Episode 20: Google Ads ROI, Maverick and #AskGoogleWebmasters

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In this episode Mark Williams-Cook expands a bit about the Google 'Maverick' update and talks further about some of the issues that have been plaguing Google My Business after managing to reach out to Google's team. We also talk about the new YouTube series called #AskGoogleWebmasters which will offer snippets of advice to webmasters and SEOs. Further to end the episode, Sean Clark of Clark St James speaks about the role of ROI in paid advertising, and some of the newer ad formats Google has been rolling out over the year.

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Sean's slides

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AskGoogleWebmasters first video:

Video of Sean's Talk:

Sean's Slides:




Happy Monday and welcome to Episode 20 of the Search with Candour podcast recorded on Sunday the 28th of July 2019. My name is Mark Williams-Cook from Candour and I'm here to help you navigate the world of Search.

Some micro-announcements I want to kick off today's episode with: two weeks ago in Episode 18, I spoke about the problems some users were reporting with Google My Business short names in that when these users were actually selecting their short name, which is a fairly new feature in Google My Business that allows you to specify a friendly URL for your profile page rather than the long URLs it generates, so when users were doing this they were finding their accounts were being suspended. There were quite a few people reporting this on Twitter and different forums and Google hadn't made any kind of statement about it.

Before that episode on the 11th of July I reached out to the Google My Business team and asked them:

I didn't hear anything back. So, we recorded Episode 18 and actually last week on Wednesday the 24th I did get a reply from the Google My Business team. They said:

"Hi Mark,

Thanks for reaching out! We appreciate your patience as we've recently had an increase in volume. Our engineering team has confirmed that there was a technical issue connected to short names that is in progress of being fixed.

If, however, you are still experiencing the issue after 48 hours, please reply here with your dashboard URL.

Best, Tori"

It's a little bit of a confusing message because it says that the engineering team confirmed there was a technical issue but then it says that it's in progress of being fixed so I would possibly still wait before selecting a short name if you haven't already as it does seem that there is still an issue. I expect Google will, hopefully this time, do an announcement once they're sure that that is fixed.

The second thing is if you were around doing SEO seven/eight years ago - around 2011 you probably would have seen Matt Cutts, who is Google's ex-head of Webspam, did videos on YouTube on the Google Webmasters channel offering snippets of advice to webmasters and SEOs. In the last week we've seen John Mueller has taken up that mantle in this capacity at least, I mean John is really helpful anyway to the SEO community. He does Webmaster Hangouts and seems to somehow find time to answer everyone's questions on Twitter as well, but there is now a set of videos appearing on YouTube under #AskGoogleWebmasters and John Mueller's done the first video. I'll put a link to it in the show notes at and that talks about a specific question they had:

“is it okay/is it good for webmasters to link out to other websites?”

So, it's probably a really good source to subscribe to if you're fairly new to SEO and you want to be drip fed some advice, as usual the link for that will be in the shownotes.

Lastly before we move on to our main part of the show, around Google Ads ROI there it does appear to have been another Google update - another one! That's exactly what we want as SEOs, another update whilst getting hit by a combo of punches over the last few weeks so this is being dubbed for reasons I can't even be bothered to go into the “Maverick” update and it appears to have taken effect on the 18th of July. I think it's worth mentioning because multiple tools have tracked this so across MozCast Metrics, advanced web ranking, Rank Ranger, SEMRush there's been a huge spike in volatility in search results. All these tools that monitor search results have seen some sites go up and some sites go down, big fluctuations in rankings on that day.

SEMrush itself rates this volatility on a 0-10 scale across 25 different categories and if you remember, when we discussed the June core update we spoke about the two or three categories that we saw had been mainly impacted from SEMrush and that was really nicely aligned in what webmasters were reporting.

With this Maverick update, we have seen huge volatility over all 25 categories so the average 0-10 is 8.7 across all categories in SEMrush. However, I didn't want to give a big segment for it on this episode because there's been no comment from Google, no official stats from Google. There does not seem to be much consistency in what webmasters are saying about the types of sites that are affected or types of factors or techniques. Ironically when I was researching this, I had seen quite a few positive reports of this update on BlackHat World which is a forum obviously where people tend to discuss blackhat techniques and a lot of people there at least was saying that they had seen an increase in traffic somewhat ironically. I think we will probably do an episode soon where we'll talk about blackhat SEO again and actually look at hacking and how you can prevent and detect if your site’s being hijacked by blackhat SEOs. Because it's something I came across, which I do come across regularly and actually helped a friend of mine recently, when they realised that their site title and stuff had changed in Google, but their site looked fine.

