With so much speculation about how much BP is spending on Google ads, we decided to take a crack at the math.
We threw the question out to SEW experts and other sources. By utilizing and cross referencing a bunch of different tools, we estimate that they are spending upto $1M a month on a integrated search marketing campaign using Google AdWords and YouTube.
Our BP search campaign estimates:
$995K spent on Google AdWords ads in the U.S.
5M total search ad impressions
$1.33 average cost per click
Search Marketing Back Story
This is a small slice of the total reputation management budget when compared to the $50M that BP is expected to spend on TV ad spots. Interestingly, BP did not seek their traditional advertising agency for advice, Ogilvy & Mather, but instead took on Purple Strategies, a political consultancy, run by Steve McMahon (Democrat) and Alex Castellanos (Republican).
In a style typical of latter day online political campaigns, BP launched a dedicated section on their website called the Gulf of Mexico Response homepage, a YouTube channel, a FlickR pool, a Facebook page and started Tweeting. However, it's Google that seems to have picked up the most cash allocated to online channels.
Purple Strategies Campaign for BP
Since around May 20, BP has had top visibility for over 1,000 search terms related to "oil spill" on the search engine and their videos are promoted to the top of search results for videos on YouTube.
Estimating "Oil Spill" Search Traffic on Google
We started with Google's own traffic estimation tools. We used the AdWords Keyword Tool to estimate the search terms and traffic volume potentially available to bid on. Based on the single term "oil spill," Google AdWords returned over 250 keyword variations that generated a total of 5M "global monthly searches."
Interestingly, a look at the raw data revealed that total monthly searches had leapt 80% from April 2010 to May 2010.
Estimating BP's Actual Spend on Google AdWords
To estimate BP's actual spend on Google AdWords, we looked to SEMrush. This tool tells you what search terms companies have bought and estimates an average cost-per-click (CPC) for those clicks. It estimated an average CPC for the term "oil spill" at $1.48 but also suggested over a 1,000 other terms that BP were advertising on.
SEMrush estimated the total volume of traffic going via AdWords to BP's domain was 750K a month and the average CPC across 1,000 different terms came out at $1.33.
As we were using two different data sets, we performed a sanity check on the numbers. If 5M searches a month were generating 750K clicks to the BP website, that would posit the average clickthrough rate (CTR) across all ads at 15%. That's quite a high clickthrough rate, but given a number of factors it was plausible:
- Urgency of the situation
- Low competition on these terms
- High visibility at the top of the search results (via the paid search ads)
Furthermore, the pay-per-click campaign is well optimized by typical standards of best practice in PPC advertising. Of note was the thematic match between the ad title and display page URL, according to what terms triggered the ad. For instance, "oil leak" triggered a slightly different listing to "oil spill."
Similarly some ads had a news focus while others sought to downplay the urgency of the situation. SEMrush also helped us discover that it was a multilingual campaign targeting Spanish speakers too. We concluded that 15% CTR was a realistic.
Cross referencing the search data
We also contacted an external source, Hitwise. According to Hitwise, 18.9% of traffic to BP.com was driven by paid search, of which 62% of the clicks were driven by 10 key terms.
Notably, there was some correlation in our data sets as the top 10 terms matched Google Insights for Search "rising searches" related to oil spill.
Black Gold Rush
Finally, we asked ClickZ Expert, Kevin Lee from Didit to estimate what BP is spending on paid search. We weren't way off with our estimates. "They could be spending a million a month depending on how broadly they are defining their keywords," he told us.
By our calculations BP was bidding on over 1,000 keywords ranging from niche topics like "oil spill" to broader topics such as "environment" and "oil companies." The average cost per click was $1.33, they had received over 750K clicks and already spent almost $1 million in less than a month.
$1M spent with Google AdWords still seems conservative when compared to the $50m TV budget. However, it's too early to say what the total spend with Google will be - starting at $1M a month is pretty significant.
But you'll have to go to Yahoo Answers to really see an 'insane number'. The relative proportion of money dedicated to reputation management when compared to the actual cost of the oil spill cleanup operation is staggering. Anyone want to hazard a guess as to how much money BP is losing per second?