Are You Paying Way Higher than your Average CPC Metric?

Ever notice the sponsored link just above the natural search results? It’s a great position for Pay Per Click Ads, as they convert higher than Ads shown on the right side of the page. You can only get that spot by bidding much higher than the #2 bidder…so you risk a pretty high Cost Per Click (CPC) when doing so, unless you know how to offset that risk.

One metric many SEO gurus use before attempting to bid for that spot is to make sure that you have a really low CPC. Unfortunately, they also assume a low CPC means you aren’t paying 8 – 10 times MORE than that…right? Wrong.

One of my clients has a CPC average of $.68 and we bid very high in order to have the best chance of getting the coveted “Sponsored Link” above the natural results. Most of the time, we thought we were getting similar low CPC, as our average didn’t change much. (Simple example: We bid $10 to get the Sponsor Link, and the next closest bid is $1. Our CPC will be a little more than $1 but we grab the Sponsor Link and get much more traffic).

You really need to understand how this works as well as monitoring your costs very carefully if you’re going to implement this PPC marketing strategy…because you could easily be paying 8 – 10 times more for some clicks than your average, maybe even higher. Because, if you are bidding $10 and your Average CPC is $1, your real CPC cost could be $0.1 for some clicks and $9 for other ones.

AND…the clicks that cost $9 are not necessarily the ones that convert to real sales.

This may come as a surprise to even many SEO experts, but Google doesn’t make it easy to view the cost of individual clicks. Google only easily shows Average CPC.

However, you can use Google Analytics to help uncover a good bit of the real costs, even though this method isn’t perfect.

First, you’ll need to use the reports tab and select “Geographical Performance”. This is a quick and dirty way to try to display the most detail about individual clicks as possible. In many cases, you’ll seeing the price of a single click in various countries if you set it up for daily and regional as shown here:

Geographic Perf Settings for Granular CPC View

Geographic Perf Settings for Granular CPC View

By doing this every click will be separated by ‘AdGroup’, then ‘Day’ and finally, ‘Region’. And there can be hundreds of regions in a single country, making it possible to see the cost of many single clicks. Even group clicks are significantly reduced, so you have a better CPC average cost at that level.

While you may want to export this data into a spreadsheet and analyze or sort columns by more than one criteria, you’ll also see that by merely clicking on the CPC label at the top of the report, you can quickly see how high your actual Cost Per Click might be:

Highest CPC is 5 times higher than Avg

Highest CPC is 5 times higher than Avg

Keep in mind that the Average CPC of the above real account is $.65, but in this case we have paid over $4 for clicks in some countries that really don’t convert very well for this client.

Based on analyzing these reports, we decided we should take action. Even though this client already had separate campaigns for US, UK/Europe, Australia and RestOfWorld to achieve higher position for less cost, we decided we should split them up even further.

We grouped low converting countries into their own campaigns and lowered our bid max for that group.

We maintain high bidding on the good converting campaigns to still be assigned the coveted Sponsor Link where our CPC is truely low. We lowered bids in areas where the reports showed an actual high CPC and convert into sales less frequently.

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LinkBuilding: Basic SEO Blocking & Tackling

The web is joined together through links. Search engines rely on links in various ways to help them navigate…and more importantly help them decide which sites should be shown for which search keywords.

Link building, or Link requesting, has been used by SEO experts to improve their sites’ rankings. Unfortunately, you have to be very careful NOT to fall into one of those horrible ‘snake oil’ pitches as Link building has been abused by the SEO ‘black hats’. Do not engage in random link ‘buying’ from some firm or person guaranteeing tons of links for little money or effort…your site will likely be penalized, not boosted upward.

You need to manually review, analyize and solicite links to and from your site…think of it as exchanging partnership ‘credits’ between your resellers and yourself. Or between your site and your vendor’s product pages.

Here’s a quick read that helps you start researching for links that make sense to point to your site.

SEO Best Practices for Microsoft bing

How might bing affect SEO Best Practices?

Starting with Live.com, Microsoft reached out to various SEO professionals by providing their own XML Sitemap submission area. This area also shows you the site’s top 5 backlinks and other info.  Microsoft also added an Excel plug-in for keyword research (Microsoft’s AdCenter). Now with bing, they have released a Bing webmaster guideline white paper that provides SEO Tips for bing.

