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Interview of Frank Watson, known as AussieWebmaster & Smart Keywords

August 5, 2005

Frank Watson is a well known guru of pay per click marketing. He spends millions of dollars each year on pay per click and knows the ins and outs of the major pay per click players. I asked him for an interview, he said sure, and so it goes...

How & when did you get into search?

I have been working with improving various sites positions in the search engines since 1996. In those days I was working for mostly adult sites and there were a few guys who would try playing with on page factors and see what happened.

Is adult ahead of general SEO? If so, how far? What sites should people be reading for marketing adult ideas?

Adult used to be ahead of the curve when there were not as many restrictions and you could do all sorts of things without the possibility of getting banned.

It was black hat and tested methods mixed together. Right now the best place for adult seo is in the resource areas of the larger adult webmaster sites. There are articles in some of them that go back years.

I believe you head up both paid an organic search for a rather large company in a rather competitive field. How do you mix your time between the two?

The paid side gets more attention since it involves a much larger cost to the company. We see 75% of our 5 million plus monthly visitors from PPC and banners. Organic and bookmarked traffic is 25% and that is with us being on the front page for over 150 terms and number one for about 50. Being top through PPC gets us a tremendous amount of traffic - more than the number one listings in organic (though there are studies that say being in both improves those numbers).

We have two full time people and two part-time helping me with PPC etc.

Organic is important and something I keep up with personally and also have the help of the design/development people not directly beneath me. We try and set content management rules that reflect SEO rules which helps and I make changes but they are not as constant as PPC.

Yahoo! Search Marketing vs Google AdWords: what do you like and dislike about each system?

I like the absolute bid prices of Yahoo and the ability to bid gap. Google has rewards for better CTR so that works well for us. Google also allows you to AB test creatives and landing pages which is so much more advantageous than anything Yahoo has right now.

Are there flaws or fixes in either system that make it easier or harder to pull a decent ROI?

Yahoo because of it's bidding has quicker response time to bid changes but Google because of its pre editorial publishing rules allow quicker changes. Though the disabled terms etc. can be a bit of a nuisance.

Disabled terms will be going away with Google. How will that effect your PPC management style?

Well it means I do not have to get the 12 morning reports for the various accounts and hopefully will show that the terms I have wanted more access to were worth waiting for.

Right now I have people checking them in the morning first thing and then 30 minutes before they leave.

How do you segregate out a pay per click campaign in competitive markets? How do you segregate out a campaign in less competitive markets?

All PPC campaigns are measured by ROI so the differences in competitive and non-competitive markets are just volume and bid price generally. It all comes down to competing with the price more than other advertisers... obviously they impact the price but there is little you can do to get rid of them.

Are there keyword bid strategies and techniques that work well against not so bright competitors? What works well against sophisticated advertisers?

Yes the basics should be applied across the board but it is the less initiated that can be caught in bid gaps, or not know how to get better CTR by keyword inserting, or how to get disabled terms reactivated quickly etc. which allows you better access to the limited traffic.

The really naive do not use tracking, which is almost criminal.

Search engine owned tracking or spend automating products: worth using or not worth touching with a ten foot pole?

If you have a limited budget I would use it and spend more on the PPC. When you improve your budget it should have an allowance for tools. The autospends are a tough skill set and using one put out by an engine is a little like leaving the cat among the canaries.

How important is tracking? When should you use tracking URLs? When should you avoid them?

Tracking is THE most important aspect of any online advertising. Tagged urls have recently created some problems with the search engines indexing the links as the index page and dropping the real index page and all the inbound links etc that point to it. This is something that needs to be addressed, though companies like WebSideStory can do tracking without the tracking through javascript that grabs log file info.

If you are overseeing serious amounts of money and sites that also have good organic placement the tagless solution is solid. But there should never be no tracking.

What kind of PPC budget would you recommend most businesses set?

I think that 50% of anyone's advertising budget should be spent on PPC if not more. Since it truly is a zero sum game the increase in profits should be reinvested at a set percentage so the company can grow. This can be leveled off when the inventory falls off and the profits start to decrease. Since this can be done on a click by click basis you know when to cut it off.

Beginner, intermediate, to advanced...what tracking tools should I be using?

Beginner: start with the Google tool it is easy enough (but I say that as it will not cost anything) Intermediate I would say KeywordMax - and depending on the degree of analytics your site may needs this could be advanced level too.

Advanced I recommend WebSideStory as it gives you everything at a level that you can become overwhelmed with information and get sidetracked. You need a decent level of knowledge to take advantage of the higher level information - but even the low end etc. is suitable for the two other tools I mention as these companies are good about training and can get anyone up to speed.

Click fraud: overblown issue or spiraling out of control? What are the best ways to deter click fraud?

I think it is a serious issue that is being addressed as we go along.

Obviously you still make decisions on all numbers so you have to take that into the total and see if it is okay. If you can't get anywhere then you may only be able to get into PPC when the problem is fully ended... so you are free to help and keep it important. I have to look at what exists and how to make it work.

