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The Data War…and How to Win

The World is Not Ending

I just thought I would make that clear in case you’ve been reading many of the SEO/SEM blogs that seem to think Google securing some data from the eyes of Analytics users is the end of the world. It’s not. It means it’s time to be more savvy about data and data tracking sources, which we should be doing anyway.

Google Analytics is 1 Data Source, You Should Be Using at Least 3

Tracking for Websites with No Paid Advertising

The number of data tracking sources you use should reflect the number of media channels you use. For example, if you are a very small business and you don’t advertise online, you should be using Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools. If you’re not using Webmaster Tools, start now. (Just go in and set it up and start exploring, it’s very intuitive.)  No matter what Google security is doing to Analytics, you’ll still be able to get Search Querie data from Webmaster Tools.

Tracking for Websites Advertising Only with AdWords

If you’re advertising solely through Google AdWords, you want to link your AdWords to Analytics, use Webmaster Tools and link Webmaster Tools to your AdWords (if you don’t know how to do this, send me an email) and set up AdWords Conversion Tracking. Why the extra layers of tracking?

  1. With AdWords Conversion Tracking you can use Conversion Optimizer and AdWords bid management tools, which actually work
  2. The Paid & Organic Search Report in Webmaster Tools is very helpful for seeing the mix, grabbing organic keywords for your PPC campaigns, determining negative keywords in some instances and it can even help you figure out if you should be creating new web pages/blog posts based on keyword queries that are driving traffic to your site.
  3. Relying solely on Google Analytics for your data tracking can lead to misinterpretations of your AdWords Account attribution. Google Analytics gives conversion attribution to the last channel used to access to your site. This means, the user who clicked on your PPC ad this morning but came back to purchase using a book mark or typing the URL into their address bar, will show in Google Analytics as a direct traffic conversion rather than an AdWords conversion.

Tracking for Websites Using Multi-Channel Advertising 

Larger businesses and specifically big brands should be using:

  • Google Analytics
  • Webmaster Tools
  • AdWords Conversion Tracking, and
  • Third Party Tracking

So if the first thing that comes to mind when you see this list is ‘my but that’s a lot of tracking code on my web pages,’ fear not. Enter Google Tag Manager, the best thing since sliced bread (in terms of tag management). One tag container on every web page, embedded once, and the ability to set parameters for that tag as campaigns and tracking platforms come and go without ever having to mess with the code again. If you tag pages as part of your publishing protocol, your web team will never have to tag that page again – no matter what digital advertising media you use.

Most importantly, stop relying solely on third party tracking like DoubleClick, Marin, Kenshoo and DART-Search – especially for your AdWords Account. If you’re spending enough money to need third party tracking, relying on third-party tracking code can seriously limit AdWords functionality. If you don’t have a serious death wish for your campaigns and you think you need to de-dupe (please see below), then use third party tracking only for de-duping converisons and use all the other functionality and reporting of AdWords for your PPC campaigns.


(A pet peeve: so I’m using this post to make a point.)

More importantly, STOP worrying about de-duping. It’s ridiculous – seriously ridiculous. Online conversion reporting for advertising attribution is not a a replacement for verifiable sales data. And yet I constantly find myself in meetings with major international brands that seem to think my tracking data is their sales data. It’s not. There are too many variables for incorrect tallying of sales/conversions for any company to ever rely on tracking data as sales figures. Don’t make this mistake. Get the sales figures from you accounting department and compare them to what you see via your media channels and tracking data. If you do this, you have a better chance of seeing the whole picture.

Track each sales channel separately AND look at the blend. Google’s Multi-Channel Funnel Report is a good place to see how different channels work together to drive engagement, but you should also want to see how each channel works on it’s own.  I’ve seen display ad spends take huge hits because they don’t seem drive conversions when looking at a de-duped report, so the brand shuts down the display campaign only to find that the display campaign was driving 70% of the PPC conversions.

It’s also smart to have a CPA/CPS per channel and a blended CPA/CPS per product. Again, get the whole picture not just the attribution of the last action taken by the purchaser.  Yes, that display ad may have a CPS of €500 but it’s driving 60% of your PPC Brand Campaign’s €10 CPS so the blended CPS is actually €50. If you cut off the display campaign because of the high CPS, you’re brand campaign is still going to have a CPS of €10 but your sales volume just went from 500 to 50.

What This Has to Do with Google’s Announcement

Now, in terms of Google’s announcement today that they are securing SSL searches for Paid Search as well as organic in Google Analytics, if you have AdWords tracking through to conversion and you have your Webmaster Tools, you won’t have a problem.  Anyone who has access to Analytics but not the AdWords Interface shouldn’t need granular keyword data anyway – and if they do need that data, give them access to AdWords, which is going to give them more accurate data for that account.

