In 2011 Google launched what they called AdWords Express dubbing it ‘the easiest way to advertise on Google.’ In this article I’ll cover some pros and cons of the service as well as clear up a few informational elements surrounding this new advertising channel and how it differs from traditional Google AdWords.
First understand that Google develop AdWords Express mainly for local businesses who want to advertise on the Internet. Because of this, you must have a mailing address for your business, however; you do have the option of hiding that address by making it private (if for example you operate a mobile only business or work out of you house and don’t want your address listed.)
With that understood, let me now give a little more depth to what AdWords Express is and how it differs from traditional Google AdWords.
AdWords Express is local search advertising—only easier. It takes just a few minutes to setup an ad and management is basically automated … meaning you don’t need to touch the account once it is up and running. Even targeting is automated. This makes it ideal for businesses that want to advertise to a local audience yet don’t want the time restraints of actually managing the account.
The example Google gives is when a user searches for ‘flowers in Dallas’ your ad shows and includes a little blue (or red in some cases) pin with it as well that marks the location on Google Maps.
Clicking that pin takes the searcher to the Google Maps page for that listing or, if the listing does not have a website, the Google Places page instead (while setting up a Google AdWords Express account, Google walks you through the process of setting up a ‘Places’ page as well.)
I find the map listing especially useful for those who may happen to be searching using a mobile device. With the many Google apps available (including Places and Maps), and the ability to target your location based on GPS (providing you turn that feature on from your cell phone), a searcher who finds your listing can, with just a few clicks, get full directions (and voice guided GPS navigation—again thanks to Google) to your store location. How’s that for delivering them right to your doorstep?
Google AdWords Express vs. Google AdWords
So you might be asking what the difference is between traditional AdWords and AdWords Express. I find the main difference is in the ‘ease of setup and management’. Where with AdWords you must perform your own keyword research, write your own ads, place your own bids and manage them, target select locations etc…, AdWords Express does all of this for you automatically (yes, including the keyword research.)
Another thing that really stands out is the fact that AdWords Express truly targets local businesses looking for local customers. If you’re looking to advertise to mass audiences across the country then stick with traditional AdWords for that. It is true, you can perform local search advertising as well through Google AdWords, but you must setup a number of variables and combine that with geo-targeting for this to occur. With AdWords express, it’s all done for you.
With all of this no in perspective, and as with anything, there are some pros and cons of AdWords Express.
Pros and Cons of Google AdWords Express
Interestingly enough, the items that are pros within AdWords Express can also be seen as cons depending on how you look at it. Let’s start with the pros:
Pros of AdWords Express:
- Ease-Setup/Easy-Use: AdWords Express enables advertisers to be running ads live online within just 5-10 minutes. Currently setup is an easy 4 step process that walks you through everything needed to get started. Unlike traditional AdWords, you setup does not require you to do any keywords research at all (which can alone be extremely time consuming) and as far as setting your bid prices, well, Google does that for you by assigning bid prices based on its bid auction model. The last step is determining your budget, but even this is automated by Google. The system automatically recommends a monthly budget based upon the data is reviews on average search volume for the type of service / product you offer.
- Local Targeting: If you want to geo-target customers on a local level with traditional Google AdWords you need to manually select the countries, states, and regions you want your ads displayed in from a map. With AdWords Express, there is no need for that as it pulls geo-graphic search areas based on your physical location (thus the need for a physical address when setting up the account.) In addition, Google will further target your ads to show only for the category you indicate. This removes the possibility of an ad for ‘flowers in dallas’ showing when a user types in ‘shoes in dallas’. This can be done with some work (and likely a list of negative keywords) in traditional AdWords, but it takes a lot of time to get it right. AdWords Express saves you that time.
- Account Automation: AdWords Express does not require you to perform manual keyword bidding or analysis. In other words, you won’t have to monitor your keyword bids and adjust them accordingly to maximize your advertising efforts and positioning. With AdWords Express, Google handles this for you to make sure your ads are displayed only at the best possible time.
Cons of AdWords Express:
Ease-Setup/Easy-Use: Being a PPC Manager myself I can say that it is far from an easy task—yet it can be an extremely profitable channel when run correctly. It takes time and diligence to get it right. This can be even tougher when trying to develop truly localized PPC campaigns.
I know from experience that running an effective PPC campaign that produces high ROI requires some human intervention. There are parts of the setup/management that you can automate but even then, you really need a human eye to get things moving in the proper direction. This is precisely why I find the automated management portion of AdWords Express a con.
