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Avoiding Dynamic Disaster: Google Launches Dynamic Sitelinks

By | August 5, 2014

While I usually welcome Google’s AdWords updates with open arms, its most recent change had me a little worried.  For highly regulated industries like education, finance and insurance, compliance is one of the biggest hurdles we have to face in online marketing. Ads, keywords and copy often must go through an extensive approval process, so having Google dynamically insert something into your ads could get you into a lot of trouble if you’re in education or a similarly monitored industry.

Google defines its new automated sitelinks as:

Automatically generated sitelinks that appear below your ad text, connecting potential customers to relevant pages on your website more easily.


Google also states that the sitelinks you put in your account will still show up most of the time, and that the dynamic links will only show when it thinks they are most relevant.  Another bright spot is that clicks on dynamic sitelinks are free so if compliance is not a factor in your business, you can look forward to a few free clicks. However, if you’re worried about what could show up in your ads and want to opt out of dynamic sitelinks, Google will allow you to do that.

While this update does worry me for compliance reasons, it is good to see that Google is still trying to make searches as relevant as possible for users. I believe that these sitelinks will benefit a lot of advertisers, and I look forward to future updates increasing ad relevance.

What do you think about the update? Have any questions about your online marketing techniques? Share in the comments below!

Dynamic Sitelink Opt-Out Link:

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PPC for Higher Ed on a Budget

By | July 31, 2014

What you need to know to get the biggest bang for your SEM dollars

Without fail, at the beginning of each fiscal year, my customers at colleges and universities come to me with a myriad of statements and questions. They want to know which engines they should run on; what’s new in the world of paid search, PPC, SEM (or whatever the kids are calling it these days); and what they should do. As a higher education marketing agency, we can give them an answer if they first answer two simple questions: What is your budget, and what are your goals? It might sound generic, but usually this opens the gateway to a lengthy conversion about how to prioritize PPC spend and how to get the best ROI from paid search.

Whether you are giving this a go internally or working with an agency, here are a few things you need to consider:


  1. What is a realistic budget for my paid search strategy? In the world of higher education, there are countless ways to spend money. A lot of money. Sure, you could spend your entire marketing budget on display and display along (for the record, I do not condone that), but chances are you won’t see the best return. Determine a minimum and a maximum you are willing to spend. From there, you can decide how extensive your strategy will be.
  1. What am I hoping to achieve from my PPC strategy? Oftentimes, the answer I get will be “more students” or “better qualified students,” and that’s great. But consider what you’re seeing work well in other channels to drive these students. Do on-campus visitors enroll at a much higher rate? Do students who have requested more info get personalized messaging and 1:1 attention? Depending on what works well for your school, you may want to tailor a landing page to that step in the funnel. On the other hand, your school may have recently undergone a major branding initiative. In this case, you might want to get the message across and display may be the best avenue for you.
  1. Which programs are important to our university? This is very important. If you are spending money on programs that are at full capacity or have a tremendous reputation as is, you may be wasting your money. Consider focusing on programs that need some extra help or awareness.
  1. What is search volume like for our programs? Are you offering an Associate to Bachelor’s to Master’s Degree in Applied Socioeconomic Reform and Policy Management? Guess what? Nobody is looking for that. Be sure to see what kind of traffic you can expect by program. If you’re allotting funds to a program that is not going to spend, you may have to make up that budget later on (perhaps when interest is down a bit). Similarly, if you have complicated or unique programs, think about what potential students who are interested would be looking for. Those may be the right terms to go after.
  1. I know what to focus on – but how do I divide up my budget? This can differ depending on your goals. If your goal is to generate as many leads as possible, I typically recommend a search to display ratio of 80/20 (all good things follow the 80/20 rule, right?). This is, at the very least, a good place to start. See what your conversion rates are and if you are limited in any areas. Shift budget from there. We can make an educated guess up front, but nobody has a crystal ball. Be on your toes and willing to make adjustments.
  1. When do I stray from AdWords and AdWords alone? In general, AdWords is the best place to start. It’s a great way to learn and gauge results. But if you can’t spend all of your budget wisely, it may be time to expand. Consider taking your top performers and placing them into Bing Ads. If results are as good or even better, consider expanding further. If you’re looking to go the route of LinkedIn or Facebook advertising, proceed with caution. This is a whole new world with different metrics and targeting. Keep in mind that leads will likely cost more. But, again, if you are branding this could be a great route to go.

Whatever you choose to do, simply be sure you feel good about your plan of action. As long as you have a reason for spending the way that you are, you’re in a good position to make changes and improvements as you go. Don’t be afraid to ask for a little help along the way!

Get deep analysis and take advantage of the latest marketing trends in higher education:

Edu Standard, 2nd Edition

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Paid Search & The Truven 15 Top Health Systems

By | July 24, 2014

As a follow-up to our recent publication, “Social Media Benchmarks for Health Systems,” we wanted to take a look at how the same health systems are using pay-per-click (PPC) advertising. Most health systems that are seeing success online are typically using more than just one type of digital marketing tactic. Our hypothesis was that most of the Truven 15 Top Health Systems are doing some form of paid advertising to help generate incremental patients and increase brand awareness.

