AdWords “Ineffective” Says eBay, Google “Meta-Pause Analysis” Contradicts Those Findings

A story generating buzz and controversy earlier this week amounts to a stinging indictment of the paid search industry as a whole. It was based on new research from eBay that argues SEM is all but worthless and has little or no impact on traffic and sales — except in marginal cases. However, Google studies argue SEM delivers clear and tangible benefits to advertisers and publishers.

In a paper published last week eBay describes its study and related results. The company says it sought to determine the impact of pausing paid-search ads on its organic traffic and sales.

eBay: SEM “Ineffective”
The company discontinued paid search ads containing brand (eBay) keywords for a limited time. It also looked at the impact of paid-search using non-brand terms. The studies have seemingly rigorous methodologies. In both cases eBay claims it saw little or no impact on traffic or sales from ending the SEM campaigns.

Branded keywords — eBay argues that the impact of ending branded paid-search campaigns was negligible because people clicked on eBay’s organic links:

[T]he evidence strongly supports the intuitive notion that for brand keywords, natural search is close to a perfect substitute for paid search, making brand keyword SEM ineffective for short-term sales. After all, the users who type the brand keyword in the search query intend to reach the company’s website, and most likely will execute on their intent regardless of the appearance of a paid search ad. This substitution is less likely to happen for non-brand keywords…
Non-branded keywords — The company found a marginal traffic impact after discontinuing non-branded SEM but no impact on sales:

[S]earch advertising only works if the consumer has no idea that the firm has the desired product. Large firms like eBay with powerful brands will see little benefit from paid search advertising because most consumers already know that they exist, as well as what they have to offer. The modest returns on infrequent users likely come from informing them that eBay has products they did not think were available on eBay. Active consumers already know this and hence are not effectively influenced.
The company argues that SEM only works in instances where consumers are nearly totally ignorant of a brand and its offerings. By not-so-subtle implication eBay urges other well-known brands to stop using SEM:

“This begs the question: why do well-known branded companies spend such large amounts of money on what seems to be a rather ineffective marketing channel?”
If eBay is correct and other marketers take its research and recommendations seriously there are some profound implications for not only Google but the SEM industry as a whole.

Google: Ads Offer Incremental Traffic not Replaced by Organic
Not surprisingly Google has research (.pdf) that says the exact opposite of what eBay found.

In early 2012 Google published the results of a “meta-analysis” of “six months of Search Ads Pause studies” where advertisers had reduced AdWords spending “at least 95 percent.” According to Google, “these amounted to 390 studies between April, 2011 and October, 2011.”

These studies were conducted in the US, UK, France and Germany. They looked broadly at search marketing and not just AdWords.

The conclusion of that analysis was that SEM offered a major lift to advertisers and that organic rankings and traffic did not compensate when search campaigns were paused:

[O]n average, 81% of ad impressions and 66% of ad clicks occur without an associated organic result . . . On average, 50% of the ad clicks that occurred with a top rank organic result are incremental, i.e., they would not be recovered organically if the ad campaign is paused. For ad clicks with an associated organic result in rank 2 – ­5, on average, 82% of the ad clicks are incremental. Finally, for ad clicks with an associated organic result in rank 5­ – n, on average, 96% of the ad clicks are incremental.
How can this meta-analysis of “pause studies” be reconciled with eBay’s research? Wordstream’s Larry Kim has a theory: eBay ad creative, bidding and keyword practices are poor. He actually used a much stronger word.

Wordstream: eBay’s Ads “Suck”
Wordstream CEO Kim argues that the outcome of eBay’s research can be explained by the notion that eBay’s SEM campaigns ”suck.” He says that eBay’s policy of using dynamic keyword insertion creates absurd search ads and dramatically compromises their potential effectiveness.

Kim argues eBay has been very lazy and failed to employ SEM best practices: “The problem with eBay’s carpet-bombing ad strategy is that it’s doomed to fail.” He offers screenshots and myriad examples of eBay dynamic-keyword AdWords that don’t make a lot of sense.