When you automate a campaign you must make assumptions about your business. And this is where many PPC efforts run into trouble. When you let a software system make assumptions about your business (budget included) you miss out on vital human aspects such as intuition, reasoning, logic, experience, and research. No matter the system, these are things you can’t easily replace.
For example, when setting your budget I find it best to do ‘human research’ and have human knowledge of the business you are advertising for in order to set a budget that meets both your needs and objectives. Where Google might recommend a budget based on ‘number of clicks’ it could draw, I prefer to set budgets based upon the return they will provide me (based on historical data) and the constraints of the business involved.
Local Targeting: Again, speaking from experience here, with traditional Google AdWords you are able to target at the local level down to the individual town or city—so that only those searching in those areas will find the ad(s). On the contrary, if you let AdWords express decide your reach it may end up too broad or too narrow. Yes, with AdWords Express you also have the opportunity to target based on category, but consider this: What happens if you run a ‘rose only’ flower shop and a user searches for ‘flowers’ (let’s say this might be the ‘category’ in AdWords Express.) Will your ad show? How are the searches divided?
In traditional AdWords you can use negative keywords to eliminate searches for keywords such as ‘tulip’, ‘daisy’, etc… if you only sell roses. With AdWords Express you can’t and that is concerning.
In my testing of the ‘local’ option for AdWords Express ads (vs. those running using traditional AdWords local targeting methods) I found that performing a search for ‘flowers in dallas’ yielded local results even though I was not located in Dallas. So what you say? Those types of searches are inefficient and wasteful because they are targeting local businesses on a ‘broad search level’ (I performed the search from a machine located across the country from Dallas.)
On the contrary, if you used the traditional AdWords targeting methods, the ad would not have showed at all—unless I was in the exact locations that were targeted manually while setting it up. This type of targeting results in more qualified traffic and higher sales.
Account Automation: As was the argument I mentioned in ‘con #1’ above, full account automation can be a scary thing and one that can get you into trouble (or at the very least not produce the best returns.) I am all for automation of some tasks (even ongoing when managing PPC campaigns.) However, I also believe human ‘touch’ is also needed to maximize your effort.
AdWords Express automates your campaign based on categories not keywords (remember you don’t have access to keywords during setup.) Without the ability to target via keyword it can be questioned to the efficiency of the campaign and the traffic it attracts. For example, one particular category that is available from within AdWords Express is ‘Guitar Store.’ If you own a guitar store that sells only electric guitars, then this broad option might attract visitors who are looking for acoustic guitars and that isn’t exactly what I would consider qualified traffic.
So once again, account automation in moderation is good (and can be a big time saver.) Full account automation however, might not be best for your business.
No doubt, AdWords Express has a place and can be a great means of getting up quickly for those looking to capitalize on localized search within Google. I would recommend giving it a try if you are considering entering the local search realm, have no experience in managing traditional AdWords campaigns, and don’t have a budget to allow a professional to mange it for you (you want to do-it-yourself.)
However, for the experienced advertiser AdWords Express might not be your best option. Instead, I prefer to setup the accounts and the locally geo-target them from within the traditional AdWords interface. This provides more selective targeting and also can help with attracting more qualified traffic through the use of keywords instead of category groupings, all leading to better performance and increased ROI.
In November of 2007 Google had invited users to beta test a new form of advertising which was available to Adwords advertisers. At that time they called it the product plus box. The product plus box enabled advertisers to include additional information into each of their ads including pricing, product description, images, and more for up to 3 different products.
To view this information the searcher would simply click a plus sign next to the ad and instantly the ad would expand to show the extra content. Here is an example of what it looks like:
After clicking the plus the searcher gets the following:
Here is an excerpt of what Google said about this technology.
“For ads associated with products in Google Base, a plusbox can be expanded to display relevant products from that advertiser. The plusbox provides users with more information about an advertiser’s offering even before clicking on the ad, and offers advertisers a new way to engage potential customers.”
Since its inception in 2007, the concept has grown and now includes two different ad formats; the good news is it doesn’t take a lot to get started. The thing I find hard to believe is that many stores are not taking advantage of this unique opportunity—likely because they never knew it existed or because they don’t know how to make it work. I can’t see any other reason why one would not take part.
Google says these new features help you to gain more clicks, gain higher quality clicks and gain higher ROI. Early tests show this seems to hold true.
