Is Your Money Green Enough for the Search Engines? The Importance of Good User Experiences

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Over the last few years, Google has systematically used their Quality Score algorithm to weed out “bad” advertisers from their paid search results. Fail to meet the minimum Quality Score standards and Google won’t let you advertise – in some cases even if you are willing to pay $10 or more per click.

When you read the Google definition of Quality Score, it is clear that websites that provide poor user experience and sub-standard customer service are prime candidates for Quality Score penalization. The Quality Score guidelines note that websites should maximize “transparency,” which means that you should:

  • Honor the deals and offers you promote in your ad.
  • Deliver products and services as promised.
  • Charge users only for the products and services that they order and successfully receive.

The rationale behind Quality Score is simple: if Google advertisers disappoint Google users, users will eventually lose faith in Google and go elsewhere for their searching, thus decreasing Google revenue. Call it a combination of “Do No Evil” and “Make More Money.”

While Google was the first search engine to ban advertisers with bad user experience, the concept is not new. eBay’s feedback ratings have been an integral part of the auction site’s experience since the company’s inception. Sellers who get too many negative reviews are kicked off eBay forever with no opportunity to appeal. Amazon uses similar user rating systems for their marketplace sellers, as do all the comparison shopping engines. Moreover, not long after Google announced their Quality Score system, Yahoo! Search Marketing and MSN adCenter followed suit with similar systems.

Back in 2003, you could offer users a lousy user experience and still manage to get broad marketing coverage across the Internet. Today, user complaints can and will get you banned from Google, Yahoo!, MSN, eBay, and Amazon. For many online businesses, this is effectively a death penalty.

Inevitably, this means that the role of a search marketer must shift and expand to meet the new realities of the marketplace. If you think of a traditional ecommerce conversion funnel, there are four groups within a company that play a role in conversion: marketing (customer acquisition), product or merchandising (on-site conversion), technology (uptime and load-time), and customer service (customer satisfaction).

In the past, it was enough for a search marketer to worry mainly about traffic and secondarily about site conversion. Today, ignoring any part of the conversion funnel puts your entire online advertising budget at peril. Search marketers need to educate the rest of their organization on what is and is not permissible in a Quality Score world. Does your site have excessive pop-ups? Does it lack a clear privacy policy? Has your company failed to invest in customer service? Is your refund policy non-existent? Does the site load so slowly that many users hit the back button out of frustration? Like it or not, Google now has a say in your post-click business.

If you take a “glass half empty” approach to this state of affairs, this means more work for you and some uncomfortable turf-arguments with your peers. From a “glass half full” perspective, however, you can use this as an opportunity to build more trust with users and deliver increased customer satisfaction.

I take the half-full approach. While the loss of a few pop-ups and a more liberal return policy may negatively impact the bottom line initially, in the long term, the financial impact of satisfied customers is almost always positive. Treat your customers right and Google – and your accountants – will be happy.

About the Author

David Rodnitzky is CEO of PPC Associates, a leading SEM agency based in Silicon Valley. PPC Associates provides search, social, and display advertising management to growing, savvy companies. To learn more, visit ppcassociates.com, or contact David at david@ppcassociates.com.

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