What it seems Google is doing, and I would agree with this, is forcing data miners to be more specific about their data tools they use and to create better tracking infrastructures for their online properties. If you don’t want the data or you shouldn’t have access to that data, then you won’t get that data. If you want that data, set up the right tools, get the right tracking and look in the right place. This is progress, embrace it.


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Google’s Powerful New Automated Tools: Brilliant for SME’s – Potentially Useless for Big Brands

I call myself a Google-a-file.  I am a huge fan.   I know first hand that they do keep private information private, that the system rewards effort and ingenuity, and that it is the most cost effective advertising channel available to any business with a Web site.

What I have never been able to figure out though is why Google thinks they operate in a vacuum when it comes to tools for big advertisers.

Google recently released Automated Tools, which allow administrators to create rules at the campaign, ad group, keyword and ad copy levels.  The power of these tools and what can be done with them, at this point, look limitless.  Small & medium enterprises (SME’s) that don’t integrate other online marketing platforms can avail of this tool now to achieve increased savings, incremental sales and ROI, but big brands and businesses may not find this so easy.

With Google’s automated tools, advertisers can set campaigns, ad groups, keywords and ad copy to automatically pause if target click-thru-rates (CTR’s) aren’t reached over a set time period, keyword bids can be automatically increased or decreased based on the parameters you choose, or you can automatically increase daily spends if sales reach targets on any given day.  (This in and of itself is worth the price of admission.)   How many times have you lost out on incremental sales when your PR or some other factor kicks in because your daily budget ran out too soon? With this tool, that may never happen again.

And there is so much more.  For small and medium businesses that focus most, if not all, of their online marketing budgets on Google AdWords, this is a truly brilliant tool and gives them much more functionality than third party bid management and tracking tools used by the big boys.  Welcome to the major leagues, now you have the power to really play game.

For big brands that use multiple channels on online and require third party tracking to integrate their efforts, this new tool might be out of reach. The problem is that most big brands (at least in Ireland) use third party tracking like DART Search & Double Click, which cannot incorporate any of these new tools.  Since Google owns Double Click, this issue might be a bit of a head scratcher if you don’t look at the bigger picture.

For those who aren’t aware, third party tracking allows big advertisers to track display and paid search advertising in tandem and can de-duplicate sales driven by both channels.  Meaning that if someone clicks on a banner ad one day, and a paid ad the next day that drives all the way to purchase, the system only records one sale from both clicks rather than a sale for each click (the last click gets the sales attribution).  De-duplicating sales data is not the best way for advertisers to track their online marketing efforts, but I can’t imagine Google took this into consideration since almost all of the bells and whistles available in AdWords are not available through third party systems, but it does put this issue into a bit more focus.

In the Irish market, where Bing/Yahoo! platforms don’t yet offer paid search (this is meant to change in May-ish), it would be incredibly beneficial for advertisers to opt out of third party tracking to be able to avail of this new Google tool.  For everywhere else in the world, where third party tracking also integrates multiple search platforms like Bing, opting out of third party tracking for the power of this new Google tool might not be worth the effort.  Opting out means you have to administer two different platforms (or more) separately which could be a right pain in the ass, but will give you the power of all of Google’s AdWords tools.

Lastly and possibly, most importantly, opting out of the third party tracking means that advertisers will have to opt in to Google Analytics (ah, a half-penny drops), but that’s not the best option for advertisers either.  Analytics favours organic search, which really should be tracked separately from paid search because Analytics short changes the value of paid search at the conversion level.  Paid search ROI attribution on Analytics looks lower than it should and cost-per-conversions look higher than they really are because the last click before conversion gets the sales attribution (this is the same de-duplication used for display and paid search) which is not the best way to determine the effectiveness of paid search marketing budgets.

But let’s get back to Google’s new tool.  Are Google thinking that advertisers will weigh all of these considerations and choose a Google only approach? Possibly.  Is it more likely that they just created a really powerful tool because they can – that many big brands won’t be able to use?  More likely.  Does it push a Google agenda, yes – and aside from the Analytics issue, that might be a really good thing.

Ultimately, to use Google AdWords to the best of its ability, advertisers need to use Google as a unique platform, separate even from its own Double Click platform.  Though this may seem counter intuitive, Google is compromising Double Click, which has been a waste by the standards of a fair few of us in the business, to further it’s mother ship.  The problem is that this puts big advertisers in a very frustrating position and will mean a huge overhaul of advertising practices if large advertisers and agencies have to disentangle AdWords campaigns from third party tracking platforms.  But the bottom line for AdWords advertisers is that this is exactly the right thing to do for a whole host of reasons, not the least of which is putting their new automated tools into action.

