It was quite an honor being selected to attend the Microsoft AdCenter adChamps 2008 conference in Seattle earlier this month. Although a mandatory NDA was required, there are certain topics which I am free to discuss. First off let me just say how excellent this event was organized. Jason Yormack, community program manager of Microsoft put together a great schedule and provided us top-notch service. Town car pickup to/from SeaTac airport, room service welcome at the Hyatt, dinner reception at Daniel’s Broiler Steak House, catered breakfast/lunch/snacks, pool tournament and XBOX-360 Rockstar jam session at The Parlor Billiards & Spirits. Oh, and a nifty 8gb Zune2 which I won in a raffle.
Satya Nadella, VP of Search & Advertising was the keynote speaker. Only speaking on the topest of top-level initiatives being undertaken, he provided little content which we all were so desperately craving. Perhaps if Satya closed the conference as opposed to kicking it off, his talk would have complimented the material later provided by the developers. But alas, this was not the case. My fellow attendees (including myself) smelt blood in the air and were ready to pounce. After deflecting several technical related questions, Satya concluded his presentation with a diminutive impact on us.
The next session was the arena we were all waiting for Product Briefing & Feedback.
Before opening up table for client feedback [read: criticism], we were shown a list of issues already well known to them. Being an AdCenter advertiser since the Beta release in Q1 2006, these represent about 50% of the issues we’ve had to endure since the get-go:
– Pause/Resume Ads
– Ad Preview Tool
– Offline Campaign Management
– Better Ad Relevancy
– More Robust Geo-Targeting
– Editorial Rejection Reports
– Immediate Go-Live Ads
– Ad Diagnostic Tools
– Totals on Grids
– Bulk Management
– Easily Add/Delete Keywords
Some hands went down when it came to the Feedback portion of the session while others went up higher. How can you only allow us 3 MSN accounts per credit card? Why is there no Agency Login or support? Where is the traffic volume? – Why is editorial so hard to deal with? – so on and so forth.
The following session discussed new tools already developed and being developed that are on the horizon. These tools alone should help revolutionize how every advertiser will manage their accounts. Not only am I impressed with what is going to be coming, frankly I am excited. I will only say this: any advertiser knows that there is a clear division between AdCenter and Microsoft. The look, the feel, and the functionality is all wrong for a Microsoft product. What we can soon expect is a product that clearly shows a collaborative effort of improvements; a red-headed stepchild no more.
Later sessions included discussions on the current state of editorial, how customer service has changed over time, insight into popular MSN verticals, the direction LiveSearch is headed in, Gatineau AdCenter analytics, and the future of AdCenter.
I was selected along with 4 other individuals to participate in an agency focus group where we spoke with one of the lead developers of the interface. Together we helped flow-chart the functionality and needs of an ad agency. I must say, AdCenter should have had us there earlier as we most definitely helped align their priorities.
There were 2 main areas which really irked me. The first was the total lack of understanding of the metric CPA (Cost Per Action). Every time this metric was mentioned, the engineers thought we were talking about Pay Per Action. All new previewed grids, software and layouts completely ignored this KPI. It actually took 3 fellow advertisers to explain not only the meaning, but the actual formula to calculate it.
The second involved the current and future layout of LiveSearch. They had two analysts discussing how CTR drops dramatically between 3rd position and 4th position. As an advertiser for many different clients and verticals in Google and Yahoo, I can say that there is not a drastic difference between 3rd and 4th position. Why is that? I firmly believe MSN suffers from this anomaly because of two words: Related Searches
Clearly, 4th position in MSN is equal to 6th – 7th position in Yahoo or Google because of this annoying and highly unprofitable box. I was dumbfounded when I asked the analyst if they evaluated the effect this box has on the 4th+ position. He had not considered it.
All-in-all, Microsoft was extremely forthcoming with their weaknesses. Everyone was very open to critique and not once did I get the feeling we were bruising their Microsoft ego. I truly appreciate that.
There were numerous Microsoft employees all taking notes on all of our feedback; at least 20 people all typing furiously on their ThinkPads. I left with a strong sense that AdCenter was on the right path and that our feedback will contribute to the future of adCenter. I felt we were a single team working to make adCenter what it needs to be.
As part of the topics I am free to discuss, probably you may be familiar with using price quotes in your ad creative, whether it’s in the title or ad description. Many sales people will tell you this is a wise and proven selling technique. Show your customers a hot price up front and the purchase will follow. Some search engine marketers have caught on to this idea and transferred it over to the online world. Type in the keyword “hot tub” and you will find half of your competitors using price points to lure visitors.
But have you ever noticed that small section – it occasionally shows between the top position sponsored ads and organic listings? This is Google Product Search, formally known as Froogle. It consists of three product listings, their price and company name. The key here is price. This tiny piece of information in Product Search could be hurting your PPC performance.
Being aware of your surrounding in Google’s SERP could pay off. Here are a couple thoughts on how to use this feature to your advantage, even if you’re not in Product Search itself.
It appears that price or cost in the query will almost always bring up Product Search results, but that’s pretty obvious. So if those keywords are in your Adwords account you’ll be directly competing with Product Search results. Use this knowledge and go head to head with Product Search results by adding a lower price point in your PPC ad. If you’re looking for a full list of keywords that will prompt Product Search, unfortunately it doesn’t exist. Our Google rep informed us that it’s all intertwined in the algorithm and will display when a query includes words that indicate the visitor is looking to buy something.
I recommend if you’re going to use price in your PPC ad creative that you check to see if your keywords, at least the popular ones, trigger Product Search results. If so, compare your price to those shown and determine if this is a good strategy for you. If competitors (especially those in Product Search) are offering significantly lower prices than your ad will not be as effective. But if you can beat their prices then you’ll surely steal all those potential clicks for yourself.
This second approach might be time consuming, but the results could be rewarding. Test out your own keywords to explore the Product Search results in your industry, in many verticals it’ll never show up at all. Just think, we’re all vying for that top notch real estate whether on the PPC side or Organic side. Now there’s the Product Search side too. You could potentially have your business showing for all three areas at once! Now of course Google does not disclose how you’re picked to be in the Product Search Results, but if you’re one of those lucky winners than why not put in the little extra work. Did I mention this service is still free?! If anyone tests this out or already has, would be very interested in your experience or dealings.