Google AdWords updated their landing page quality scoring algorithm. I have got quite a bit of email on the issue, although people are still working through what all Google is doing.
In much the same way to how Google has clearly stated their hatred for low quality affiliate sites in the organic SERPs some of that pure hate is crossing over into their AdWords relevancy algorithms, where they are looking at the landing page quality (and other factors) and squeezing the margins on many business models. I believe if you spend huge money you probably get a bit more of a pass than smaller ad buyers, but the clear message with this update is that Google does not like noise even if you are willing to pay them for the privilege of displaying your noisy message.
Many people liked PPC because they felt it was far more stable and more predictable than SEO, but for many PPC just started to look ugly quite quickly. If you are dealing with search marketing you have to evolve with the market or die. That is true with organic search and is true with paid search.
The brutal part with this Google update is beyond providing these general guidelines they failed to define what qualities they are looking for when they test landing page quality. Some of the things Google might be looking for
- if your AdWords ads redirect
- your account history (are you a large reliable spender that has been spending for years? are you new to a saturated market? do you have a spotty past checkered with 20,000 unrelated keyword uploads? do your ads get a strong CTR?)
- history of competitors with similar keyword selections
- if your landing page links to known affiliate hubs
- if your landing page has redirect on outbound links
- if your landing page has many links to other sites or pages that are also advertising on the same or similar keywords
- if your page has duplicate or limited content (or conversely if it has a huge number of links to external sites on it)
- time on site
- rate which people click the back button after landing on your site
- outbound ad CTR on your landing page (especially easy if you are arbitraging AdWords to AdSense)
- conversion rate if you use Google Checkout, Google Analytics, or the AdWords conversion tracker
Don't forget that Google not only has a huge search engine, the largest ad network, and an analytics product, but they have their toolbar on a boatload of computers and can track track track their users!
Andrew Goodman reminded advertisers that one shouldn't be too reactive to this change
As [Googler] Nick Fox suggested, there are rarely any gray areas, implying that it's generally seriously misleading ad campaigns and scam offers that are being targeted. Yes, there are landing page factors now in the mix.
But these will generally not affect accounts of long standing which have good CTR's established. You need to continue optimizing your landing pages for corporate goals and profitability, conversion rates, ROI, etc... not based on what you think it will do to your minimum bid in AdWords.
As Google Checkout and other direct merchant incentives (and affiliate disincentive) spread you have think that Google is going to make many PPC affiliate marketers cringe.
If you are already well established though this might improve your margins since it raises the barrier to entry to the AdWords market while wiping out some of the arbitrage players and some of the less sophisticated or lower budget merchants and affiliates. Some of the larger players in the space are seeing a significant rise in traffic as the squirrel population dies off.
In the same way Google trusts older websites maybe it is worth starting up an AdWords account just to learn the medium before it gets any more complex, and with any luck to build up a level of trust that can be leveraged if you ever have a sudden urge to advertise a time sensitive message down the road.
I have had a couple search marketers tell me that they have a couple high spend low maintenance PPC clients just to have the account spend necessary to have pull with the engines.
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