Adam Lewis Interviewed by Eric Enge

Published: October 10, 2010

photo of Adam Lewis

Adam is a digital strategist who specializes in online marketing strategy, site optimization and analytics, search engine marketing, product and social web integration. Adam was most recently a Senior Product Specialist at Google Latin America in their Buenos Aries office and has worked with clients that include the New York Times, Zappos, Adobe and Salesforce. Adam currently provides PPC and analytics consulting services to Stone Temple Consulting.

Interview Transcript

Eric Enge: Hi Adam, thanks for speaking with me today. Why don't you start with an overview what your role was at Google?

Adam Lewis: I started in '03 with Google as part of a small, newly formed team tasked with optimizing strategic accounts. We were each given the title of “Creative Maximizer” and were dedicated to figuring out the tips and tricks for AdWords, which had yet to be formalized. At the time Google was migrating from the pay per impression model, to a pay per click model. It was an innovative new auction system that one of Google’s most talented product managers created with the help of some great engineers. Basically, the “Maximizers” were trying to figure out strategies that worked so we could evangelize and teach it to others.

Over the next few years our team began specializing by vertical. I ended up focusing on online retail, where we managed and optimized accounts of selected some major players in the ecommerce space like Shopping.com, Nextag, Shopzilla, Amazon and eBay. A few years later, I moved to a team that focused on enterprise technology and worked with Silicon Valley companies who sold everything from software to switches. In my 3rd year I decided to move into product development and worked extensively with Google’s monetization products (every product that contains ads). I was tasked with representing the interests of our large publishing partners to the relevant product development teams as well as teaching these partners how to use Google’s tools to drive revenue and enhance site content. We wanted to make sure that Google’s product development teams were developing products that reflected the needs of our strategic partners.

Finally, around the time when I hit my 5-year mark I took a product development job at Google’s Spanish-Speaking headquarters in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Latin America was and remains a strategic and high-growth market for online media. The Buenos Aires office is very small and entrepreneurial compared to most of the offices in developed markets like North America and Europe. Working in an emerging market was really challenging but even more rewarding. Due to resource constraints I ended up wearing a lot of hats during my time in Buenos Aires including management of local product launches, explaining new products and enhancements to clients, and helping provide local teams including PR, Marketing and Executive Management with context about the role Google’s technologies play in the internet. Essentially I became the bridge between the core product development teams in Mountain View and Spanish speaking Latin America.

Eric Enge: Let's dig into tips for AdWords and how advertisers are using it.

Adam Lewis: There are a few particular tools within AdWords that I find very useful for managing or optimizing campaigns. One of the most impactful new features lies within the keywords tab and is called "see search terms". This option allows advertisers to choose one or more keywords and see the search term users typed in to trigger that keyword. It also shows which ones are being clicked most often and which are not being clicked.

Often the exact keyword it not what users are actually typing in. Guessing all the possible variations that a user might enter to find your product is essentially impossible. "See search terms" gives you the most popular user queries that triggered your ads. Not only does it help people learn about their user, but it can also potentially save money on SEM by exposing highly specific keywords with less competition and better quality scores.

Reviewing search terms keyword-by-keyword is the most insightful but to save time this analysis can be done more generally by selecting your entire keyword list or groups of keywords and reviewing the top search terms across the account. The see search terms report provides all the major variations you don’t have in your account in addition to a small green box that reads “added” next to the ones already in the account. It’s a best practice to add the relevant variations that aren’t in your account in addition to adding negative matches for the irrelevant ones.

Eric Enge: One of the most important things to do in a PPC campaign is add lots of appropriate negatives.

Adam Lewis: Yes. The "see search terms" feature is great. Before it existed, people had to guess or use a trial and error method to generate negative keywords. These reports have been available in web analytics systems for years, but advertisers without analytics were unable to see a list of words people were searching, how they found their site, or how they found their ad. Their ad may have been found in the wrong context, but previously this level of insight about negatives was not readily available.

