Category Archives: Google

Keyword Funnel is now FREE

Adwords Keyword FunnelI launched Keyword Funnel last year. It was only my second software product launch in 10 years. Keyword Funnel is a utility to help AdWords advertisers efficiently add hundreds or thousands keywords to their campaigns. It was based on some tools I wrote for running my own AdWords campaigns.

It was a commercial flop. I sold a few licences, but not many. Most telling was the lack of any engagement. There were very few emails from website visitors and not many people who visited the website downloaded the free trial. There wasn’t even much interaction from the people that did buy licences. This was very much in contrast to my PerfectTablePlan product, where there was much more engagement straight away.

I could have tried to pivot or push on through using some of the stuff I have learnt over the last 10 years, but it felt like kicking a dead horse up a hill. Better to focus my finite energy and resources on more fruitful areas. I also decided that I just didn’t like AdWords enough that I wanted to spend all day thinking about it (and that was before my recent falling out with Google). I didn’t want to take money from people for a product that had no real future and for which I had lost enthusiasm. So I pulled the plug within a few months of launch. But it seems a shame to waste the work that went into it, so I am re-releasing it as a free product in the hope that someone will find it useful and to increase my luck surface area. You’re welcome.

As far as I can determine, the reasons it failed are:

It didn’t solve a real problem for enough people. This is the reason most products fail. I like to run my AdWords campaigns with hundreds or thousands of ‘long tail’ keywords. I assumed that plenty of other people did to. And, if they didn’t, they would once they had a tool that made it practical to do so, especially in the face or ever increasing competition and bid prices. But not many other people seem interested in long tail campaigns. I should have researched this more.

The AdWords market seems to be sharply divided into amateurs (people running small campaigns for their own products) and professionals (people running multiple large campaigns for other people). The amateurs have a million other things to do and want to spend as little time as possible on AdWords. In fact most of them seem to set up a campaign and then completely ignore it (bad idea). The professionals are happy to spend hundreds of dollars per month on a tool, but they want it to do everything, including creating ads and setting bids. There doesn’t seem to be much of a market in between for low cost utilities, such as Keyword Funnel. I’m not sure how I could have found this out without trying to sell into this market.

I found it hard to get any traffic. I am not an ‘Internet famous’ authority on AdWords. I wrote to various AdWords bloggers offering them free licences. But most of them seemed to be associated with other AdWords tools and weren’t going to promote a competing tool. I also tried an AdWords campaign, but unsurprisingly the competition was very strong.  It was hard to get clicks at a price I could afford as competitors with more expensive products could afford to spend a lot more per click. Also conversion rates on the clicks I did get were poor.

The user interface wasn’t perhaps as intuitive as it could have been. I didn’t really think enough about workflow.

Failing is never fun, but I knew it was a very real risk when I started and I did learn some useful lessons.

Before I wrote any code, I tried to do some validation of the product by talking to friends and people at conferences who used AdWords, including some AdWords professionals. There seemed to be some interest and I managed to get 60 people signed up to the beta mailing list. But I found it hard to get people to understand my vision of the product. That should have been the first warning signal. But, being a developer at heart, I used that as an excuse to build a beta.

I did the validation back-to-front. I mostly pitched them my idea for Keyword Funnel and then tried to gauge their interest. That doesn’t really work very well. What I should have done was ask people what problems they were having with AdWords and then waited to see if any of them mentioned ‘adding lots of keywords’, ‘grouping keywords into ad groups’ etc.

As I released new beta versions of the product, the initial interest seemed to peter out. I probably should have killed it at this point. But I persuaded myself that, having come this far, I might was well release it (paying customers being the only true validation). This was more down the the ambiguous nature of the feedback than sunk cost fallacy.

