Up Close With Google AdWords

Google's AdWords system is similar to that run by Ask Jeeves, where paid results are displayed along the right-hand side of the results page. Also like Ask Jeeves, ads are sold on a CPM basis. This means you pay for how often your ad appears, rather than how often someone clicks on your paid link. That's about the end of the similarities, and the unique differences Google introduces may take some getting used to.

For one, you cannot control where or even if your ad appears. At Ask Jeeves, there are three ads spots per page. If there are more than three advertisers, then the top three bidders are displayed. In contrast, which advertisers appear in the three available spots at Google depends on the "interest" level in that ad.

Every ad has an "Interest" bar that appears below the description. This indicates how many people are clicking on it. The more green in the bar, the more the ad is attracting clicks. If there is more than one advertiser, then ads are ranked by their clickrate. And if there are more than three advertisers for a particular term, then only the three with the best interest rate will appear. The concept is to reward advertisers who have created precisely targeted ads that seem to satisfy users.

"The advertiser is motivated to increase the clickthrough, to try hard to make the ads better," said Google president Sergey Brin.

Of course, even Brin admits than a well-written ad might pull clicks, only to lead to a disappointing site. "Clickthrough doesn't measure quality beyond the ad," he said. However, he also said there are a number of other factors Google is experimenting, with as the program works through the beta period. And yes, Google is normalizing interest tracking to take into account the fact that the first ad listed naturally draws more clicks.

Not appearing isn't a big deal now, because the program is so new, you'll probably only see one or two advertisers sporadically popping up for anything. However, if the popularity grows, you might find your ads being bumped off not by higher paying ads but instead by a lack of interest. To combat this, you should make your ads as appealing as possible, though you obviously can't be misleading. Keep in mind that repeating the search term your are targeting in your description and title has been shown to increase clickthrough in other pay for placement programs.

Also, be as precisely targeted as possible. The broader the term you target, the less likely you'll please everyone, which means a lower clickthrough. For example, if you sell computer games, targeting specific game titles with ads that state you have those particular games are more likely to attract clicks than a generic ad targeted against the general term "games."

Finally, another tip would be to begin advertising now. That means your ads can begin building interest before other people start experimenting with the program. If you wait, you might find it hard to get into rotation at all. You might have to wait until all the popular ads end their campaign for a particular term. On the other hand, Google could conceivable randomly allow other advertisers a shot at being displayed. It may also turn out that the entire interest-based appearance program simply won't work or could prove unpopular with advertisers, forcing a change. Remember -- it's still in beta.

Not only are you not sure where you ad will run, but you also can't tell how much it will cost. The top ad is charged at a rate of US $15 CPM, then the second ad at $12 and the last at $10. Since your ad might move around, you will be charged higher or lower rates depending on where it appears. That top rate is also high compared to the $5 CPM that Ask Jeeves begins with, though higher rates happen over there if several advertisers bid against each other for a particular term.

Google does make it very easy to limit the amount you spend for each "campaign," which is a particular ad or ads linked to a search term or set of terms. Simply indicate your spending limit, and when that's reached, your ads will cease appearing.

Do set a limit -- if you don't, Google will keep displaying your ad after your initial deposit runs out and bill your card for the extra cost at the end of the month or as soon as you rack up $500 in fees. Google will also notify when a spending limit is approaching, if you desire, and an option to set a period of time for the ad to run is available, especially helpful for seasonal campaigns.

When it comes time to select keywords, you'll be confronted by four different boxes to choose from. While this is more complicated than other programs, it also allows you to be more targeted, if you desire. Here are the options:

Keywords: Your ad will be shown for any single words you specify, if those words appear ANYWHERE in someone's query. For example, you target "cars." Your ad will now appear if someone searches for "cars," "used cars" "best places to buy cars" or even "albums by the cars." In contrast, other paid links programs would only target the single word "cars." So be careful with putting words in this box -- if you do, you'll be targeting far more broadly than you may expect.

Phrase Matching: This lets you target two or more words together in a particular order. As with keywords, your ad will be shown if the phrase you target appears anywhere in someone's query. For example, you target "used cars." Now your ad will appear if someone searches for "used cars," "finding used cars," "buying new and used cars" and "fixing used cars." However, it would not appear for something like "cars used" or "buying cars used," because the phrase order isn't matched. As with keywords, be careful with this option, as it may go beyond what you intend.

Exact Query Matching: This box corresponds to what most people are used to, when buying paid links. Your ad will only appear for the exact terms you specify in this box. So target "cars," and your ad will only appear for "cars." Target "used cars," and your ad will only appear for "used cars." To be safe, you might consider using only this box as you begin experimenting at Google, then progress to the other options if you want more power or want to reach more broadly. In fact, it might make sense for Google to only display the Exact Query box unless advertisers want to see the more advanced options.

Negative Keyword Matching: If you are going to use Keywords or Phrase Matching, then Negative Keyword Matching can help you eliminate some queries that are obviously off target. For example, you sell cars and decide to target that word. However, you don't want anyone searching for the musical group The Cars to see your ads. This box lets you indicate terms to filter these people out. Enter something like "music" and "songs," then anyone searching for "cars songs" or "cars music" won't see your ad, because the negative words are appearing.

Unlike GoTo.com, Google's program does not automatically match plural or related word forms. That means you have to indicate every word form you want to be found for separately, such as "car" and "cars." Also, if you are doing phrases, I find it useful to also reverse the order of two word phrases. For example, bid on both "used cars" and "cars used." You'll likely find a small but noticeable number of people may search with the reverse order.

Finally, Google will estimate how much it thinks each term your target will cost. However, the estimates are rough and were showing no differences between exact, phrase and keyword matching last week. Google says this should improve as the program is rolled out. In the meantime, set your spending limits and keep an eye on the reports that show actual traffic generated, which Google provides.

Google AdWords

It's easy to use the Preview option to dive in and create ads without having to register until you want to actually pay for a campaign. You have to start your account with at least $50 to launch a campaign, and then you can top up in whatever amounts you desire.

Paid Links At MSN Search And Direct Hit
The Search Engine Update, April 24, 2000

If you are unfamiliar with CPM pricing versus paying by the click, such as at GoTo.com, the past article below about Ask Jeeves explains the differences. It also explains more about the Ask Jeeves program (called the Direct Hit program, when it was written. The MSN Search program also described no longer operates.