So, we're probably doing an episode about how to detect your site’s been secretly hacked but it looks okay.

What we actually want to talk about mainly though is getting a return on investment (positive ROI) from Google Ads and why that is so hard. We're going to hear from a friend of mine called Sean Clarke who is an incredibly experienced Google Ads professional who has worked on some really big brands over many years.

Sean was kind enough to speak at our first ever SearchNorwich meetup event about how to get a return on Google ads and why it's so difficult, and why so many people fail to get a return from their Google Ads. He focuses a lot on the process being a lot more than just keywords, ad copy, and bidding which is what a lot of people just focus, and they fixate on. Sean talks about how to win a return with Google Ads - you need to open it up and think about the whole user experience and the whole relevance of what you're doing. You can see the video of Sean's talk and we've got a copy of his slides up with the transcription of this whole show at I hope you enjoy it!

SC: I'm going to talk about AdWords tonight, we're going to talk about return on investment but more importantly we’re going to talk about Google and what it's doing and Google Brain. The famous quote from John Wanamaker, you've probably seen this in different versions from Samsung, this is the real version I'm told:

“Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted, trouble is I don't know which half.”

Now, John Wanamaker was known in the 1900s as a leading marketer and even he couldn't tell what was making him money and what wasn’t, and he ran a series of retail outlets that eventually turned into Macy's. So that was the 1900’s, then we come in to the 2000’s and the age of digital. 1999 when I first started in it and there was the dream we could measure everything, everything was a click, everything had a cost and we could see it coming out the other end or was it really just one really bad B-movie because then we had a good old friend ROI.

This is what everyone wanted, this is the major trick in the bag if we understood what our ROI was, we'd all go home happy. Put in £1 get out £10 and it's really simple ROI, so why do most of us end up not being able to get an ROI from AdWords. Simple isn't it, you put an ad up, you pay a certain amount of money for an ad click-through, come to your website, make a purchase - you either make money or you don't. So, you adjust things so that you can make money. Surely that's how it should work but anyone that's been doing this any amount of time will know it just doesn't work like that.

In fact one of the problems is, and I'm going to read this I've tried to memorise this but I can't, you need to worry about your prior communality estimates and your value of the reduced correlation matrix and that's the problem because there are three factors which will be retained by the proportion criterion and if you get those three factors right you're good. Really, no actually it's nothing to do with rubbish like that it's nothing to do with any one thing on its own.

So, naturally ROI and AdWords is a combination of relevance and user experience and this is why people fail so often is because they just don't get it. They focus on keywords or they focus on their ad copy or they will look at their landing page and go “we've got the perfect page; they must want to buy this” but you've got to put the three together. You've got to get that relevance right to your audience and then you've got to give the experience that they're expecting when they click on your ad and this is what Google measures, don’t care really how much you want to pay for the keyword or anything like that or how good your ad copy is. They want the overall user experience to be wrapped up and users to be happy because if they make users happy, users come back to Google and that's why they're so successful and this is what they call quality score.

Okay, any of you running AdWords campaigns at the moment? Thank God for that. So, you will have hopefully seen screens like these - hopefully more of the ones like on the left that gives you a 10/10 rather than the ones on the right where the quality score is 4/10.

These ads are both running they're both live as it's saying these ads are showing now but one has a higher quality score, but why should that matter if they're both running, that's fine right? Well maybe not so much and the reason I say maybe not so much because a company called ‘WordStream’, they do an AdWords management tool - quite expensive but it is really good. One of the advantages they have is they have lots and lots of AdWords data coming through their system, so they could do great reports like this which shows the cost per conversion against the Quality Score and what you can actually see here is in the main (there are exceptions - there's always exceptions when it comes to online) in the main the higher quality score - the lower your cost per conversion and this is why a lot of people aren't getting an ROI from their AdWords. Because their quality score’s rubbish, because they're not thinking about the end user, they're thinking about themselves, thinking about how we can be number one in the search and things like that rather than improving user experience and the overall workings of their website and their ads.