And here’s another list of “humorous” eBay AdWords ads. It would appear to at least partly validate Larry Kim’s arguments about eBay’s weak ad creative.

Not the First Time eBay “Pauses”
When Google introduced Checkout, its PayPal competitor, in 2007 eBay pulled (“paused”) its AdWords campaigns in protest. At the time the company publicly said that it was trying to “determine the best allocation of its advertising and marketing budget.” Presumably this latest research is a continuation of that effort.

EBay says that last year it spent $51 million on paid search, using 170 million keywords. The majority of that spend went to Google. The company is clearly not happy about that.

Are eBay’s findings valid: AdWords won’t work for a big brand? Or are eBay’s AdWords strategy and execution misguided and very weak as Larry Kim suggests?

Do you tend to buy eBay’s findings or Google’s research?

Postscript From Danny Sullivan: An important note to consider is that eBay’s “pause” happened in early 2012, before Google shifted Google Shopping to a paid inclusion format. After that shift, eBay’s “free” visibility in Google Shopping would have plunged dramatically. However, the bulk of searchers still likely saw free eBay listings within Google’s main results.
Source : Search Engine Land
Mar 14, 2013 at 1:06pm ET by Greg Sterling

Top 4 Strategic SEO Trends to Watch for in 2013

Last year saw another whirlwind of changes and developments in search technology, with 65 updates to Google’s algorithm in August and September alone. Developing sites that perform well consumes so much energy that it can be easy to get caught up in the tactical day-to-day changes each time search engines do something new. Companies that will continue to secure top SERPs are those who look at the digital landscape from a birds-eye view and understand the main driver behind Google’s never-ending changes: serving the best possible results to searchers. Since today’s Internet savvy surfer seeks information from a growing number of devices and locations, a constant stream of algorithm updates is necessary and understandable. With that in mind, here are my thoughts and predictions for what SEO trends and developments we can expect in 2013 — and how to help ensure that your organization does not get lost in the shuffle.

1. Quality is the new SEO

Can a machine actually read an article and have the capacity to make a subjective judgment on whether or not the article was “good” or not?  It’s a bit scary, but the answer is a definite maybe. While we are far from turning our national defense systems over to Skynet, search engines are rapidly advancing towards the goal of understanding if your content is actually good. In 2013, search engines will continue to improve their ability to judge the value of a site’s content.

Google has become expert at determining what differentiates a great website from a mediocre one, and specifies over 20 stylistic, topical and structural guidelines for content creators to follow. The rankings of sites that engage in tactics that violate these guidelines will be removed, thereby allowing sites that meet the guidelines to rise up in the rankings.

So how do you differentiate your site from those of your competitors? All else being equal, the only way to do it is with good content. It is critical that your team has the right process in place to build relevant, compelling and engaging content on a consistent basis. To do so, you may want to ask yourself the following questions:

Do you have an editorial process?
Do you know the difference between an expert and a writer?
Does your content have grammatical or spelling errors?
Are you providing new substantial insights?
Is your content good enough to be published in a magazine?
2. Social plays an important role

Social is going to increasingly impact your rankings. In 2013 we will see a greater balance between the weight of factual and social search influences. Engines will consume massive amounts of data about its user’s social presence, including geography, influence, friends and interests.

To that end, Google has started to build social signals into search algorithms, and Facebook announced plans to develop a robust search feature using their wealth of social data. Facebook has constructed an interconnected graph of 1 billion human interrelationships, likes and preferences. Privacy issues aside, this is a strategic asset that will impact the future of searches.

It is clear that consumers don’t want just the facts, but are increasingly drawn to the opinions and experiences of their peers. So it’s no surprise that high rankings in Google can correlate very strongly with social signals from activity on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. We’ve only just begun to see how this plays out.

