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Recently there was some discussing about Google’s new search engine results page, offering the ability to see a preview of the websites within the results. Here is one of the original posts, it appears that Google is now testing or have released this in the United State results.

In reality this is not a new idea, they are basically borrowing the idea from Search Me

I do like the idea of letting users view the quality of a website before clicking, wonder if they plan on adding this to PPC? I would change the whole game.

SEO Google

google webmaster toolsIt’s all about the details. The application provides more detailed information for each search query. A site’s pages were reported using average position. Updates introduced in the past year allow users to find the number of “impressions” and the “amount of clickthrough.” Impressions are the instances that the site appeared in search results. Clickthrough measures the “number of times searchers clicked on that query’s search results.”

Webmaster Tools was designed to provide “information and data about the sites you have added to your account. You can use this data to improve how search engines crawl and index your site’s content.” That’s the basic task for this tools application, as described by Google. But there is more to this than what we have become used to.

The Webmaster Tools now generates charts and displays them in the report page. Query information can be isolated for a specific period of time as well. Now, when a site ranks for more than 100 queries there will be new buttons that allow Web managers to find out more details. The improvements should save time and money if used correctly.

New Features: The Latest

For those who have been using Google Webmaster Tools the addition of new backlink statistics will be a nice change. Everyone who wants to succeed in the online world should know about links and linking, whether they use them fully or not.

But not all links contribute to Web success. Proper linking does. If you can get a handle on the idea of backlinks you are even more likely to have a positive experience with your sites. You see, backlinks are essential in the search-engine visibility and ranking world. The key word in the new online community is conversation.

If you get reliable, usable links from pages that are relevant to what you are doing is very important. Webmaster Tools now has a piece that helps you keep track of who is linking to whom, with details such as pinpointing the page on the referring site. This information is now offered in a format that is easier to use. Check into Webmaster Central Tools (sitemap) if you are a registered Web site owner.

Other key numbers available focus on internal and external links.

internal linksInternal LinksCount per page tells you which pages are linked to from pages on your Web site and also shows the number of links on your Web site that point to each of the linking pages. Some of the newest linked pages may not appear right away, perhaps because your link isn’t set up properly.

Internal linksDetails for valid links from inside your domain or Web site.

External Links Count per page tells you which pages from your Web site have a link from another domain and number of links pointing to that page.

External LinksDetails for links on pages at another domain that point to your site. URL is displayed along with the date that Google last crawled the link.

These reports can be downloaded and used in many search-engine optimization tools.

Earlier This Year

Analysis is very important in the successful management of Web sites. One of the key tools is page analysis, which includes details on the important keywords Google found on your site. Words are provided on a priority list. In addition, common words for those external links are also reported.

Google Webmaster Tools has also provided query stats for some time. For example, you can access top-search queries, which are chosen by search property most often returning pages from your Web site. You can learn the top-search query number of clicks to your pages as well as the average top position. Google describes this as the “highest position any page from your site ranked for that query.” Keep in mind that data in these reports is given as a seven-day average.

Google also added search capability that allows Web administrators to “search through your site’s top search queries so that you can filter the data to exactly what you’re looking for in your query haystack.”

Too Much?

Some Web experts and Google-watchers find the data/information features to be a bit overwhelming. It seems the Web site administrator or Webmaster will have to use some trial-and-error methods to find out which numbers and reports are most useful.

Regular observers of Google and the world of Internet searching call Google Instant Search an aggressive attempt to define the way people use the Internet. The year 2010 may indeed be remembered by some as the year in which this Web-use behemoth redefined searches.

google instant searchIs this a truly fundamental change? Earlier this year an article in one of the leading technology magazines heralded the end of the Internet as we know it. That article stated the belief that future Internet use will be about applications rather than about searching and finding. This basic change would takes users from spending time on the search process to arriving and beginning to use the outcome much more quickly.

But does Google Instant Search refine the use of the World Wide Web so completely? Do we, as users, actually arrive at applications instantly? Let’s see what veteran Google-watcher Tom Krazit has to say about this. Keep in mind that Krazit has followed Google on a consistent basis because he considers it “the most prominent company on the Internet.”