I followed my own advice and cut some corners in the development, but not enough. The planned 2 months part-time, ended up being 6 months part-time. I wasted time on activities such as: having a logo designed, writing licensing code, writing detailed documentation and setting up payment processing. In retrospect I should have waited until I was sure there was a market for Keyword Funnel before I bothered with any of that. When I launched my new Hyper Plan product I released a public beta within 5 weeks of starting work on it (part-time). I offered it free for several months (it just died on a certain date). I only added licensing code and set up payment processing when I felt there was sufficient interest to justify the effort. Hyper Plan just has a 1 page quick-start guide and the logo was designed in 10 minutes by me (both still on the ‘to do’ list to improve soon).

It is hard to get noticed in a new market. I knew this already, but perhaps I had forgotten how much hard work it was in the early days of PerfectTablePlan. As I already have an audience of thousands of event planners with PerfectTablePlan, it is much easier to cross-sell them Hyper Plan than it would be to create that audience from scratch.

Having had one successful (in my terms) product, I was perhaps a bit arrogant and didn’t spend as much time researching the market as I should have done. But validating a software product is hard, especially when it’s a bit different to everything else out there (I’m not interested in copying existing products). I had no real idea how successful any of my products would be before I launched them. PerfectTablePlan was much more successful than I expected. Keyword Funnel much less successful than I expected.

While the opportunity cost of Keyword Funnel was quite high, in terms of cash, I only spent a couple of thousands dollars. This was mostly on the website design and I reused a lot of that for Hyper Plan.

You can download Keyword Funnel here. Despite its lack of commercial success, it does (I think) do some pretty cool things:

  • Cleans up lists of keywords which you can import from various sources (e.g. removes foreign characters, capitalization and duplicates).
  • It has a nice keyword multiplier (much better than the Google equivalent IHMO).
  • Removes an unwanted keyword from all phrases in a single click.
  • Allows you to analyze all the phrases a keyword appears in.
  • Groups keywords into related ad groups.
  • Produces output in a form you can read straight into AdWords via AdWords Editor.

It’s completely free, you don’t even have to give me your email address. Maybe I will find a way to make some money off it at some point in the future (NB/ I am not interested in taking on AdWords consulting work at present).

Thankfully my new Hyper Plan product is doing much better than Keyword Funnel did. I wrote a bit about my approach to launching Hyper Plan here. It is too early to tell if it well do as well as PerfectTablePlan, but I am very happy with how it is doing so far.

Google bans hyperlinks

Summary: My AdWords account was suspended after ten years of continuous advertising. I was told that hyperlinking from my domain to any another domain was a breach of Adwords policy. This is clearly ridiculous and not what their policy says. But I had to appeal higher up and it took 11 days to get my suspension overturned.

I have been advertising my PerfectTablePlan seating plan software continuously on Google AdWords since the 7th March 2005. Just shy of 10 years. Google emailed me on the 20th Feb. But it wasn’t a thank you for 10 years of loyal custom. It was to tell me they had suspended my account.

Hello,

We wanted to alert you that one of your sites violates our advertising policies. Therefore, we won’t be able to run any of your ads that link to that site, and any new ads pointing to that site will also be disapproved.

Here’s what you can do to fix your site and hopefully get your ad running again:

1. Make the necessary changes to your site that currently violates our policies:

Display URL: perfecttableplan.com

Policy violation: Software principles
Details & instructions: https://support.google.com/adwordspolicy/answer/50423?hl=en

2. Resubmit your site to us, following the instructions in the link above. If your site complies with our policies, we can approve it to start running again.

There was no detail about what I had done wrong. As far as I was aware, I complied with their policies. I had a look through the linked page, but it was about “Malicious or unwanted software”, “Low value content” etc. I couldn’t see anything that obviously applied to my website or software. My software is bona fide. I’ve been selling it for 10 years. It was used to help plan the seating at one of the official events for the Queen of England’s Diamond Jubilee, don’t you know!

I went to the AdWords support page to try and work out who I could talk to. A chat pop-up appeared. So I did an online chat with a Google AdWords employee. He told me that I needed to:

  1. Add a link to the uninstall instructions on my download page. I told him that my uninstall was completely standard for the platforms I support (Windows and Mac). But he insisted.
  2. Remove some links that were ‘redirections’ from my reviews page.
  3. Explain the value of what my software did. I pointed out that this is what the entire website is for. He backed off on that one.

