s study other than the half-assed paraphaseing blogs you might have noticed the “your mileage may vary clause” in the last paragraph of Section 3:

A low value for IAC may occur when the paid and organic results are both similar and in close proximity to each other on the search results page. This increases the likelihood of a user clicking on an organic result as opposed to a paid result.

Close proximity occurs when the ranking of the organic result is high, placing it near the paid results. Organic results triggered by branded search terms tend to have a higher ranking on average and this may lead to a low IAC value.

Matt Van Wagner scared me for a moment with the headline in a recent Search Engine Land article Google Study: PPC Ads Do NOT Cannibalize Your Organic Traffic fortunately Matt was not another Google fanboy and strongly suggested that people actually test the data. As I mention on my personal blog, New Venture Announcement – Voice of Consumer Data Management System I have done a few surveys and found only a few people actually combining the data and doing anything with it.

Brad Geddes has been talking about this the longest and a recent post on his blog goes into the mechanics of doing the testing of paid vs. free clicks. I had already added this specific testing into my tool and it starts to show some very interesting results.

One of the biggest reasons I found as to why people don’t do it is it is too hard to do for most.  In Brad’s post he simplifies it but what if you have a lot of keywords?  This is one of the key elements that I have built into my tool. I have only found a few companies that even know if they are ranking for key paid listing.

Below is a screen capture from my tool that shows that for the 20 most expensive words by Cost Per Click they did NOT rank on even on the first page. In this case, yes, Google’s study holds true – if you have no exposure in organic search then the only exposure you will get is from paid ads.

In this case they are paying $10.00 or more per click, their highest CPC and they are not ranking well.  We can’t even get to a collaboration scenario until we have the organic rankings.   This company was not aware of this problem since they were not looking at the data collectively.  Immediately after learning about this they went to work optimizing the pages to try to get these to rank better.  In a few cases, there were not important and they reduced their average CPC.    This is the opposite reason people use PPC – to make up for the shortcoming of their organic performance. Maybe they can redo the study and show what happens when they have organic rankings.

To help companies understand once they have an organic ranking and a paid search rankings what is happening.  I have built into the application a simple ROI calculator. For your PPC Loyalist and Co-Optimization Haters – yes there is no message context or any other variables other than the fact this word had a negative ROI.

In the example below, we have a keyword that everyone thought was performing acceptably well.  When we actually do some analysis we see that it has a negative ROI and is loosing the company $11,825 dollars in the current month the the organic term was generating $6 million.

To be fair, we can look at a positive ROI example where the paid and the organic have generated a positive ROI.

In this case organic still does out perform PPC but PPC has a positive ROI. In further tests when this PPC ad was day parted to appear less frequently, Organic did not pick up the additional clicks. This showed us that in this specific case, paid and organic were collaborative and having paid search resulted in incremental visits and clicks.

There are a few things you need to do and consider when looking at the analysis.

You don’t have to do all of your keywords.  You should decide if they are the brand name, branded product names or if they are general category or specific non-branded words you are looking at.

The tests you want to do are the following:

What happens when we have paid only?  This is a good test to do before you optimize content and do not have an organic position.

What happens when we have organic only? You can day part of pause the paid search for a period.  Most of the times a few days or a week is sufficient.

What happens when we have paid and organic? Once you rank well you can start the comparison.  This will tell you what is happening when they are both together.

We are NOT trying to eliminate paid search for all words.  Only those words there there is not an incremental lift if clicks.  If we turn off paid search and all or most of the clicks and conversions that went to paid increase the organic clicks and conversions then paid is NOT complimentary but cannibalistic.  If the clicks and conversions do not increase we can assume that they are collaborative and simply un-pause the paid ads until you can do a message test.

The point of this is just test it and see what is happening.  If you want to better understand our analysis tools send us an email and we would be glad to give you a demo.


New Venture Announcement – Voice of Consumer Data Management System

Hi again, it has been way to long since I updated this blog and has been for good reason. As a few of you know I have been heads down developing a system to data mine keyword and social media data. Yes, I know the subject name sucks – any suggestions? What seemed like and easy thing to do had turned into a total beast and development feat. I am here to day that we have accomplished most of the phase 1 specification and are now ready to realize as a commercial product. We we will add features in 3 phases which I will talk about in more details later.

