Understanding Negative Keywords

Negative keywords are one of the less intuitive aspects of the Adwords search advertising, but once you get a feel for how they work, adding them to all of your campaigns will become more like second nature..

First, if you have no idea what they are, you should go over to the page on the topic at Google. The basic idea is that negative keywords will prevent your ads from being triggered when they’re included in the user’s search query. This saves you money by filtering out people who you judge to be less likely to turn into customers off of that particular ad.

A lot of the suggestions there are going to be a bit too intense for beginning advertisers, even though they’re all good. Here are some general tips:

  • Good campaign organization will save you time in managing your various keyword lists. Ensuring that each campaign is for achieving a distinct advertising goal will make it much easier to pick keywords that are likely to convert. If you dump all of your ad groups into a single campaign, you’re going to have a tougher time keeping it all in your head.
  • It’s less risky to use broad-match negative keywords than it is to use broad-match positive keywords. For example, a high-end fashion designer that rarely offers discounts may want to include negative broad keywords like cheap, discount, sale, used, and rental.
  • When performing keyword research, keep an eye out for keywords that pThe op up that are clearly irrelevant to the product that you’re promoting. Add them to a separate list so that you won’t forget to put them in the campaign.
  • When reviewing your analytics reports, look at the list of search terms triggering your ads. Look at referral terms that seem relevant but are bouncing at statistically significant high rates. Those are great candidates to ad to your negative keyword list.

What I like most about paying close attention to negative keyword lists is that it makes it much less risky to use broad match and modified broad match positive keywords in other ad groups. If you have enough accumulated data on what traffic doesn’t convert, and you become more familiar with how searchers interact with your particular store, you get a better sense of what you can get away with.

Periodically, you’ll want to look at your negative keyword lists for each of your campaigns and evaluate whether some of them represent alternatives for a campaign targeted to earlier in the sales funnel. For example, keyword traffic that wasn’t converting earlier might be a good fit for a marketing page that helps the site visitor to understand more of the benefits of becoming a customer. While they might not have been ready to convert at that second, they might be interested in reading some of your sales material, downloading a white paper, registering an account, or following your company on social media.

As another guideline, the fewer broad match keywords that you select, the fewer negative keywords that you’ll need to use. If you have only limited bandwidth to devote to your Adwords account, you’re going to want to stick to more exact match and phrase match keywords so that you can save time on creating extensive negative keyword lists. Conversely, if you have a lot of time and budget, you’re going to want to begin your campaigns with more broad match keywords, and then grow your negative keyword list as you accumulate more data on the account.

A Relevant Ad Is Information

A relevant ad is a source of accurate information that’s useful to us in the moment that we perceive it. Most of the advertising that we see every day is irrelevant to what we’re thinking about in the present. Most mediums, including the new ones like social networks, rely on interruption-based advertising to attempt to grab our attention and turn us into customers of the people who paid for the ad.

People who write ads, like me, try to come up with all sorts of tricks and gambits to attract and hold the attention of people who see or hear them. But just grabbing that attention is never enough for a quality ad.

Almost immediately after you grab attention with an ad, you want to help the person to qualify themselves as a customer. This can be done in the headline or in the first line of a video or audio commercial. How often have you heard an ad start with a line like “Are you looking to save money on car insurance?” This both grabs attention and qualifies the listener in the same sentence.

People who don’t have cars or who are mostly happy with their current car insurance are going to change the channel or tune out the ad. On platforms like Youtube, they’re going to press the ‘Skip’ button and save the advertiser some money. On Adwords or Facebook ads, they’re going to avoid clicking it. If it’s an infomercial on TV, they won’t bother calling the 1-800 number.

Verifying That Your Programmatic Placements Have Relevancy

Digital advertising gives advertisers both more ability than ever to create extremely relevant ads, but it also makes it trivial to mess up and serve irrelevant ads to people. Small mistakes made during campaign design can result in ads being shown to the wrong places, the wrong people, at the wrong times of day, and against the wrong search terms. Further, ads that go through ad exchanges can sometimes have various configurations shaved off during the trading process, leading to unforeseen errors in placement.

What good publishers do is assemble qualified audiences for you, so you don’t have to, and ensures that your ad gets placed next to relevant content. Google, Facebook, and other ad networks have been competing with that model using their automated systems for the last decade-and-a-half or so, to make use of the enormous and difficult to sort publishing inventory of the web. While these platforms are incredibly powerful, they’re also a lot harder to use than just signing a contract and handing over fat stacks of cash to a magazine salesperson.

In particular, relying on preselected affinity groups on just about any ad platform will, for a lot of product categories, have unsatisfactory results. Although there’s a lot of high-excitement jargon about programmatic ad placement, if you follow the news and get some experience managing these campaigns, you know that there are also a lot of potential sinkholes that your display budget can fall into if you use them without careful controls and experimentation.