Typically, SEO Best Practices are the same for most search engines. The occasional real tricks, or ‘black hat’ short cuts, that are discovered generally only work with a particular engine;  are only effective for a short time period; and often are followed with some type of search ranking penalty if employed for long. Good SEO best practices are valid for most search engines.

Microsoft’s white paper is a great start and a recommended read, in its entirety, for any webmaster that wants to increase your exposure to bing searchers. However, I believe most experienced SEO practitioners would appreciate a key differences summary:

  1. Target Category Keywords that appear on the upper left of the SERPs. Microsoft is calling this a ‘multi-threaded’ SERP design and states that their testing has shown users will more frequently explore the left hand ‘bing dynamically suggested’ navigation choices over positions 6 – 10. This is a significant change in concept: it is more important to be ‘off-page’ in a suggested category than lower down on page 1. I think it seems supported for high traffic broad searches as these left hand menus are basically the ‘suggested key words’ that now appear dynamically on Google’s SERP. I will need to be convinced about more vertical niche, ‘low volume’ searches, however.. It doesn’t really matter, though, as you do want to research what categories are being displayed in your relevant arena and work to be shown within them. There seems to be no downside at this time for doing so.
  2. Optimize the ‘Document Preview’ of your pages. The biggest visual difference in bing can be easily seen by searching on pictures and videos. Bing has also added a ‘Document Preview’ which appear to be created from the initial content found on the page, increasing the importance of writing call-to-action in your first paragraph.
    bing - showing site preview pop up

    bing - showing site preview pop up

    SEO Best Practices have included unique Page Titles and Meta description tags and these seem even more important on the Bing SERP.  Now aside from these two items,  Document Preview will try to look for the address and phone number and place it in the preview window, or other items it deems useful. If you do not want this feature enabled, you can use the nopreview tag:   <meta name=”robots” content=”nopreview” />

  3. Implement these SEO Flash Best Practices. It appears that bing is attempting a more sophisticated approach to indexing and categorizing flash files…but my experience with Google suggests you may want to block off this capability until it is more obvious how well it works. Microsoft’s describes their approach in this fashion:

    When titles and/or meta descriptions do not exist on an HTML page, bing creates a best-attempt caption, created dynamically at that moment in time, from relevant and reliable external sources of information.  In an effort to to provide captions where flash exists and improve the search experience, it will even use inbound keyword link text from authoritative websites when no site publisher data exists.

    While this may seem to be an easy fix to flash content, using information based on other websites provides little control and leaves you a bit vulnerable. Even if your competition wouldn’t stoop to somehow using this against you intentionally,  their forums and slanted competitive ‘comparisons’ can have a much greater online presence (or higher Page Rank) and could be creating a significant amount of negative publicity about your business. What if bing were to show or summarize some of this information in a dynamically generated document preview? For now, I would proceed with caution and always implement Flash content carefully.

If bing traffic continues to grow and actually achieve traction, these differences could become more important.

Traditional Marketing Budgets Slashed 67%, But SEO & PPC to Double

A report out this month from the Forrester Analyst firm shows how CMOs are shifting funds dramatically away from traditional marketing methods to online methods, such as Google Adwords PPC campaigns.

They surveyed CMOs and learned that 71% had their marketing budgets reduced. 51% of those saw a reduction of at least 20%.

So, what are these CMOs going to cut back?  The CMOs with reduced budgets (way more than 2/3’s surveyed) will slash traditional avenues, such as TV, radio and print advertising (magazines) by 67%!

Direct mail will be slashed by 52%.

But, these cuts are drastic so they can find extra money to increase their spending in two key areas: SEO and PPC. In fact, a whopping 60% of marketers plan to take money away from traditional marketing and spend it on interactive ads instead. As much as 59% of that interactive spend will go towards SEO and PPC, with both niches likely to double in size over the next 5 years!

This detailed data is from the Forrester report, but the details actually came from a blogger I read occasionally. The details are covered in this blog article and this one.

