free html hit counter AdWords Update #3: Inactive Keywords Puzzle - John Battelle's Search Blog

AdWords Update #3: Inactive Keywords Puzzle

By - May 16, 2006

InactiveI logged in today to find that a bunch of my keywords were “inactive” due to low bids. Google helpfully suggested new bid levels at 30- to 3,000-percent higher bids so as to re-activate my now derelict keywords.

I noticed that some of the inactive keywords were the ones that were doing the best for me – at least, they are important to be associated with the FM brand, were getting a fair number of impressions, and a decent clickthrough rate. They included the names of some of my most popular blogs in the FM network. Hmmm, I wondered. Competition for these site’s keywords must be heating up, and my (admittedly) lowball bid must be getting bumped off the list.

So I fired up Google and entered the keywords to see who was bumping me off – I wondered if perhaps FM’s competition was doing it.

Guess what? In several cases (including Dooce and Metafilter), no one else is bidding for the term. In many others (including the name of this blog), only one was bidding, or in some cases two – but by no means was the term “full up” with ads.

This is very odd to me. No one is competing for the Adwords I want to buy, but yet Google was telling me to raise my bid as much as 15 times my original price – a price that was working fine just a day or so ago.

Can anyone enlighten me as to why? Am I missing something obvious? It sure feels, well, off. Is someone gaming me? Is Google? Or is this the way the company gets you to pay the equivalent of a phantom CPM – for getting a lot of impressions, but not getting a high enough click through rate? Innaresting….

Update: Google has pointed me to this post


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

46 thoughts on “AdWords Update #3: Inactive Keywords Puzzle

  1. christophe says:

    I had the same thing a few month ago. That’s when I descided to stop using adwords.

  2. Roger says:

    This is a big problem I had with adwords too, and I run more than 20,000 ads so it was a big change. We talk directly with an adwords specialist at Google, and the biggest problem seems to be that no one knows how anything works anymore. It used to be a black box that they just wouldn’t tell us how work, now it seems like a black box that GOOGLE doesn’t know how works. Anyway, they’re advice was to make higher bids to “activate” the ads, then over time the price would lower and stabilize, in some cases going lower than 5 cents an ad. It really does feel like nothing more than a dirty way to force people to put higher minimums on their ads, though.

  3. Craig says:

    Google wants to make sure that they maintain an decent CPM. If you do not have a high enough click through rate at a low CPC then you are getting great exposure from a brand standpoint without incurring the cost the minimum CPM cost that Google is looking for.

  4. I don’t see why you want to run ads for those keywords anyway. Words like “searchblog” and “dooce” don’t come up in normal conversation. It’s really hard to imagine anybody searching for these words except if they wanted to locate that website.

    In other words, users would almost certainly have a highly specific goal: to get that site. If the site is the #1 organic hit (which they are), there’s no reason for users to look over at the ads. Even if they did, it’s not likely that the user would be sidetracked from their main goal.

    This means that running the ad is only to protect you from those few cases where the user specifically wanted to get your site but was sidetracked by a more promising ad. By having your own ad on top of that other ad, you could prevent a tiny fraction of users to move their eye that bit further down the page. (In eyetracking, we see a phenomenon where users stop scanning ads once they enounter certain types of blockers.)

    Seems like a very small amount of added traffic in return for paying for ads. This would be worth doing for a site that sold big-ticket, high-margin products, such as a high-end B2B site. But for a content site, where you presumably make a fraction of a cent per page view, I don’t think it’s worth advertising your own name.

  5. Timothy says:

    “Am I missing something obvious?”

    John,

    Do the AdWords ads for those blog name keyword terms each go (i.e. the webpage once the user clicks on the ad) to their respective blog? It could be partly a relevance issue.

  6. JB says:

    I heard this “feature” was the #1 reason google beat its number so impressively last quarter. If your CTR is not high enough (and they decide this), they basically ask you to pay more, and they decide how much. It’s not an open marketplace, it’s you versus the house.

    You and I may call it extortion, but remember this is the company that does no evil, so I’m told they have a nice three letter acronym.