Truven graded health systems all over the U.S. on quality and efficiency. It divided the health systems into 3 categories based on annual revenues: Large health systems (>$1.5 billion), medium health systems ($750 million-$1.5 billion), and small health systems (<$750 million). As one would expect, the larger health systems tend to invest more of their marketing budget in search-engine marketing vs. the medium and smaller ones that have less marketing budget. In addition, larger health systems tend to attract patients from all over the nation (or at least the region) and therefore need additional budget to target prospective patients—at least for the service lines they are most recognized for.

Using a keyword spy technology called SpyFu, we were able to get a very rough estimation of what health systems are spending on Google AdWords (specifically related to search campaigns only). As we tell our clients, we use this data to get a better understanding of trends given lack of access to actual budgets for comparison.

Castro-Top 15 image 1

We generally use SpyFu to determine the following:

  1. Is the advertiser using Google Adwords to promote a health system (or has it in the past)?
  2. How much is being spent in relation to other health systems?
  3. What keywords are the ads showing up for?
  4. What does the ad copy look like and which is being showed most often?
  5. What kind of landing pages are they using?

As you can see, the larger health systems do indeed spend more than medium and small health systems. What you can also see is all health systems within Truven’s Top 15 at some point invested in search-engine marketing. Only two health systems currently do not appear to be promoting their hospitals and service lines via paid search.

Taking this a step further, we used The Search Monitor’s new tool (called Lighthouse) to gain perspective on how two of the large health systems are investing their marketing dollars among various service lines. This tool is similar to Spyfu, but provides more granular data and in a more digestible fashion.

Advocate Health Care

castro top 15 image 2

Mayo Foundation

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To take this analysis a step further, we examined a couple of the top-spending health systems to see how well some of them are following PPC best practices. We reviewed Advocate Health and Mayo Clinic in more detail below.

Advocate Health Ad Campaigns

Interestingly, Advocate Health is investing heavily in medical staff and nurse recruitment keywords, such as nursing jobs, medical jobs, hospital careers, etc.

Ad Example:

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To help support our recommendations with facts, we consulted Google’s study, “Creative That Clicks.” Advocate Health Care is employing several tactics to improve its ad copy’s chances of success:

  1. The ad copy has the keyword ‘nursing jobs’ (which is what was searched) in the headline.
  2. It also mentions ‘jobs’ again in description line one.
  3. It capitalizes the first letter of each word, which increases click-thru rate 62% of the time when paired with the keyword in the headline.
  4. Finally, the ad has a strong call-to-action of “Apply today!” which helps prequalify users and likely increases conversion rate.

We did notice areas for improvement in Advocate Health’s ad copy:

  1. Using the display URL to add targeted keywords would increase click-thru rate by 8%.
  2. The average position where an ad appeared was between 5 and 7. Unfortunately, poor average position prevents advertisers from displaying sitelinks, which provide a quick and easy way to improve click-thru rate (by 20%-30%) and potentially quality score.
  3. Call extensions would help those users who are more comfortable picking up the phone and talking to someone rather than researching online. Call extensions have also been found to increase click-thru rate (CTR) by 8% on average.

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Landing Page:

Advocate Health Care does a fantastic job with the landing page. It is using a sub-domain to funnel PPC traffic which is highly relevant to the keywords its users are coming from. It has a microsite-type feel where users can browse different type of jobs for nursing, rehab, and home health. It also has a video and lists all of its facilities.

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Testing different variations of the page could yield some potential improvements. For example, one element for testing could be reducing the size of the images at the top of the site. This will bring other elements above the page fold, especially the navigation that allows users to browse job groups and search for jobs by location and category.

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In addition, users may be confused after clicking an action-oriented ad and landing on a page that does not have a strong, clear call-to-action. We would recommend a big call-to-action button that allows users to get to a form and apply with ease.

Finally, other than the domain itself, whether this was a site specifically for those looking for jobs or just the health system in general is unclear. Clarifying with content stating the site caters to job seekers would help. Also, changing the buttons at the top to show jobsnursing jobs, rehab jobs, home health jobs—would help.

Mayo Clinic Ad Campaigns

Next, we’ll take a look at Mayo Clinic, a large health system that invests heavily in paid search to support overall digital marketing and patient acquisition strategies. However, Mayo Clinic is also a thought leader in the healthcare space and invests heavily in informing and educating the public.

Ad Example:

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Mayo Clinic does a fantastic job with ad copy. It takes advantage of several ad extensions that help improve CTR and quality score:

  1. Similar to Advocate Health, it has the exact keyword in the headline and also mentions a variation of the search query in the description lines. Again, according to Google, this increases CTR by about 15% on average.
  2. Different from Advocate Health, Mayo Clinic is using sitelinks and review extensions (since it is in the top 3 positions). In addition to the 20%-30% improvement in click-through rate that sitelinks provide, review extensions have been shown to increase CTR by as much as 10% according to Google.

