Thursday, May 6, 2010

More Bang for your Bing Buck

Bing's Adcenter is the first potential PPC challenger to Adwords I have found. The experience is better than Yahoo and the early returns on ad results are surprisingly good.

I have to admit, I was a little reluctant to jump into PPC ad marketing on Bing. Last year when they announced Bing, there was absolutely no way I could find to even setup an ad account. I recently used Bing to search for airline tickets and found that their user experience was better than any of the travel sites. As the market data recently reveals, Bing is growing at the expense of Yahoo, not Google so clearly it's a potential avenue for getting more clicks from new eyes. As a relatively seasoned Google Adwords administrator for our brand DigitalChalk as well as managing campaigns for several customers, I have a few preconceived ideas about how PPC should work and how it should be managed. My initial reaction of how Microsoft Adcenter works was surprisingly positive. Here are the pros and cons compared to Google Adwords and Yahoo.

Setup steps
The setup was simple and fast. Just as with Google and Yahoo, the setup wizards are designed to be usable for first time web marketers. I did have an initial hiccup, as a Mac user, the only browser Microsoft supports on my machine is Firefox so Safari & Chrome lovers, tough luck. This is unfortunately what I have come to expect from MS. Overall, the flow to get my first campaign going was good. It looked like a lot of "borrowing" of ideas from Adwords happened but that make setup feel more familiar to me. Early in the process, they mentioned that campaigns could be imported from Google but that turned out to be less useful than I had hoped. I was forced to create a campaign and bring in keywords before I was show any information about importing from Adwords. It turns out that the import really is just an option to bring in a campaign as a CSV exported from Adwords but you have to manually edit the CSV headers to make it work so on balance, just copying stuff in was as fast.

I started by building a campaign that mirrored my primary, highest performing campaign in Adwords. My goal was to get a feel for how the two performed side-by-side in a similar campaign. I used the same ads and keywords. I was initially thrilled that I could just copy from the Adwords Spreadsheet editor my keywords column and paste it into the keyword box without error. It was a bit disappointing when I realized Adcenter stripped out all my exact match [] and phrase match " " parameters but the upside was they stripped those out for me instead of throwing an error. The better thing would have been to parse my parameters and set them on the campaign. On balance, the whole process was fairly quick. I had my campaign published and my account setup in about 20 minutes.

Bidding and configuration
Once I got into my campaign and started to look at how Adcenter had created it, I found a few differences that didn't initially compute for me but some of that is probably adwords assumptions. For those of you accustom to using Adwords, you realize that for a given campaign, you can select the target audience of Search or Content Network in the settings. Adcenter assumes that you obviously would want to have both search and content in your campaign by default. What was a bit odd to me is that rather than letting me specify the target by campaign, it created two identical keywords, one for search and one for content. At first I thought their underlying model is bleeding through to the control panel but as I started to use it, I realized I liked that better than having to manage two campaigns. Adcenter does allow you to set bidding preferences for each type and also set unique bids for each keyword.

The keyword management was a bit buggy feeling. It could have been sub-par support of Firefox but one very annoying thing was that you have to switch to an edit view to set the Exact Match, Phrase Match or Broad settings. If you have to paginate to view the second page of keywords in this editor, it throws an error message telling you changes must be saved. The only way to save is to click Next to exit from that view. With seven pages of keywords, I had to edit, save, exit, return and edit seven times. You can however change your bids from the main view, so that was redeeming. The rules for pagination seemed odd also. In the main view my keywords took three pages, in the edit view they took seven.

Cost and results
When I setup my campaign in the initial wizard, it asked me what I wanted my total budget for a month to be (Note: to Microsoft, we LOVE our daily budget on Google) and a max PPC. I setup a campaign that was 1/3 of the Adwords budget and about 70% of the max PPC I use in Google.

There is no recommendations engine for Adcenter that I can see so if you are a first time marketer in PPC, choosing a starting bid is a stab in the dark. After realizing the content and search keywords were separate and all included in the campaign, I went in and set the global search and content max bids separately (good feature microsoft). Here is where it got yummy good, the ads pushed live very quickly and reporting data started flowing back in within the first hour. For a compulsive report watcher, that was like candy to me. I quickly realized I was hitting first position on most of my placements at the default bids and my cost per click was about 1/3 of what I was paying in Adwords. I dropped my default bid and tweaked a few keywords out that were behaving differently than on Google. Right now my average CPC is about 30% of Google with about the same number of impressions.

As I mentioned above, the data started flowing in faster than I am accustom to with Google. This could be a very good thing in managing new campaigns but in the long run, you may find yourself making too many small course corrections if you watch the hourly data too closely.

The Adcenter gives you a way to generate a conversion tracking code. This is helpful but I would much rather that Bing pass the keyword parameters over in the URL like Yahoo and Google does. Right now Google Analytics is the thing most of us use for tracking the life-cycle of the visitor and Bing data doesn't include the keyword.

Final Analysis
As I am sitting her writing this, I got an email from Yahoo marketing, informing me that they will be transitioning all of their ad marketing into the Micrsoft Adcenter. That's great because I gave up on Yahoo ad marketing some months ago.

In the short time I have run these campaigns side by side between Adwords and Adcenter, the results are very good. I'm getting more clicks per dollar spent on Adcenter. This is probably mostly due to the lower amount of competition for placement on the same keywords. It does also appear that Microsoft is more generous in their ad placement algorithm as well. I don't seem to be getting zinged on lower quality keyword-to-ad matches as I am in Google.

My tentative recommendation is that if you are feeling tapped out on clicks for your primary keywords on Google and you have the budget, go ahead and jump into Bing.

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