Some of the key points Krazit makes about this new search technology are:

  • It may confuse searchers at first
  • It may cause some gray hairs for the SEO folks
  • It may be tough to duplicate

This last factor may be the most important one of all. In the minds of millions of Internet users the word Google is a verb. We don’t “search” the World Wide Web for information. We “google” it. This is a key point made by Krazit and others. Krazit sees Google Instant Search as “a combination of front-end user interface design and the back-end work needed to process results for the suggested queries on the fly.” This is quite different from what other major Internet players have done or will do.

It’s Still Great, Right?

The benefits of Google Instant Search may seem obvious but there are some search aficionados who have questions and concerns about the idea. The technology makes predictions and provides suggestions as to what a might be searching for. These features have cut typing and search time by 2 to 5 seconds, according to Google.

That might seem like great stuff but not for everyone is completely sold. Some people still want to turn this feature off and this can be done through the “Search Settings” link. The company states that this doesn’t slow down the Internet process and adds that the experienced user will welcome the efficiency of Google Instant Search, especially because it doesn’t affect the ranking of search results.

As quick and efficient as Internet searches already were (even a few years ago) Google Instant Search came along as an effort to make the process move more quickly. In its simplest terms, this technology is designed to take viewers to the desired content before they finish typing the search term or keyword. Individuals certainly don’t have to go all the way to clicking on the “Search” button or pressing the “Enter” key.

Logical Extension

google instant searchRob Pegoraro, writing for The Washington Post, states that Google Instant Search is the “next logical extension” of what Google calls the “auto-complete” feature. The journalist does comment, correctly, on our “collective attention span online” and notes that the need for and use of instant-searching tools seems a bit frightening.

One thing parents and Web do-gooders won’t have to worry about is the appearance of offensive words and links to obscene destinations. Google has provided filtering capability that will prevent the display of the most common “bad” words, for example.

Pegoraro also expressed the hope that saving 2 to 5 seconds per search doesn’t become “Instant’s primary selling point.” Instant Search continues one of the features of earlier search tools in that it tailors things to the location of the user who has signed in. This certainly sped up the process without Instant Search so it should do the same and more now.

Making Connections

In 2009 a fellow named Jeff Jarvis wrote a book about Google that put the Internet giant in a special place among the Web-users of 21st century. His book carried the title “What Would Google Do?” If this title gives the impression that one Internet company is guiding the online world it’s because Google does this.

A key issue in Jarvis’ book is the connection made between users or between users and providers. Google Instant Search brings the provider/user connection to the conversation level. In a way, this technology mimics how we actually converse with friends and family members. As we construct a sentence and speak it, the listener is already forming thoughts about our subject or point.

Google Instant Search does this and we respond quickly with adjustments and new information. The search tool forms its “opinions” and makes suggestions again. It’s sort of like that annoying guy who finishes our sentences for us and this may be a problem for many long-time Internet fanatics.

With all of this in mind, we should understand that Google’s management team and developers spent a lot of time testing this technology before introducing it. Yet, it isn’t perfect by any means. Slower Internet connections may struggle with Instant Search. As mentioned earlier, the change has caused some concern among those who make their living with search-engine optimization.

One more question: Is Google Instant Search perfect for mobile use? We’ll find out over the next few months.

26
Apr
2010

Google Ad Innovations

Google ad innovations

Google Ad Innovations was launched at the end of March as a lab for ad products it is considering. It’s designed to help AdWords account holders experiment with ad technologies and get their feedback about the new products. They may or may not be released for real in the future, depending on how they test out among AdWords users.

google adwordsSearch Funnels was launched a couple of weeks ago. It slices and dices your search, conversion, keyword, and number of steps preceding conversions so you can figure out which ads are getting the most conversions and why. It’s actually pretty complicated, but there’s a video at the official AdWords Blog that gives you a good overview.

Google has long been known for text-based CPC ads, but have been busy coming up with ad models based on these text ads. The new ad models are product listing ads, comparison ads, and ad extensions, which consist of sitelinks, product extensions, video extensions, location extensions, multiple addresses for location extensions, and click to call phone extensions. Let’s go through each of these.

Product Listing Ads are in limited beta release right now. They include more product info, like images, prices, and merchant names without requiring additional keywords or text. So when someone enters a search query relevant to something in your Google Merchant Center account, Google may or may not show the most relevant products with the associated price, product name, and image. These are only charged on a cost per action (CPA) basis, so you only have to pay when someone actually buys something from your site.