While researching the addition of this feature to a few ppc campaigns I found that the information on what it is and how it works is scatter across the internet—because of that, it can be confusing to decipher proper implementation.
In this article I’ll sum it all up in one location and show you how to take advantage of the current ad format options provided to you through the various Google search channels; but before I do that, let me bring everything up-to-date.
As of this writing, Google Base is now called Google Merchant Center. In addition, Google has developed its previous 2007 concept into what they call Product Ads. The Product ads have two ad formats: Product Extensions (formerly known as the Product Plus box) and a new feature called Product Listing Ads is also offered.
Google describes the difference between the Product Listing Ads and Product Extensions is as follows (from the Google website):
“Product listing ads are a stand-alone shopping ad format that uses product information from the advertiser’s Google Merchant Center account. These ads appear in a variety of formats and feature relevant product information, such as the image, price, or name. They can also include an optional promotional message managed in your AdWords account.
Product listing ads focus on targeting product information to users and are not designed to focus solely on merchants. For example, ads from competing advertisers may appear together in cases where multiple merchants are selling the same product.
Product extensions are an ad format in which product information accompanies a standard text ad with standard keyword targeting. They also use product details from a merchant’s Google Merchant Center account and feature multiple products from only that merchant. Product information appears next to the text ad, which allows users to get a better sense of the advertiser’s product selection prior to clicking through to go to the advertiser’s site.
Together, the extension and listing ad formats provide a single product ads offering in AdWords, both using product information from the same Google Merchant Center account that’s linked to your campaign.”
In short, Google Product Extensions (the plus box) works just like it did in it early days. Searchers have the ability to see products images and title text under your AdWords ad (your sponsored listing). They achieve this by clicking on a + sign found next to the ad. You are not charged for this initial click (for them clicking the + sign.) If after clicking that plus sign the searcher decides to click on any of the information they find within the expanded results, you are then charged for the click as part of the typical Adwords CPC model.
Google offers this additional information on Product Extensions (from the Google website).
“Product extensions allow you to use your existing Google Merchant Center account to highlight your products directly in your Google.com search ads (and Google Images ads when opted into the Search Network). Product extensions will not appear on other Search Network sites, or on Display Network sites.
When your AdWords ad appears and your Google Merchant Center account contains a product that is relevant to the searcher’s query, product extensions may show the images, titles, and prices of your closest matching products with your ad. Your product offerings may be shown in a “plusbox” ad. When a user clicks a product image, they will be taken to the destination page listed for that product in your Merchant Center account.”
Product Listing Ads
Product Listing Ads are designed to take advantage of either a CPC (meaning you pay when a visitor clicks your ad) or CPA model (meaning you pay only when the click results in an actual sale on your site) however, at the moment, only a select few larger advertisers are offered the opportunity to give the CPA model a try.
Product listing ads currently appear in the right hand search column and do not include the opportunity for expanded information via a + sign. What you see is what you get yet the setup can be controlled to some degree by what you feed Google.
Google offers this additional information on Product Listing Ads (from the Google website).
“Product Listing Ads are search ads that include richer product information – including product image, price, and merchant name – without requiring keywords or ad text. Whenever a user enters a search query relevant to an item in your Google Merchant Center account, Google may automatically show the most relevant products along with the associated image, price and product name.”
Putting the Pieces in Place
Now, In order to make this all work you’ll need several things in place.
- A Google Merchant Center account.
- An Adwords account.
- Your Adwords account linked to your Merchant Center account.
- Your Merchant Account linked to your Adwords account.
- A product data feed (fed into your Merchant Center account.)
I won’t go into how to setup a Merchant Account in this article or the associated data feed, but I will give a brief overview of how to tie your Adwords and Merchant Center accounts together.
Keep in mind that you can add multiple AdWords accounts to a single Google Merchant Center account by following this same process for each account you would like to link. When you do this, be sure to link accounts in both the Merchant Center and AdWords interfaces to complete the process—linking on one side only will not work.
Linking Accounts in Google Merchant Center
- In your Merchant Center account, click Settings, then AdWords
- Enter your AdWords Customer ID and click Add
Linking Accounts in Google AdWords
After linking your Merchant Center account to your AdWords account, your work is not complete. You must now link your Adwords account (from the Adwords side) to your Merchant Center account. The following instructions will show you how to do that.
Create a new campaign with product extensions with these steps:
- Under Ad extensions > Products, check the box next to “Extend my ads with relevant product details from Google Merchant Center.”
