Mar 08, 2013

Enhanced Campaigns And The Wide Tail

If there’s a frontrunner for “search engine marketing buzzword of the year,” it is surely “enhanced campaigns.” Not to be confused with “enhanced interrogation,” enhanced campaigns are essentially Google’s attempt to push SEMs quickly into mobile marketing. Gone is the ability to target by device or operating system at a campaign level; instead, marketers will be defaulted into all devices and will have to use “bid boosts” to control how much they spend on mobile devices versus computers (and tablets will be rolled into computers entirely).

Beyond device-agnostic campaign structure, there are other aspects of enhanced campaigns – such as the ability to start and stop site links and the ability to set different bids by geographic proximity to a specific location – but by and large, advertisers are primarily interested in the decreased granularity of device-bidding that enhanced campaigns brings.

From my perspective, enhanced campaigns are consistent with a general trend that I’ve seen for several years: the death of the “long tail” and the rise of the “wide tail.” The long tail – the ability to bid on thousands of low-volume keywords and get clicks for a few pennies each – was once the bread-and-butter trick of savvy SEMs. I remember back in 2005 going to the US Census Bureau web site, downloading a list of every town in the U.S., and then appending the words “mortgage” and “refinance” to each town name. In a matter of minutes, I had created 45,000 keywords, many of which could get me clicks for $.05 while a term like “mortgage rates” cost other advertisers $4.00.

This worked for a while, but Google has gradually eroded the value of long tail keywords. Think of some of the changes that Google has implemented in the last few years to reduce the long tail opportunity:

  • Geographic matching based not only on geo-intent in the keyword (like “San Francisco mortgage rates”) but also based on the location of the user (a user in San Francisco who types in “mortgage rates”);
  • “Advanced broad match” and “near-phrase” and “near-exact” match, all of which increase the keyword coverage of advertisers who have not actively bought thousands of keywords;
  • Product Listing Ads, which automatically match products on relevant keywords;
  • An expanded “opportunities” tab, which suggests keywords to advertisers;
  • Ad extensions, which take up more top-of-the-page real estate, pushing down lower bidders.

All of these changes reduce the “arbitrage” opportunity of long tail keywords by automatically opening these up to advertisers bidding on generic terms.  The result is more bidders in fewer auctions, which – guess what – drives more revenue per click for Google!

Enhanced campaigns are another step in Google’s march toward the elimination of the long tail. Now that advertisers will be defaulted into mobile bidding and prevented from tablet-specific bidding, savvy advertisers currently monetizing mobile campaigns with little competition will quickly see a huge rise in new competitors vying for the same clicks (whether those new advertisers know that they are bidding there or not). Put another way, Google has already killed the long tail of keywords; enhanced campaigns will kill the long tail of devices.

There is a silver lining in all of this for advertisers: simplicity. The trouble with long tail campaigns is that they require a lot of work. Combine thousands of keywords, multiple devices, dozens of geographies, and tons of ad text, and you’ve got more than a full-time job. As the long tail dies, it becomes easier for many advertisers to run AdWords campaigns with reasonably good results without onerous time commitments. Ironically, however, this frees advertisers to spend time on channels other than AdWords, a concept that I call the wide tail.

The wide tail is the opposite of the long tail; instead of the “inch wide and mile deep” focus on AdWords, the wide tail forces marketers to go a “mile wide and inch deep” across multiple channels. As Internet marketing has matured, the number of marketing channels has exploded. Here’s just a partial list of popular Internet marketing channels:

  • AdWords
  • Bing/Yahoo
  • Ad Exchanges
  • Direct Display Buys
  • Facebook PPC
  • Facebook Ad Exchange (FBX)
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • Email
  • Affiliate
  • SEO
  • YouTube

With this many places to potentially spend your marketing budget, it’s impossible to allocate too much time on any one channel anymore if you want to create a truly diversified portfolio.  From this perspective, Enhanced Campaigns might just allow some advertisers to set their Google budget on “auto-pilot” while investing their time into other channels.

To be clear, to truly maximize your AdWords campaigns, applying a “set it and forget it” approach and assuming that Google will be making good decisions on your behalf is not the optimum solution. Hiring a dedicated internal team or a top-notch online marketing agency will almost always outperform a campaign that is running itself. Not every advertiser, however, can afford a team of experts to manage their SEM, and as the wide tail gets wider and wider (Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest will all be launching new advertising products in the next year alone), Enhanced Campaigns and other automated products will probably offer a “good enough” solution for many.


Contributed by David Rodnitzky

David Rodnitzky is founder and CEO of PPC Associates, a position he has held since the Company's inception in 2008. Prior to PPC Associates, he held senior marketing roles at several Internet companies, including (2000-2001), FindLaw (2001-2004), Adteractive (2004-2006), and Mercantila (2007-2008). David currently serves on advisory boards for several companies, including Marin Software, MediaBoost, Mediacause, and a stealth travel start-up.

David is a regular speaker at major SEM conferences and has contributed to numerous influential publications, including Venture Capital Journal, CNN Radio, Newsweek, Advertising Age, and Search Marketing Standard.

David has a B.A. with honors from the University of Chicago and a J.D. with honors from the University of Iowa. In his spare time, David enjoys salmon fishing, hiking, spending time with his family, and watching the Iowa Hawkeyes, not necessarily in that order.