New Ways to See AdWords Search Query Terms

AdWords Report CenterAs part of Google’s phasing out of the AdWords Report Center, the traditional ‘Search Query Performance’ report is no longer available. But there are new and better ways to get this critical data!

Using Google AdWords reports to track performance of the keywords you are bidding on is fundamental to search marketing success, and the ease with which this can be done is a source of delight for search marketers, especially when compared to measuring traditional forms of advertising.  If you are bidding on ‘industrial supplies’, for example, it is easy to get metrics like impressions, clicks, conversions, cost per conversion and then make decisions that will lead to better performance.

But most folks also realize the additional value of being able to look behind the scenes to see the actual search queries that users are typing in and using that information to refine campaigns.  Because if you are bidding on ‘industrial supplies’ on anything other than exact match, your ad will be showing up for a lot of terms beyond strictly ‘industrial supplies’. These could be: ‘cheap industrial supplies‘, ‘industrial supplies oregon‘, ‘industrial equipment and supplies‘, ‘industrial painting supplies‘ and thousands of other variations. The value of having this deeper insight into the terms triggering your ads is obvious.

Not so very long ago in the short history of search engine marketing, this was data was not as accessible as many would’ve liked, served up only in a special report, with large chunks of information missing. (The infamous ‘other unique queries’.)

Times change (quickly) and this industry evolves (rapidly) and now more complete search query data is available from a couple of sources. At the same time, the traditional Search Query Performance report has been phased out of the AdWords Report Center – along with just about every other kind of report. So let’s look at how we can get at AdWords search query data now:

1. Within AdWords Keyword data in UI: Recent enhancements to the AdWords user interface include the ability to generate an ‘on the fly’ report on search terms.  From the ‘Keywords’ tab, you can select the ‘See search terms’ button to go to a report on search terms.  This shows all the search terms used, with indications as to which ones are currently being bid on.  The nice thing here is that you can instantly add keywords or even add negative keywords directly from this report.  And you can also download the report in CSV format.

AdWords search query terms
3. Google Analytics AdWords data: With the new AdWords reporting enhancements to Google Analytics, it is easy to get a look at actual search terms being used. Simply go to ‘Traffic Sources’>’AdWords beta’>’Keywords’ and then use the second dimension box to select ‘Matched Search Query’. Here you get a nice side-by-side listing of keywords you are bidding on along with matched terms.  The additional advantage, of course, is that you get all that juicy post-click behavioural data, such as bounce rate, goal completions, and – if you have Ecommerce tracking set up – revenue.

GA search query

So there are 2 ways that I know of to investigate AdWords search query data and use it to improve performance of your keyword advertising. Both of these methods offer some advanced flexibility and power compared to the old AdWords Search Query Performance report.

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Mediative: Performance Marketing through Network, People, Platform

Canada’s Yellow Pages Group has brought together the strengths of several online marketing players, including Enquiro Search Solutions, to form Mediative. The result promises to be a powerful combination of Network, People, and Platform that offers major benefits to advertisers.

Mediative logoI have been a search marketing strategist, specializing in web analytics, at Enquiro Search Solutions for almost 3 years. There have been a lot of changes over that time: people, office locations, services offered, revenue aspirations, operational procedures, and more, and all this on top of the constant changes in marketing practices, opportunities and technologies that are a fact of life in online business. Never a dull moment and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

As of October 26, though, Enquiro experienced a whole new dimension of change: the company was brought under the umbrella of a new entity, Mediative, put together by the Yellow Pages Group, one of Canada’s most well-established advertising publishers. Enquiro was one of three major acquisitions that have been combined with existing Yellow Pages online properties and an expansion of Yellow Page’s existing interest in Acquisio (a leading provider of online marketing campaign management software) to form Mediative. This is a potent mix, with some opportunities for great synergies, based on interlocking components of a wide-reaching advertising Network, experienced People with proven expertise in online marketing, and a sophisticated advertising management Platform.

The way I see it, here’s how it all fits together:

The Network:

The Yellow Pages Group already reaches 17 million unique visitors monthly through websites that are specifically targeted at consumers in the process of researching or making a purchase, such as AutoTRADER and Red Flag Deals. Ad Splash Media, another of the acquisitions that comprise Mediative, brings to the table a network of leading online retail brand sites such as FutureShop and Walmart, to which it serves relevant, point of purchase brand advertising. As if that’s not enough, UPTREND media, another company brought under the Mediative umbrella, has access to a community of publisher sites that reaches 15 million unique visitors, plus email newsletters, and more. That’s a huge array of highly productive online advertising opportunities.