Eric Enge: They could use their web analytics package, but it's good to get the detail directly from Google, isn’t it?

Adam Lewis: Right, because there are intricacies specific to Google search. On the topic of negatives, a more advanced concept SEM groups often consider is having campaign negatives in addition to group-level negatives. People often add tons of negatives to an ad group, but they don't add them across the whole campaign or they copy them manually, which can create a campaign management nightmare.

In terms of management of negatives and the overall keyword list, having the negatives on the campaign-level is great for organizing. When moving around and copying campaigns from one another, it may seem basic but it can save a lot of time. When people are starting a new account from scratch, this is often overlooked. Later on, they figure out how nice it would be to have them on the campaign-level. The featured terms shows the actual queries. If they are advertising on a content network the same functionality is available which allows them to see the actual URL or sub domain where their ad is showing, and the performance of this particular page.

Before, if they were advertising on mashable.com, there was no way to distinguish if it was the mashable section about Silicon Valley news or the mashable section about gadget reviews. Now it is possible to see the URL list and decide whether display ads are not working for a certain aspect of a new gadget, or if the ads are working really well for another part about new applications. Then those URLs can be added as negatives or specific URLs can be targeted. A lot of new users of content advertising don't know about this new feature of the interface.

Another feature that is often overlooked are the filters because this feature’s advantages aren’t obvious without until you see an example. They can be set up for anything from the cheap keywords with a high conversion rate, to the most popular keywords with a position lower than 5. I use filters most often to quickly find all the keywords in my account that include a certain word (eg. buy). Ironically there is no longer a search bar in the new AdWords interface because the filter feature was built to replace it. Upon seeing the new interface for the first time, many testers complained about the lack of a search bar, but once they learned to use filters they realized how much more robust it is than a simple search and locate tool. Rather than just finding out where all the keywords that contain the word “buy” are located, filters allow you to compare how each variation has performed over time.

Just one filter can look for click through rate about a certain point, CPC about a certain point, and position about a certain point. A campaign of a thousand keywords can be reduced to a handful of the most significant with just a few clicks. Those can be saved so it is easy to go back and pick it out on a day-to-day basis rather than pulling out a bulk sheet, putting it into Excel, and processing it there. Understanding filters can save a lot of time and repetition although they are usually overlooked.

Eric Enge: How do they find them in the interface?

Adam Lewis: In the normal view within AdWords you will see the tabs at the top for campaign or ad group settings. Below that there are dropdowns for filters. Here advertisers can segment by network (search vs content), device (iPhone vs PC), time period or custom filter. A filter is made up of multiple user-defined variables that allow you to slice and dice your data an almost infinite number of ways. For example, without running a report you could quickly find out the performance of all keywords that cost less than $20, with a CPC more than 1%, and a position higher than three. Filters can then be saved for future use if it’s something you commonly search for.

People should make filters for the criteria they care about most, and look at them day-to-day, whether it is the top performers, keywords they are looking to cut, or the ones they are monitoring to check their positions. Whatever is most important, should have filters and they should be checked every day so time is not wasted dragging through all the numbers.

Eric Enge: Can you tell us your thoughts on Conversion Optimizer?

Adam Lewis: It's an excellent product but it has a tendency to scare people away before they get to see the intended results. Even though it works for the vast majority of advertisers who try it, most implement it incorrectly and conclude the product doesn't work. The caveat lies within the critical need for historical data. The Conversion Optimizer cannot even be turned on without at least a few weeks of history or before it reaches the minimum threshold of 15 conversions within 30 days.

It's important to build up as much information as possible before implementing conversion optimizer. Because it is a learning system, the more information it has, the better it’s able to predict which keywords are most likely to bring conversions to your site. It doesn't need a year, but turning it on after only one week should be avoided.

