Sunday 15 April 2012

Google Adwords - is it anticompetitive ?

The system that Google uses to rate keyword relvancy is a complete and frustrating enigma. I have spent weeks on trying to improve quality scores for my ads and landing pages.

When I first starting using Adwords many years ago (in 2002) I was not particularly concerned with optimising my campaign since  I was getting good CTRs and good leads. This all dried up in 2006 when it was clear that it was costing me too much to stay ahead of the game.
It was then that I decided to market myself directly with translation agencies so that they could assume all the hard work of  marketing. Recently, though, I decided to reenter the world of PPC advertising and purchase another Adwords account to market my services.

I have to say, my experiences have been completely frustrating.

I downloaded the Adwords Editor in an attempt to streamline the process of  account management, this certainly helped, but given the difficulties associated with optmising campaigns I would have to say that this is now an ABSOLUTE NECESSITY.

I recently redesigned my website to include a number of landing pages that were Keyword specific. As you can imagine, there are a number of ways of advertising a translation service. You could advertise with the words "Fachübersetzungsbüro (specialist translation office)", "Fachübersetzungsdienst (specialist translation service)", or "Fachübersetzungen (specialist translations)". I basically set up a number of deep lying pages that were set to include these phrases so that they appeared with an overall frequency on the landing page of about 4%.  This is regarded as healthy for SEO, and useful also for Adwords optimisation, however it does tend to produce pages that are somewhat replete with the keyword under question...not quite keyword spam...but getting there.

OK, I next set up a number of adgroups with specific ads in each adgroup. Each adgroup focussed on one of the main keywords, i.e. one for Fachübersetzungsbüro, one for Fachübersetzungsdienst and one for Fachübersetzungen etc.

Then I set up the ads in each adgroup. Basically they were all the same except the keyword was in the title.

So there you have it, I set up an ad with the keyword in the title, a landing page with the keywords in the title, and a landing page with the keyword all over this. Not surprisingly the Adwords Editor deemed my keywords to be extremely relevant with scores of 7 to 10. This meant that would not have to bid a great deal to get my adwords shown.

This all sounds fine, until I actually post the changes and see how Google then slashes quality scores by three to six points. this even applied to a keyword that had already accrued a CTR of 1.3%.

All this meant that my keywords showed up as being "poorly" relevant...yes even those with the keyword in the landing page, the title of the landing page and in the ad copy, and with a respectable CTR.

Google expects me to bid over 1 pound just to get my ads shown. I ask you, is that realistic ?  

All this would be OK if you could concentrate on going for more specific long tail keywords, such as "medizinische Fachübersetzungsdienst" for a medical translation service, however, Google blocks keyword combinations that they say do not produce enough search volume.

I have heard tales that some advertisers get away with bids as low as one cent per click to get very good ad positioning. The fact that some advertisers have to pay 100 times as much just to get a sniff in just isnt fair. Without investing a huge amount of time and money, it would be very difficult indeed for small businesses to compete against these advertisers who hire small armies for SEO and Adwords optimisation.

It basically poses the question: Is Google being anticompetitive by forcing smaller operators to pay more and invest more for advertising space ? They claim it promotes quality, but my experience is that their quality scores have very little to do with quality.

I would have to say, on the evidence of this alone, yes.

Dr. Julian P. Keogh