Comparison Ads are also in limited beta release. These let users compare several relevant offers and work on a cost per lead format. With these, the users do not have to fill in forms, and Comparison Ads doesn’t send advertisers any kind of personally identifiable user stats. Right now this is being used for the credit card and mortgage loan industries in select locations. Comparison ads should let advertisers target offers more accurately in order to get more leads.

The suite of Ad Extensions lets users make ads more relevant and more useful. They expand on the concept of standard text ads, letting viewers have the option of getting additional information right in the ad without leaving the search page. These extensions work with existing text ads without requiring changes to bids, ad text, or keywords. Following are the types of Ad Extensions offered.

Ad Sitelinks lets advertisers extend the possibilities for existing AdWords ads, providing links to specific content deeper within your site’s sitemap. So rather than sending all users to the same landing page, Ad Sitelinks will offer up to four more destination URLs for potential customers to choose from. You can use ad sitelinks to direct visitors to specific parts of your site, such as promotions, store locators, and gift registries. Early users have reported improvements in clickthrough rates of up to 30%.

Product Extensions are in limited release and allow you to add more to your existing AdWords ads with specific product information on the merchandise you sell. It uses your existing Google Merchant Center account to highlight products relevant to the user’s query. They can also show pictures, titles, and prices of products. In the first screen shot, you’ll see the “plus box” under the ad indicating the product extension. When a user clicks on that plus box, lots of products, along with thumbnail pictures show up, as you can see in the second screen shot. You’re charged the same CPC whether the user clicks on your main text ad or any offers in the product extensions box. But if a user  simply expands the box without clicking through to the site, you’re not charged.

product ad extension

google product ad extension

Video Extensions are in limited beta release and allow you to engage prospective customers with video content. The video extensions are in an expandable plus box under the standard text ad. If the user watches the ad for 10 seconds or more, you’re charged based on your maximum cost per click bid of your text ad. After vieing the video, the user can click the URL link in the ad or go directly to your site with no extra charge to you. These are great for movie trailers and product usage instructions.

Location Extensions attach your business address to your ads. Your ad can also contain your business’s name, phone number, and address, promoting your business and its products and services with a specific location that’s of interest to the user. It’s good for drawing in local customers.

Multiple Addresses for Location Extensions, also in limited beta release displays a plus box under ads at the top of the page. Whenever a user clicks on that plus box, he or she sees a map that shows store locations near them, plus a search box for moving the map around. This feature shows as many stores as are relevant to a given search, increasing the chance of picking up local customers.

Click to Call Phone Extensions are for people searching for products and / or services from their smart mobile phone (like the iPhone, Android, or Palm Pre). This feature has been fully released. If someone finds your business on a search and would rather call you than visit your website, they can use a click to call phone extension they’ve found in ads on their mobile devices that have full internet browsing capability. You’re charged the same for a customer’s call as you would had they clicked on your website.

In order to understand the rise of paid content, it’s necessary to understand the meaning of the nofollow tag and  how it is used (and some would say abused) by large sites like Twitter.

The nofollow tag is used to tell some search engines (*cough*Google*cough*) that a hyperlink should not influence the link target’s search engine ranking. It was originally intended to reduce the effectiveness of search engine spam. Spam comments were the nofollow tag’s original targets: spam comments on blogs were used to get back links and try to squeeze a few drops of link juice from as many places as possible. By making comment links nofollow, the webmaster is in effect saying, “I am in no way vouching for the quality of the place this link goes. Don’t give them any of my link juice. Maybe it’s a good site, but I’m not taking chances.”

Nofollow links are not meant for preventing stuff from being indexed or for blocking access. The ways to do this are by using the robots.txt file for blocking access, and using on-page meta elements that specify on a page by page basis what a search engine crawler should (or should not) do with the content that’s on the crawled page.

Nofollow was born in 2005, and since that time, in the SEO arms race between the search engines and those who want to game them, websites started selectively using the nofollow tag to “sculpt” page rank for pages within their own site. In other words, a link going to an internal page that was ticking over nicely could be made into a nofollow link in an attempt to “conserve” PageRank juice to give to another internal page that was just starting out, or struggling, and needed some help.