The People:

With a network as expansive as the one Mediative now has, it can be a bewildering landscape for advertisers looking to reach as many potential and existing customers as they can, while maintaining a high return on their advertising spend. This is where the Mediative people come in. Enquiro has built a reputation for delivering successful search engine marketing campaigns and related online marketing strategies for major brands across North America, as well as undertaking definitive research into online search and buying behavior. This expertise has the potential to dovetail nicely with the Mediative network opportunities available and the existing expertise at Ad Splash, UPTREND, and Acquisio.

Beyond that, though, Enquiro will still offer clients in the U.S. and Canada a full suite of search marketing opportunities. The difference now is not just additional channel opportunities, but also additional people resources that can be accessed to provide service to clients  wherever they are located and wherever their markets are.

The Platform:

The final piece that helps bring it all together is a platform for managing marketing campaigns across networks and achieving high performance through data-driven decisions. With Acquisio and other technologies, Mediative has a platform in place to measure, manage, and optimize marketing results. This is particularly exciting to me, as web analytics practitioner who is always looking for more and better ways to get insights into performance and to report those back to clients.

The Conclusion:

As always in situations when different businesses are merged, it can take a while to get all cylinders firing. And it doesn’t always work as well as expected (“Hello, AOL-Time Warner!”). But YPG appears to have taken a very considered approach and it seems to me there is some great potential here. One thing for sure…there are no dull moments in sight!

Opinions expressed of those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Mediative. It’s basically just me thinking out loud. 🙂

Choosing Indicators: Separating KPIs from KRIs

Distinguishing between Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and Key Result Indicators (KRIs) can improve clarity and help focus attention where it matters most.

One of the most important components of effective web analytics is identification of key performance indicators that can provide a focal point for site improvement amidst the multitude of data points that are available.  Important as it is, though, there are still lots of organizations who don’t have their KPIs fully worked out. This despite lots of attention being drawn to this area, through articles like Avinash’s “KPIs to Die For” and, of course, Eric Peterson’s “Big Book of Key Performance Indicators” (now available free!).

In his book ‘Key Performance Indicators: Developing, Implementing and Using Winning KPIs‘, David Parmeter makes the point right on page 1 that there is a difference between key result indicators and key performance indicators.  These two types of indicators are often confused, but it is important to understand this difference and to delineate it in reporting, because while results are what we ultimately want, performance is where the action is.

Key Result Indicators

These are the measures that tell you how well you’ve done in terms of your larger objectives and provide “a clear picture of whether you are traveling in the right direction”, as Mr Parmeter says.  You can view these as being at the strategic level, measuring how well the chosen strategy is working. For web analytics, they are connected to company objectives for your website, and so would be things like:

  • online revenue (ecommerce)
  • leads generated (lead gen)
  • visits (publishing).

These are obviously critical to track and report on, especially to those higher up the corporate ladder. They may be viewed relative to targets that have been set. But they do not tell you what to do to improve. This is where your key performance indicators come in.

Key Performance Indicators

The reason these are called ‘performance‘ indicators is that they are directly pointing at actions being performed.  The reason they are designated as ‘key‘ performance indicators is that they are critical to achieving our desired results. These are metrics at the tactical, operational level that may be far removed from key results, but nonetheless impact them. Because of their connection to operational activities, when one of our key performance indicators goes awry, we know what to do and it drives us into immediate action.

Parmeter gives the example of British Airways and plane delays.  In the 1980’s, BA apparently determined that of all the things that go into running a successful airline, delayed departure of planes created a cascading effect that undermined a ton of other activities and ultimately inhibited the company from achieving financial goals. Such was the focus on this KPI that if a plane was delayed beyond a certain threshold, a local manager would receive a call from a senior executive. Action taken (by the senior executive…and presumably by the local manager if he wanted to keep his job).