So, that's the problem. This is where you need to get but how do we get there? Well any geek knows that the answer is of course 42 and if you didn't get that then sorry. But no, the real answer is test, test, test! Another hero of mine, Claude Hopkins from the 1900s, wrote a book in 1923 “Scientific Advertising”. It's required reading in my company, but this book is one of the first about advertising from a scientific perspective. It's well worth a read, you find it on Amazon 99p as a Kindle book and it is relevant to today because even back in his day, they were doing testing. They would send out mailers in various formats and see which one gave them a return, which one performed better, and it really is all about testing. I can't tell you what the answer is for the perfect ad and the perfect quality score, but you can test it.

Google gives you free tools to do the testing as well and they put them in nice places like actually in AdWords. The first one on the left is Google Experiments within AdWords and you literally test loads of stuff in there and see what works. Then we've got Google Optimizer which allows you to put a little bit of script in your website so you can make non-technical changes to your website and see what performs better.

Anyway just to show you the tools but that's all the thing is you can test - so you can test budgets, cost per acquisition, targets, display ads, ad text, all of those things it's absolutely brilliant and that's just Google Experiments. With Google Optimizer you can go one better and you can do A/B testing, you can do the redirect test where you send people to one page to another and see what happens and you can even go the whole hog and do these multivariate tests which will send you bananas with all the combinations.

So, once you've ended up like a mad scientist like me, how could you possibly in a normal company run and manage all of those tests? Well up to now that's basically what we've had to do to get good returns out of AdWords and honestly if you run some standard tests in a controlled way in a good manner you will get there. But you know what Google's like, they've always got an answer to these things. In 2011 they launched a thing called Google Brain and the idea of Google Brain was to make machines intelligent so that they can improve people's lives. That's actually you know what they believe, so they're doing all of this automation all of this artificial intelligence, self-driving cars all of the things we have clever things with photos but what they're also doing is they're using this technology in their prime money generator AdWords and it's available now to all of us.

Saves us doing all of that user testing. In fact, their Google Brain AI tool called TensorFlow, is available open source and anyone can go and have a play with it if you can ever work it out. But let's go through some of the things that they've actually released, and you can use today with a few caveats.

So, one of the absolutely amazing things we've never thought that they would get here and do this, messing about with numbers is one thing but playing with text is another. There's a saying about “give enough monkeys a go and one of them all come up with the works of Shakespeare” but really they've got all the monkeys in the box here, they're actually writing ads so has anyone had any ad suggestions come through? Yeah, yeah a few of you.

They're actually looking at the text within ads, seeing what's working and compiling ads themselves and then putting them in your ad accounts. Thankfully they're notifying you about them before they do it, so you can turn them off if you think they're not right but some of these actually win - they beat the human version of the ad and it is really scary. Some of my guys are worried about whether they're going to have a job by the time Google have finished but this is automated, this is artificial intelligence in real practice.

The next one is ‘Dynamic Search Ads’, dynamic search ads is a great little module you can get some really low-cost clicks, some really good conversions on these but you don't tend to get much in the way of volume at the moment unless you've got a huge site. What are dynamic search ads? They look at all of the content on your website, look at all of the AdWords you're bidding on, all the keywords you're bidding on, all the ads you've got and then look for the gaps. They look for things that people are searching for that are relevant to you that you're not advertising, and then they'll go and create ads for you and bid for you and hopefully send you traffic. Basically, you write a couple of little descriptions for your ad and then they'll make up the headline to suit what the search is going for. They're doing that testing for you.

The next one is ‘Responsive Search Ads’, these little animals are brilliant and if you've ever written a Google ad you'll know that you get told off quite a lot - if you use too many exclamation marks or if you use more than one but as you might be able to see here, they don't apply the rules for themselves. But they'll do it and what you do, you basically put all the headlines you can think of in the form on the left-hand side, you put as many variations as you like, different link variations and it will basically make thousands of versions of these ads and keep showing them until it finds the ones that work and then you can go turn off certain ones, take out bits of ad copy and put new bits in.

So, Google is really hard at work trying to create dynamic ads for you. It gets better than that though because then we've got ‘Smart Display Campaigns’. This is a fairly recent release, been tested for a while - Toyota had a play with it and had some success. This one really takes some getting used to, especially if you're delicate about your brand. You give Google a load of images (obviously relevant images) to what you want to be found for and you give them some wording that goes with those images and a landing page to send them to. It will then look at your whole ad account and your website, and rather than what you'd normally do with display ads - you would go and select your audience carefully, you might go and do your Experian data and see where your A1’s and BC’s are and everything like that and how old they are and where they live but you don't need to. Google does all of that for you, it will make millions of versions of your ads and it will work out who's more likely to interact with your ads and perform better and there's quite a few case studies if you go and look this up. Toyota have got some fantastic results, with 40% of all their display conversions coming from these smart display campaigns and then getting a 33% lower cost per acquisition as well and that's for display and there's not a lot of people that really get huge benefits from display, just absolutely amazing!