Well, Google frowns on this, insisting that you’re better off in the long run to use links to your site’s pages but not to selectively use the nofollow tag in an attempt to juice up the pages you think need a boost. According to Matt Cutts, the only time you should use nofollow is when you cannot or don’t want to vouch for the content of a site. An example would be a link added by an outside user (say, in a comment thread) that you don’t trust. Cutts suggested that unknown users leaving links on your guestbook page should automatically have their links nofollowed.
Right, so what does this have to do with paid content?

The nofollow tag was supposed to squash paid links, which Google hates.

Paid content companies take advantage of Google’s emphasis on domain authority, by buying up trusted sites like eHow (purchased by the seemingly insatiable Demand Media) and dumping lots and lots of esoteric content into it. Why do they do this? They get the domain authority, and the esoteric content helps ensure that when someone, somewhere searches for an article on, say, how to make a butterfly shaped cake, the content that they paid a content writer a couple of bucks for will show up at the top of the search engine results. In other words, they’re targeting the proverbial “long tail.”

How do these sites know what content to buy? They have algorithms that comb through keywords and keyword combinations and determine where there are gaps in information. Then the content buyers commission writers to write content specifically to fill those gaps. You may have heard the statistic that 20 to 25% of queries on Google have never been searched before. That’s a huge, huge number of queries. The more of those queries you can anticipate and answer, the more hits your site will get over the long term.

While link spam and comment spam were clear attempts at short term efforts for sites to claw their way to the top of the search engine rankings, and were relatively easy to squash using nofollow tags, paid content is more of a long term strategy, and it’s not clear what, if anything Google can do about it.

What seems to be happening is that sites like Twitter are kneeling down before their Google overlords (as one side of the story goes) and automatically making even the most harmless links (such as your own link to your own website on the “Bio” part of your Twitter profile) nofollow links. That has seriously ticked off a lot of long term Twitter users who legitimately poured in lots of very real, original content and can now no longer get any link love from that Bio link, even though it’s from them, to their very own site. When this happened, the metaphors about Google and Twitter ran rampant: “throwing the baby out with the bathwater,” “shutting the barn door after the horse gets out,” “cutting off its nose to spite its face,” etc.

The strategy seems to be that if nofollow links are being used as they were intended (well, as Google intended anyway), sites that are all promotion and no content would have a harder way getting to the top of the search engine results pages. Google’s fear is that paid content will game the system when it comes to odd or unusual searches, and the person who really does devote his life to making the world’s best butterfly-shaped cakes will lose out to the paid content sites who had writers or videographers hack together a 5-step instructional page or video.

Whether it will work or not is yet to be seen. As for now, paid content sites are doing pretty well for themselves. And the search engines that cater to them, like Ask.com, which wraps a few “real” sites in with sponsored results, are doing pretty well too. From February 2010 to March 2010, Ask.com’s share of search engine traffic went from 2.84% to 3.44%, while the traffic for the other (and admittedly much larger) search engines stayed relatively flat. Have a look at the screen shot of Ask.com’s results for “How do I bake a butterfly shaped cake” to see for yourself the influence of paid content on this search engine.

paid content

googles new search design

Most of us have noticed the new and improved Google search results pages by now. The biggest thing (in my opinion) is the new left hand column you get when you click the new “Show Options” link at the top of the results page. Whereas before if you wanted to search from a certain time frame, or make other refinements to the search, you had to go to the Advanced Search options page, now you can do a lot of those refinements right from your original results page.

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Webmaster Tools

Have you opened up Google Webmaster Tools recently? If not, you should, because you’ll find a bunch of new features. Your webmaster tools dashboard shows top search queries, links to your site, crawl errors, sitemaps, and more, as you can see in the screen shot. From the dash, you can get more information on any of these. The next screen shot shows all the webmaster tools options that show up in the left hand column of your dashboard.

webmaster tools dashboard

webmaster options

If, for example, you’re looking at your top search queries, which is located under the “Your Site on the Web” menu, you can go down to the bottom of the list where it says “more” and click. You’ll be taken to a page with a graphic representation of your queries by date, and a breakdown of individual search terms, and where you rank for them, as seen in the next screen shot. Also under “Your Site on the Web” you can find links to your site, keywords, internal links, and subscriber statistics.

top searchs

You used to only be able to see your site’s top 100 search queries, but now you can see many more. If your site ranks for more than 100, you’ll see page buttons at the bottom of the “Top Search Queries” list. And the graphic that appears of your top search queries used to be something you had to download and make into a chart yourself, so this new feature is especially handy. You also get a date range selector like what you have on Google Analytics so you can narrow down your data for a particular time period.

