Tag Archives: Google

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 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?

Setting an optimal bid price for Google CPA bids

A couple of years ago I wrote up the results of an experiment comparing Cost Per Action vs Cost Per Click bidding in Google Adwords. At the end of the experiment I decided that I did trust Google CPA bidding, but the results from CPA bidding weren’t compelling enough for me to switch. So I stayed with my mature CPC campaign. Subsequently I spoke at length with Adwords guru David Rothwell and Adwords master practitioner Alwin Hoogerdijk. They convinced me that:

  • I hadn’t really given Google CPA enough learning time – the more data Google has the better it should be able to do. The mighty Google brain might even be able to spot and exploit patterns I would find very difficult to emulate (e.g. based on season, country, day or week or time of day).
  • I should switch from paying per sale to paying per download, as this would give Google an order of magnitude more data to work with.
  • CPA bidding would require a lot less of my precious time to manage.

So I switched back to CPA. This time measuring a conversion as a successful download and install (my table planner shows a help page in a browser on first run, this contains the Google conversion tracking script).

So now, instead of having to choose thousands of bid prices (one for each keyword and match type in each campaign), I had to choose a single bid price – what I am prepared to pay Google for a download. If I pay too little for a download: Google won’t show my ads much, I won’t make many sales and my profit will be low. If I pay too much for a download: Google will show my ads a lot, but the amount I pay for each conversion will be high and my profit will be low. In between their should be a ‘sweet spot’ that gives me optimal profit. But how to find that sweet spot?

Looking at analytics data I have a good idea at what rate Adwords traffic converts to sales. I chose a CPA bid based on this and then I randomly varied the bid up or down every 7 days (some days of the week perform consistently better than others for my product). The graphs below show the results. Each data point is 7 days of data. The black lines are linear trend lines. I deliberately haven’t put values on the axes, but the x and y axes are all linear, starting at 0.

The trends are pretty clear. Increasing CPA bid price:

  • increases the number of times your ads are shown
  • makes little difference to the click through rates
  • decreases the click to download and download to sale ratios

So higher bids means more sales, but also a higher cost per sale. But, of course, the really important metric is profit. So I worked out the average daily profit from Adwords traffic, which is the net sales income (gross sales minus sales costs, including payment processor fees and support costs) minus Adwords costs. Again each point is 7 days of data. The black line is a 2nd order polynomial trend line.

The data is quite noisy. But some data is a lot better than none and there does appear to be sweet spot about where the red arrow is. The curve is fairly flat meaning that I don’t have to be too precise in my bid price to get a near to optimal return. But if I bid twice the optimal price my profit will drop by about 35%.

In an ideal world I would have run all these different bid prices concurrently, instead of one after the other. But that just isn’t possible with Adwords at present (you can use Google Adwords experiments to split test bid prices, but only 2 at a time). Also I could have gathered a lot more data, used longer time intervals (7 days probably isn’t long enough for Google CPA to get into its stride) and bid a lot higher and lower, to make the trends clearer. But I wasn’t prepared to spend the extra time and money required.

If you are using CPA bidding you should be able to carry out a similar analysis on your own Adwords account to find your own CPA bidding sweet spot. If you are still using CPC, perhaps you should consider switching to CPA and let Google do some of the heavy lifting for you. You can switch any campaign that has 15 or more conversions per month to CPA bidding in the ‘Settings’ tab.

You can always switch back to CPC later. If you aren’t using Google conversion tracking, well you really should be.

A word of warning. Not all downloads are equal. You might think that download to sale rates would vary a lot less than impression to click and click to download rates (I did). But download to sale ratios can vary a lot between different campaigns, even for the same product. For example, my analytics data shows that downloads from Adwords display (=contents/adsense) traffic only convert to sales at around a quarter of the rate of Adwords search traffic. So display campaign downloads are worth a lot less to me than search campaign downloads and I set my CPA bids accordingly.