You can’t just dump some beautiful camera-ready ads into one end of the machine and hope for the best.

As a guide for how you make ad purchasing decisions, you should keep in mind the Russian proverb popularized by President Ronald Reagan: “doveryai no proveryai,” or “trust, but verify.” Trust the advertising services that have earned it, but verify how your ad dollars are being spent, and know exactly what jargon terms like ‘impressions’ and ‘visitors’ mean so that you can make informed decisions. Reports that just have impression numbers on them are not terribly useful unless it’s just being placed on a single publisher’s site. You have to comb through what sites the ads are appearing on and develop a whitelist and a blacklist to ensure that they’re appearing on sites that have real relevant readers.

It’s also important to remember that the web as it exists today has some inherent limitations to the way that it models human behavior on computers. This is one of the reasons why there’s been so much excitement around the recent re-launch of Atlas by Facebook: better ability to filter out multiple device views by person, and to gain better understanding of all the ad impressions that lead to a final purchase.

All of these developments, if they go well, should contribute towards a world in which most of the ads that people see are relevant to who they are, what they’re reading, and how comfortable they are receiving advertisements. The idea to move towards is a world in which there’s a lot less informational pollution, and more advertising that’s immediately helpful and less intrusive to the people who see them.

What Job Is Your Ad Doing?

Think of an ad like a person assigned to a job. If the person is going to do their job well, they have to know their goals, they have to be motivated to achieve them, and they need to know the rules that they’re operating within in order to get it done.

No, an ad isn’t actually a person. It just helps to make your thinking about it less abstract by anthropomorphizing it a little.

When an ad is poorly constructed, it’s often because its goals are poorly defined. When you try to have an ad achieve too much in the space that it’s been given, the results will be disappointing.

If you start with a primary goal, you can check each component of the ad against whether or not it serves this goal. You can ask yourself questions like:

  • Have we provided enough resources for this ad to achieve its intended goal?
  • Is the goal clear to someone who may have never seen one of our ads before and is unfamiliar with our company?
  • Does the creative direction of the ad support the business goal?
  • Do we make it easy for the person seeing the ad to act on it in a way that supports its goals?
  • Is the ad appearing in a context that increases its chances of achieving its goals?

An ad is supposed to do a job that a salesperson would otherwise need to do. In many cases, an ad is just a sales pitch in writing, in video, in pictures, or in audio, delivered by a salesperson at scale. It helps to think about it in these terms, because often the sales goals can become lost in discussions about creative matters.

If your ad is the equivalent of a sales rep, what will you tell that rep to do?

This process will often result in more comprehensible advertising. Just attempting to build positive affinity for an arbitrary brand name without directing that affinity towards a better-defined business goal is usually not sufficient to gain a market advantage.

People who view the ad need to be able to sort your company into a trusted provider for a solution to a particular set of needs that they have. Whether that’s lawn care, dentistry, or providing contractors for some obscure technology, your ads need to sell something besides vague positive feelings about your logo.

Coca-Cola can get away with that sort of method because Coca-Cola has its products in almost every store that sells food in over a hundred countries worldwide. And even they have more sophisticated supporting campaigns that you’re probably not aware of. Unless your company has that sort of universal presence, you need to design your ads with selling efficiency at the top of your mind.

How New Entrpereneurs Need to Think About Marketing

Marketing and advertising are an ongoing expense for any business. This is most obvious in small businesses that serve local markets. In some cases, if competition is low enough, almost no sophisticated marketing is needed. Additionally, many companies that occupy an attractive location barely need to spend anything on marketing at all. Once the signs are posted, non-specialists can often handle any marketing tasks that come up. The bartender who can make the the funniest chalk drawings can scribble something on a board that sits out on the curb, and that’s more than enough to get people in the door.

For everyone else, whenever it’s a competitive market, and almost all markets are competitive, specialist marketing is necessary to keep business coming in and to maintain the customers that you already have. If you build it, they can’t know how to come if they have no clue that you built it, why they should want to buy the thing you built, and how they can get that thing even if they do want to buy it.

Marketing is an ongoing expense. The spending will usually need to go up when attempting to displace a competitor or grow, and it can be safely held steady when there are few immediate competitive risks to the business. Advertising is a method that reduces the risk that your message will never be seen. Non-paid marketing always runs a risk that it will go unseen, making it so that the message received by the target customers becomes garbled or never understood. That’s not to say that it’s not a good thing, also. It just comes with higher risks.

While it’s true that there are many high-risk, low-cost marketing stunts that you can take (and I’m all for them) that don’t cost much money, they’re both high-risk and usually non-repeatable. Even people who make ‘viral videos’ for a living usually can’t repeat them for the same brand in short order.