Under the “Site Configuration” menu, you can visit sitemaps, crawler access, sitelinks if any. These are the internal links that Google sometimes puts in search results, as you can see in the screenshot. There is also a “settings” section, in which you can set geographical targets, view your crawl rate stats, and parameter handling, which some webmasters use for more efficient crawling with fewer duplicate URLs. You don’t have to set any of these, because there are defaults, but some webmasters may want to. Some people have raised concerns that having country-specific sites will cause duplicate content issues, but this isn’t the case, so setting geographical targets will not harm your rankings.

html suggestions

Diagnostics is another handy set of features. From the Diagnostics menu, you can check for malware on your site, crawl errors, crawl stats (which gives you Googlebot activity over the preceding 90 days), and HTML suggestions. The HTML suggestions page tells you if there are any problems with malware on your site, and a breakdown of title tag information, which includes duplicate or missing title tags, short title tags, non-informative title tags, and long title tags. It also alerts you if there is non-indexable content on your pages. Just FYI, the Malware diagnostic used to be under the “Labs” menu, but late in 2009 it “graduated” to the Diagnostics menu.

The Labs menu lets you play with new tools that may or may not stick around. One thing you can do is see what your site (either the homepage, which is the default, or a specific page, whose URL you type in) looks like to the Googlebot by choosing “Fetch as Googlebot” under the Labs menu. Once you click on “fetch” you’ll get a listing of your site and under Status, you should see “Success” and a green check mark. Click on “Success” and you’ll see the source information for your page as it is seen by the Googlebot.

You can make a Sidewiki for your site under the Labs menu, too. It may not be something you’re interested in, but a Sidewiki is a browser plugin for IE and Firefox that adds a universal commenting system for any and every page on the internet. To use it, you have to install the Google Toolbar for IE or Firefox, and Google says they’re working on a version for Chrome. When you install the toolbar with the Sidewiki in it, you go to a landing page telling you how to use it. Sidewiki entries are displayed with the most useful and high quality entries first, based on running the Sidewiki information through an algorithm to determine this. Toolbar haters will probably want to skip this one.

The Site Performance option under the Labs menu basically leads you through installation of the Page Speed browser add-on for Firefox that helps you figure how fast your site loads and what you can do to maximize load speed. Page Speed runs a bunch of diagnostics against a page and analyzes various performance parameters based on things like resource caching, upload and download sizes, and client-server round trips. You’ll get a red / yellow / green grading scheme for all the parameters, plus specific suggestions for making your page faster. It also does some automatic optimization such as compressing images and “minifying” JavaScript code.

This is very valuable information, and there are even suggestions and hints on how to do things like speeding up your site by installing a Firefox add-on called Page Speed. Honestly, you could spend half a day going through the data you now get from Webmaster Tools and probably come up with a dozen tweaks to your site that will fine tune its performance. Initial reaction to the new tools – particularly the top search queries – has been very positive.

Web site speed

You’ve probably heard that site speed is now one of the more than 200 factors that Google is using to rank search engine results. The reactions range from, “Everybody panic!” to “This will make it easier for the big sites to stomp the smaller ones,” to “Well it’s about time.” I actually don’t think that most smaller sites are going to suffer because of this change. Sure, the big guys can afford to have their sites hosted on faster, dedicated servers, but some of the worst sites when it comes to speed are sites of big cheeses, particularly those who sell expensive things. You can see in the screen shot the yawn-inducing graphic you have to sit through before you can actually do anything on one such site (a luxury watchmaker). If anything, it will be the sites that are electronic monuments to big egos that are going to suffer most. There are a lot of users like me who see that “Loading, please wait” widget as the perfect reason to click the “Back” button.

rolex website

If you read Matt Cutts’ blog post for April 9, you’ll learn the reasoning behind Google’s decision, and why Cutts doesn’t think it’s going to be that big a deal. Here’s a recap.

