Geordie Carswell Interview

About a year ago my wife and I started to notice Google's increasingly aggressive push into demoting the organic results and extending AdWords ads. Based in large part on that we decided to partner with Geordie Carswell to create a sister site to SEO Book focused on paid search & contextual advertising - PPC Blog. I have been meaning to interview him for a while & just finally got around to it.

How did you get into pay per click marketing?

I started with Adwords around five years ago, independently marketing software apps and other consumer technology products. From there I continued running my own campaigns while blogging and doing one-on-one Adwords coaching in addition to other marketing ventures.

How has PPC changed since you got into the field?

When I started there were very few big brands doing PPC in a significant way and, at least in the niches I was working in, affiliates were dominating. That of course has flipped upside down in the last 12 months with brands dominating and affiliates being flushed out the bottom of the system.

I feel Google's implementation of various forms of Quality Score into the Adwords platform has been the highest impact spate of changes in terms of direct effect on advertiser performance.

On the platform options side, the growth of Facebook Ads as a PPC channel has also been hugely significant, notwithstanding the merger of Yahoo and Microsoft on paid search.

On organic search I feel that if you work on a big brand, SEO is mostly about information architecture & getting buy off from key players in your company. Whereas if you run thin affiliate sites you have to be quite clever with your link building strategies to build up enough authority to compete. In the same way I think PPC is likely much harder as an affiliate than as a merchant. Would you agree with that?

Well, to be perfectly candid, a pure-play affiliate effort on Adwords in particular is becoming nearly impossible over the long term as Google shows affiliates the door. There's still some room on Microsoft adCenter/Yahoo and Facebook, but the editorial squeeze is on there as well.

The affiliate play of the future would need to involve a recognizable, highly-branded site that "people have heard of" vs. one-off mini or article sites etc...

A lot of affiliate stuff seems to race toward 0 margins. I had one killer offer I was buying traffic for a couple years ago & I was paying about 25 cents a click for traffic that was worth about $6 a click. Within about 3 days someone stole my ad copy word for word and then when I raise my bid to $6 my ad still wouldn't show. How can an affiliate fight the trend toward lower margins?

That's tough. Highly successful affiliates by nature tend to be very good at finding a small sliver of inefficiency in a system and filling that gap. That tends to inevitably be a 'point-in-time' win that ends up competitively saturated.

Often, a lateral move running the same type of campaign on alternate PPC platform can work, but let's face it: competition eventually finds its way there as well, and there are only so many PPC platforms to run on. I strongly believe the best defense against the endless push towards lower margins is to test more than the other guy. Competition will always be there, but he who tests more and thereby extracts more margin wins in the long run.

In terms of leading people astray, how often would you say major search engines give self-serving advice that harms advertisers?

One of the biggest things we still see Google doing is opting advertisers into the Google Display Network (previously known as the content network) by default when creating new campaigns. I'm sure Google needs ways to generate interest in the Display Network, but they know full well that blending search and content campaigns together is a recipe for disaster and I'd like to see them step up and stop that.

Additionally, offers from reps to 'optimize' your campaigns (while well intentioned) have lead to a lot of unnecessarily broad campaign expansions that can truly destroy the profitability of an already-successful campaign.

Part of the problem comes from advertisers trusting Google a bit too much: Google is there to extract as much revenue as they can from their keyword inventory without permanently scaring away advertisers with unmanageable costs. An advertisers' job is to generate as much net profit from Adwords as possible. Those two goals are at odds by nature, so discernment is vital when evaluating why Google is offering something or making an 'improvement' to the system.

Google offers a number of automated optimization tools for advertisers. When does it make sense to use them? Who should avoid using them?

Most of the automation solutions offered by Google like Conversion Optimizer or Automatic Bidding really won't have much benefit to smaller advertisers who don't typically have enough paid click traffic to measure the results of using these offerings. That said, if you have a decent amount of traffic you can save considerable time using their optimization tools, particularly when fishing for new traffic and/or placements.

One area I would suggest some caution on however is the "New Keyword Opportunities" feature that shows up at the top of your campaigns interface. This is an awesome tool for Google to snag new bidders on additional keyword inventory in their system, but it can cost you a pretty penny if you just accept and add whatever keywords they happen to "recommend" for you. You really need to be careful with these and look at the expected avg. CPC amounts to see if you can afford to add what's being suggested. Burning through your budget unnecessarily on overpriced or untargeted keywords isn't fun.

