The search engines have an inventory of ad space they want you to buy. They want you to pay the highest price possible, although they obviously have to work within market conditions and create (or even deliver) value. They operate highly complex, extremely secretive ‘auctions’ based on rules and algorithms they choose not to share – in small part for competitive reasons but mostly because doing so would degrade their revenues and the relationships they have with advertisers. And when they make a change to the rules or algorithms under which we all choose to advertise, they inform us via blogs and notices within their software, which not surprisingly puts the changes in the best possible light. The same is true when they simply try to explain how the system works in an effort to educate. This is fair and reasonable, to a point. As mentioned in the earlier post on this topic, their job is to make money, yours is to be an educated and wary consumer. But there is a point where self interest and ‘marketing bluster’ turns into white-washing and deception. How Honest Should They Be? I think the line between marketing hype and accuracy should in part be based on the complexity of the topic, the chance that the advertiser can know or will likely be advised that the positioning is rather one-sided, and the magnitude of the cost of the deception, among other variables. Against these measures, I think all the engines regularly go way too far in surrounding important and costly issues in friendly sounding and rather inaccurate language. Take for example the following excerpt from a recent Yahoo blog post about what to do (and even think) when your ads aren’t displaying all the time:
If your ads are not being displayed as often as you like, it may be time to take a look at how your spending limits and bids are set. To help get your ads displayed more often, consider increasing your spending limits. If that’s not possible, there are ways to work within your means and still compete with the deep-pocket competition. While you may not have the advertising budget to maintain round-the-clock ads in top positions, there are ways to help get your ads in front of searcher eyes more often at lower cost. First, go for specifics. Consider selecting keywords that have lower minimum bids and are targeted for a specific service or product that a searcher may specifically type in. Not only are these “tail” terms likely to be more affordable than general terms, they are less liable to blow your budget.
If you translate that happy sounding stuff into english, you find that Yahoo suggests spending more money and buying more of their unused inventory. They do this while perpetuating the falicies that one searcher is as good as the next (regardless of the keyword they match let alone the query they type) and that higher positions are inherently better than lower ones. And they get a bonus 10 point for gratuitous use of the pop-culture phrase ‘tail terms’. They also fail to discuss the many other ways you could likely work on improving the situation – the ones that don’t make them any more money. Yahoo Fisked Let’s take it line by line:
If your ads are not being displayed as often as you like, it may be time to take a look at how your spending limits and bids are set.
We start by subtly setting up what is probably a false premise, although they do it cleanly by disclaiming that ‘it may be time’. If your ads are not displaying as often as you’d like, the first things you’d want to consider are the keyword selection itself and the associated match types, and then the reported (or likely) ‘quality index’ in terms of alignment between the keywords, ad-copy, and landing page terminology and content. If a bike has a flat tire and rusted chain, pushing harder may work but it isn’t the best initial advice. Paying more is usually just pushing harder on a system where something is out of whack.
To help get your ads displayed more often, consider increasing your spending limits.
Again, the first suggestion is to push harder. There’s no margin in putting air in the tires.
If that’s not possible, there are ways to work within your means and still compete with the deep-pocket competition.
OK, a positive statement. You can find a way to make your business work. We’re here to help. Great.
While you may not have the advertising budget to maintain round-the-clock ads in top positions, there are ways to help get your ads in front of searcher eyes more often at lower cost.
Uh Oh. A quick drop into bad-assumption hell. Four things you may not neccessarily want to do – maintain round-the-clock ads, run them in ‘top-positions’, get your ads in front of more ‘eyes’, and even get a ‘lower cost’. It’s a nice sounding sentence, but based entirely on an over-simplified characature of how PPC works. What we want, in the real world, is to get conversions at the highest ROI. From there we work backwards and get the best clicks (ie from the most qualified users as defined by the topic of their query and/or the history of similar conversions) at the lowest price. To do this we want the right people to see our ads, however many of them there are. Eyes are generically not valuable, cost is relative to return, and time of day and position are not ‘more is better’ things regardless of the common perception.
First, go for specifics. Consider selecting keywords that have lower minimum bids and are targeted for a specific service or product that a searcher may specifically type in.
The first piece of good advice thus far, ironically, is to ‘go for specifics’. To bad it’s passed off in such a general and ultimately misleading way. We want keywords that attract queries which are both highly relevant to our subject and if possible demonstrate intent towards serious prospects. While we all want to have lower costs, making lower bids the (or only) criteria is silly. We want the lowest possible bids for keywords which generate conversions. If you really want lower minimum bids, leave Yahoo and go bid on a 3rd-tier engine. That’s not good advice because the traffic is of such substantially lower quality that it more than offsets the lower bid – obviously. The idea of ‘going for specifics’ is excellent advice if it’s clear that it means increasing the targeting of your keywords (or more specifically narrowing the range of the queries you attract) and doing a better job of valuing specific keywords via the use of negatives, match types, and bids. I’m sure that’s what they meant.
Not only are these “tail” terms likely to be more affordable than general terms, they are less liable to blow your budget.
The tail wags the dog here, again. Buy cheaper words so you can stay in the game longer. Shouldn’t the idea of conversions, revenue, and return get a mention? Are we playing at the $5 table in Vegas or Atlantic City because we know we’re going home broke but we really want to be able to play all weekend? Sure sounds like it. Let Me Try It This review may sounds a bit harsh and over-reactive. Yahoo is just trying to give some friendly advice, and taken with a less critical eye it’s just another generic piece of questionable advice. But this isn’t advice from just another search blogger or ‘guru’. This is from a company getting thousands or tens of thousands of dollars from people who will take this advice to heart and move forward making bad decisions as a result. Consider this alternative:
If your ads are not being displayed as often as you like, make sure you’re bidding on keywords directly relevant to your offer, and that your text ads and landing pages are directly aligned in both word usage and clearly focused context for those words. If they are, it may be time to take a look at how your spending limits and bids are set. Your goal should be to see your ads displayed as often as possible to searchers who are likely to purchase your goods or services. With proper setup and management you should be able to generate a good number of sales within your means – even when competing with the deep-pocket competition. Make sure that you’ve chosen as many different highly relevant keywords as possible – the more specific the better. Very general terms and category names usually have a lot of competitive bidders and therefore see higher per-click costs. If you want your ads to appear for these keywords it may be necessary to both raise bids and increase budgets – although a better Quality Index (a big part of which is higher click through rates that come from well written creative) can help minimize those. More focused words and phrases are often overlooked by many bidders, despite the fact that advertisers often see higher conversion rates from more detailed keywords. So you may experience lower costs and higher revenues!
An approach like this gives more balanced information to search advertisers, helping them to become successful and therefore keep advertising. Which produces better long term results for Yahoo as well as their clients. Sure it takes a little longer to think through and then write with more meat and less marketing fluff. And it both provides and expects more from readers – they may not undertand all the terms and concepts and will therefore have to seek out explanations. But I think advertisers deserve and would appreciate the additional effort and information. And it would be great to not have to be so suspect of everything the engines say and do.