Google doesn’t put uninstall instructions on the download pages of its own software (exhibit A). I was annoyed by the hypocrisy. Also their policy says you mustn’t:

[make] it difficult for users to disable or uninstall the software

It doesn’t say you need to include uninstall instructions. However I wrote a page of uninstall instructions and linked to it from the download page.

I looked at my reviews page. There were 16 links pointing to genuine reviews of my software on various blogs, download websites, magazine websites and Amazon. However some of the links pointed to pages that no longer existed and a few were redirected at the other end. All the redirections seemed completely harmless (for example one was just a redirection to the the same page, but http instead https). But I removed all the links except this one:

amazon_reviews_resized

This link just pointed to http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0017YOSE2/. No redirection at the other end.

I then emailed AdWords support on the 21st Feb to say that I had complied with their requests. I heard nothing for several days. I tweeted them on the 24th and they asked me to fill out an online contact form with my details. I did that on the 25th.

The next day I was woken around 8am by a phone call from AdWords support. I think it was the person I did an online chat with. The line wasn’t great, English obviously wasn’t his first language and I hadn’t had my morning coffee. So it wasn’t a great conversation. But, as far as I understood it, he told me that he couldn’t remove the suspension because I was ‘redirecting’ people from my review page to amazon.com. I tried to point out that it was just a hyperlink and it went exactly where it said it would. But he seemed to be saying that I wasn’t allowed to hyperlink to any external domain from my perfecttableplan.com domain. That is obviously ludicrous and I just about managed to stay civil. Surely I had misunderstood. Soon after I received this email:

Hi Andy,

As per the conversation we had over the phone. I would suggest you to remove the link from your website wherein it redirects me to a different website.
If I click on the link it is taking me to Amazon.com, which is a redirection from your website.

The policy says it has to be on the same website but I guess it is deviating a bit from it.
You can provide information about your products and services in the website but ensure those are not clickable.

Please see the link for policy forum for bridge page here.

Once the changes are done, please write back to me so that we can consult and get this done for you at the earliest.

Have a lovely day ahead.

I emailed back:

I have now removed the link to Amazon.com from this page, as directed:
http://www.perfecttableplan.com/html/reviews.html

> Please see the link for policy forum for bridge page here.

It says:

“Landing pages that are solely designed to send users elsewhere

# /Examples/: Bridge, doorway, gateway, or other intermediate pages”

The review page isn’t a landing page. It isn’t linked directly from any of any of my Google ads. To get to it the user has to:
1. click on the ad
2. click on ‘customers’ in the navigation bar
3. select ‘review’
4. click on the Amazon.com hyperlink (there is no automatic redirect)

Also I am only linking to that page so they can read independent reviews of my product. I don’t [want] them to buy it from Amazon!


Please re-review my site at your earliest convenience.

The reply by email was:

Andy,

I understand your point, but from your website the link is taking to Amazon.com. When I click on the link I am taken to this page.

You can write in as for further information please visit this link xyz.com/reviews.. [1]

The link should not be clickable. It is taking from your website to a new webpage.

Request you to change it so that we can review and get it enabled.

Awaiting your response.

Have a great day ahead.

I replied:

I was phoned by someone from Google this morning and have now removed that link.

Can you clarify the situation regarding links to other sites. Does the AdWords policy mean that no site advertising on Adwords can ever hyperlink to another site (surely not)? Assuming that isn’t the case, what hyperlinks are allowed and what hyperlinks are not allowed?

He replied:

Hi Andy,

Thanks for writing in, hope you are doing great.

With regards to your email I would like to confirm that any links that are taking a user to a new website is not allowed.
You can provide links, which are not clickable.

The user must not get redirected to a new website.

Hope this answers your query.

I have bolded the offending line for emphasis. There it is in black and white. No hyperlinks.

