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“At Google, we aren’t focused on advertisers; we’re focused on searchers. We’ll let you advertise on a search term, but you have to add value to the search results.” Indeed. Those words were said to me some years ago by Google’s Dallas sales manager.
At some companies this might just become an empty slogan, but Google has methodically and consistently built rules into AdWords to improve the quality of its sponsored listings. First, Google made click prices depend on the clickthrough rate of your ad, so that weak or irrelevant ads cost more to appear in the sponsored listings. Next, Google introduced AdWords Quality Score, which measures how long visitors stay on a website after clicking an ad, and made sites with a poor quality score pay higher click prices.
Each step has pushed advertisers to improve quality. This may sound like an onerous burden, but it shouldn’t be. Google is actually forcing you to do things that save you advertising dollars. Better websites mean more sales from each dollar.
Now Google has introduced AdWords Optimizer, a powerful new tool that actually helps advertisers improve their landing pages. If you create two or more variations of your landing page, AdWords Optimizer will test each to see which generates the most sales. In fact, AdWords Optimizer is set up for multi-variant testing, so you can simultaneously test many variations of your page and quickly find out which works the best. You can test different headlines, different photos, or a different graphic for your “Buy Now” button.
This may sound complex, but it can solve one of the biggest problems with sponsored search advertising. Search engine marketers like to describe SEM as “the Yellow Pages on steroids,” but they sometimes won’t tell you the flip-side of that equation – half the visitors coming from search engines will spend less than a minute on your website. The search results are filled with companies offering similar products. If your site doesn’t connect with visitors quickly, your competitors are just a click away.
This is the main reason why SEM consultants offer usability testing to improve your website. Despite the importance of it, usability testing can be a surprisingly hard sell, especially to large corporate clients. Why? Perhaps the number of stakeholders makes it difficult to change the website. Maybe the marketing team lacks the knowledge to perform A/B testing. Perhaps it is sheer laziness.
AdWords Optimizer should eliminate those last two excuses and make A/B testing a routine part of managing pay-per-click campaigns. In the SEM world, Google’s moves are sometimes met with grumbling and suspicion. But it is hard to see how Google could do badly by pushing advertisers to make better websites and save their advertising dollars in the process.
It would be very easy for Google to take your advertising money and be happy. Instead, Google is the rare publisher that understands that everyone benefits if the quality of their advertising is high. My advice – invest the time and get up close and personal with AdWords Optimizer. You’ll be glad you did.