3. Mobile Friendly is Not an Option

It is a necessity. With many sites seeing double-digit yearly increases in mobile traffic, a site that does not conform to the requirements of mobile devices will lose a growing percentage of search traffic. Search engines will be looking for the same elements in a mobile site that they do for a standard website: keywords, title tags, links and quality content. But remember, mobile query strings are, on average, 25 percent shorter than desktop searches. With limited visual space and condensed search tactics, it will be critical to include research, development, optimization and measurement that is strictly focused on the mobile experience.

Beyond keyword and linking tactics, consider the mobile user experience and, more importantly, mobile user expectations. Two thirds of smartphone users cited that slow to load websites are one of their biggest frustrations, with 64 percent expecting a site to load within four seconds. Large images and excessive use of flash or animated content will slow the load time of your mobile site and should be avoided.

4. The Knowledge Graph

In 2013, we will see Google attempt to answer more complex questions directly in the SERPs with the Google knowledge graph. The simplest way to understand a ‘knowledge graph’ is to examine the top right side of your screen on Google after searching for “Harrison Ford”. You will see a panel detailing Ford’s vital statistics followed by his most popular movies, as well as a list of what “People also search for” that shows suggestions for related searches based on searches of others with similar interests.

Still in its infancy, Google’s knowledge graph reservoir is a collection of roughly 18 billion facts on 570 million “objects” presented in a manner that intuitively provides several panels of answers surrounding information commonly associated with your search query. By understanding how to leverage the primary sources of trusted information for the Knowledge Graph, brands can optimize their presence and leverage opportunities for exposure. Wikipedia, one of the top sources of information for Knowledge Graph search, is a great place to start. Develop a high quality, informational Wikipedia page on your brand and validate the page by linking to trusted sources. Notice how this impacts the results on the right hand panel of search results. Take note of the related sources that are displayed to get ideas about how to impact that information.

As Google continues to experiment with structuring its information to improve the searcher’s experience, marketers and IT professionals alike will need to craft content that performs well and motivates searchers to go beyond the results page to read the full story.

Bottom line, developing relevant and valuable content for your audience will be the key to your success. Content that serves a purpose beyond a purchase or sale — that enables a user to solve a problem — will be a key factor in determining who succeeds in search and social and who falls from ranking grace.

What are some of your SEO predictions for 2013?
Source From:- SearchEngineJournal.
Posted on March 14, 2013 by John Mihalik

Coming Soon: The Google Merchant Quality Algorithm

At the popular SXSW conference Friday, Google's head of search spam, Matt Cutts announced that Google will be soon going after bad merchants with a new algorithm targeted at lowering their rankings in Google.
Danny Sullivan at Search Engine Land first covered this, quoting Matt's statement during his presentation.
Matt said:

We have a potential launch later this year, maybe a little bit sooner, looking at the quality of merchants and whether we can do a better job on that, because we don't want low quality experience merchants to be ranking in the search results.

Google Goes After Low Quality Merchants

Clearly, Matt is telling low quality merchants to be prepared for a possible downgrade in ranking. This may lead to a huge drop in traffic, sales and revenue for these online merchants.
This shouldn't come as a huge surprise. Back in late 2010 Google took action against really sleazy merchants that specifically provided "extremely poor user experience." Since then, not much has been done there and only a tiny fraction of merchants were impacted.

Matt Cutts Pre-Announces Second Major Algorithm: Penguin

In 2012, Matt did a similar announcement, where he pre-announced what we know today as the Google Penguin algorithm. Back then, Matt called it the over optimization penalty and it was announced at SXSW.
For some reason, it took a while for anyone to make a big deal of this announcement. Danny Sullivan wouldn't let that happen this time and he wrote about it as soon as Matt announced it.
When exactly will this Google Merchant Quality algorithm be released? Probably in the 3rd or 4th quarter of 2013. Trust me, when it does - we will be on top of it.
Forum discussion at Google+.

Social Bookmarking Sites List 2012