You buy traffic on most the major platforms. What business models do you feel work best with each of the major platforms - say Google AdWords, Microsoft adCenter, and Facebook ads?

I think local, education, online dating, and mobile represent some of the best fit for Facebook. Other niches can be genuinely daunting uphill push on Facebook. With Yahoo and Microsoft now consolidated into the Adcenter ad platform, managing alternate campaigns on another network is now much easier and can't be ignored given the combined search marketshare Microsoft and Yahoo have put together. There's really no excuses for not running your campaigns on both Adwords and Adcenter in tandem.

Some people have been hyping Facebook as the next Google. Is it? Why or why not?

Well, I think it's more accurate to compare Facebook Ads to Google's Display Network. They're both considered contextual advertising as Facebook search hasn't really turned out to be a particularly lucrative opportunity yet.

When comparing Facebook Ads to the Google Display Network, I think the key advantage that Google has with Adsense is the topical blend. The blending of content ads via Adsense has gotten so good that in some cases even ad professionals have to look closely to determine if a link or placement is an ad or original content. Facebook doesn't really have this advantage, pretty much every Facebook user knows that those are ads in the right siderail, and unless the image in the ad is incredibly compelling, it's just going to be ignored. As Facebook builds out their contextual ad empire, it'll be interesting to see what options come up.

I don't think however that disgruntled Adwords advertisers looking over the fence at Facebook Ads will find instant success. It's a different beast from an ad server behavior perspective and it's also extremely competitive.

When you are working with smaller clients, what are some of the most common roadblocks they run into when they begin paid search advertising?

The learning curve is number one, closely followed by issues with account architecture and Google Quality Score. From what I've heard and read, the churn rate on new small business Adwords accounts is immense as people try it, fail, and then leave. Google has tried to fix this I think with the learning center resources and videos, but most new advertisers won't even get around to looking at those.

Part of the challenge is prepping clients for the fact that PPC is going to take real time and effort to be successful, and that time has to be budgeted and weighed against other demands. Obviously it's worth it in the long run for well-organized businesses who have optimized their websites for shoppers. Those who don't have a clear path to purchase or request additional info will find their PPC spend tends to go into a black hole.

When you are working with larger clients, what is the hardest part of paid search?

Many large companies have some sort of PPC campaigns running, but it's not a core marketing focus for them to the extent that it should be. There's almost a tendency to say "what we've got going is good enough" or "we're breaking even" and leave it at that. Some of the easiest ways for the marketing team to move the needle sales or leads-wise in a large organization is to exploit paid search to the fullest extent possible. Overpaying Google and accepting less-than-ideal sales performance from PPC is something too many large clients put up with.

This is a big reason we had such a great time building out the Adwords Tax Calculator on PPCblog. When you actually quantify what you're paying in overhead to straight to Google due to a number of completely fixable campaign tactics, it's really motivating.

You have been running PPC Blog's training program and community for close to 3 months now, and it has been getting strong reviews. What are some of the most important and interesting things you have learned from that experience?

It's been very interesting. I really felt prior to running PPCblog that there wasn't anywhere "safe" to discuss advanced tactics and observations about Adwords without Google either closely watching the discussion or directly hosting it. It's been great to share and compare real campaign data in a trusted environment like the one we have going there.

Another thing I've noticed is that the level of discussion and discourse is much higher when people are paying to participate. It weeds out a lot of noise and repetition. Additionally, I've also found that I'm using the custom tools we've developed for members far more often than I had originally thought I would, and that's been helping me save time while keeping up with the community and running campaigns.

How do you feel paid search and SEO tie into each other?

Personally I feel they're both essential 'legs on the stool' (email marketing I think follows closely thereafter). It always amazes me that SEOs will spend huge bucks buying links or doing biz dev deals to get traffic that's not 100% guaranteed to flow, but they won't spend a dime buying traffic directly with Adwords or Adcenter. When you see the amount of brand bidding that goes on with PPC, its a good reminder that if you're not buying even in the least of your brand's keywords, your competitors likely are. With organic results getting pushed farther and farther down the page each year, a two-pronged approach only makes sense.


Thanks Geordie. You can catch his latest paid search thoughts on PPC Blog & follow him on Twitter @geordiecarswell. There is a free 7-day PPC starter course here, and on the PPC training program he is currently offering a coupon for 25% off for new members.

Published: September 22, 2010 by Aaron Wall in interviews


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