Identifying Key Performance Indicators

Identifying key performance indicators starts with clarifying your goals and the results that indicate your progress toward them, and then digging underneath those result indicators to uncover the performance aspects that have the biggest difference on the result indicators. The KPIs are not necessarily obvious, and the process of identifying and agreeing on them may require some extensive consultation with stakeholders.  Here is a basic framework with simplified example that hopefully gives a sense of the minimum requirements for developing effective KPIs:

  1. Start by clarifying your goals. (increase monthly revenue from search engine visitors by 20% within 6 months.)
  2. Define key result indicators that reflect your goals. (revenue from search engine visitors)
  3. Identify key aspects of performance that are critical to achieving the desired results. (number of search engine visitors, percentage of visitors that make a purchase, value of orders placed by visitors who make a purchase)
  4. Derive key performance indicators that reflect effectiveness or efficiency of these aspects of performance. (% increase in search engine visitors, conversion rate, average order value)

Once the KRIs and KPIs have been identified, it is then a matter of reporting on them, incorporating analysis of what is happening and what is being done to improve the situation. After all, there’s no point in identifying KPIs if you don’t have information-rich, easily distributable reports for monitoring trends and correlations and spurring decision-making.

Is that all there is?

None of this is to say that other data collected but not deemed to be key indicators should be ignored.  The point is to create some focal points for further analysis. Is conversion rate going down? Then let’s look at what search engines or keywords are responsible. Let’s check landing pages. Are products out of stock? Because we have key performance indicators to set the context, we can hunt down root causes and make recommendations that will flow through to improved results.

In addition, though, we still want to keep an eye on other metrics to spot changing trends that may either offer opportunities or portend troubles ahead.  There are lots of indicators that are not necessarily ‘key’ but could be relevant depending on the situation. But, in the absence of unlimited time for analysis, these take a backseat to thoes ‘key’ indicators that we should be monitoring religiously.

Final Word on KPIs

One more thing to consider is that in the constantly-changing world of online marketing, today’s KPI may be tomorrow’s irrelevant data point. And even the KPIs you choose today may not be as meaningful as originally thought: there may be others that get closer to the heart of what drives critical success factors.  So it’s a good idea to periodically review your KPIs for relevance, and even keep a couple alternatives in your back pocket in case they may prove to be more useful.

Moral of the story…there is no final word on KPIs.

Careful with that Bounce Rate, Eugene

Bounce rate is a useful metric but can be misleading if not used in context

We all know that bounce rate conveys vital information about site performance and can provide very useful clues about where to look for improvements. Especially since Avinash nominated it as ‘sexiest web metric ever‘ back in ’07. As is often the case with web metrics, though, the numbers shouldn’t just be taken at face value. It can be important to consider metrics definitions and their use by web analytics tools in order to make well-informed decisions.

Here’s a case in point that I encountered recently in a site’s Google Analytics ‘Top Content‘ report:

Bounce Rate in Content Report

Clearly there is a problem here that requires urgent attention: high traffic pages with huge bounce rates! It’s important to keep in mind, though, that bounce rate is calculated only for visits that start with the page in question.  Being the ‘Top Content’ report, the pageviews account for all views of that page, whether the first page in a visit or the 50th.

So the report is NOT saying that of the 2,215 views of the first page in the list,  2,076 (93.75%) of them resulted in bounces.  It IS saying that of all the visits that started with this page, 97.5% of them went no further.  This, then, begs the question: “well, how many visits started with this page?

For the answer to this question, we turn to the ‘Top Landing Pages‘ report in Google Analytics (or equivalent in your tool of choice). And here we see a story that puts things in perspective:

Bounce rate from Landing Pages report

Yeah, that first page in the list has a high bounce rate…but it is based on only 16 entrances compared to over 2,200 pageviews in total! (I know we’re mixing metrics here, but the story is valid.)

Depending on the purpose and value of that page, this still may be cause for concern. But chances are there are bigger fish to fry.

There are other ways that bounce rate – and indeed most web metrics –  can be twisted by context, so it is prudent to keep in mind the nuances behind the data being presented by our trusty tools.

(For those interested, there is further discussion of the ins-and-outs of bounce rates in Google Analytics here on the Google Analytics Help Forum – particularly relevant if you are wondering how to reconcile content and navigation reports.)

Entrance Sources in Google Analytics: Don’t Go There

The ‘Entrance Sources’ report in Google Analytics offers little, if any, value but holds great potential for confusion.

We all love Google Analytics for the super-intuitive interface that makes it easy to navigate around and generate reports that quickly tell us what we need to know.  Especially helpful for those who might not be in there every day but still have business questions that need answering.

But, there are some places in Google Analytics where the terminology tossed around is maybe not so intuitive and can actually be downright confusing. Case in point is the ‘Entrance Sources‘ report. This came to light in a recent client scenario:

1. A micro-site (let’s say ‘xyzsite.com’) was created for a promotion to drive traffic to a specific page on the main site (let’s say ‘/community/…’).

