As someone who has been immersed in the SEM world for the better part of the last two years, I confess that it is hard - sometimes nearly impossible -- to keep up with the ever-increasing number of new tools, updates, implementations, and so-called "improvements'" from the leading search engines. On an almost weekly basis, we are all inundated with e-mails proclaiming the virtues of new features from Google, MSN, Yahoo and the newly dynamic Jeeve-less Ask.com.
All the engines are striving to create the ultimate user experience and to provide more relevant results at a fairer cost. I am charged with reporting back on these updates to my clients and colleagues, so I have the obligation to read these daily emails and notices. Those changes that do hold some promise of improved utility or enhanced functionality, I implement accordingly. However, I usually see no benefit whatsoever. The truth is that many of these changes have little to no effect on the performance of my campaigns, and, in many cases, seem to be made simply to justify the engines' existing structures, costs, faults, and quirks.
On some occasions, unfortunately, these changes even seem to affect the campaigns in a negative way. On several instances, I have rushed to capitalize on a new search engine feature or update, resulting in sudden improvements to metrics and giving me that exhilarating feeling of "Wow ... look what a little change can do for this campaign." In almost all cases, however, this exhilaration quickly fades to the realization that, "Oh no ... these numbers are totally not right. I gotta call my (insert search engine) rep."
As happens so frequently, last week I received an e-mail from Yahoo regarding its Ad Quality Filtering feature. According to the missive, this change is designed to "improve result relevance for users by increasing thresholds." As we know, these "thresholds" are determined by quality score, click rate and bid. If all goes as planned, these changes will impact campaigns as follows:
-- Reducing low-quality competition: To this I say: Good, finally after all this time will we stop seeing those stomach turning ads publicizing dirty diapers or some other inane combination of random keywords? Or Amazon.com advertising "Sweatshops"? Or ShopLocal.com advertising "Slave Deals"? Or Target's "Slave Online"? Will all these go too?
-- Accounts with lower quality may receive less volume: Does that mean a new account or one with a quality score that is still recovering from some past event will suffer a decline in traffic? Will irrelevant traffic finally vanish into cyberspace so that I can get a true sense of the real volume available for my campaigns? For a small campaign promoting a single product/service, it is often so difficult to develop a respectable number of high-relevance keywords. Where will the result of all that effort go? And hasn't this been happening already anyway?
- Ads may no longer display for certain terms: No surprise from Yahoo here. I've seen this happening since I started working in SEM. Sometimes, a quick call to my rep is the simplest and fastest solution.
To finish, Yahoo will be pushing for keyword insertion in copy -- I knew this was coming before I read the e-mail, though. The last 10 times I contacted my rep about poor performance for a particular category, he suggested I use this tool. In those instances, I actually did follow his recommendations, and the results were, hmmm... let's call them indecisive. And aren't those "sweatshops" and "slave" ads the result of keyword insertion anyway?
Looking over the benefits of the new Yahoo tool made me realize that there is really nothing new about these changes. The benefits Yahoo's Quality Filtering feature is designed to deliver are benefits that most of the engines claim to have had in their system for a long time now. Given that the rules of SEM and the capabilities of search engines are continually evolving, they are all working to catch up to the others' supposed innovations. Yahoo is just matching the updates of the other engines. And as engines continue to improve their platforms, we can only hope that once, sometime in the future, they'll get it right and provide us with meaningful improvements.