More information is at http://www.back-azimuth.com – if your interested in it ping me and we can do a demo and maybe make you a beta client.

For now the application does the following:

Aggregates all of your keyword related data into a single repository stored on the cloud. Then allows you to quickly identify critical issues and missed opportunities.

Why did I do this? Over my years in search marketing one of the biggest challenges have been to manage keyword data. At IBM I built a keyword de-duping application just to find and manage duplicates between 30 business units doing paid search.

Only until we had this tool did we know that 21 business units were all bidding on the same keyword phrases. Last year working with a large multinational in Europe I asked them for their keywords and it took 8 days and I received 21 different Excel worksheets from the Search manager that represented their words. In another case, a multinational with thousands of products only had selected 25
keywords for any optimization efforts meaning tens of thousands were going without any efforts. All of these led to my desire to create a tool that would eliminate problems.

Over the past few months I have conducted a few survey’s of companies and from this research I have identified a number of keyword management challenges.

Keyword Management Challenges:

  1. Companies struggle to manage keywords in Excel (99.8% of companies surveyed)
  2. No lens into collaboration of Paid and Organic data (99.87% of companies surveyed)
  3. No way to see where keywords are under-performing against KPI’s (98.75% of companies surveyed)
  4. No way to monitor if the “right” page is ranking (99.25% of companies surveyed)
  5. No way to understand keyword performance by category or buy cycle (99.98% of companies surveyed)
  6. No way to understand performance based on the Searcher’s Intent (99.98% of companies surveyed)
  7. No way to leverage searcher interest data to prioritize content in the organization (100% of companies surveyed)

If you want to add to the survey simply go and add your responses to the Keyword Management Current State Survey.

What can we do today?

1. Aggregate all of your keyword data into a single searchable repository with role-based login access by different roles in the company.
2. Conduct paid and organic co-optimization analysis – are they cannibalizing or complimenting each other.
3. Preferred Landing Page Analysis – is the page you “want to rank” the one that is ranking?
4. Rank Analysis – same as everyone else but we allow you to sort by priority words, line of business and any keyword cluster or classification
5. HitWise Integration – if you have a HitWise account we can pull in the API feed and compare HitWise trends to your actual data
6. Data mine and Report on any of 55 different keyword variables
7. Develop Searcher Intent and Persona Segmentation – using any of 50 performance or segmentation factors cluster keywords into logical segments
8. Store, sort and report on data across business units, lines of business or countries
9. Understand performance by keyword length, position and paid and organic assists
10. ROI Modeling based on multiple variables

What has been the outcome?
In my first generation I used Microsoft Access and Excel Pivot Tables to test the theory then moved into MVP “Minimum Viable Product” mode to quickly develop functions that allowed us to scale data resulting in the following success stories:

Success Story 1: UK travel site matched keywords to top ranking pages found less than optimal pages ranking – fixing just 5 pages resulted in $60k incremental revenue in 25 days.

Success Story 2: PC Maker found significant searches but no traffic for “End of Life” products that they had no web page representation for – They added new content and PPC campaigns generating $400k

Success Story 3: Fortune 50 company realigned keyword ownership and budgets based on segmentation analysis for maximum opportunity resulting in a decrease in PPC spend of 12% but 300% increase in sales

Success Story 4:
Travel site identified 50 keywords in top 5 position with less than 5% share of clicks – optimized snippets increasing click rates from 5% to 15% resulting in 85% increase in revenue

Where are we at today?
This is not a mainstream consumer site product. It is designed for a site with a large base of keywords typically more than 500,000 of them that want to get more out of the product. We are looking to develop a mainstream version of the application but seems those customers want something cheap, that does a lot of automated analysis and does not require them to think.
We are not quite thee yet and when we are we will roll that version out.

What is is not?

While the tool does a lot, it does not or will not do any of the following:

1. A bid management tool – there are plenty of them that will work great for you
2. A SEO Automation tool – there are plenty of them that will work great for you
3. A Search Analytic tool – sort of but does not replace Omniture, Google or Web Trends
4. Keyword Research tool – sort of since we can mine data but we typically are not looking for new words. Great tools like Keyword Discovery, Wordstream exist for this function.

