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Web Search & Marketing Newsletter: August 2011

Welcome to the latest issue of our monthly newsletter, which covers some of the recent trends and developments in the field of web search and online marketing.

In this month's issue you can read about the new data provided to Google AdWords advertisers which, for the first time, analyses the performance between top ranking and side ranking adverts. You can also learn about the latest research by Google which addresses the common question about whether PPC adverts should run alongside high natural search rankings. Finally this month, we review the recent launch of Google+, their new social networking service, and how this is estimated to be growing members at a rapid rate.

You can read more below, or you can also browse through previous editions of the newsletter, either by month or by subject. You can also follow our Facebook page for updates during each month, or we will also post news on our Twitter account.

On to this month's edition...

Review "Top vs. Side" Ad Performance in Google AdWords

Google has recently introduced a new data segmentation report within the AdWords interface that allows advertisers to compare the performance data between ads that appear in the top 3 ads above the main search results, against those that appear down the right hand side. This is often a key question for advertisers and this new analysis may help clarify the impact that a top placed advert may have.

According to Google, ads that appear above the search results tend to get substantially more clicks than ads that appear on the right-hand side. This is understandable as these top placed ads have a prominent position on the search results page and users may either not realise these are adverts, or will click on them automatically as the first placed results. However, the question is also whether the cost-effective of these positions are as good as those that appear down the right hand side of the search results.

There is no doubt that this enhanced reporting capability is a benefit to the management and optimisation of campaigns, but independent opinions and experience indicate that although more clicks may be accrued from having adverts in the top, rather than side positions, it is not always the best strategy for advertisers. The proportional difference in bid rates between these positions can be large and the return in the increased investment, in terms of conversions, is not guaranteed. If a website isn't converting visitors from any position, there is clearly no benefit in having the adverts consistently at the top, even if that does encourage more visits.

The new data segmentation by Google allows advertisers to get some greater insight into the impact of the top ranking position. This data has previously been available through linked Google Analytics data, but only at a single search term level, so this new report gives a cumulative overview of clickthrough rates and conversions between these advert ranking positions.

Having said that, the initial results that are being shown in the reports looks heavily skewed towards the top ranking positions, both in terms of significantly higher clickthrough rates and therefore visits and also conversions. At this stage, we have some reservations about the reports and a cynical view would be that Google is over-emphasising the top ranking positions to encourage advertisers to bid higher into these positions.

We are therefore running a series of tests over the next month to check the validity of this new data segmentation and to see how reliable this data might be across a number of different campaigns and clients. Hopefully this information will be providing reliable and relevant insights into the performance of the campaign, which will allow the ad positions to be managed accordingly, although at this point we remain to be convinced and are monitoring the online discussions about this new report.

If you would like more details about this new segmentation and how the data could help your AdWords campaign management, please contact us now.


Should PPC ads be run alongside high SEO rankings?

A common question from Google AdWords / PPC advertisers is whether they should still run their paid ads alongside search terms that also rank well in the main search results, due to the SEO on their website. A recent study by Google may help to answer this.

Google's report concluded that paid search ads can give advertisers an 89% lift in site visitors above that which would normally be expected from organic listings. This is a very high increase and poses the question of whether or not the study is biased, considering Google is commenting about its own search properties (and again, trying to get more advertisers to pay for an AdWords listing).

Independent views, however, support the search industry's opinion that it's important to manage and bid on brand name terms in paid search ads when you already have good organic positions, even if it's to keep your competitors from dominating the paid ad spots. Using paid search ads in addition to the organic listings can compliment those with brand building and controlling messages, that aren't so easy to portray within the organic listings.

However, there may also be benefits from running simulataneous adverts alongside natural SEO rankings for more generic terms, since 2 listings in the search results can support the brand awareness for a business, increase the likelihood of a click, and block another advertiser from appearing in the results. Ultimately, though, the activity for a search term through PPC advertising has to remain cost-effective.

Coming back to the Google study, the main result of more visitors - as defined by their research - can be enhanced with sensible brand building through PPC adverts. The 89% increase in visits can be treated sceptically though, as the research was conducted on US AdWords campaigns in the holiday period, so that the figure is not likely to be as impressive if the research was conducted over the period of a full year.

The most definitive way to test the findings would be to stop a currently running brand-building AdWords campaign that your business is running and see what impact that has on traffic and conversions. The likelihood, however, is that many businesses that rely upon this method of paying for clicks in addition to the free ones from the organic listings would not be willing to trial this. This indicates that the additional clicks and brand awareness that the PPC ads create do support Google's finding that it's worth running PPC and organic campaigns concurrently with the same keywords.

To find out more about the cost-effectiveness of running a PPC advertising campaign alongside an SEO strategy, please contact us now.


New Google+ estimated to be growing a million users a day

Following on from our May 2011 newsletter where we reported on Google's move into social networking with the "+1" button, they have now launched a full social networking service called Google+. At the moment this remains in a beta version and is gradually being rolled out, but initial estimates are indicating a rapid take-up of the service.

It appears that Google+ is not shaping up to be a flop, like "Buzz" and "Wave" the company's previous forays into social/shared content. At least one independent study indicates that Google+ is growing at rates that rival those seen by Facebook. The author of this study, Paul Allen, the founder of Ancestry.com, suggests that by mid-July, there could be as many as 20 million users signed up to Google+.

Allen based his work by counting surnames on Google+ and then comparing that count to Census Bureau data. If his figures are correct, then more than one million new people per day have signed up to Google+ since its launch on June 28th. According to The New York Times, in 2009 Facebook was gaining nearly a million new users a day. However, Google has not announced officially how many users are on Google+ at the moment.

Allen's data does involve some assumptions, for example, that there were 2.12 non-US users for every American on Google+, so cannot be deemed as entirely accurate (and neither does he claim it to be). But he believes that his figures are in the approximate vicinity and this is sufficient to portray such amazing growth.

The reason for this could be due to the recent publicity for Google+ in the technical press which has prompted many sign-ups. Whether or not these users are actually active or will continue to use the new service is a key question and one that will determine whether Google+ will really challenge Facebook or head the same way as Buzz and Wave.

If you would like to know more about Google+, or how social media marketing can enhance the success of your business, contact us now for details.


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Readers of our Web Marketing Blog will have seen that after nearly 4 years and over 460 posts, we have decided to end the blog and provide news and updates on the web marketing sector through the social media channels. This reflects the changing nature of the online market for communication and allows us to be more flexible in updating our clients and followers with the latest developments. Therefore if you use Facebook or Twitter, you can now follow our news and updates using these channels:

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We hope you've found this month's newsletter useful. Please contact us if you need any more information on the items covered, or our advice on any aspect of your website's performance. Also, if there are any issues you would like to see in future editions of this newsletter, please submit your suggestions to us.