Google Adwords Video & Examples of One Day Projects That Really Increased Click Through Rates (CTR)

Google has provided some examples of companies that dramatically increased their CTR for Adwords campaigns just doing some one day exercises. These are good examples of how just doing the basics can result in 140% better results…or better:

http://adwords.blogspot.com/2009/06/advertisers-share-their-success-stories.html

One other benefit I would expect some of those companies will receive over time…lower Cost Per Click. Often times, when you are able to increase your CTR, as well as having that increased traffic spend time on your site (hopefully “converting into a sale” as well), the Google Adwords system will determine that your Ads and site are more relevant than “the other ones” and you’ll win more auctions (clicks) for less money than Ads that are placed UNDER yours.  That’s right…higher ad placement AND lower cost. This makes it really tough on your competition.

How long before Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Increases Your Site’s Ranking?

It seems there’s one comment most SEO experts have in common:

“SEO takes a long time before you’ll see success”

I guess either I have a different understanding of “success” or “a long time”. A good portion of my clients have seen noticeable increase in search terms after just 4-6 months. Maybe that’s “a long time” to many folks, but I suspect those people are the ones that desperately fell for the ‘get rich overnight’ by buying my secret tip and gaming the system while it exists’ scam. Our clients don’t think a six month time period is “long”…most are thrilled to start seeing results since they’ve had their site for years and have never seen it move upward much at all.

So, maybe I have a different idea of ranking “success”? I wouldn’t think so, but agree that I don’t feel the #1 spot is required to be successful, just in the top five on the first page for a range of highly searched terms. Of course, longer tail words should definitely be in the top three. I have one client that I struggle to make sure is never the top link, as they sell rugged portable desktop computers, not laptops. When they end up as the #1 link on “rugged portable computer”, we can get too many clicks, followed by bounces, so the ranking falls too far, too quick. This is a case where making sure the description and the page title clearly show “no laptop found here”. That’s helped to keep it on the front page, but mostly attract traffic that converts…or at least stays and reads a few pages.

So, can you get success in an even shorter time period? Of course, if you focus on words that nobody really searches on. 🙂

But, you can actually get high rankings quicker if your product or services falls into the ‘seasonal sales’ category. One of our clients has a seasonal business and we’ve found interesting results when planning and executing new product line launches to “go live” along with targetted SEO campaigns…again just employing the basics (see Top SEO Tips: The Blocking and Tackling of Internet Marketing).

What helps seasonal sites is also very relevant to all our clients: a few years ago some search engines began inflating a page’s quality score, or ranking score, due to “freshness”, such that new content and new links carry a little more weight for a short time period (usually one to two weeks). We have seen quick ranking (just over a month) by coordinating the site content with the link building efforts and rolling live content continuously throughout the seasonal period.

Again, we try to stress to our clients that one of the most important SEO techniques they can employ is to ADD CONTENT and ADD LINKS. If you make an effort to add a new page twice a month, you’ll be constantly getting the freshness boost, though not on all your targetted words of course. (You do have a list of high search frequency word phrases that are important to you, don’t you?)

By the way, this seasonal client saw a 400% increase in overall site revenue from organic traffic over the last seasonal period, in a poor economy.

Of course, your results will likely vary. 🙂 There are always tough challenges in very competitive areas (example: “Make money at home with Google”), but we’ve generally been able to find some profitable keyword ‘niche’ that convinces clients to invest in the tough areas as well. You can be successful in the short term by following basic ‘Best Practices’ and starting with a realistic keyword list plus ranking expectations that match.

Or, you can find an expert you trust to do it for you. Either way, it should be like checking and changing the oil in your automobile. You need to do it or your ride will die one day. Just don’t fall for the secret gas filler product that will double your mileage…

How much should an SEO expert cost a small business?

I follow Matt McGee on Twitter for occasional SEO tips. He expanded on one good article about Small Business services and what they should expect from an SEO expert, except for cost.

I’ve wrestled with the cost factor as well. SEO seems such a fundamental building block, that it clearly could charge whatever the market will accept…but that doesn’t fit well with most small businesses. I enjoy working with small businesses much more than larger ones, so want to charge less, but need to be fair to myself. Matt thinks a very fair starting point is $300/hr, which he discusses in depth on his blog:

http://www.smallbusinesssem.com/small-business-seo-costs-expectations-realities/2081/