The challenges:
Where do I start with this one – this project has taken every ounce of patience and sanity I could muster to not abort it along the way. Fortunately, I have been working with a great team at OC4 on managing this in the cloud. We have nailed most of the big issues and are just fine tuning.

Data Integration – The biggest challenge was integrating and managing the data. Readers, there is some messed up data out there. I found that there are a lot of agencies and people that should be fired for incompetence if not fraud. This was the biggest challenge of integrating the data. There are large volumes of it and we needed to suck them in and align them.

Data Clean Up – people use some crazy words to find your products and there is a lot of bot activity. We has to write a data import and cleaner tool just to parse log traffic data. Omniture does a decent job of sorting these into “Small Elements” but other tools do not. We had to develop a routine to process 286 different types of data contamination before we could import CSV files into the system. We had whole paragraphs coming in, multiple commas, and ton of scrapping strings looking for pricing or other elements that all had t be cleaned out. Not to mention beginning and trailing white space and other issues just to normalize the data. In one case there were 854 different misspellings of the company name which we leave in the tool but don’t necessary want to gather other data for.

Product Naming – Another big challenge is a name for it – My original concept was to call it “VOCDMS” – Voice of the Consumer Data Management System – but clearly that does not roll of the tongue so we are working on a better naming. We have thought to keep it aligned to Back Azimuth since that is still the foundation of what we believe – helping you get back to your consumer.

Development Teams
– I am now on the 3rd iteration of a development team. The current team from Exadel are awesome. They have fixed many of the bugs and problems from the previous India teams. I have tried local developers but they were way to expensive, too distracted or wanted a large share of the company while only offering mediocre skills.

Market Interest – This one has been strange – when I have told people about the tool they are skeptical assuming there is already one like it then realize or ask their teams to find they are like the rest of the companies using Excel or maybe a in-house database to manage it.

Whats next?
We have a few clients and pilots going now and will start to market the product to a wider audience by the end of the year. If you have an wish list items send them my way.

Ineffeciency or Effeciency of US Postal Service

I mailed my taxes recently and sent them with delivery confirmation. I went online to get the confirmation and found that the one I sent to Hartford which is 2 towns or about 8 miles from my house took nearly twice as long as the same first class envelop going to Oregon.

Note that the Oregon letter actually beat the expectation of the postal service.

Flight to Africa Rant #2 – Virgin Atlantic Missed Opportunity

In my previous post I mentioned I was researching flights. I had a buddy tell me he had flown Virgin Atlantic to the continent previously and suggested I check them out. So I went to “The Google” and entered “Virgin Atlantic to Nairobi” seemed like as simple and informative enough query. The results are horrific – rant below the image.

1. The paid listing to the right is total crap. I gave you a destination – why can’t you message to it. Maybe I would have free movies on my flight to Nairobi – well at least the London leg. This is why paid search fails so often.

2. The highest organic listing has a horrible snippet – I bet they got a gold star for ranking #1 with that. That is why you need to check the snippet. I click anyways and encounter another of my pet peeves – I am on the Nairobi page, from a Nairobi query – why would I want a flight from London to New York. Just a bit of coding would make life easier.

3. The #2 listing is a 404 error. Hello wasted opportunity.

4. The #3 listing is yet another 404 error – do I need to comment?

5. The #4 listing – wow – a special offer – but damn I am 2.5 years too late – why can’t it roll over to a new offer or a generic page – if anything should 404 it should be that page.

Flight to Africa via Los Angeles – Possible Milage Run

I have been asked to keynote an event in Kenya in June. Was looking at some flight options and trusty United thought a good route would be for me to do the following:

Fly from JFK in New York to Los Angeles
Fly from Los Angeles back to the east cost to Newark (the other NYC airport)
Wait nearly 12 hours then fly from Newark to Brussels
Brussels to Nairobi Kenya

Would be nearly 3 days to get there and a ton of miles but I think I may just do the Continental Flight and cut out the coast to coast adventure. Can’t be take some of the stupidity out of these applications?

Digital Marketing commentary from a global marketing road warrior.