Compare & Contrast: Search Ad Program Strategies

Google, Microsoft and Yahoo’s pay-per-click (PPC) programs are similar, but each have unique features that require different campaign tactics to use effectively. How do you get the maximum advantage from each program?

A special report from the Search Engine Strategies conference, August 7-10, 2006, San Jose, CA.

The speakers in “Compare & Contrast: Ad Program Strategies” session cleared up common confusion by examining similarities and differences in the major search ads networks.

Keyword match type

The search engines give you some control over which search queries trigger your PPC ads. Google and MSN offer three options: Exact, Phrase and Broad Match. In general, Exact Match means your ad will only appear if a person’s search query matches exactly with the keyword (or phrase) you bid on. With Phrase Match, your ad is eligible to be shown if the search query contains all the words in your keyword plus additional words before and/or after. Broad Match allows the search engines to add additional words to your keyword phrase, plus separate and rearrange the words in your original keyword phrase. Yahoo offers two options: Standard Match (similar to Exact Match) and Advanced Match (similar to Broad Match).

Not surprisingly, the search engines’ default setting is Broad/Advanced Match. This gives them the ability to add more keywords to your campaign. Be careful! If you’re not aware of this, you may be spending more money on keywords you don’t want. The Exact/Standard Match option is usually the most profitable match type because it’s the most targeted.

Patricia Hursh, president of SmartSearch Marketing, warned PPC advertisers against using Broad/Advanced Match for single-word keywords. She said that advertisers often experience a low click-through rate because many of the words and phrases automatically added to your campaign won’t likely be as relevant as they should be. Instead, she recommended manually expanding your keyword list. Testing Broad/Advanced Match can be part of a phase two keyword optimization strategy. Want an example?

Hursh noted that Broad/Advanced match can be a time-saver. That’s because advertisers can manage smaller keyword lists while still reaching the desired audience. Here’s one example: she originally managed 270 Exact Match keywords (phrases) representing all of the desirable variations of searches related to “Los Angeles ISP” on Google. However, by using Google’s Broad Match option only 32 keywords (phrases) were required in the account. These 32 Broad Match keywords were enough to build all of the original 270 desired phrases. So, Broad Match definitely does shorten keyword lists and simplify campaign management.

Hursh also pointed out that match type does not affect ad position in Google or MSN. However, today in Yahoo preferential ad placement is awarded if a search query matches exactly with a keyword in a Yahoo campaign. This means that ads with lower bids may show above ads with higher bids because Standard Match always trumps Advanced Match. This of course, will change when Yahoo implements their new Quality Index.

Ad reviews & trademark marketing

Mona Elesseily, Internet Marketing Strategist for Page Zero Media, covered the ad review process of Google, MSN and Yahoo.

She pointed out how Google’s automated system checks and rejects superlatives and misspellings as advertisers submit their listings (ad titles and descriptions). MSN does both automatic and manual review of ads. Yahoo’s new ad platform is reported to include Fast Ad Activation which should expedite the review process.

Trademark owners and their competitors likely listened carefully to the next section of her presentation. Google allows advertisers to bid on competitors’ trademark terms but will not allow them to display these terms in their ads. Elesseily pointed out that trademark terms can negatively impact your Quality Score and even increase your minimum bid price in Google. MSN does not allow advertisers to bid on their competitors’ trademark terms or display these in their ads.

Yahoo recently changed its policy. As of March 2006, Yahoo no longer allows advertisers to bid on competitors’ trademark terms. Resellers and non-competitive information sites can still bid on trademarked keywords but there are certain conditions. For resellers: the advertiser must sell or facilitate the sale of trademarked product or service. So, if you’re Sony, you can’t bid on Toshiba terms. For information sites: the advertiser must provide a) substantial information about the trademark owner or its products and services, and b) can’t sell or promote competitors’ products or services. Overall, Yahoo’s new trademark policy further limits the use of trademark terms.

Local search

When it comes to local search, advertisers have two options. First, advertisers can simply bid on regional keywords—”Chicago plumber” for example. Brad Geddes, director of SEM for, offered an extensive list of possibilities. You can regionalize your phrase by country, state/province, state abbreviation, cities, neighborhoods, ZIP codes, area codes, airport codes and even regional lingo.

Second, advertisers can choose geo-targeting through ads are served to consumers based on their web host’s IP address. Here’s where it can get confusing. Within the geo-targeting option, search engines typically offer more than one choice.

Geddes started with Google’s options. At the campaign level, advertisers can select to target their ads by country, DMA (state/province, regions, metro), radius (point on a map) or custom targeting (area on a map). MSN supports country and DMA targeting at the account, campaign and order level. Currently, Yahoo supports country targeting only at the account level which means each country ad campaign goes through a different editorial team. Yahoo’s program is the only one that currently allows companies to advertise without a web site.

Geddes believes that in general, most businesses should do both geo-targeting and use regional keywords. However, he also said geo-targeting can reach a larger audience because most searchers still aren’t using geo-qualified keywords. For example, there are more searchers within Chicago for “plumber” than there are for “Chicago plumber.”

How you create your local search strategy really depends on how your target audience uses search engines.

Ad testing

Brad Byrd, vice president of NewGate, gave each search engine a score based on their ad testing capabilities. Byrd gave Yahoo a “D-” noting that this is based on Yahoo’s current functionality, not their new ad platform. He commented that having to assign one ad per keyword is “simple, but a pain to test.” Fortunately, a better solution is on the way. Yahoo’s new ad platform should allow keywords to be bundled into an ad group, and provide considerable flexibility in ad copy testing. URLs can be assigned to an ad group or individual keywords. Byrd looks forward to the new Yahoo platform, and expects its features to be a competitive with both Google and MSN.

Byrd gave Google an “A” based on a myriad of features. Google advertisers have the ability to assign keywords to ad groups, assign URLs to an ad group or individual keywords, enable/disable an auto optimization feature based on click-through rates, and run duplicate ad groups. Google’s Dynamic Keyword Insertion tool is handy. Byrd also commented on Google’s reporting tools which can display a cross-section of data helpful to savvy advertisers.

MSN received a score of “B+” by Byrd. Like Google and Yahoo’s forthcoming platform, MSN allows advertisers to assign keywords to an order (same as “ad group”). He praised MSN’s ‘Parameters’ feature as a major industry innovation. This feature not only allows advertisers to insert a variety of insert the keyword being bid on into the corresponding ad, but also dynamically insert keyword-specific, custom variables into the ad copy as well. Discount or delivery information, for example. Any drawbacks? Byrd said MSN’s reporting functionality is limited through the web interface; users need API access to get detailed keyword-level reporting.

Catherine Seda is author of Search Engine Advertising and a new training course: Search Marketing Mastery.

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