The Conversion Optimizer is ideal for advertisers who want to bid on a CPA (cost per action) basis, or if the campaign is conversion-oriented. From my experience, users of conversion optimizer see somewhere between an 18% and 22% increase in ROI when implemented correctly. The most significant variables are the campaign’s history and the target CPA set by the advertiser.

Initially the AdWords system suggests a CPA that seems way too high. The most successful advertisers are those who go with the high CPA for a week or two, and then lower it. Starting off with a low CPA essentially slows or stops traffic levels, making it seem like Conversion Optimizer broke their campaign. Or, if they start without insufficient history, the system doesn't learn fast enough, and it doesn't perform well. It can be successful, but it needs time for the history, and users need to go with the high initial CPA, to make sure they get enough traffic.

More data is always better. The more data it has, the better decisions it's able to make because it uses many variables. It factors time of day, placement on the site and other variables that can't be pulled out of website analytics. It compiles them all so it can provide the best answers.

Next, I would like to talk about Mobile Ads. Google now allows Mobile Ad traffic to be segmented from PC or computer-based traffic. This seems trivial, but it can be quite significant for some advertisers. For example, campaigns designed to drive awareness stand to benefit from the additional reach that smart phone traffic provides while conversion-focused advertisers who target smart phone traffic are likely to waste money on clicks that are unlikely to convert. If the end goal of your AdWords campaign is to have the user fill out a lengthy lead form or make a purchase then you can’t expect much ROI from smart phone users. Realistically they are not going to go through a bunch of complicated, time-consuming steps on their phone, especially if they need to look up specific information like credit card numbers to complete the purchase. The settings tab for any campaign has an option for networks and devices. The devices option allows the user to choose “desktops and laptops”, “iPhones and other mobile devices with full Internet browsers” or both. Before this option advertisers were opted into both by default, but now Google gives advertisers the ability to further specify their ad targeting.

Eric Enge: A phone can be targeted separately from a laptop?

Adam Lewis: Exactly. Smart phones use different browsers than PCs and laptops, so AdWords is able to make the distinction between the Android browser to Firefox used by a laptop. In the US, you can even segment your mobile targeting down to the carrier level (eg. only Androids on Verizon). This mobile segmentation is useful for local businesses like restaurants who want to target people looking for thai food in a given zip code. In theory, they want a phone-specific campaign with specific messaging and a mobile optimized landing page. Advertisers with conversion-oriented campaigns should opt out of smart phone targeting because users on phones are going to convert at a very low rate.

Advertisers who are very focused on reaching mobile users like app developers will benefit from a separate campaign targeting smart phones. Google Mobile Ads use the same sizes as ads users see on their a PC or laptop so there is no need to develop new formats, but it’s a best practice to alter the message for the mobile audience.

Eric Enge: One of the knocks against mobile campaigns has always been that there is not enough volume.

Adam Lewis: The volume is there but it is country dependent. In the United States overall impression volume is not that high, but mobile power users are a really valuable segment for certain advertisers to target. Smart phone users could be the ideal target for a campaign promoting a new technology, phone apps or even a new restaurant. Smart phone power users are more likely to be “first movers” and in some cases tastemakers. If the target is first movers, tech savvy people, or residents of the VC community, these specific target audiences use mobile phones in every aspect of their life. The sheer volume may not be there, but the targeting is there. If the goal is to sell a product nationwide, the volume is not great, but for an awareness campaign, it will generate a lot of volume of impressions for an image ad or more branding via the campaign.

Eric Enge: The offline conversion for a mobile user also tends to be higher. If they enter “Seattle Pizza”, they are probably looking for a place right now. They are trying to find pizza within three blocks of where they are standing. I’ve noticed a higher than average conversion rate in such circumstances.

Adam Lewis: Exactly. In some cases mobile ads convert at a far higher rate than PC based ads. The other point is to make sure the landing page is user friendly in order to maximize conversions. If someone is hungry and wants pizza and finds a page that’s not optimized for mobile devices, they will hit the back button. We can't expect mobile users to spend a long time on a page; if PC users scan a page for three seconds on average you can imagine how much lower it will be for a user on a mobile device.

