Google Online Marketing Challenge 2009

This week I had the pleasure of being a guest speaker at Penn State’s GOMCHA class, taught by Jim Jansen and Daehee Park (who won last year’s contest)– thank you for the honor, guys!  Daehee and Jim are coaching ten teams of five students, each team with a client that has $200 to spend on Google AdWords as effectively as possible.  There’s not much you can do with only $200.  Assuming industry prices of about $1 a click (and I understand that such averages cover up distortions in prices of certain terms), you get only 200 clicks and have but a couple weeks to optimize the spend.  The clients ranged from a bike shop to an online news site to a rural real estate company.  Most were local clients, so geo-targeting limited the competition they had to beat for the keywords they were after.  I saw great use of negative keywords, tight ad groups, DKI (dynamic keyword insertion), and varying destination URLs.

What I learned about GOMCHA

I suppose the point of being a guest speaker is that I’m supposed to share an old-timer’s PPC experience with newbies.  However, I found I learned a few things.  These students have a disadvantage from the outset because they’re not given access to Google Analytics, are not allowed to place AdWords conversion tracking or use tools like Google Website Optimizer as tools to guide performance.  Thus, the GOMCHA class must optimize impressions, clicks, and CTR.  If your goal is generating more clicks, then the side effect is that you’ll end up going after the lowest-quality traffic.  Some clicks are subjectively going to be worth more than others– however, without a bounce rate or conversion rate, what’s the incentive to go after such terms?  Also, if you want a lower average CPC, then you’ll likely bid lower, get a lower average position, and thus, get a lower CTR.  Is a “low” CTR necessarily bad?  Depends on the average position that you’re in and whether it’s search versus content.  A 1% CTR is great for being in position 10, but not so great if you’re in position 1.

More is better

Many of the campaigns had each keyword on broad, exact, and phrase match.  Thus, if you have 200 keywords, then you have 600 terms in your account. I also noticed some ultra-long keyword combinations– keyphrases of 7 words and more. And then there were low bids on these exact match terms of 7 words. For your first PPC campaign, you want to be so conservative and frugal in your spending that you might even optimize yourself out of getting any traffic to start. I learned that PPC takes courage to bid up and then quickly optimize since hanging out only on low-volume terms is not as safe as it may appear.  You get dinged by having massive keyword portfolios that have few clicks, as that’s more calculation that Google must do in deciding when to show your ads.

A great learning experience

Congratulations to Jim, Daehee, and all the GOMCHA class folks at Penn State!  I was impressed with what these students were able to do in such a short time.  I am hoping that Google will select several winners from this group– they have the best mentors available!  Good luck, guys!

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