  7. Faiser says:

    From https://adwords.google.com/support/bin/answer.py?answer=6144&query=inactive&topic=0&type=f:

    Your keywords may be marked ‘inactive for search’ and stop showing your ads on search results if they don’t have a high enough Quality Score and maximum cost-per-click (CPC). This is another way of saying that your keyword or Ad Group’s maximum CPC doesn’t meet the minimum bid required to trigger ads on Google or its search network partners. This typically occurs when keywords aren’t as targeted as they could be, and the ads they deliver aren’t relevant enough to what a user is searching for.

    The translation of this is that Adwords requires that your keywords meet a minimum measure of relevance (i.e. have a minimum Quality Score) to the search terms. If your keywords do not meet this criterion, then your ads will not be served. This is done to protect the quality of the user experience. Adwords could certainly show any number of Ads for any given search, but this would have the effect of diluting the quality and relevance of the ads shown. This formula is applied independently of whether other ads are shown.

    -Faiser

  8. MikeM says:

    I have an Orange County targeted ad for a product with ZERO competition. No one else bids on the term(s)or anything close to it. I was OK with bids for .10 for a couple of weeks.
    Suddenly I was inactive on all my keywords as they were bumped to a minimum of $5 a pop.
    Forget it.
    None of my other campaigns are affected to this degree.

  9. John says:

    John,

    Now that you’re experiencing and being directly effected by the various practices Google employs to mysteriously bid up keywords, hopefully you’ll be a little less pro-google :-)

    - A Fan

  10. rick gregory says:

    The quality score explanation is correct as far as I’ve been able to determine from Google. A given term will get away with a lower bid if it 1) has a highish CTR (2%ish or higher) or if it has a good CTR history.

  11. Arjun says:

    John-

    You are bidding on trademarked words, the only way google let’s you bid on them is if you pay a premium. So dont worry about CTR or how many people are bidding and all the bogus talk. If you want to bid on trademarked words, you have to pay more.

  12. Gopi says:

    Most of the people searching for blog names are looking to visit the blog, so those keywords are navigational queries.

    Your ad which i presume sell ads in those blogs is obviously irrelevent for those searchers…the ad serving algo senses this from different signals (including Ad CTR) and decided to kill those keywords.

  13. Ryan Pollock says:

    It’s not that the words are trademarks. It’s the CTR and the fact that Google will disable keywords that don’t get clicked often enough.

    I’ve seen bid craziness around the word “wiki” because all advertisers have low CTR (so many people who search for wiki are too lazy to type Wikipedia).

    I hope this post helps convince Google that it needs to change its algorithm to support reasonable minimum bids. Right now Adwords raises minimimum bids from a few cents, to $1, to $5 very quickly.

  14. mobrik says:

    Google should either eliminate your term to protect their standards for of ad relevancy, let the search term compete based on the bid you set, or explain why they would consider a term more relevant if the bid is higher. In my book, the bid amount is independent of term relevancy, unless, of course, we are talking relevancy to the company’s bottom line.

  15. John says:

    Keep in mind that your bid is not necessarily the same as what you are paying. What you pay is the next highest bid after yours + $0.01, so even if you are bidding $5.00 on a word, you will be paying $0.10 or $0.11 a click if there is nobody else in that space. You won’t pay more unless someone else starts bidding on that keyword and bids les than you.

  16. JoLin says:

    You will pay for irrelevant ad campaigns!

    High relevancy and you can bid at fair market value. High response rates (CTR) and you can get higher ranking. But niche keyword terms + no competition… will not get you around these algorithms (you still need relevancy).

    Change your web site content to make it more relevant to your ads (Google is crawling the landing url and that is part of the relevancy Quality Score).

    Use Google’s keyword tool for site-specific terms see how it classifies your landing page.

  17. lukem says:

    In reply to John, two messages up:
    Even if there is no competition on your keyword, you will still be charged the minimum bid amount for that keyword.

    When Google made these Quality Score and Minimum Bid changes, our volume ended up dropping over 90%. We’re back up to 50% of our original volume, but are now paying $0.50/click on keywords with no competition that we used to pay $0.05.

  18. I have had the exact same experience with a campaign for a new product recently released. Good CTR and no competitive ads, but Google still deactivates my ads demanding more money. Boo to them.

    Google has forgotten it’s adwords roots. I started with them (years ago) because I could toss up some ads for just 5 cents on terms that nobody else cared about. Now it seems like they are driving off everyone who doesn’t come in with big pockets.

    I hope you push this with them John.