Eric Enge: Does that suggest a different web design perspective is needed to have the right experience?

Adam Lewis: The main idea for mobile optimization is to conform to the most mobile browsers, each of which can each be a bit different. Also, it should be as absolutely simple as possible. The concept is to have one conversion-oriented landing page with a big button, a few pictures and general marketing language around the value proposition. We take it one step further towards simplicity and suggest the mobile landing page should drive clarity. Since it's a smaller screen, people can't take in as many options. All they are looking for is that one “next step” button on their little screen as they are walking down the street or being shaken back and forth by the bus/train/subway.

Eric Enge: Can you talk a bit about local business ads?

Adam Lewis: Google recently enabled AdWords accounts to be tied into local business ads, which are now called Google Places. If a local business owner has business listings on Google Maps, they can be linked to an AdWords account. By doing this the advertiser’s ads are eligible to display a map of their location below the ad text.

If the ad is promoted to one of the top three spots, a little plus box is placed next to their ad, and when the plus box is hit, the Google Maps window of their location drops down. For local advertisers doing AdWords, it's a no-brainer because if they tie their AdWords to their Google Places and show up in the top spots, they essentially are given a free, bigger, expanded, more interactive ad that converts usually 3-5% higher.

Eric Enge: When you say 3-5% higher, you mean if data is converting a few percent, it converts 6%, 7%.

Adam Lewis: Right. Instead of 3%, it converts 6% or 7%. The click through rate is close to double for these enriched ads.

Usually, the ad is already relevant, and adding a map makes it an even better user experience from Google's perspective and obviously from the advertiser's side. The takeaway is if an advertiser has one or more physical locations, they can make serious gains by creating a Google Places account and tying it to AdWords.

It's not super simple and I don't want to imply that someone can read this post and know how to set it up. They have to upload their location, their hours, and other important information, ensure that it's correct, verify it on Google Maps, and then tie it to the right campaign. Then they can select the radius to target. Advertisers with multiple stores and large, complex campaigns may want to reach out for help.

Eric Enge: Could you give an introductory into DoubleClick Ad Planner, what it is, and who should consider using it?

Adam Lewis: DoubleClick Ad Planner is a research and discovery tool for online media. Advertisers can locate popular sites by geography, language, demographic, or online activity. It takes a mass of websites and narrows it down to a specific target user segment that the advertiser or publisher is interested in reaching.

Doubleclick Ad Planner

It's interesting for advertisers because they can have a profile in mind and find sites that a specific user profile frequents. They can also analyze the advertising those sites accept as well as the text and formats. If the site is in the Google content network, a placement ad can be bought straight through AdWords, but it also shows sites outside the Google content network and advertiser can then buy directly from the site, or through Yahoo or another ad network.

Eric Enge: So, it broadens the advertising universe?

Adam Lewis: It enables advertisers to find the diamonds in the rough of the Internet. Everyone knows Facebook and the other most popular sites. This tool finds the niche, targeted blog about woman's health or online video gaming, that may cost pennies per click and would not be uncovered by Alexa Top 100 or other website rankings by companies like Nielsen.

Publishers selling advertising on their site, want their site well-represented on this page because it is essentially a free sales tool. Google is basically offering an immediate sales team in a box. A publisher wants to be here and to make sure when users click on their site that the demographics and traffic statistics are accurate. They also want a nice description of their site, including the ad formats accepted, sizes, and any other buying options.

It allows publishers selling advertising to gain additional exposure while creating an accurate depiction of their site. If a publisher doesn’t see their site, they can submit it. If their site is already there, they can claim it through Google Webmaster Tools allowing them to add information, verify demographics and traffic numbers and even tie it to Google Analytics to increase accuracy even further. That's Ad Planner in a nutshell.