2. The client was looking at content report to see how the page was doing in terms of traffic, and saw that it had 2,768 unique pageviews, indicating that there were 2,768 visits that included a view of this page.

GA Content Report

3. The client wanted to know how many of these visits came from the micro-site, so she did what seemed like a logical thing: clicked on that page in the report and then ‘Entrance Sources’ under ‘Landing Page Optimization.

GA Content Details

Here’s what she saw:

GA Entrance Sources

So now total unique pageviews have seemingly gone from 2,768 to 7,134 of which the micro-site xyzsite.com is accounting for 6,611, well above the number of pageviews shown in the previous report.  Clearly, something amiss.  And yet, if a reasonably intelligent person steps back and takes a look at it, what else could this report mean?  Other than it shows the  pageviews/unique pageviews/avg. time on site/etc for the page indicated in the Content box based on the Entrance Sources listed in the ‘Source’ column? Especially given the large bold heading that yells, “This page was viewed 8,722 times via 25 sources“.

In fact, it means something quite a bit different, although there are no clues. You just have to be in the know. 🙂 For those who are in the know, this report actually indicates the total number of pageviews/unique pageviews/etc throughout the site for visits that a) arrive from the source indicated and b) land on the page shown in the Content box – but then may continue on to other pages.  And that’s the catch: all the other pages are included in the count of pageviews and other metrics.

So for starters, the large bold heading should yell something more accurate like, “This page (and subsequent pages) were viewed 8,722 times via 25 sources”.

The current presentation may strike some as bizarre, misleading and possibly even useless. There could be some method to Google’s madness – but maybe not. The best thing I can think of was that this report could provide some insight into the site-wide impact of different source/landing page combinations that could inspire a person to try to direct more traffic from a given source to a particular page rather than others that may have relatively less flow-through.  But really, there’s easier ways to get this kind of direction.

Which brings us back to the client’s initial question: how many visits came from the micro-site and entered the main site on the /community/ page? There are a couple ways to answer this question:

1. Top Landing Pages: breakdown or pivot by Source. In this pivot table view we can easily see that the xyzsite.com drove 2,166 visits to the /community/ page.  And with only a 11% bounce rate – not bad!

GA Landing Pages

2. Traffic Sources – Referring Sites: breakdown or pivot by Landing Page. From this view we can confirm that xyzsite.com drove 2,166 visits to our /community/ page, of which 75% where new visits. Great confirmation that our micro-site is attracting new potential customers.  And from this report we can easily access Goal data to gain some insight into the quality of these new visitors.

GA Traffic Sources

So these views help us get to the larger question at work here: is the micro-site project having the intended effect and providing the desired return on investment? Although we don’t have all the data we need to answer that question (amount of investment, target return, baseline data, etc.) we can certainly see that the micro-site is having a positive impact in terms of both quantity and quality of traffic being generated – and that’s a great start.

Hopefully, this clears up the confusion that can be caused by the Entrance Sources report. My advice: don’t go there. But I’m open to ideas if anyone else has profited from this report.

Note: the foibles of this report are also discussed in Google Analytics Help here.

WAA Certification: More than Just an Exam

WAA-certification-logoRecently the Web Analytics Association launched a ‘Certified Web Analyst’ program. Although at first glance it may seem that passing a test is all that’s required, there are in fact some significant education and experience requirements as well.

It’s All About Credibility

In the works for two years, the program is designed as a ‘mechanism to elevate professional standards and recognize professionals who have demonstrated their knowledge of the web analytics industry.’  Cool…independent, third party validation that someone who is promoting him/herself as a web analytics professional actually knows his/her stuff.  Whether you’re in the trenches trying to be taken a little more seriously, a consultant trying to landing new clients, or just generally trying to advance your career, who can’t use an extra shot of credibility?

Writing the Exam

The center-piece of this program is an exam that applicants must pass in order to receive the designation.  Currently available only at proctored exam locations (eMetrics, similar conferences), pen-and-paper style, they’ll be moving to more widespread computer-based testing centers in the US and beyond throughout 2010.

Education + Experience Requirements

I initially had the impression from the promo emails, etc that writing the exam was all there was to it, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg.  Eligibility requirements include one of two combinations of education + experience:

1. High-school + 5 yrs online business experience, incl 3 yrs of web analytics.

OR

2. 4-yr degree + 3 yrs web analytics experience.