  19. Joe Agliozzo says:

    We have many, many clients that have experienced this “phenomena” as well and it stinks. We have also come to the same conclusion as the poster above, mainly that nobody at Google can explain why, when there are no other advertisers on the keyword, a minimum bid is required. One thing we have had success with is changing out the ad copy (and testing it on our test platform) to find copy that generates a higher response. Often in the past, this has also enabled “reactivation” of a keyword without agreeing to pay the minimum bid (although not always, which we are also at the present still mystified about).

  20. Mike Smock says:

    Hi John,

    We’ve been using AdWords off and on since the beginning. We too have been impacted by the house seeming to up the ante on obscure phrases/words. In our case from 20 cents a click to as much as $5 a click. We’ve also seen a dramatic decline in the quality of the clicks coming through. We will likely stop all search engine advertising. Too much noise now – not enough signal.

  21. Pawel Wujec says:

    I had an even stranger situation – where Google demanded the increase even though nobody had entered the keyword yet :)

    From my experiences, it seems that Google considers the overall success rate (CTR) of your ad group, and if the ad group performs badly, then single keywords are “punished”. One of the solutions was to divide an ad group into a number of smaller ones – and voila, all those keywords worked again at low bid rate.

  22. Dasher says:

    I had the same experience when I tried out adwords for the first time recently. It is quite bizarre to see the keywords with not much competition going inactive one after the other asking for huge PPC rates eventhough I was getting 1% CTR. I don’t know what this means for the future of Google’s main business. I am trying out Yahoo Search Marketing now. I think SEM space is wide open for a working solution to address customers like us.

  23. paul says:

    I had the same experience – bidding on the term ‘London Underground’ for my site which is a guide to the london undergroun system. I was told my 4.5% click thru rate was too low and my site wasn’t relevent to the search term! so I would now have to pay $0.75 a click instead of $0.15! I ditched the campaign – wonder how many others have dont that?

  24. Dasher says:

    One more thing on adwords. The tool that estimates the ad position and cliks can be way too optimistic in predicting the returns. If Yahoo, or MSN can make it better predictive then they can put a serious dent in Google’s search advertising business.

  25. berker says:

    I had the same problem with my german website. Some of my keywords were suddenly inactive.

  26. Nina says:

    I completelly agree with your comment, Pawel Wujec

  27. amit says:

    …so while making bid for keywords, we compete against other bidders or against Google?…

  28. Rick says:

    Someone probably already mentioned this (what a jerk, I didn’t read all of the comments)…

    Google has a quality score. So if your ad doesn’t make sense to the keywords (according to google) then they make you bid higher.

    It kinda sucks because you are bidding on legitimate terms, but it’s cool because for some keywords you don’t need to spend as much.

    Extreme example:If you bid on “Britney spears” for an FM ad, then it would make you pay more than someone who has a Britney spears website.

  29. Bob says:

    Wait it out, Google will lower its asking price. Or Add keywords in different match types like phrase and broad. Or try Adding a period after your keyword.

  30. anon says:

    I had $0.50 for a key word and for a few days I was getting an position of 5 or 6 and a CTR of 2% (which I read is a reasonable rate). Then suddenly my position changed to 20+. I doubt that everyone suddenly started biddign higher. I also doubt that so many of those sites are getting higer CTR rates, though possible. I raised it to $3 and still not able increase my position too much. This is rather bizarre to say the least.

  31. Kaka19538 says:

    I’ve just been staying at home waiting for something to happen, but I don’t care. Basically nothing seems worth thinking about. I can’t be bothered with anything recently.

  32. Brian Carter says:

    It’s important to remember that Google’s mission is to provide relevant results.

    The adwords sit on pages of search results that they’ve been trying for years to make more relevant despite black hat SEO peeps.

    So you were able to bid $0.05 for some time on 30,000 keywords and get exposure that way- so what? When Google realizes that there are a lot of irrelevant ads showing on their search result pages, they change it.

    It fits with their mission.

    And the reason it costs you so much more is because they’re encouraging relevancy and discouraging irrelevancy. So if your ads are irrelevant, then you should be discouraged!

  33. Kaka44774 says:

    I can’t be bothered with anything these days, but shrug. I just don’t have anything to say recently. I haven’t gotten much done recently. Nothing seems worth thinking about.