If You Are a Small/Medium Business Do Not Let This Happen to You

I recently rescued a small Irish business from a paid search agency in the UK whose business practices border on being criminal.  (I’m not kidding, there should be laws against what this company does.)

The experiences of my new client inspired me to write an article for, entitled Measuring Online Advertising Effectiveness. I kept the article dry and appropriate for the publication, but I’m picking up the ball here because a lot more needs to be said about what happened to this client and why it is so egregious.

When the business owner first contacted me, she knew something wasn’t right with her paid search account. The agency she was using (I will refer to them as ‘Agency UK’) had upgraded her account to run on mobile phones but she never saw her ads run.  (This is a Google AdWords account as Bing and Yahoo! do not currently offer paid search in Ireland.)

The previous month, Agency UK, had sent my client a savvy email to up-sell their mobile search offering.  For a one-time activation fee of £100+VAT and no additional monthly fees, her current Google ads would run on mobile phones across the UK. They were also throwing in 2 additional premium keyword phrases taking her total keywords up to 9 phrases.

The first thing wrong with this for my client was running the ads across the UK.  Her business is a home improvement firm in Dublin – running ads across the UK does her no good.  After reminding Agency UK that hers was an Irish business, they said they geo-targeted the campaigns to Dublin, but she could never find her own ads when searching for any of her exhaustive list of 9 keyterms – and was constantly getting calls from home owners in the UK.  This was when she came to me.

I’ve been reserved up until now, but here I’m going to let loose.  I have never been more enraged by an agency abusing their clients than I have by this one.  In order to run mobile ads through AdWords all you have to do is tick a box in the Campaign Settings Tab.  It takes a nano second.  A NANO SECOND, and this agency charged £100+VAT??!!  Even if the agency took that extensive keyword list of 9 and created a dedicated mobile campaign (which is best practice in most situations), that would take no more than 15 minutes or half an hour.  I thought I would lose my mind.  My hair got kinkier in a matter of moments.

I asked my new client to send me everything she had received from Agency UK about her account to show that her ads, where in fact, running in Dublin – performance reports, additional communications, everything.  What this agency has been sending this business and calling them ‘reports’ is horrendous.

Their performance reports – sent in the body of emails – consisted of this:

Key Phrase Average Position Status
keyterm 1 Dublin Page 1 Premium Link Live
keyterm 2 Dublin Page 1 Premium Link Live
keyterm 3 Dublin Page 1 Premium Link Live
keyterm 4 Dublin Page 1 Premium Link Live
keyterm 5 Dublin Page 1 Premium Link Live
keyterm 6 Wicklow Page 1 Premium Link Live
keyterm 7 Dublin Page 1 Premium Link Live
keyterm 8 Dublin Page 1 Premium Link Live
keyterm 9 Dublin Page 1 Premium Link Live

(I’ve removed the keyterms for obvious reasons.)

For this, my client was already paying £100 per month.  (If you can’t immediately tell why this is horrifying, please call me at 086-772-8672 or email me at

There are so many things wrong with this agency, I don’t even know where to begin.  The cost of the ‘media’ for these keywords was probably no more than £20 per month (if that) meaning that this agency pocketed about £80 per month for doing absolutely nothing.

The keyword strategy was atrocious and not truly viable in the Irish market – and that’s part of the problem of using a UK agency for business in Ireland – almost every UK agency I’ve come across doesn’t have a clue how to create a keyword strategy in Ireland.

They never even showed my client the ad text they were running for her campaigns.

Then they had the gall to ask her for a testimonial!!!  You see they aren’t Google certified so they are relying on businesses not knowing about Google certification (meaning Google can’t take action against them) and they are trying to build their reputation through testimonials of clients they are fleecing – yes, fleecing to high heaven.

The thing that makes me so crazy about agencies like this is that they prey on business owners who don’t know about paid search – and paid search is the silver bullet of advertising for SME’s.  It is cost effective, spends are completely controllable and everything can be tracked and optimised for optimal ROI no matter how small the business or the budget.