I showed a draft version of this post to Alwin Hoogerdijk of Collectorz.com collection database software, who first persuaded me to switch back to CPA and knows a lot more about CPA than I do. He had the following to add:

When using CPA bidding you should give Google more room to experiment. On search, this means using more broad match terms, or at least modified broad match. And less negative keywords (I removed a lot of my negatives lately). The idea is that Google will automatically find out what works and what doesn’t (again, this may take a lot of time).

On the Content Network it means being less trigger-happy with the site exclusions. Without CPA bidding, I would be more likely to exclude generic sites like Facebook, about.com, etc… But with CPA bidding, I tend to allow the optimizer to display on those sites and the find the right pages within those sites to show my ads on.

In my experience, the optimal CPA bid can vary (wildly) between products, campaigns, etc. . Content Network CPA’s in general tend to be much lower, for the same products. Strangely enough, content network visitor sign up (or downloads) are worth less than search traffic sign ups. Which wasn’t what I was expecting. Of course, content network traffic is less targeted in general so one would expect a lower sign up rate. But even if those visitors sign up, they convert less well to actual sales too. Tricky.

Is it worth advertising Mac software on Google Adwords?

I learnt a long time ago that people will happily click on totally irrelevant pay per click ads. For example, if you bid on “seating plan” I can assure you that a significant percentage of people searching for “boeing 747 seating plan” will happily click on your ad titled “wedding seating plan”. They won’t buy anything, as they aren’t interested in wedding seating plans, but you still have to pay for each click. You can stop your ad showing to these searchers by adding “boeing” and “747″ as negative keywords. Problem solved.

But what do you do if you are selling software that only runs on Mac OS X? The vast majority of searchers are running Windows. Indiscriminate clicks by them could quickly turn your Adwords ROI negative. In your Adwords campaign settings you can choose to only show ads on desktop computers and laptops. But you can’t choose the operating system.

As discussed above, putting “Mac” in the title is unlikely to be enough. You can’t use negative keywords, because the vast majority of Windows users searching for, say, backup software will type “backup software” not “Windows backup software”. You can just bid on searches containing keywords “Mac”, “Apple” or “OS X”, but will this be enough? My general advice to Mac only software vendors was to avoid Adwords, unless the ticket price of their software was in the hundreds of dollars. But, as my software runs on both Windows and Mac, I didn’t have any data to back this up.

Recently I got some data on Adwords clickthrough rates for a Mac only app (www.puzzlemakermac.com) by Hokua Software. They have kindly allowed me to share the data.

Initially they bid on generic keywords, such as “crossword maker” and ran ads such as the following with “Mac” displayed prominently in the title:

The results from analytics: 60% of the people clicking on the ads were on Windows and 40% on Mac.

Then Google banned them from the word “Mac” in their ads (it is possible to get this reversed with the express permission of Apple, but I don’t know how likely they are to grant this). So they switched to “OS X” in the ad, which hasn’t been blocked (yet).

The results from analytics: 73% of the people clicking on the ads were on Windows and 27% on Mac.

Then they restricted their bids to Mac targeted keywords such as “mac crossword maker”.

The results from analytics: 23% of the people clicking on the ads were on Windows and 73% on Mac. But there was a big drop in the number of impressions.

I think it is going to be almost impossible for anyone to get a return from Adwords when the majority of their clicks have no chance of generating a sale. So only bidding on Mac specific keywords seems to be the way to go. But there will still be a significant number of wasted clicks from Windows users. Also any Mac users who don’t use the appropriate keywords won’t see your ad. Consequently the return on time and money invested is likely to be a lot lower than Windows, cross-platform and web developers can expect. If you have a Mac only product with: a high ticket price product, well-defined keywords and limited competition, it might be worth trying Adwords. But otherwise it is probably better to wait and see if Google release OS targeting.

Of course, you could always use one of the free Adwords vouchers that Google are handing out like confetti (I get one every month in my PC Pro magazine) and try for yourself. This is how Hokua software got the results above. If you do, I would be interested to know how your results compare.