Then we've got smart bidding, so if you didn't think making ads was enough now they'll actually decide how much you should bid for certain things and they'll actually decide the bid at the moment so it will vary all the time and (if you turn on smart bidding) you also get access to external data things like location. the operating system, maybe they are on whether it's an app, type of browser, the actual search query, all different things will be taken into account to adjust the bid at the right moment at the right time and you don't have to do anything. So, there's no more going in and adjusting your bids and bid management anymore that's another job gone!

Then we have ‘data-driven attribution’, I actually love this one - I try to get every client I can on it, but you need quite a bit of data to be able to move them across. If you're aware of how Google Analytics works, it's actually quite painful because it works on a model which uses ‘last interaction’ or ‘last click’ so basically if I come to your website via an organic search and I don't buy and then I come back to your website via a Facebook ad and then I buy, the Facebook ad will get the credit but not the organic search that introduced me in the first place. That's the last click interaction.

That plays hell when you're trying to work out ad budgets and you're using AdWords for example to build a brand and build awareness and then everyone starts buying everything by coming in on the brand name and the clients going “well if it's that simple, we'll just run ads under our name and you can go away” but no it's not that simple because people don't just come and buy, go and buy. They interact in many ways and you may or may not be able to see here but if you look at the paid search on the left-hand side, last interaction we have - 1.6million conversions for paid search. Importantly the data-driven attribution, which is Google going !well those people came from here and here.”, it's got 400,000 more attributions going towards paid search and that makes a lot of difference when you're making decisions about which campaigns to turn off/on so you can drill down to even keywords in this view.

So, data-driven attribution is absolutely awesome because it's taking the whole picture into account when it comes to marketing and gives you much more power in the boardroom when it comes to bidding on brand, especially. Then we have this little buddy that come out the cupboard a few weeks ago ‘in-market audiences for Search’ now, we've always had ‘in-market audiences for display’ - that's where you can market to people that are in your sphere of interest in your sector.

The difference with Search is we've got Mark and Michelle, they've both done a search for a MacBook Pro 13 inch, in normal circumstances they look equal, same person I'll bid the same for each. With in-market audiences. Google has seen what Michelle's been up to over the last couple of weeks and noticed that she started searching for new laptops at some point and then on Google Chrome she went and had a look on the Apple Store at the MacBook models and then she did a few more queries about MacBook vs MacBook Pro and then looked at MacBook specs and then all of a sudden she's looking at MacBook prices. So, when she types in MacBook Pro 13 inch, I'm going to pay £5 for that click because I know she's buying.

Mark could just be looking for a replacement battery, replacement power supply for a MacBook Pro so we don't know what Mark wants - he's not in context but Michelle is so these in-market audiences for Search, the audience is quite small at the moment but they're building. It’s going to be very important because they're going to be hyper focused.

As you could probably tell I'm quite excited about all of this!

So, we've got all our little elves working really hard at North Pole, but I’ve got to have something to do surely please. But I'm excited for what's coming next and this really says it all, is intelligence in your Google Analytics dashboard. You'll probably start to see now on the right-hand side these intelligence stats coming up telling me my in-market segment for this particular client has grown 60% (it would have done wouldn't it is May you know it's May/April time this time of year it's going to grow) but stats like that now coming through, advising you of things that you can do.

We've got just last week for smaller businesses there's AdWords Express on steroids basically which is AdWords will create ads for you even potentially create landing pages for your ads for you if you will give it the money and let it get on and that's for small businesses. So, it's really serious stuff out there but don't worry Google Brain’s got it handled and it will eventually rule the world but at least you'll be sane and not have to do all those tests. Go and look some of these up they are really great.

That was Sean Clark from Clark St. James talking at the first SearchNorwich event which you can find out more about at I hope you've enjoyed today's show; you can as always get the show notes at if you want to see Sean's talk on video or get a copy of the slides. Besides my name is Mark Williams-Cook and I hope you have a fantastic week.

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