Google Insights for Search is similar in concept to the Google Trends tool which is more basic and geared toward consumers. Insights for Search is the version with the detail marketers care about. One thing that it can research has actually been available for a while from, which is the breakout keywords associated with particular phrases.

For example, if "messenger bags" were searched, the hot trends list returns chrome messenger bags and seat belt bag. It shows what's popular right now and what's growing two, three, or four hundred percent in queries over the past few weeks or the time period chosen. The hot trend identifies what's resonating and the brands with high share of voice, which marketers need to be attuned to.

The other detail is enabled by the forecasting trend. Before, it was only possible to see trends until today's date, but now if there is enough data from previous years, it will forecast predicted search volume for selected terms. This is useful for media planning and forecasting because it shows expected volumes for the next six months or the next month.

Finally, there is an option for trends over time. A query for iPods produces a map of the world. The baby-blue represents low search volume, and the dark blue represents areas where search volume is very high. Underneath, the plus box shows this information over time. This is a great visual that can teach the user a lot. By pressing the play button, it'll show messenger values.

Facebook is interesting because of the dramatic change over time. By searching Facebook over the last 6 years, you will see how their growth spikes. The map of the concentrated areas is also visible.

Facebook on Google Insights

Eric Enge: The spike in Turkey is rather dramatic.

Facebook in Turkey on Google Insights

Adam Lewis: The plus box underneath says view change over time, and shows how the concentration and interest of Facebook has changed over time. First it became popular in North America, and then it grew to South America, then Australia, and then Europe. It clearly portrays the progression of interest in Facebook over time, on a country-by-country basis.

This can be great for clients. It is an effective means to gain insight and demonstrate a point. A great way to start a meeting is to show a client’s brand versus their three competitors, and the associated trending. It facilitates discussing and exploring the spikes or drops and why it has happened, new results, and if the forecasting make sense. People can be really pretty passionate about this.

Eric Enge: How about the new Broad Match modifier from Google?

Adam Lewis: The new broad match modifier is good to see if you are matching irrelevant targets or those that are a stretch. For example, if I am bidding on the keyword red shoes, the AdWords system might use expanded broad matching to serve my ad to a user who enters “green sandles”. The system is casting a wide net in its attempt to get you as much relevant traffic as possible. The Broad Match modifier brings the “broad” keyword match type back to what it used to be 3-4 years ago, which expands a broad match keyword to only singular, plural, misspellings and very common synonyms like laptop and notebook. The broad match modifier is a solution to consider when an advertiser’s existing broad match keywords are serving on too many irrelevant queries. Many advertisers just jump immediately from Broad Match to Phrase match, which can really cut down on overall traffic. The new Broad Match modifier is a good step in between the two.

For certain advertisers it can be helpful. I've found on Google if the keyword is cars, and you are using broad match, the AdWords system will expand it to red cars and green cars and blue cars and red autos, but if the keyword is red cars, Google claims to never expand it to autos or trucks. However, without the broad match modifier, I've actually found instances where more general terms get served (I discovered this using the “see search terms” button:). I have a Backcountry Skiing blog and a keyword for “backcountry skiing” which has served ads for a user’s query of “snowshoes” or even just ‘skis’. In these instances it’s clear that matching can sometimes go backwards, and expand it to something more general.

Eric Enge: So, there is an exact match, a phrase match, a broad match with modifier and then there is also “excessive match”?

Adam Lewis: Google calls it extended broad match, but you are right that it can be quite excessive at times. This new modifier in the form of a + sign returns it to the way broad match used to be - only singular, plural, misspelled and synonymous variations.

Eric Enge:Thanks Adam!

Adam Lewis:Thank you Eric!

Have comments or want to discuss? You can comment on the Adam Lewis interview here.

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About the Author

Eric Enge is the Founder and President of Stone Temple Consulting (STC). STC offers Internet marketing optimization services, including SEO, Social Media and PPC optimization, and its web site can be found at: http://www.stonetemple.com.

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