I replied:

So I can’t have a clickable hyperlink to *any* non http://www.perfecttableplan.com page from *any* http://www.perfecttableplan.com page without breaching AdWords policy? Is that correct? Please clarify.

He replied:

Hi Andy,

Thanks for writing in again.

With regards to your email I would like to confirm that any links which are taking a customer to a different website are not allowed.
If the link is taking the advertiser to any specific page of your website then it is alright but it should not redirect any other website.

Hope this helps.

Feel free to drop in your questions or queries. I will be glad to assist you on them.

Have a great day ahead.

There it is again. A world wide web without hyperlinks between domains? This is clearly absurd.

I approached AdWords expert Aaron Weiner from Software Promotions. He agreed that this was a complete misinterpretation of their policy and kindly offered to talk to his Google contacts in the US to see if they could help resolve it. On the 28th Feb he forwarded me this email from Google:

I have taken a look at the site and the previous interactions that your client has had with our team. I apologize that the communication has not been very clear for your client – I am going to take ownership of it from here and make sure that we get this site back up ASAP.

From what I can see now, the site appears to be compliant with our policies. I have contacted our policy team to have them review it right away. I have also asked them to clarify the issue with linking to third party reviews. Obviously we would not want an ad to direct to a different domain, but I do not see any problem with linking to reviews once the user has landed on your site. I am going to get some clarification on this to see if we are missing something,

Thank you for your patience and please let me know if you have any questions. I will be in touch soon.

On the 3rd March I got an email from Google:

Great news! We’ve re-reviewed your site and determined that the following site complies with our Advertising Policies

Followed by this email forwarded by Aaron:

Thank you for your patience while our policy team reviewed your website. They confirmed that the site is compliant with our policies and you will see that it is now re-enabled. I checked the ads this morning and I can see that they are serving.

I also confirmed with them that there is no policy against linking to third-party reviews on your website. You can add those links back to the reviews on your site.

I read through the chat that you had with ******* and I think that there may have just been some misunderstanding as to the specific problem with the site. I sincerely apologize for the confusion caused by that. I have reached out to ******* to clarify the policy with him.

It’s pretty shocking that a Google employee (or contractor) should have a such a poor grasp of the  policy they are enforcing. It shakes my faith in Google. Previously I thought that, even if they were a little bit evil, they were at least competent with it.

Also the entire situation was handled badly. They could have sent me an email clearly stating the policy violation and giving me a few days grace to fix it. Surely I deserve that much after 10 years as a paying customer?

My account was suspended for a total of 11 days and I wasted quite a lot of time and mental energy. For what? I removed a few hyperlinks from my reviews page and added a link to some uninstall instructions. How is that going to help anyone?

I talked to a number of other software authors and found that quite a few of them had also had their AdWords suspended for policy violations, such not having uninstall instructions. Oliver Grahl of PDF Annotator, who has also been suspended previously, commented:

“Every day, live your life as if it was your last day (getting traffic from Google). One bit in their databases can ruin a whole business and all the lives behind it. Pretty scary.”

I understand that Google is engaged in a continual battle with people trying to game the system to their advantage. But they need to be careful that legitimate businesses don’t end up as collateral damage. Training their staff adequately would be a good start.

AdWords Rot

Adwords RotAn AdWords account that starts off making a worthwhile profit for the owner is often neglected and, within a year or two, is losing money. Potentially a lot of money. I have seen it happen again and again. If you are running a Google AdWords campaign, you have to at least monitor it. Better still, actively maintain it. Otherwise the rot will soon set in.

Here is an example of an AdWords campaign that was professionally set up and then left to coast, unmanaged. You can see that the cost per converted click (blue) rose, while the number of conversions (orange) fell a little. The average cost per conversion (trial) rose by a factor of 3 in just 4 years. What was once a profitable account was now wasting a lot of money. Ouch.

adwords conversion graph 2

The main reason for the rot is that Google are continually changing AdWords, and they may opt you in to new features without asking you. For example they automatically opted display advertisers into showing ads in free-to-play AppStore games. B2B business owners were paying thousands of dollars for clicks made by bored children in Flappy Bird and the like. I have seen accounts where thousands of dollars have been spent on these worthless clicks. And these were  small companies. Other reasons include:

  • Your display ads might start showing on a new website where they convert badly.
  • Poor targeting. Perhaps a new product, film or band has appeared with a name similar to your product.
  • Increased competition and bid price inflation can reduce a healthy amount of traffic to a trickle, reducing profitability.
  • Click fraud.