5 great ways to waste money in Google Adwords

google adwordsI have looked at quite a few Google Adwords accounts as part of a  1-day consulting package I do for other microISVs and small software vendors. I have also talked to a lot of people at conferences and on forums about Adwords. It clear that a lot of people are wasting a lot of money on Google Adwords, sometimes with really basic mistakes.

For example:

  • paying $1.50 per click to advertise a $20 utility
  • paying $1 per click for an expensive, English language only development tool in some of the poorest, non-English speaking countries in the world.

Ouch.

Below I list 5 great ways to waste money in Adwords. I have seen them far too often. I have considerable admiration for what Google has achieved. But I think Larry and Sergey are probably rich enough already. I would like to see a lot less people throwing money at them and getting nothing useful in return.

1. Don’t use conversion tracking

conversion tracking adwords

With conversion tracking you decide a goal to track (typically a customer buys your software) and put a small script provided by Google on the appropriate page (e.g. the ‘thank you for buying’ page). Google will then use cookie tracking to calculate the cost per conversion for your ads and keywords. It is that simple and you can set it up in a few minutes. I can’t understand why anyone wouldn’t use conversion tracking. With conversion tracking you will soon notice that some ads and keywords convert consistently better than others, often much better. Armed with this information you can optimise Adwords by changing bid prices and deleting under performing ads. Without conversion tracking it is pure guess work.

Conversion tracking isn’t perfect:

  • Adwords cookies time out after 30 days. If someone buys 31 days after they click your ad it won’t be tracked. And the cookie may be pushed out of the cache before 30 days.
  • If someone clicks your ad on one computer and then buys it on another computer (or even using a different browser on the same computer) the conversion won’t be tracked.
  • Some customers may have cookies disabled.

But imperfect data has to be better than no data. Obviously the 30 day limit on cookies is problematic if you are selling software with a sales cycle that is typically 30 days or longer (e.g. software with a 30 day trial). In that case you are probably better off tracking downloads, rather than sales. The fact that someone takes time to download your software, rather than bouncing straight out of your site, at least shows some interest. If you have stats which show your typical download to sale ratio (and you should) you can use this to work out what a download is worth, and set your bid price accordingly.

2. Don’t use negative keywords

adwords negative keywords

My own experiences with Adwords quickly showed me that people will click an ad, even if it isn’t at all relevant to what they are searching for. For example people searching for “747 seating plan” will click on an ad with the title “wedding seating plan”. It is the nature of the web that people are surfing rather than reading, and clicking on an irrelevant ad doesn’t cost them anything. You can avoid a lot of wasted clicks with carefully set-up negative keywords. For example, you can be sure that I have “747″ set up as a negative keyword.

Ways to find negative keywords include:

  • Generating ‘Search Query Performance’ reports from Google Adwords reporting
  • looking through your web logs/analytics for the sort of terms people are typing into search engines to find your site
  • using Google’s keyword suggestion tool
  • using Google suggest

There is also a useful list of negative keyword suggestions on Alwin Hoogerdijk’s blog.

3. Advertise in developing countries

adwords country selection
Over a billion people have access to the Internet. Many of them are in developing countries and aren’t realistically going to buy your software due to a combination of: cost (even $20 is a lot of money to people in many developing countries), payment issues (they may not have access to credit cards), language issues (your software isn’t localised for them) and cultural issues (there just isn’t much respect for intellectual property and copyright in many parts of the developing world). But that certainly won’t stop them clicking on your ads and you still have to pay for the clicks.

Start with wealthy countries where plenty of people speak a language your software has been localised into. If you really think you might be able to make a return in developing countries, then test it by creating a separate campaign that only runs in these countries and set your bids much lower (it is very easy to duplicate a campaign with Adwords Editor).

4. Bid too much

adwords bids

Lets use an example:

  • Your software sells for $30, of which you get $20 after subtracting ecommerce fees and average support costs.
  • Your typical visit to sale conversion ratio is about 1%.

