Last week’s announcement of AdWords Search Funnels is an imporant milestone, legitimizing and expanding the visibility, role, and in many cases capabilities of PPC revenue attribution.
Reviewing the basic features and watching the introductory video, it’s clear that the Google folks really thought about this and put a lot of time into the development of these features. They’ve brought and advanced topics to the masses of AdWords advertisers, and included new capabilities that do more – in some ways – than any other attribution system I’ve seen.
But in reviewing the basic announcement information, an issue came to mind worth thinking about before and separate from a detailed feature review.
Search Funnels Require AdWords Conversion Tracking
You can’t use Search Funnels unless your site is tagged for AdWords Conversion Tracking. This is also true of the Content Network View-Through Conversions, AdWords Conversion Optimizer, and other features.
Obviously, this is a reasonable technical requirement – they need to know about the conversion to make calculations related to the conversion.
But let’s say in public what everyone talks about in private – do you really want Google to see your conversion information? Does it hurt us collectively as advertisers every time someone shares their conversion information with Google?
Certainly they are using this data for good purposes in terms of these features.
But are they also using this data against you and all of us?
I often refer to AdWords as a game. It’s a game we play on Google’s board and against both other competitors and against Google.
And Google makes up the rules. They share whatever portion of the rules that they choose, and hide many others. They also get to see, in large part, your hand. They have tons of data that you don’t have. Don’t ever get the idea that anything about what is happening is fair. It’s unfair.
But you agreed to the rules and realities when you ‘decided’ to play.
So given that Google is making up the rules, taking your money, seeing your bids and clicks, setting your Quality Score, deciding when your ads are shown and when your competitors ads are shown, seeing when you make budget shifts, watching your CTRs raise or drop, and everthing else, do you really want them – your dealer and competitor – to know how many items you sell, and the amount of money you sell them for?
Here’s one fear: If they know you make a lot of money off of certain keywords, isn’t it possible that they decide you’re not paying enough for the clicks on those keywords? Might the minimum bid or quality score required to be on top instead of right suddenly or slowly rise?
We don’t know anything about how they decide how many ads to show on a specific keyword (some get none, some get 3, some get 8). We don’t know all the factors of quality score which drive our costs. We don’t know how they set the minimum prices for either eligibility for the auction, or positioning on top.
Do you really believe that directly or indirectly, all the ways they’ll study and process the info they learn from tracking conversions and revenue won’t impact the formulas that decide these things in the future?
Google: want to categorically state that it’ll never have any impact?
Here’s another fear: If they see that you really are making a ton of sales and revenue from certain keywords, might there not someday be a Google branded business that becomes a direct competitor to you?
The absolute fact is that as Google ads features and enters markets, there is less reason for searchers to leave Google and the creep of that progression makes it easy to envision Google Travel or Google Autos or Google Real Estate or Google Movie Tickets or Google Cell-Phones (oops, too late), or Google (paid) videos or Google e-books, or Google anything else. And if you’re Google, why not go into businesses you know are profitable? And for which you even know which keywords lead to profit.
About 80% of that seems highly unlikely. But you can’t look at the natural progression and expansion of the company and believe that all of it is. I’m clearly stating that most of that is a very paranoid view and one I don’t hold, but I can’t say exactly which sliver isn’t.
Anyone want to assure or guarentee what business segments Google won’t move into for the next 10 years?
Yes, We Benefit Too
Of course, each of us get great benefit from sharing the conversion data with Google. All of the conversion dependant features mentioned above are fantastic. This is the rub. This is why it is, or at least may be, a deal with the devil but a deal none-the-less.
The point of this post is to at least make you aware of the risk, of the issue, so you can include that information in your thinking and decision making process. It’s not a no-brainer.
In fact, the truth is it’s pretty darn hard to resist what they’re offering. But it’s easy to see why you should. I really think it’s a very tough decision.
The cards are stacked in Google’s favor. In many ways the features they’re providing with Search Funnels and Conversion Optimizer and View Through Conversions, and many more to come I’m sure are almost necessary to play the expensive game we’re playing.
And the fact is that as soon as one of your competitors opts-in, and Google has the data, they essentially may as well have yours. Being the last hold-out probably doesn’t accomplish very much.
On the other hand, I’ll make a highly charged and sensationalistic analogy in the interest of controversy that may drive blog traffic – it’s a little like buying oil that we all know finances our enemies. You don’t want to do that, but you don’t want to walk to work either. Tough call.
The Way Out
As a final thought, I’ll offer a solution. Google could share via their API all the info that third parties (like ClickEquations) need to provide these same capabilities using our non-Google conversion tracking. Today they use proprietary and secret data that we don’t have, so we can’t offer fully competitive features.
For example, ClickEquations already includes powerful attribution and many of the capabilities just released in Search Funnels. But they can show funnels based on impressions and we can’t. If they would just kindly make keyword-level impression view data trackable by us and our competitors, we’ll be happy to offer similar functionality. The same is true for view through conversions – we can’t offer it because they don’t make it technically possible.
Google has a history of addressing these issues via increased openness. Slowly but surely. Their opt-out tracking capabilities for users, and the Google Analytics opt-out plug-ins currently being tested come to mind. These aren’t exactly the same kind of requests, but I’m writing this realizing that Google probably would consider and eventually will share this data with us.
They Have The Right
And given the way this post could be read, I’ll also clarify that I don’t think or mean to imply that Google is doing anything that isn’t legitimate, aggressive, and appropriately self-serving business practice. They’re supposed to grow their company and revenues, offer new features to clients, improve their competitive position, and even find what they believe to be the balance in using the power they obviously have. I think they do all of these things extraordinarily well.
But those of us on the advertiser side of the table should at least make our decisions equally thoughtfully.