So you really need to keep an eye on your AdWords account. At an absolute minimum you should monitor the number of conversions and the cost per conversion and investigate any unfavourable changes. To keep your account in good shape over time you need to actively maintain it, e.g.:

  • Delete any keywords with poor click through rates (typically I delete keywords with a CTR of 0.5% or less after 200 or more impressions).
  • Delete any keywords with poor quality scores (typically I delete keywords with a QS of 3 or less).
  • Delete any keywords or ads with poor conversion rates.
  • Examine the dimensions>search terms report for negative keywords to add.

You can easily set up filters and get automated reports sent to you to make this fairly painless. These checks should be done perhaps once a week for a new or high budget campaign and perhaps once a month for a mature or low budget campaign. You can also make your life easier by setting up AdWords so that Google is doing most of the heavy lifting for you. For example you can use CPA bidding and you can set the ad rotation setting to Optimize for conversions: Show ads expected to provide more conversions.

A mature account that has been well set-up and has a budget of around $1k per month, probably only needs an hour a month to maintain. Alternatively, if you can’t spare an hour or two a month to manage your AdWords campaign, do yourself a favour and shut it down. Now.

Are you wasting your AdWords budget on in-app ads?

2 out of the last 3 AdWords campaigns I have looked at for consulting customers were spending substantial amounts of money on worthless in-app ads, without even realising it. Feast your eyes on the following:

in-app placement ads$1,071.04 spent on clicks from a single game app, that resulted in 0 trials of the software product being advertised. Hardly surprising given that it was a B2B app that cost around $1000. On further investigation this company was spending a substantial percentage of its AdWords budget on completely useless clicks from in-app ads. Ouch.

And this is from a different AdWords account for another B2B software company:

in-app display ads

Many of the apps in the iOS and Android app stores are now funded by in-app advertising. The creator of the infamous Flappy Bird game claimed to be making tens of thousands of dollars per day like this.

Flappy Bird In-App ads

(Note that the ad shown in the screenshot is not related to either of the two companies I mentioned above).

At least the ad is well away from the ‘play’ button. Some, less scrupulous, app makers place the ad in such a way that it is easy to accidentally click on it.

Who would want to pay for in-app ads, knowing that most of the traffic will be accidental clicks from frustrated gamers (many of them children) just trying to get to the next screen? If you run ads on the Google display (content) network, it might be YOU. Google started showing display ads in apps some time ago and it seems that all existing display campaigns were automatically opted in. Worse still, the apps they are advertising in appear to have no relevance at all to your content campaign keywords.

App makers get some money, the public gets free apps and Google makes mega bucks. The advertiser is financing the whole thing and getting (in many cases) nothing in return. But don’t feel too smug. If you have a display campaign that you aren’t carefully monitoring, you might also be throwing away money. To find out:

  • Log in adwords.google.com.
  • Click on All online campaigns.
  • Choose a sensible time frame, e.g. the last 6 months.
  • Click on the Display network tab.
  • Click on Placements.
  • Click on the Cost column to order from highest to lowest cost.
  • Look down the Placement column for entries that start with Mobile App.

Adwords display placements report

While you are there, it is also worth checking the relevance to your product of the other sites you are running display ads on.

Hopefully no horror story awaits you. If it does, you can exclude the offending placements to stop your ads appearing there again.

exclude AdWords placement

But this is a bit like playing whack-a-mole, as you will be continually excluding new apps (I haven’t found a way to opt out of in-app ads wholesale). Alternatively, just pause your display campaigns. Personally I gave up on display ads some time ago. The conversion ratios were so miserable (much lower than search ads) that I could never make any money on them.