That means you will only break even if you pay $0.20 per click through Adwords. Personally I find it hard to justify paying more than 50% of my profit to Google. So I wouldn’t bid more than $0.10 per click. If I couldn”t get any impressions at $0.10 per click I would try to either improve my quality score (e.g. improve my ads or delete keywords with low clickthrough rates) or find cheaper ‘long tail’ keywords to bid on. Paying $0.20 or more just to ‘get on the first page’ of Google is crazy (unless perhaps, it is a loss leader for market research purposes). You can’t make up on volume what you lose on each sale!

5. Don’t monitor your results

adwords reporting

Leaving your adwords campaign running for months on ‘auto pilot’ is ill-advised. Adwords is a constantly changing landscape. Google is continually changing the system and your competitors are coming and going and changing their Adwords campaigns and their products. So you need to continuously monitor how you are doing.  Google makes this very easy. For example, you can just set up Adwords reporting to email you a weekly summary of the number of conversions and the cost per conversion for each adgroup. A quick glance through this will let you know if things are going awry.

Conclusion

Adwords can be a very responsive, cost effective and well targeted form of advertising, if you take the time to learn the ropes and experiment. Below is a graph of my return on investment from Adwords for my table planning software over 5 years (almost certainly an underestimate due to the short-comings of conversion tracking, as discussed above). You can see that, after a few months finding my way, I was able to get a consistent ROI of around 4 or 5 to 1 and maintain this in the face of increasing competition.

adwords ROI graph

ROI = number of dollars in sales for each dollar spent on Adwords (1=break even).

Adwords is a complex system and the defaults are weighted in the house’s favour. In this article I have only touched on a few of the biggest mistakes I see. Google will give you plenty of rope to hang yourself and there are lots of other, less obvious ways to lose money. You really need to take the time to learn the system and experiment if you are going to have any chance of getting a decent return.

When I started with Adwords 5 years ago I read the Perry Marshall e-book on Adwords (beware – long copy!). I found it quite helpful. I assume they have kept it up to date. If nothing else, you will learn what it is like to be relentlessly marketed and upsold to. Google also has lots of free Adwords documentation and videos. If you go to conferences such as SIC or ESWC it well worth listening to Adwords specialists such as Dave Collins of softwarepromotions.com (formerly sharewarepromotions.com) talk about Adwords. There is also lots of useful information in the blogosphere. Start with a small daily budget and gradually increase it as you learn what works for you.

If you haven’t got the time or inclination to learn the system and experiment, pay someone who knows what they are doing to do it for you or stay well away from Adwords. Also bear in mind that Adwords works better for some products than others. If I was selling a $20 Mac-only product in a market with lots of more expensive competitors, I probably wouldn’t even bother trying Adwords.

** Update **

I used a deliberately provocative headline for this post, because I wanted to emphasize the fact that a lot of people are wasting a lot of money on Adwords. It seems to have worked in terms of traffic. But, judging by comments here and on Hacker News it has also confused some people. Sorry about that. To clarify, the sections heading are telling you how to waste money. To maximize your ROI you should do the opposite:

  • use conversion tracking
  • use negative keywords
  • only advertise in richer countries
  • not bid too much
  • monitor your results

A test of Cost Per Action (CPA) vs Cost Per Click (CPC) in Google Adwords

CPA vs CPCThe traditional approach to Google Adwords is to set a bid price for each keyword. This is known as Cost Per Click (CPC). Google then then uses the bid prices in conjunction with a secret formula (the quality score) to decide how high to rank your ad in the Adwords results. If you bid more, your ad will appear higher and typically get more clicks, but your cost per click will increase. So setting an optimal bid price is important. Bid too little and you won’t rank high enough to get a decent number of clickthroughs. Bid too much and you will potentially end paying more to Google than you recoup in sales.

An alternative approach is to tell Google Adwords how much you are prepared to pay for a particular action, e.g. a sign-up, download or sale. This is known as Cost Per Action (CPA) or Conversion Optimizer. Google will then automatically calculate your bid prices and attempt not to exceed the CPA you set (although this isn’t guaranteed).

