Comparison: SMX West 2013 PPC Tune-Up Panel & The eBay AdWords Study

This week I had the pleasure of being a part of the PPC Tune-Up Panel at SMX West 2013 in San Jose. The panel, which was moderated by Matt Van Wagner and also featured Director of Search Marketing Elizabeth Marsten and Performics SVP of Marketing and Business Development Dana Todd, allowed SMX West 2013 attendees to “open the kimono” and let the four of us take a quick look at their campaigns…and help them discover any problems that might be keeping their campaigns from achieving paid search advertising greatness.

All the attendees that participated were great to work with in their humbleness and recognition of the panel’s expertise, and did everything except lay prostrate on the floor as they presented their campaigns to us. We found a lot of issues that day, and everyone who submitted their accounts for our review walked away with tons of great tips that I’m sure they’re back home implementing right now.

Meanwhile, over on Hamilton Avenue, based on a new report released last week, it sounds like eBay’s search engine marketing team needed to be first in line for a review of their own.

There have been tons of reports on this report, but almost none of them seem to really take eBay to task for being the problem in this situation.  While I don’t have full access to eBay’s Google AdWords account, I don’t really need to in order to see the myriad of problems this company has (and has had for a long time now) with its advertising on the world’s most popular and powerful search engine.

Remember back when Facebook was about to go public and GM stepped forward and said that it wasn’t going to advertise on Facebook anymore because “it didn’t work?” After awhile, Ford and a whole host of other companies came out and said, “Well, it’s not that Facebook ads don’t work, it’s just that you suck at advertising on Facebook.”

Basically, eBay just pulled a GM, but this time with Google AdWords.

How To Not Test An Advertising Campaign

I’ve been reading piece of eBay’s report since it was released, and it was pretty clear that this wasn’t an issue of the medium causing the problem, but the advertiser. Even their testing methods, which surprisingly and were allegedly done by economists, have some pretty glaring holes in them.

For instance, according to crowdSPRING’s post on the matter, eBay’s people A/B tested AdWords advertising by:

“Comparing eBay’s sales in markets where eBay suspended its paid search efforts to sales in other markets where eBay’s search ads continued unchanged.”

The problem is, that’s actually not A/B testing. That’s testing differences in response of organic traffic vs. paid traffic in two different geographic areas, which is simply not the same thing. These two areas could be completely different, audience-wise, and could be looking for very different things on eBay. This would be like comparing paid search advertising effectiveness by using paid advertising for snow removal equipment in San Diego, CA…vs. organic listings in Rochester, NY.

Brand vs. Non-Brand For A Really Big Brand

Furthermore, the study claims that buying brand terms is a complete waste of money, specifically stating, “halting brand keyword advertising…resulted in no detectable drop in traffic and sales.”

Really, eBay? So you’re saying that you, eBay, didn’t see any difference when you, the established brand of eBay, stopped advertising on words about “eBay”? [sarcasm]. Yeah, you’re right, eBay…paid search advertising is a complete and utter waste of money [more sarcasm].

This is where eBay got really irresponsible by releasing this information to the public. You see, eBay is pretty big, and has been a major Internet brand for some time now. When brands of this size advertise on brand terms, they do it just to make sure that their competitors aren’t mucking up the search results for their brand names – as well as to catch the rare, branded long-tail term that they don’t actually rank for organically.

Suffice it to say, a lot of companies that use Google AdWords are not eBay. So, when these less-established brands advertise on their brand terms, they’re doing it to catch a lot more long-tail terms that they don’t rank for organically. Smarter brands make adjustments to this strategy by lowering their target CPA brand terms vs. non-brand terms because they know their brand equity is helping get the conversion; they don’t just stop advertising altogether.

For non-branded terms, eBay states that “search advertising only works if the consumer has no idea that the firm has the desired product.”

Yes, eBay…thank you so much for defining why you actually advertise in the first place – to let people who are searching for a particular product know that you sell said product. If you’re well-known enough that people know you sell everything ever invented under the sun (and maybe even on the moon), then your need for any kind of advertising is pretty limited. However, the rest of the world may need some help getting the word out to a few people.

eBay Needs A PPC Audit

When we start working with new clients here at Amplitude Digital, we always start with an audit of the existing campaign. That way, we know exactly what needs to be fixed or tweaked right out of the gate. I can’t do that with all of eBay’s campaigns, because I don’t have access to their AdWords account. But I do have a few notes…

For instance, eBay clearly makes the classic mistake of using a lot of broad match keywords with very little negative match keywords to temper their reach…then makes this worse by utilizing dynamic insertion with their ad copy. You can see some examples of these in action here, and a ton more on the site we pulled this screen shot from.

I can recall, not too long ago, being able to search the word “stupid”…and getting eBay, Amazon and Wal-Mart ads that all claimed if you were looking for stupid, you could find it at eBay, Amazon and Wal-Mart. Insert the joke of your choice here.

Blaming The Medium

eBay isn’t the first brand to try and blame their poor advertising performance on their own advertising media choices. And they certainly won’t be the last. This sort of complaint has been around since the first cave man decided to advertise his auto body shop on the first cave walls (and, later, via pterodactyl sky writing). What is new, however, is the ability to test your advertising, properly, to determine its effectiveness…then make adjustments to your campaign so that you’re reaching your marketing goals.

Releasing a poorly formed study about a single advertising channel like AdWords and claiming it doesn’t work isn’t a solid business practice. It’s sour grapes – and a transparent attempt to cover up a lot of bad decision-making with a lot of bad data.

In the end…it just doesn’t compute. Nor does it make for good reading. Or “creative.”

We’re not the first ad agency to say this, but eBay…give me a day with just one of your campaigns…and I promise we can save you millions of dollars a year.

Give my team TWO days…and then you won’t even know what hit you.

Related Posts