  34. aaron says:

    I had CTR’s of 10 to 25% and conversions to email around 20%. Google has decided to raise ALL my relevant keywords 5 to 10 times higher. I called them twice and could not get a straight answer. They said if I wanted to pay the higher bid to be active I could do that. This is after they said my landing page quality score is probably low. In an effort to give users the ultimate experience they’re weeding out sites they don’t think are relevant. But you can always pay more and become relevant to Google. You can have the top position on a page or no position at all.

    I give it about a week before every Adwords advertiser getting screwed by this company leaves and takes their business elsewhere. After several stellar quarters from the IPO I beleive this quarter could be Googles turning point. You can only be king of the mountain for so long before someone knocks you off, or in Google’s case, until they choke themselves.

  35. aaron says:

    I had CTR’s of 10 to 25% and conversions to email around 20%. Google has decided to raise ALL my relevant keywords 5 to 10 times higher. I called them twice and could not get a straight answer. They said if I wanted to pay the higher bid to be active I could do that. This is after they said my landing page quality score is probably low. In an effort to give users the ultimate experience they’re weeding out sites they don’t think are relevant. But you can always pay more and become relevant to Google. You can have the top position on a page or no position at all.

    I give it about a week before every Adwords advertiser getting screwed by this company leaves and takes their business elsewhere. After several stellar quarters from the IPO I beleive this quarter could be Googles turning point. You can only be king of the mountain for so long before someone knocks you off, or in Google’s case, until they choke themselves.

  36. Carl Sgro says:

    I have more than 3 dozen upset clients and daily inquires about the pain Quality Score and Inactive Keywords is causing.

    Google is feeding us fu fu dust for an explanation of Quality Score. They are making keywords inactive before you get a chance to use them. I have a client who has a website offering 69 million medical articles and we are being asked for $5 a pop before we can get started for bio-science terms that have NO ADVERTISERS.

    The solution is simple, spend less money with Google and watch how fast they change their Quality Score algorithym.

    Google’s short term thinking (meeting Street numbers) will make way for next seach engine to take market share. Can’t wait!!!!

  37. A Shah says:

    Hi,

    I am fustrated as you all are. I have had all my keywords inactive since the last 2 months and my business has has a bad impact. I dont know what to do. Please can anyone help me with a solution. Is moving to Yahoo worth it?? Please advise.

    Thanks

    A

  38. I’ve just been staying at home waiting for something to happen. Whatever. Not much on my mind lately. I guess it doesn’t bother me.

  39. I have noticed this happening with my keywords too. But thanks to the post and comments, now I understand what is ‘Quality Score’ in adwords. Anyway, I feel it is better to build a site on with a long term plan for free organic traffic.

  40. My mind is like a bunch of nothing, but I guess it doesn’t bother me. I haven’t been up to anything recently. I’ve pretty much been doing nothing to speak of.

  41. Not much on my mind. I don’t care. I’ve just been letting everything happen without me , but shrug. Whatever. I feel like a void.

  42. niti bhan says:

    what about when someone else uses your given name as *their* google adword. *and* if you add the www and the dot com it is also your website.

    is that fair?

  43. I haven’t gotten anything done recently. I’ve just been hanging out doing nothing. I haven’t been up to anything these days, but it’s not important. Today was a total loss.

  44. MIG says:

    Had the problem with Google Adwords by a customer to. We solved the problem this way.
    First:
    Started a new keywordanalysis to find new and good keywords
    Second
    Setup new campaigns for keywords with the same topic
    Third
    We expresses google ads with benefit for searching persons.

    The results have been:
    – Lower CPC
    – Higher CTR
    – More Conversions

    Think this is the best way…..

  45. dennis larson says:

    As of the Inactive Keywords Puzzle

    Thanks for your call. Again, I really apologize for the surprise you must
    have experienced when seeing your inactive keywords. I assure you that our
    engineers are working very hard to resolve this issue, and it should be
    resolved by the end of the day today. Your keywords should return back to
    normal, and until that time, we really appreciate your patience.
    This waht I got when I called in on fri the 16 th from google

  46. C Foss says:

    Ditto to above. Seeing the same thing with keyword prices. Seems to go up and down throughout the day. It’s almost as if Google is testing you to see if you’ll fall for the higher price. I’ve set a low max CPC and the keywords eventually come back down and re-activate. Setting the max CPC also helps avoid problems with your budget.