While some may buy ads to flatter their vanity, the real reason to do it is to reduce the risk that your business will fail. The typical mistake that new entrepreneurs make is to focus entirely on product development to the exclusion of marketing. The entire budget (if there is one) sinks into product development with minimal effort to determine whether or not there is a potential demand for the product, and even less for generating that demand and fulfilling it. Eric Ries nailed this problem in The Lean Startup, and explains how to integrate marketing with product development in a startup.

Don’t make that mistake. Develop a real plan to make sales before you begin to accumulate so many fixed costs that it becomes impossible for you to execute on anything significant.

Should You Abuse Teaser Headlines? (Maybe.)

Teaser headlines: they’ve become so mockable that a Twitter account parodying click-bait links has earned over 172,000 followers.

This sort of headline has a much older history in print. The idea is that the headline attracts the reader’s eye, piques their curiosity, and encourages them to read the entire ad or article. It’s been used for so long because it’s a technique that works.

There are a couple chief variants of this method: a question headline and a teaser headline that suggests what the content will be about without actually saying what it is.

Online publishers like to use these lines because getting people to visit their sites off of social media promotions and media recommendation ad units is the only way that they can get paid. Free sites have no subscription revenue to fall back on, so they have to sell each article that they write as a separate good.

While they want people to become repeat direct visitors, in practice, most people gravitate to the social networks and search engines as part of their daily web use. Each article has to fight with other articles to garner clicks, and the way that social networks work, the articles that get more clicks get more reach, which causes a positive feedback loop.

Now, if you’re not someone who earns money only from ad revenue, this is not a method that you want to use all the time. Whenever a huge crowd of people adopts a technique, that technique loses its competitive edge. Strategy is subject to the laws of supply and demand. When too many people use a certain strategy, it loses its value.

Teaser headlines tend to be optimized for one task.  As Peter Drucker once said, “What gets measured, gets managed.” It’s difficult to measure reader satisfaction with Google Analytics using a single easy-to-understand numerical metric. Click-through rate (CTR) is right there staring at you all the time. Just because it’s there and you can measure it easily doesn’t make it the only thing that matters, especially when you’re not paid by the pageview.

This is why it’s a better idea to…

Mix Up Your Damn Headlines

…because otherwise, people will skim your site, see a textual river of clickbait, and press the back button.

The problem with headlines and subheads that confer incomplete information is that they’re difficult for people to skim.

If you pick up a premium nonfiction book, you’ll see that the headlines tend to tell the reader exactly what’s beneath them. Because the person already paid for the information, there’s no reason to jerk the reader around with bait headlines. If the content has to be a reference, navigational aids like the table of contents and index need to be immediately legible.

If you’re not earning revenue by the pageview, what you want to do is to encourage the visitor to become a customer or to make another purchase. Coaxing them into becoming a better customer requires that you gain and maintain their trust. The way to gain trust is to provide value to the reader.

Whenever you write a headline, ask yourself if it’s providing more value to the reader. When you take someone’s attention and time away from them by tricking them into clicking, you could be depleting their trust in your brand. You have to provide value in return from what you’re taking from them. Treat their time as valuable, because it is. Advertisers know just how expensive it can be to buy just an opportunity to grab someone’s attention.

This is even more important for creative branded content that’s intended to promote a product while entertaining the visitor. While you might want to use a baited headline to get the user onto the site, once they’re on the page, you want them to read, listen, or watch the video, have a good experience, and send it along to their friends.

Anyway, my rant is over. Please, keep your writing flexible. Avoid focusing on a single numerical metric at the expense of others.

Treat your web visitors like human beings instead of dots on your graphs. They’ll buy more from you that way.

Building Your Adwords Account Around a Successful Core

Building your new Adwords account around small successes is a better strategy than attempting to achieve everything at once on a small budget.

The biggest mistake that most people make when creating a new Adwords account with a limited budget is to spread it so thin that actually improving the account using statistically valid methods becomes improbable.

According to Adwords expert Brad Geddes, you need at least 300 clicks on a single ad as a bare minimum to draw valid conclusions from a test. That means for a single A/B test on a single ad group, you need a total of 600 clicks.

At a relatively cheap $5 per click, that means that you’d need to spend $3,000 on a single ad group just to determine the effectiveness of the copy. You’d need to spend at least $1,500 to get a better idea of how the ad group as a whole performs against the page that the ad lands on.

Spending insufficiently on tests will confirm that you have wasted money by not budgeting enough for real tests.

To make matters worse for people trying to conduct pseudo-tests on a tiny budget, because user behavior differs depending on the time period, the longer that it takes for a test to complete, the less useful that the data becomes overall.

This is why what many new advertisers think is a ‘test’ account is really not a real test at all. This misconception is why you’ll periodically see articles about why ‘Adwords doesn’t work’ or ‘Facebook ads don’t work.’ The typical experience of a new business owner is to spend their $100 ad credit on a basic ad, and then to go and complain that the platform doesn’t work.