CPA sounds great. I can stay in bed a bit longer while the mighty Google brain does the bid tweaking for me. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to use CPA. I  count sales as conversions (not downloads) and I have my adwords account split into a number of campaigns by geographic region and by type (e.g. search vs content). Having my campaigns structured like this, rather than one monolithic campaign, makes for more flexibility (e.g. different ads, phrases and bid prices for different geographical areas) and more useful reports (e.g. separate reports for search and content). But it also meant none of my Adwords campaigns made the minimum threshold for conversions per month.

When Google dropped the minimum threshold for CPA to 30 conversions per campaign per month, one of my Perfect Table Plan search campaigns became eligible. So I did an experiment. I ran a campaign for 4 weeks using CPC, then 9 weeks using CPA, then another 4 weeks using CPC. I set the CPA bid to roughly the average cost per conversion I got for CPC. I was curious to see if Google would find sweet spots that I had been missing or whether they would bid as high as they could to take as much money off me as possible. Summary: CPC outperformed CPA on all key metrics, including: 4.4% higher conversions, 9.4% lower cost per conversions and 8.0% higher profit.

The detailed results are as follows:

metric CPC  (vs CPA)
impressions/day +13.9%
clicks/day +1.3%
conversions/day +4.4%
CTR -11.1%
conv rate +3.1%
income/day +4.4%
cost/day -5.5%
CPC -6.6%
profit/day +8.0%
PKI -5.2%
ROI +10.4%
cost per conversion -9.4%

In graphical form (click to enlarge):

CPA vs CPC graph 50pc

Notes:

  • The values given are taken by computing (CPC metric – CPA metric)/(CPA metric). E.g. ROI of +10.4% means that CPC had a 10.4% higher ROI than CPA.
  • Only a single (geographically based) search campaign was measured. The total number of conversions during the time period of the test was in 3 figures.
  • I only measured sale conversions. This gives me less data than measuring downloads, but I think it is unsafe to assume the number of downloads correlates closely to the number of sales.
  • The PerfectTablePlan sale price is £19.95/$29.95. To calculate profit I only counted 75% of the price of a sale (the other 25% was assumed to cover the cost of support, ecommerce fees and other overheads associated with the sale).
  • Each of the time periods was a multiple of 7 days to avoid any issues with different results on different days of the week.
  • I ran CPC for an equal amount of time either side of the CPA test to try to balance out any seasonal factors.
  • Google conversion tracking uses Cookies and is therefore not 100% accurate.
  • PKI is Profit Per Thousand Impressions.
  • ROI is Return On Investment.

It wouldn’t be wise to draw any sweeping conclusions from one test with a limited amount of data. However I believe the results show:

  • A CPA campaign running for 9 weeks wasn’t able to outperform a mature CPC campaign. The CPC campaign had been running for over 4 years, but one would have thought CPA would have been able to use that pre-existing  data. CPA might have performed better if given longer. It would probably also have done better against a less mature CPC campaign.
  • Google didn’t rob me blind using CPA bidding. The CPA cost per day was only 5.5% higher.
  • The results weren’t hugely different. On the basis of the above results one might still conclude that CPA is superior to CPC as it requires less time to manage.

GoogleCheckout price increase

googlecheckoutIt was always on the cards that Google was going to raise the prices of their payment processing service, GoogleCheckout. Up till now I had effectively used GoogleCheckout for free, as they offset their 1.5% + £0.15 processing fee against my Adwords spending. But they are dropping the Adwords offsetting and introducing a new tiered pricing structure.