If you have been stung for hundreds or thousands of dollars, it may be worth complaining to Google, to see if you can get any money back on the grounds:

  • You never explicitly opted in to in-app ads.
  • The apps your ads appear in bear no relationship to the search terms in your content campaign.

I have no idea if that will be successful, but it might be worth a try.

Google are continually changing the rules of the AdWords game and you would be naive to assume they are doing so with your best interests at heart. If you are running an AdWords campaign you must monitor it continuously or bad things will happen.

Related articles:

Upgrade your Adwords accounts before the 22nd July – or else!

google adwordsGoogle will automatically switch all Adwords campaigns to ‘enhanced’ on 22-July-2013. If you don’t do it before then, Google will do it for you. And you can be confident they will be thinking of their interests, rather than yours. The changes are mostly bad news for those of us that sell software for desktop computers. In particular you can no longer choose not to bid for clicks on tablet devices. I would like to have more control over how I bid on different platforms, not less, so I am not happy about the changes. However your choices are either to upgrade your campaigns to ‘enhanced’ or close your Adwords account.

You can at least bid less for clicks on mobile devices. If you are selling downloadable software that doesn’t run on mobile devices, I recommend you set your bid adjustment much lower for mobile devices. My own analytics data tells me that mobile devices only have one tenth the (measurable) conversion rate of desktop/laptop computers. So I have set my mobile bid adjustment at -90% for mobile devices. Presumably you can set it to -100% if you don’t want to bid for mobile clicks at all. I don’t understand why advertisers aren’t being given the same option for tablet devices.

Note that you can’t set a mobile bid adjustment for CPA campaigns. However Google should notice the lack of downloads and sales on mobile devices and adjust the mobile bids down for you automatically.

Upgrading is pretty straight forward and should only take a few minutes. More details on the software promotions blog.

The declining profitability of Google Adwords

Google Adwords used to be a great way to get targeted traffic cheaply (if you knew what you were doing). I think those days are well and truly over.

I have been using Google Adwords to advertise my table plan software since 2005. The following graphs show some metrics from my Adwords campaigns over that 8 years. The graphs show 12-monthly cumulative figures (e.g. each point represents the value for that month plus the preceding 11 months). Using cumulative data hides some of the noise, including the seasonal variations that are inevitable in a business related to weddings (more people buy my software when it is summer in the northern hemisphere), and makes the overall trends clearer.

Average cost per click (CPC)

Average cost per click (CPC)

Clickthroughs

Clickthroughs

Conversions (sales)

Conversions (sales)

Profit per month

Profit per month

The trends are clear and it’s not a pretty picture. Less, more expensive clicks = less profit. I can either pay more and more per click to maintain the same number of sales. Or I can continue to pay the same per click and get less and less clicks. Either way, my profit goes down. It isn’t a trend I see changing direction any time soon.

I think these long-term trends are mostly due to increasing competition. As more and more companies bid on Adwords for a finite number of clicks, it inevitably drives up the cost of clicks (simple supply and demand). It also doesn’t help that a lot of Adwords users are not actively managing their campaigns or measuring their ROI, and are consequently bidding at unprofitably high levels. Google also does its best to drive up CPC values in various ways (suggesting ridiculously high default bids, goading you to bid more to get on page 1, not showing your ad at all if you bid too low – even if no other ads appear etc).

Of course, this is just my data for one product in one small market. But the law of shitty clickthrus predicts that all advertising mediums become less and less profitable over time. So I would be surprised if it isn’t a general trend. Are your Adwords campaigns becoming less profitable? Have you found another advertising medium that works better?

The imminent demise of Google Reader

Sadly, Google is killing Google Reader on 01-July-2013. If you are reading this blog using the RSS feed via Google Reader, I suggest you start looking for another RSS reader. I have been trying feedly. It is ok, but so far I prefer Google reader. What is your favourite Google Reader alternative?