- Select the Google Merchant Center account you’d like to associate with your campaign. (Your Merchant Center account must be linked to your Analytics account for this to appear).
It can take up to 12 hours from the time you update your settings for your product extensions to appear in your ads.
If you’re creating a new Merchant Center account, be aware that you may only register one domain with the account. If you would like additional domains registered with Merchant Center, you must create a new Merchant Center account for each separate domain.
Three for One Exposure
I’ve talked about the two ad formats offered by Google here but did you know that implementation of the outlined information within this article gives you the opportunity to gain potential exposure for your products in three different locations found within Google search? The key is the Merchant Center account. With that (and the proper linking demonstrated above) you get three chances for exposure.
The triple pronged exposure comes from the Product Listing Ads, the Product Extensions, and the direct feed from the Merchant Center account (i.e. Google Product Search results integrated into natural search listings.)
The image below shows exactly where each of the three spots might be and which Google ‘product’ feeds them.
The opportunity present by taking advantage of this Google offering is just too good to pass up. If you haven’t taken the time to fully integrate your products into Google search, now is the time to do it. The opportunity is completely free and the results from those using it currently are good—but you can’t capitalize on it if you don’t try it.
Everything in business has its place, and each is equally important to its respective task. Traffic is no doubt very important and a must for building any business. However, a number of things have to be in place prior to that traffic actually helping sales, and even then, the traffic must be qualified.
It’s an all too common misconception. Many people believe that to increase sales you must increase traffic. Seems logical, and should work, right? Not always. They focus so much on traffic that they forget (or choose not to) work on the other parts of the business. They are convinced that increasing traffic is the answer they have been looking for to increase sales.
However, they often find that more traffic isn’t all it is cracked up to be. They end up frustrated with shattered hopes—the traffic levels increased but the sales they expected to achieve from that increase simply weren’t there. They scratch their heads and can’t understand why it didn’t work the way they thought. After all, they got more traffic, so they naturally should have increased sales right? Wrong.
The real fact is traffic alone will never increase sales. It’s the combination of the right quality of traffic mixed with the right design and plan that does. Without the right design and plan in place, it doesn’t matter how much traffic you receive, your chances of sustained sales increases are slim.
I’m sure you’ve heard the saying ‘you can’t put the cart before the horse.’ Hold that in the back of your mind for a minute and we’ll recall it later.
PPC and SEO are just two methods for driving traffic to a site. For sake of this article we’ll leave it at that. These two marketing channels are going to be critical toward developing a successful and sustainable business—but each has it’s time and place for being utilized. First and foremost, you must ensure that your website is ready to convert any traffic you receive into customers for without this you’ll fail. You only get one chance to make a first impression, and if you aren’t ready you’ll find that you lose far more customers than you gain.
Here is ‘brick and mortar’ example (elaborated to illustrate what I mean by all of this.)
Let’s say you are shopping for a certain show shovel (the traditional ‘brick and mortar’ way … not on the internet.) You have may options to choose from around you and you choose a local hardware store (aptly named Hard to Find Hardware) that you saw a lot of advertising for (via radio, TV, local papers, etc…) They no doubt are all over the place and getting the exposure they need to bring in the traffic—in fact they made it very easy to find them. But as you’ll soon discover, they forgot one critical element.
In all their effort increase traffic to the store, they overlooked or forgot to make sure that once you get to the store, you quickly find the shovel you are looking for and then get out the door with it in a fast friendly manner, satisfied and happy that your entire experience with them was right—and because of that experience you’ll be back in the future to do business with them again. It’s called the customer experience and it plays a crucial role in winning sales, keeping customers, and sustaining a lasting business.
Let’s continue …
You arrive at the store, park your car in the lot, and move toward the entrance door. You pull the door to open it and nothing happens. You push the door and nothing happens. Thinking for a moment that you are an unknown star of ‘Candid Camera’ you examine the door and give it one more try. To your surprise you find out that the door actually slides open (is not pushed or pulled.) You wonder why there isn’t a sign on the door saying ‘slide to open.’ (This is your first real albeit unknown sign that this store has not thought about the customer experience.)
After figuring out the door on your own you walk into the store and notice right away that you don’t see a single person in site. It’s dimly lit (no doubt because the owner is trying to save on energy costs to offset the high expense of driving traffic to the store.) Your first impression isn’t good—but there’s more to come.