Why Matt Cutts Doesn’t Think It’s Going to Be That Big a Deal

  • Your site will depend much more on factors like reputation, relevance, and quality of content, and compared to these factors, site speed will be a relatively small factor in your ranking.
  • Less than 1% of queries will change now that site speed is incorporated into the ranking algorithm. In terms of search results, there shouldn’t be a noticeable difference because the average SERP only shows about 10 results.
  • Google actually launched this feature a few weeks ago and few people even noticed.
  • Google has a whole mini-site dedicated to speeding up your site with plenty of resources and teaching videos about how to do it.
  • Small sites are often quicker to respond to this kind of change on the theory that it’s easier to turn around a tugboat than the Titanic.
  • And finally, most websites can be made faster with fairly simple fixes, which improves conversion rates and ROI.

Why Some People Say, ‘Oh Yes It Will Be’

Actually, a lot of the hand wringing over this is being done out of not precisely knowing things like how “site speed” is measured. Google isn’t terribly forthcoming about telling people how site speed is figured and weighted, so there are still questions surrounding this new ranking factor, such as:

  • Is site speed the time it takes the entire page to load, or is site speed how much time per KB loaded? (Actually, code.google.com pushes their open source tool called Page Speed, which you’ll read more about below. Page Speed evaluates speed as page load time: the time elapsed between the time a user “requests” a page and the time the page is fully rendered by their web browser.)
  • How will non-commercial, “passion”-based sites ever make it onto page 1 if they can’t afford a fast server or a web designer with mad skills?
  • Will this give the big guys more stomping power since they can afford faster hosting and SEO services?
  • Will overseas websites be penalized since their servers are in other parts of the world and may load slowly in the U.S.?
  • Will this spell the end of small web hosting companies as sites rush to the big hosting companies with the fastest servers?
  • Is this a form of “double jeopardy” where sites that already get less traffic and fewer back links due to their slowness are penalized more?
  • Google Analytics code can measurably slow down load time – will webmasters be indirectly penalized for using Google Analytics?

What Should Webmasters Do?

Google wants you to speed up your site. They did some experiments where they deliberately slowed search results page loads to see how users would respond. They found out that slowing down a page by 100 to 400 milliseconds produces 0.2 to 0.6% fewer searches. Not only that, searches dropped even more over a period of weeks, and, even if the page loads returned to normal, it took users a couple of weeks to return to their normal search habits!

And sure, Google wants you to do lots of searches because the more you search, the more money they make. Therefore Google likes sites to load quickly so you won’t become frustrated and stop searching.

google blog post on speedThe first thing webmasters should do is to use some of the official tools for measuring site speed that Google offers. Go to Google’s Webmaster Central blog post on the topic of site speed (also see screen shot) and try out some of the speed measuring tools they suggest, including the Google-approved Firefox / Firebug add-on called Page Speed, the Yahoo! tool called YSlow, and WebPagetest to show your page’s load stats and generate a checklist for optimization. Google’s Webmaster Tools, under Labs, then Site Performance will show you how fast your website loads to users around the world.

Tips for Speeding Up Site:

Add a cache plugin to your site. It creates static versions of posts so that the pages don’t have to be recreated every time from scratch. Instead, an HTML file, perhaps with javascript for dynamic elements is displayed, which is faster for users. Other suggestions for speeding up your page, which you can read more about at code.google.com, include:

  • Reducing size of responses, cached pages, and downloads (minimizing payload)
  • Reducing upload size (minimizing request overhead)
  • Reducing the number of serial request / response cycles (minimizing round-trip to the server times)
  • Improving your layout (optimizing browser rendering)

Optimizing for local search

Local search engine listings may be little more than an afterthought to some webmasters, but they are a source of business that you shouldn’t ignore. Optimizing your site for local searches and making sure you’re listed in the local versions of the major search engines is a smart move, and doing so is fairly quick and easy. The three biggies in local search are Google Local, Yahoo! Local, and Bing Local.

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Just to get everyone on the same page, let’s review the concepts behind Google AdWords, specifically the concept of “pay per click,” or PPC. PPC is an advertising model. If you’re an advertiser, you pay the site hosting your ad only when somebody clicks the ad. To buy search engine ads, advertisers bid on relevant keyword phrases, whereas content sites usually charge a fixed price per click. Cost per click is how much the advertiser pays each time someone clicks the ad. So if a host site doesn’t generate any click-throughs, the merchant incurs no cost. Sites selling PPC ads display certain ads that are relevant to keyword queries on an advertiser’s keyword list.