Interestingly, there is no accommodation in the education requirements for the UBC Award of Achievement in Web Analytics , which has been offered for several years now in conjunction with the Web Analytics Association (which provides course content and tutors). In fact, 3 of the 4 courses in the UBC program (all but the intro course) comprise the body of knowledge that is tested in the exam…

Body of Knowledge

So, if you have (or are well on your way) to satisfying the education and experience requirements, you want to know what is going to be on the exam before you shell out your $600+ exam fee, right?  If you have taken the UBC web analytics courses mentioned above, you are in luck, as this material forms the basis for the exam questions.  If you haven’t taken UBC courses, or if you need to refresh your memory, the WAA has provided a very helpful document called ‘Knowledge Required for Certification‘ that provides an overview of the subject areas to be covered on the exam.

In fact, from quickly flipping through the 37 page document, I’d say it provides a nice overview of the kinds of things you should know if you are/aspire-to-be a web analytics professional – whether you plan to take the exam or not. It doesn’t cover everything in the web analytics universe and it is maybe a little heavily oriented toward the clickstream in a web 2.0 world, but the essential foundations of web analysis are there.

Go!

With the combination of education + experience + exam requirements, the weight of the WAA, and the top-shelf web analytics minds that have gone into establishing this program, it seems to me that this is more than just another certification.  I think it will prove to be a valuable program that represents a nice milestone in our industry.

I look forward to writing the exam and (hopefully) getting certified as soon as the opportunity arises, and hope the experience – and rewards – are positive for everybody else who goes for it.

Meantime, I’m interested to hear any thoughts from those who have taken the exam, plan to, or plan NOT to.

Tracking Outbound Links the Easy Way with Google Analytics

Stephane Hamel at Immeria offers an elegant solution to a cumbersome problem

Google Analytics is, of course, a powerful tool for measuring onsite performance and supporting decisions around how to improve better results. For one thing, you can easily get a bead on where visitors are leaving your site just by checking the ‘Top Exit Pages‘ report.

Exit Pages ReportHigh % of exits may be fine for a goal completion page (‘thank you’ for your order) but may not be so good when it is your home page, as in the example to the right, and almost 80% of visitors to the page are exiting from there. So we would want to look at this page and see what can be done to increase the stickiness to the site.

With all its power, one thing Google Analytics can’t tell us is where those who leave the site from this page are going, even if they are using exit links on our site. At least not out of the box (the same is the case with most web analytics platforms). For example, in the case shown in the screenshot, it turns out that there are several major calls to action on the site’s home page that lead off-site. It would be very helpful to know which, if any, of these links are being followed by visitors.

Now, I know what you’re saying: easy – either tag them as virtual pageviews ( onclick=”pageTracker. _trackPageview(‘/Exit-Links/www.example.com’);” ) or apply event tracking. Which is fine, except that it has to be done on a link-by-link basis. That may be okay when you have a couple of featured links on a home page, but I have another site that acts as somewhat of a portal to breweries in British Columbia, with tons of links to other sites. Hand-coding dozens of links is not my thing (and this is a small site).

But Stephane Hamel has come to the rescue with some tidy GA Javascript that automates the process of tracking outbound links and/or file downloads in Google Analytics across your site.  All you need to do is:

  1. Grab this Javascript file and place it on your server.
  2. Add this Javascript line below your GATC (with appropriate reference to the Javascript file location):

Additional line of Javascript below GATC

One other thing you may want to do: check the Javascript file to see if you want to change the settings that determine whether outbound links and downloads are tracked as virtual pageviews or events. The default is to track both as events, which may work for you.  Depending on the content, I generally prefer to track outbound links as events (I don’t want them inflating my total pageviews) but track downloads as pageviews (on the basis that a pdf product spec sheet is, in a sense, a ‘pageview’ of a different kind.)  The added advantage of using pageviews is that they can be tracked as goals.  If you want to change either of these settings, look for this area in the code and make changes accordingly:

Settings in gaAddons Javascript file

There, that was easy. Now I can see which exit links visitors are using most often, which opens up all kinds of opportunities for content development, partnerships, etc.:

Event report showing exit links

This has just been turned on a couple of days ago, but I’m already getting an idea of who I should go talk to about getting some free beer! 🙂 And depending on how that works out, I’ll be able to assign value to this event.