As I put most of my payments through PayPal I will probably be on the highest price tier of 3.4% + £0.20 per transaction. This means that a £19.95 sale will cost me £0.88 (4.4%) through GoogleCheckout as opposed to the £0.68 (3.4%) I pay through PayPal. I wouldn’t mind the higher fees if I got a better service than PayPal. Unfortunately GoogleCheckout still has all the flaws I commented on back in April 2007, namely:

  • Google still don’t accept payments in more than one currency (e.g. as a UK resident I can only accept payments in £). Expecting anyone outside the UK to pay in £ is a very bad idea.
  • Delays between customer purchase and payment clearance result in angry and/or confused emails from customers wondering why their licence key hasn’t arrived. This has improved since the early days of GoogleCheckout, but it is still an issue.
  • Google’s option to anonymise the customer email address is a royal pain in the backside for the vendor.  It causes me of lots of wasted time and unecessary emails.
  • The customer *has* to sign up for a GoogleCheckout account (unlike PayPal).
  • There is a £7 chargeback fee (PayPal don’t charge a chargeback fee).
  • Customers prefer PayPal.

About the only advantage of GoogleCheckout is the GoogleCheckout badge that appears alongside your Google Adwords ad. In their email to me explaining the price rise Google claim:

Advertisers who use Checkout have the opportunity to display the Checkout badge on their ads, which has proven to  be an effective way to differentiate ads and attract user interest. Checkout users click on ads 10% more when the ad displays the Checkout badge and convert 40% more than shoppers who have not used Checkout in the past.

My own measurements showed a worthwhile effect from the GoogleCheckout badge, but I am not convinced it is worth the additional problems and expense of GoogleCheckout just to get the badge.

I already push PayPal more than GoogleCheckout (e.g. you have to click a link from my US dollar payment page to see a GoogleCheckout button). The price increases will probably result in GoogleCheckout being pushed further into the background for use just as an alternative for those that don’t like PayPal. I don’t know if Google will punish me by removing my Adwords badge.

Note, in order to continue to use GoogleCheckout from 5 May 2009 onwards, you must login to your account and accept the new Terms of Service between 18 March and 4 May.

Google 2001

To celebrate their 10th anniversary Google have put up their search index from January 2001 (their oldest surviving index). These were the good ‘ol days when Google indexed a mere billion or so web pages, iPod meant Image Proof of Deposit Document Processing System and the iPhone was produced by a company called InfoGear. Try Googling your product name and see what comes up.

While I don’t regard myself as a Google fan-boy I am continually amazed by the speed and accuracy of their search engine. It must be one of the most impressive and successful pieces of software ever written. It is indexing billions of pages while fighting a never ending war against those trying to game the system. Yet I can get pretty good answers to many questions in a fraction of a second, and Google sends traffic to my blog posts within hours of posting. I’m not even sure niche products such as my own would be financially viable without Google. Some of their other tools, such as Google maps, are also pretty impressive. Happy tenth birthday Google!

via a post on BOS by Gerry Smith

Google Chrome

Google continue on their path to world dominance by releasing their own browser today. It is open source and builds on elements of Apple Webkit and Mozilla Firefox. Currently the beta is only available for Windows. Whether this is going to help web app developers by adding more capabilities and setting new de facto standards, or hurt them by further fragmenting the market and creating more compatibility issues, remains to be seen. For more details see the Google Chrome blog post or the Google Chrome ‘comic book’.

PayPal vs GoogleCheckout revisited

I wrote back into December 2007 that 70% of my customers prefer PayPal over GoogleCheckout, given the choice. I re-checked the figures today to see if GoogleCheckout was gaining traction with my customers. It isn’t.

% of UK customers[1] choosing PayPal vs GoogleCheckout by month

I’m glad. Despite PayPal’s recent flakiness (since improved) and higher transaction fees[2], I still prefer them as a payment processor due to Google’s confidential email option (which a pain in the butt for support), lack of multi-currency support, chargeback fees and slow processing of many orders. It is useful to have an alternative to PayPal though.

[1] GoogleCheckout only lets me accept payment in pounds sterling, so I only offer it to UK customers.

[2] For a £19.95 transaction PayPal charges me £0.68 and GoogleCheckout charges me £0.45. But Google currently refunds transaction fees for 10x my adwords spend, meaning I don’t pay any transaction fees at all to Google in a typical month.