Deter ClickFraud? I think better reporting by the search engines... a telephone bill for clicks with IP addresses etc. could get companies working to rid the garbage. And jail time. Since it is serious theft.

Smaller pay per click engines: should I try them? If so, when?

Yes, if you do not take advantage of the small engines you allow competitors to get cheap traffic they can convert and reinvest the profits in the bigger engines. I would never let someone have that chance.

What small engines are worth trying? When should I try them?

SearchFeed, 7Search, Findology are good ones for us. Business.com, Enhance, Miva and Kanoodle have also been decent.

It does not take too much to copy the stuff you have at Overture and submit it to the smaller engines. You then just need to track and see what is working.

How sharply does traffic fall off from google to yahoo to the smaller engines?

The ratios between the big and small engines are between 50 to 100 to one. Google to say SearchFeed, Findology or 7Search gives us 100 times more traffic. Yahoo right now provides under half the traffic we get from Google - mainly due to hard editorial policies and the frustration of constantly battling with them - though recent changes with personnel may see that change.

But the cost per acquisition for the small engines is better believe it or not. Though some still have problems with Click Fraud, you get great response and refunds from the small guys.

Google and Yahoo conversion numbers are close and the small guys can be as much as 5-10 times less. It is a pity - I like the cheap converting stuff.

How sharply does click fraud change as you go from the larger to smaller engines?

Click fraud exists at all engines. The smaller guys can be beaten up more as they rely on constantly getting new publishers and some of them are going to cheat the system. The silly part is the greed of the cheaters - they come in and pound the small engines like they were Google and because they are small the jump in traffic is more obvious. If I get 500 more clicks from a small engine in a day I know something is wrong. I get that from Yahoo and Google and I just figure a combination of news, CTR improvement etc. has occurred.

That is the hard thing. Google and Yahoo are being cheated - I get refunds all the time - but the sheer volume makes it tougher to see. We buy say over a million visitors a month from Google.

Content clicks: valuable or worthless? What does one need to do to effectively play the content market?

Content is now a lot better than it was. You need to write better creatives - in most cases clear calls to action but with good offers that will attract people to click in a non search situation. But the traffic is cheaper so it has been doing well for us over the past 12 months.

What type of words generally provide the best ROI?

The more specific the keyword the better the ROI. Three word and more phrases seem to work the best. While terms that are ambiguous always fail unless you use a large number of negatives to qualify them.

Conceptualizing keywords & consumers: most people think inside a narrow scope of keywords. How do you think outside those term sets? What tools on and off the web help you do that?

Obviously all the keyword suggestion tools help: Yahoo Suggestion tool, the Google one now helps, and then there is the old staple: WordTracker. You need to look beyond the obvious. The words used in banner ads in your vertical are a decent source some times. While reading the magazines and newspaper articles about your product can pull the occasional term. And you just have to get lucky.

Landing pages: what are some of the most common errors? What are some of the best ways to get a quick boost in conversion?

Overuse of the homepage as the landing page is an error many people are guilty of, even I do it when I do not have a specific page in mind. But the best landing pages are those that you custom develop to suit the keywords and push for the close.

ABC: Always Be Closing is an attitude that should be used when developing the creatives and the landing pages.

Lowering price or offering specials always provides a quick boost, but you have to move the prices back otherwise it becomes the new accepted price and you have to go lower the next time.

Being a large PPC spender sometimes you get to hear about products before others. What spend level do people need to get to in order to see some perks with the major engines?

I don't know what spend level warrants what. But, especially in the case of Google, the engines know that a friendly relationship improves spends. Even if you have a set budget, when deciding where to spend it you are always going to go with the friendly ones when there is a choice. Obviously ROI is the chief factor but at certain levels you are going to try new things with the company that you work with the best. Just like the casinos and any other business, meals and other "good customer" perks are part of doing smart business.

I have heard rumors that if you spend enough sometimes the wall between church and state comes down and the engines are a bit more receptive to SEO related questions? Is it hearsay or is there any truth to that?

The line between church and state has not been broached for me. I know some people can get things looked at, but I think that is more there is a problem and it would get addressed anyway, but it seems like better treatment since the person goes through someone they know as opposed to the email submittal process.

I have asked the people at the various engines questions but that is usually about what they know - they are not privy to the "secret formula" - they just have some knowledge of the industry from working in it. Besides I would much rather have help improving the PPC side than some small help with organic. There are literarily 10s of thousands of people working on developing methods for improving SEO. The PPC side is too often overlooked as a basic 'spend some advertising money' - which is fine by me.

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Thanks for the interview Frank

If you would like to learn more about Frank he is a frequent poster at Search Engine Watch forums (as the moderator of Google AdWords and ROI Technologies), and runs an internet marketing consultancy at Smart Keywords.

- by Aaron Wall, owner of Search Marketing Info

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