The Google AdWords Conversion Tracking Guide is a PDF guide you should at least bookmark, or maybe print out for reference. Conversion tracking works like this. It places a cookie on the computer of the user who clicks on your ad. If the user then reaches one of your conversion pages, the user’s browser sends the cookie to one of the Google servers. A conversion tracking image will be shown on your website. When this match is made, it’s considered a successful conversion. For example, see the ad for Klogzilla.com in the screen shot? If someone were to click on that ad, Klogzilla would have to pay Google a certain amount based on what keyword brought the person there. Some percent of that money would be shared with the website owner. If Klogzilla had the requisite tracking code in their website HTML, they could track these things.

To do conversion tracking, you place a few pre-written lines of code into your website’s HTML. With AdWords, you need access to your website’s code and your Google AdWords account. The Tracking Guide referenced above offers instructions for the insertion of the lines of code into these web programming languages:

  • Active Server Pages (ASP)
  • eBay – PayPal
  • Macromedia DreamWeaver
  • Microsoft FrontPage
  • PHP: Hypertext Preprocessor
  • Sun Java Server Pages
  • Yahoo! Stores

One hour (give or take) after you’ve successfully installed the code into your site, you can see your conversion tracking reports from your AdWords Campaign Summary page and Report Center. You can look at conversion reports for individual keywords and key phrases too. Statistics on users who click one of your Google AdWords ads and completes a specified conversion, such as a sign-up, a page view, or a purchase, can be seen in your AdWords reports. You get the snippet of code when you sign up from the AdWords Conversion Tracking Page, under the Campaign Management tab.

There are all kinds of AdWords metrics you can track, but here are some of the most popular ones:

  • Average Value – the aggregate value of all conversions divided by the number of conversions
  • Conversion Types – any of various types of conversions recorded in the code, such as sign-ups, purchases, leads, or types of conversion you define yourself
  • Conversion Rate – total number of conversions divided by total number of ad clicks. Conversions are counted on Google sites and some of their ad network sites. The conversion rate only reflects ad clicks where Google can track the conversions
  • Cost Per Conversion – total cost divided by number of conversions. This tells you how much each of those conversions costs. Google can track these on their own sites and some ad network sites, so this number will only reflect the cost per conversion that Google can track.
  • Transaction – one single conversion event. After someone clicks on your ad, there can be multiple transactions. Suppose someone clicks your ad, then makes a $10 purchase on your site, then makes another $15 purchase on your site. Your reports will show one transaction from the click on the ad, and two purchase transactions, with $25 total value, for a total of three transactions.

As Magnum, P.I. used to say, I know what you’re thinking, and you’re right. This can rapidly become complicated. As if you weren’t spending enough hours running your business and updating your website, now if you want to figure out where your AdWords dollars are doing their best, there’s all this tracking to deal with.

Well, there are search engine marketing firms and AdWords account management consultants that can do this stuff for you. The idea is that they know how to manage your AdWords campaigns so that they reach the people who want to buy your product or service. The Google Advertising Professionals program certifies those who pass a qualifying exam and meet other qualifictions.

If your budget doesn’t run to hiring consultants yet, Google also provides its own software for AdWords account management called AdWords Editor, which you can see in the screen shot. Access it at http://www.google.com/intl/en/adwordseditor/. You can also sign up for something called My Client Center, which is part of the Google Professionals suite, but which you can use even if you’re not a certified Google Advertising Professional. It’s a shell account that links up all your AdWords accounts in one location, so you don’t have to log in and out to switch AdWords accounts. This is great for the advertising professional who manages AdWords accounts for several clients too. You can generate multiple accounts at once, invite new clients to have their accounts managed by you, and generally have dashboard access to your or your client’s AdWord account(s).

To be able to use this, go to the Google Advertising Professionals sign-up page at https://adwords.google.com/professionals/ and sign up for free. You’ll be given a My Clent Account setup as soon as you enroll.

In fact, if you have time (I know, fat chance, right?), signing up with the Google Advertising Professionals program and gradually working your way through it will make you an expert on pay per click management of AdWords accounts and help you use your AdWords dollars optimally.