A few ad copy best practices that Mayo Clinic should consider incorporating are:

  1. Capitalizing the first letter of each word in the ad. Google found that doing this positively impacts CTR 62% of the time.
  2. Having a call-to-action that is reflected (and consistent) on the landing page.
  3. Add the targeted keyword to the display URL (e.g., Again, this tactic has been shown to increase CTR by 8%.
  4. Using call extensions not only is proven to increase CTR by up to 8%, it also drives clicks directly to the organization and is a factor in determining quality score.

Landing Page:

The landing page for Mayo Clinic is very relevant to the search query (lung cancer treatment). It also has a prominent call-to-action button for scheduling an appointment above the fold. Otherwise, this landing page is significantly different than most other landing pages we recommend for our clients. Again, part of the reason is that Mayo Clinic positions itself as a thought leader that provides valuable information. While the content is organized, the landing page is way too busy with numerous calls-to-action (for different goals), no phone number, and advertising to other Mayo Clinic services and products that are not relevant to lung cancer. The effect is potential confusion for the user.

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As originally anticipated, all of the Truven 15 Top Health Systems of 2014 are or were invested in paid search. As Spyfu shows, the larger health systems tend to invest more in search-engine marketing to help raise awareness, acquire patients, and even be an educational resource. However, the middle and small health systems are still finding the budget to invest in SEM. Health systems that decide to invest in paid advertising should do what it takes to stand out from the competition and maximize return-on-investment.


Social Media Benchmarks for Health Systems [Free Report]

Social Media Benchmarks for Health Systems

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Back to Basics: Managing AdWords Ads

By | July 16, 2014

With all of changes in AdWords emphasizing the importance of ad extensions and quality score, it is easy to get caught up in those features and overlook your ads themselves. At the end of the day, they are just as important as everything else. Here I’ve outlined some tips and best practices for managing your ads, including tools to simplify your job.

Testing & Optimizing

I firmly believe in the ‘ABT’ motto: Always Be Testing. A few things to keep in mind to ensure you’re getting the most out of your tests.

  • Test vs. Control – Be sure you’re only changing one thing in each ad variation, so you can easily and clearly tell which version performs better. For example, if you want to test headlines, be sure your description lines, display URLs, and destination URLs are all the same.
  • Rotation Settings – I like using the ‘Rotate Indefinitely’ setting in Google Adwords and ‘Rotate More Evenly’ in Bing AdCenter. This will ensure your ad variations are getting shown equally and help you better understand which variation is truly performing better. Using ‘Optimize of Clicks’ or ‘Optimize for Conversions’ lets Google display the ad it thinks will get the most clicks or conversions, and doesn’t give your ad variations equal display time, resulting in skewed test results.
  • Declaring a Winner – First, be sure you’ve let your test run long enough to gather significant data. Depending on the account, I like to run at least 2 weeks or setup a click threshold before launching so I know when I can evaluate the ad variations. Next, be sure you’re reviewing the right metrics. While CPCs and CPAs are important to consider, these metrics may not tell the whole story. Looking at click-thru and conversion rates is also important, but again, they could be leaving out important insights on performance. I like to look at overall ad efficiency to determine a winning ad. To calculate this metric, multiply the conversion rate by the click-thru rate.

Let’s look at an example. The snapshot below suggests at first glance the first ad is the winner. It has a few more conversions at a slightly lower cost per conversion. With a target CPA of $100, both ads are meeting our goals. However, when looking at the overall efficiency of the two ads, the second ad looks better:


A Few Ad Reminders

Run at least one text ad with punctuation in Description Line 1 for the extended headline.

Google example:

huge selection widgets

Differentiate your ads:

  • Use trademarks and  registered marks for the terms you have registered and trademarked.
  • Try adding the Countdown Script for sales/holidays to text ads for a sense of urgency.

holiday sale

Create an ad group for each image size for image/display ads. This helps keep data around each ad size easier to see. You are able to easily manage the number of ads per ad group this way, making it much easier to test variations in your image ads. It also allows you an opportunity to “own” the page on site within the GDN. If the site offers multiple ad sizes, your ads could show in each of them if they are separated into different ad groups by image size.

Using Tools

3rd-party tools and platforms can help online advertisers greatly. Sometimes, we need that extra insight not offered within Adwords or AdCenter to help us make decisions. When it comes to ads and competitive insights, there are a few specific tools from The Search Monitor (TSM) that can be very helpful.

  • Rank Report – This report lets you see where you and your competitors are winning and losing ad ranks. You are able to compare your average rank and number of times seen versus your top competitors. You can leverage these insights in bidding decisions. For example, if your competitors are in a better rank than you, you might consider bidding up so your ad rank improves.
  • Trademark Report– This report lets you keep an eye on competitors bidding on your terms AND using your trademarks in their ad copy. If you notice a competitor wrongfully using your trademark, you can work with Google’s trademark policy team to restrict the use of your trademark within the competitor’s ads.

With tools and testing, you can rest easy knowing your ads are well managed.

If you have any tips of your own to add, please share them in the comments section … I’d love to hear them!

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