You try to ignore the current uncharacteristic circumstances, and decide to press forward in search of the snow shovel you saw in the ad.
Much to your surprise (and frustration) you find that not a single aisle is marked with a sign indicating what it contains—and oh there are aisles! You begin to wander aimlessly up and down each unmarked aisle in search of the snow shovel you came for with no luck at all.
You stumble across an aisle that has outdoor equipment such as rakes, wheelbarrows, etc… but lo and behold there are no shovels. This makes no sense to you and you now begin to look for someone, anyone, who will help you find what you seek (all other potential customers have already ‘left the building’ because they know already what you don’t yet but are going to find out soon.)
You search high and low for some ‘human help’ but determine that they are all either on ‘lunch break’ or are hiding from you (or both!) One thing starts to become clear … they don’t care about you. You’ve now been in the store more than 20 minutes and still have yet to find what you came looking for. You’re about to leave and suddenly, you see the store owner (who appears to be wandering around looking for items about as aimlessly as you are.)
Upon approaching the owner you tell them your dilemma and ask them if they can direct you to the area you would find this shovel. They stop and think for a moment then take you up and down a few aisles searching with no luck (while you follow behind thinking to yourself ‘I’ve already been down this aisle’.)
You tell them that although you expected to find the show shovel in what looked to be an outdoor equipment area (with no marked sign remember) it was not there. And even though the store ad said there was a sale on that show shovel, you did not find it in what appeared to be the ‘clearance’ section (in fact, you saw no ‘clearance’ section at all.)
The store owner then replies to you saying “Oh, you want that type of shovel. When I choose a shovel I look for it based on its function and since most shovels ‘dig holes’ they can be found in the section with things like power drills, nail guns etc… which also make holes.” Trouble is, you don’t search for shovels like that and the type of shovel you are looking for doesn’t dig holes … it pushes snow.
At this point it’s safe to say any customer that stayed to this point now decides to leave. Many more won’t even attempt to buy from this store as they heard about the bad experience from those who tried it. Good news travels fast, but bad news travels faster.
You are determined though. You didn’t come all the way out here, spend this amount of time in the store, waste gas, and think you’re leaving with nothing in your hand right? You want that shovel.
After some serious frustration and even more determination you find the shovel you came for. You pick it up and head to the front of the store to checkout. But when you get to the front of the store, you do not see any checkout registers at all? You look for signs directing you to the registers and quickly remember there are no signs. You ask a lone employee, who is also wandering around, where you can find the checkout counter and they tell you the registers are at the back of the store (not the norm you quickly think.)
For some unknown reason (maybe you like the abuse) you proceed to the checkout (at the back of the store) credit card in hand.
You arrive at the register and give the card to the cashier to which they reply “we only accept cash here.” Steam is now beginning to blow from your ears and you’re at a boiling point. You’ve just spent well over 35 minutes in this store, finally found what you came for and now can’t even pay for it with the method you choose. You tell the cashier they should point out the payment methods before people arrive at the store (but it goes in one ear and out the other.) The cashier replies, “this is how we have done business for over 20 plus years and we aren’t about to change because of one person’s needs.”
(Strike three. The store owner’s out!)
Fed up with the entire experience, you put the shovel down where you stand, turn frustrated, and leave the way you came in with a bad impression of the store in your mind … vowing never to return again (and making sure you tell all of your friends never to shop their either!)
You get into your car and go to the nearest competitor’s hardware store (named Customer Focused Hardware.)
You approach their front door and it automatically opens for you. Upon entering you are greeted with a clean organized store, brightly lit, clear signs showing you where to go, and a smiling sales rep that asks you if they can help you. (These guys clearly know what they are doing.) Within 7 minutes have found the shovel you were looking for originally (prominently displayed up front I might add because it is on sale), already paid for it and are heading back to your car.
This is the type of experience you expected when you left the house and you’re sure to return to this store the next time you need anything hardware related. The store has won you over and the competitors will all be closing their doors soon.
Closing Thoughts and Moral of the Story
So, who are you “Hard to Find Hardware” or “Customer Focused Hardware?”
Who do you want to be?
And the million dollar question, “Who would you rather buy from?”
Remember, if the rest of the business is not setup to address the customer needs and concerns, the sales simply won’t happen—no matter how much traffic you attract.
Yes, you should be working on traffic generation and should never stop, but make sure you don’t neglect the other aspects of the business while doing so.
Don’t put the cart (i.e. traffic) before the horse (i.e. customer experience).