I’ve just taken this account live so I don’t have any comparative stats, but there is another client I recently rescued from bad account management in the US, and the results are actually amazing (even by my standards).  Within a matter of weeks, their click-thru-rate went from 1.33% to 2.74% and is climbing – but the better stat is that I’ve reduced the average cost-per-click by $0.64 per click across the entire account and their conversion rates are increasing as well.   At this point this client is literally getting 25 – 35% of his clicks ‘for free’ based on his old campaign costs.  This is what paid search can do for SME’s if it’s administered well – and I am on a crusade to make sure that SME’s benefit from all of the cost savings and advertising advantages Google has to offer.  To this end, if you think you’re getting taken for a ride by your paid search agency, I will happily take a look at your account (free of charge) to makes sure you’re getting your money’s worth – call me at 086-772-8672 or email me at

Google’s Defense Against the Dark Arts

If you have ever been interested in SEO, are engaged in SEO for your business or a brand or are looking for an expert to create and implement an SEO strategy for your company, you MUST read The New York Times article, The Dirty Little Secrets of Search.  The article brings one of the many scandals of SEO into public view.  For most of us in the SEO business, this is rather old news.  The brand is different but the song remains the same.

That a brand as big as JCPenney engaged in ‘dark art’ SEO over the Christmas period is significant, that they have been caught red handed, outed by the media and dealt with by Google so publicly is really juicy.  I love the scandal, the cautionary tale for all the brands and business I work with and even Google got caught with their pants unzipped (I should get a subscription to the NYT just to thank them).  But since this is nothing new in the SEO world, some of the details in this story really struck me. (I should mention this is JCPenney’s in America, not Penny’s in Ireland.)

JCPenney is attributed as saying that only 7% of their online traffic comes from their organic listings.  Penney’s states that they received more profit from partnerships with Yahoo and Time Warner than they did from this paid link scam.  Now on first read, I thought they were just being snarky towards Google, which they may have been, but only 7% of their online traffic came from their Google number 1 organic listings? They received more revenue from Yahoo (who have a 15% share of search engine voice in the States compared to Google’s 65%)?   If the answer is yes, then boy are they stupid.

JCPenney made the biggest mistake in search engine marketing there is to make.  They thought that increasing their search engine rankings would automatically increase their online traffic and in turn their online revenue without addressing any of the other massive brand and Web site issues they already had.

Thinking that you will automatically increase traffic and online conversions by reaching the number 1 spot in Google’s organic search results is like James Joyce thinking that everyone who bought a copy of Ulysses actually read their copy of Ulysses.

If you were searching for ‘best financial investments’ and Google’s number 1 result was a link to Anglo Irish Bank, you wouldn’t click on that link if your life depended on it (you might never use Google again, but you wouldn’t follow that link and you certainly wouldn’t invest with AIB).  For Anglo Irish Bank to engage in the dark arts of SEO to get a quick uplift in traffic would be almost as stupid as everything else they’ve done over the last 10 years. (If you’re a dark arts SEO, you may want to contact Anglo, they might still be that stupid.)

JCPenney’s did just that in American terms.  For JCPenney’s to actively engage in ranking for terms like ‘designer cocktail dresses,’ is like Tesco actively engaging in ranking for ‘designer cocktail dresses.’  And if any of the women reading this blog saw that Tesco link, they would keep reading until they came to a retailer they trusted to provide ‘designer cocktail dresses.’

Even for those who aren’t brand snobs, JCPenney’s links may have actually looked dodgy because of their poor on page SEO.  Their title tags are abysmal.  Their number 1 link for ‘designer cocktail dresses,’ was entitled:  ‘JCPenney  :  Women  :  Dresses.’  This title is used on every dress Web page for every type of dress on the Web site. There is no meta description and no HTML text on this page, so God only know what snippet of text was used beneath the link title in the results.  (I can only speculate what their links included because they are currently nowhere to be found in Google’s results – even for their own domain name.  It seems that Google may have implemented the BMW smack down on JCPenney since the article came out.)

Conventional wisdom, and the best statistics available, say that links ranked number 1 on Google are clicked 34% more often than links in the number 2 position.  When JCPenney’s didn’t see a significant increase in their organic traffic from their first week in the number 1 position for dozens of keywords, sirens should have been rung throughout their corporate headquarters (since they hadn’t been rung any time before this moment).

The irony is, if JCPenney’s had actually engaged in some positive online PR, positioning the brand as new, hip, engaged and digitally savvy, they would have gained appropriately strong back-links that would have helped their SEO for eons to come and they would have reached thousands of online shoppers who might not have avoided clicking their links.  Had they addressed their Web site issues, they might have converted those users who did actually make it to their site, and if they had really done it right, those buyers might have gone on Facebook and Twitter to advocate for their brand – especially if they had turned the brand around.  Instead, they got spanked by Google, by the media and by potential shoppers.

So this all goes back to the one golden rule of SEO – anything you do solely for the sake of search engines (without any direct benefit to real people) will usually cost you more in the long run than you will ever gain in the short term and it will come at the expense of the metrics that truly matter.