Jump to the: [content for this page][navigation menu.]

Web Search & Marketing Newsletter - August 2006

Welcome to the latest edition of our monthly newsletter on web search and marketing issues.

As we reported last month, Google launched its new Checkout product at the end of June and we give this a full review this month to see what it offers and how it could be used.

We also look at e-mail marketing and the main issues that need to be considered when planning a successful campaign in an increasingly difficult online environment. And finally we continue our series of articles on the use of 'landing pages' (May 06) as these are now becoming a more important factor within Google AdWords.

To find out more, please read on below and follow the links to the full articles available on our website. If you want to refer to any items included in previous editions, you can find them here.

On to this month's news...

A review of Google Checkout

In late June Google launched its payment processing service, Google Checkout, which is currently only available to US merchants and customers. We've reviewed its main features and issues in anticipation for a UK launch.

Benefits for Merchants & AdWords Advertisers: Google cites Checkout's main benefit as streamlining the order process for users with an account, providing a simple login and a single page to place an order - hiding credit card and email details from the merchant. It is also hoped that Checkout will provide a simple online wallet for use across a range of stores and Google has already got a range of high profile merchants on board to promote this. Both these features should help to improve Checkout merchants' visits to sale rate.

For merchants there is an API available to integrate Checkout with their shopping cart systems, and it is supported by a range of commercial e-commerce packages. Simple 'buy it now' buttons are also available for websites selling single items which do not require a cart.

For AdWords advertisers, free payment processing of sums up to 10 times their advertising spend is available. A small image on Checkout merchants' AdWords is also provided, which may improve clickthrough rates once users get more familiar with this service. As clickthrough rate is used in the AdWords ranking system it could also give an advantage to Checkout merchants over competitors, including UK advertisers for whom the service is not yet available.

Difficulties so far: In the month since Checkout's launch, it has received praise from merchants, although there have also been some problems highlighted, including difficulties in editing orders after they are placed, plus it is not yet possible to integrate conversion tracking code for AdWords or other systems.

Competition with PayPal: eBay's market leading PayPal offers a wider range of features - such as payments between individuals - however Google Checkout clearly means to compete, offering a lower 2% transaction fee, compared to PayPal's 2% - 3.5% range. In response, eBay has now banned Checkout as a payment method for eBay merchants, citing a lack of a "substantial historical track record of providing safe and reliable financial and/or banking related services"!.

If you would like to find out more about Google Checkout and payment processing, or how we can review your website's usability to improve conversion rates, contact us now for more information.

Successful e-mail marketing campaigns

E-mail marketing has rapidly developed as a key online marketing technique over the past decade, being seen as a highly cost-effective form of direct marketing. This can still be the case, with careful planning and management, but the rise of e-mail spam now makes the task much harder and, together with email regulations, means that implementing a campaign can be fraught with difficulties.

The two main issues that need to be considered with any e-mail marketing campaign are firstly, how to get through any spam filters to reach the recipient, and secondly to provide relevant content and offers in a timely manner so as not to damage the business brand through negative responses from the market.

Marketing e-mails can now be easily perceived in the same manner as the 'junk mail' tag attached to direct mailings, by antagonising recipients if they perceive no relevance to them, but also the sheer volumes of 'spam' and the ability of recipients to instantly delete e-mails, either through a filter or from their inbox, makes it all the more difficult to achieve good response rates, despite the lower set-up and mailing costs.

Recent statistics indicate a steady decline in the 'open rates' of e-mails, dropping from 36.8% in 2004 to 29.4% during the same period in 2005. Yet apparently over 65% of UK companies are planning to increase their activity in e-mail marketing this year, which will make it even harder for messages to get noticed.

A survey published by Revolution this month indicated that 40% of UK companies who are using e-mail were not pre-testing any core elements before sending out bulk e-mail campaigns. The perception remains that e-mail is a low-cost marketing technique and therefore the testing and segmentation principles of direct mail, for example, are not being used to the same level. But what damage could poorly targeted e-mails be doing to the brand, particularly if they are perceived as 'spam'?

E-mail management and tracking software is essential when managing any e-mail marketing campaign, as this can show 'open rates' and clicks on links within the e-mail, as well as 'bounce' rates and unsubscribes - all of which are key measures to help understand how good the mailing lists are, or the creative effectiveness of the e-mail at generating a responses, not just immediately but over a longer period of time.

Find out more with our list of tips for developing an e-mail marketing campaign, or contact us if you'd like to discuss e-mail marketing in more detail, or to set-up a new campaign.

Landing pages and Google AdWords Quality Score

In our May newsletter we discussed the issue of using relevant landing pages within a search marketing campaign to improve conversion rates. Now Google AdWords has introduced new landing page 'quality scores' to encourage advertisers to use targeted landing pages to improve user experience, whilst raising the minimum bid levels of low-spending advertisers.

On the 7th July Google announced that AdWords will incorporate the quality of landing pages into the 'quality score' used to calculate the ranking positions of adverts. Until now, the quality score has been a combination of bid level and CTR (clickthrough rate), but now Google will use data from spidering the landing pages of websites to assess their relevancy to the search term and to include this to calculate the overall position in which adverts will appear.

This move has two implications: firstly, AdWords is penalising advertisers who use irrelevant or low quality landing pages, which offer a poor user experience to those who click the ads and secondly, this will also help Google increase its revenue by forcing advertisers to spend more if their landing pages aren't up to scratch.

This is effectively a good move, apparently rewarding relevance for the benefit of users. But as part of the changes, some advertisers will find that their minimum bid levels are raised, so they will find that 'terms are inactive for search' until they raise the quality score or bid price. This is a shrewd move from Google as it pushes out low performing advertisers or forces them to make fundamental changes to their campaigns.

Particularly problematic are landing pages using Flash or other formats which won't be detected by search engine spiders. Until now landing pages where judged by their ability to convert incoming visitors into customers, rather than on their keyword focus or other such factors, usually related to 'organic' or 'natural' search rankings.

So, this may mean simply making some changes to their landing pages for many advertisers, but the increasing use of quality scores and particularly the raising of minimum bid levels has wider implications for advertisers' own flexibility of approach. For many advertisers this may mean creating additional pages specifically for their PPC, if not a full re-design of their website. This is going to create significant costs for some advertisers while larger companies can afford the time to make dedicated landing pages, and so get their adverts even higher in the order, or at a lower cost, than when they only had to bid higher.

If you'd like to know more about the impact of these changes on your Google AdWords campaign, please contact us for more details.

Book review - Creating Web Sites: The Missing Manual

This month's book review is Creating Web Sites by Matthew MacDonald. Sub-titled 'The Missing Manual' this is a step-by-step guide for beginners to help explain the elements required when creating and developing a website. It covers a wide range of techniques and factors that might be needed when setting up an online business, either in-house or when briefing and web designers.

Read the full review of Creating Web Sites.

We hope you've found this month's issue useful. Please contact us if you need any more details on the items covered, or our advice on any aspect of your website's performance. Also, if there are any issues you would like to see in future editions of this newsletter, please submit your suggestions.