This is partly owing to misleading marketing language by Google, Facebook, and other advertisers that tends to lead new advertisers to believe that managing an ad account is easy. It can be easy… if you’re no longer a new advertiser and have taken the effort to educate yourself. For everyone else, it’s hard.

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In Avertising, Go Where Your Customers Are

If you’re trying to catch fish, it’s a good idea to steer your boat to where the fish are. You don’t go fishing in a chlorinated swimming pool.

In the same way, whenever you’re selling something, you want to start by selling it to where your customers and most likely prospects are already. In the real world, that means picking a location that has significant relevant foot traffic. Online, it means looking for the organized discussion groups and websites that are already enthusiastic either about your product or your product category.

Because much of advertising today is still targeted to broad audiences, there’s a tendency for people to kick off campaigns that are too broadly targeted to succeed.

Depending on what you’re selling, where your customers are will be different. If you’re selling a video game, you’re going to want to go to an appropriate subreddit or create one for your own company. If you’re selling real estate, you’ll want to look at local publications, discussion forums, and events to understand your area better. If you’re selling a fitness product for women, you want to find blogs and forums where women talk about working out.

Not only will this give you a direct window into what your target market is talking and thinking about, but it’ll also give you ideas for where to target display ads and other paid media. It will always be more effective to go after the people who are most ready to buy first before pursuing broader markets.

This also goes for social networks like Facebook. Instead of the broadest possible demographic targeting, you should start your test campaigns with more specific slices of people whose interests overlap with your services. This can save you a lot of money.

Once you have profitable campaigns running against your target market, you can start expanding with riskier tests into broader groups.

Guide Released: ‘Practical Content Strategy’

We’re excited to announce that our September 2014 guide, Practical Content Strategy, is out in our marketing resources section. Go read it now!

The idea behind creating this is that someone who has never encountered the phrase ‘content marketing’ should be able to read the guide and then immediately start doing excellent work.

Another issue that it’s intended to address is that a lot of the articles, books, and guides written about content marketing tend to be targeted towards large marketing departments. While big companies need all the help that they can get, the type of publishing strategy that they’re going to use will tend to be a whole lot more sophisticated than what the typical company will be capable of.

This guide is targeted to people who might only have between 1-5 people available to work on actually implementing it, and minimal technical staff.

I’ve seen too many small to mid-sized companies go rudderless on how they publish material, despite the fact that anyone can be effective at this if they can learn to start from a good foundation.

We believe that people prefer reading guides that are all collected in one place rather than littered in multiple blog posts. This type of publishing is also better matched to how search engines and social networks work nowadays.

If people get utility out of it, we’ll keep it updated and will possibly add some graphics and other material to make it more useful.

What You Need to Know Before Advertising

Advertising is an essential part of business. We went through a wooly, muddled period during the emergence of social media during which it was popular to declare advertising dead. It’s still not dead, and is in fact, more alive than ever.

An advertisement, properly created and placed, is an honest sales pitch. It gives a prospect information that they need to make a decision that is in their interests. A well-crafted ad saves the customer time and money, making it easier for them to act to improve their lives. Yet, most people start off advertising ineptly, and never reform, even when spending millions of dollars a year.

You can do better by starting off on a foundation of effective principles for advertising online.

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5 Reasons Why You Can’t Rely On the Game Press For Promotion

The game press is not your marketing department. Despite this, developers will often bet their entire promotion strategy on having their game noticed and promoted by games journalists.

Independent developers will often spend dozens of hours working on their pitches and e-mailing lists, or uploading to tools like Gamespress to reach customers. For some, this can result in success. Especially years ago, when smaller games were rarer, and journalists were eager to champion spunky games like Super Meat Boy, the effort to results ratio could be enormous.

Today, the situation has changed. Editors even at marginal outlets receive dozens of pitches each day from talented developers. Developers write most of the pitches themselves. Editors will tend to select the media kits that are most professionally composed, which means that many quality games become overlooked.

#1: It Requires ‘No Budget,’ So Everyone Does It

A professional press relations firm will often charge upwards of $7,500 for a single press release. That’s on the low end. Despite this, developers often think that they will get a good result by either

  • Spending dozens of hours that could be spent on production learning how to compose a media kit, creating a list of press to e-mail, and exhaustively personalizing each pitch


  • Slapping together 500-1,000 words and e-mailing it to as many people as possible, with screenshots as attachments

In the majority of cases, a successful campaign without hiring it out requires an expenditure of money or an expenditure of effort at great opportunity cost. Since this approach is so common among independent developers, it suffers from a lack of competitive advantage.

If you consider the hourly rate that a game developer can charge as a contractor, the time that goes towards e-mail pitching can rapidly start to be incredibly expensive, just in lost potential wages that could have been redirected to another promotional effort.

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