Goodbye, AdWords Position Preference… We Hardly Knew Ye

This post originally appeared on the Search Engine Watch, where Fang Digital Marketing regularly contributes articles about leveraging search engine marketing.

Like many with active AdWords campaigns in their control, I awoke Thursday to news from Google HQ informing me that the Position Preference feature was being phased out of existence. My first response was, “is that feature even still there?”

You can no longer enable Position Preference for campaigns in either the AdWords web interface or the API. Plus, if you’re using it now and decide to switch it off just for a second, you won’t be able to switch it back.

If you’re on the fence about this feature, best not to play around with it at the moment. It’s going to get pulled in May anyway, so you might as well start getting used to the idea now.

Once Google pulls the plug on this one, through the magic of math and the power of averages, your bid will be decided for you. The bid will be based on what the Position Preference featured used most recently to hold your spot in the “auction rank,” but without that old automation in place, that bid could get stale pretty quick, so you better start examining the options with a quickness.

If you’re really set on keeping your position, you can use the relatively new automation features that Google introduced back in February. If you haven’t touched this feature set yet or are still fumbling around with it, check out Part 1 and Part 2 of Joseph Kerschbaum‘s “Automate Your AdWords Management with Automated Rules.”

However, you really may want to take a hard look in the mirror first and ask yourself why you’ve become such a slave to your position.

Position Slaves, the Lot of Ya

I was working for one of the major hotel chains when paid search first came on the scene. We took to it almost instantly, setting up campaigns for every location, creating a locally targeted campaign before any of the fancy-pants automated targeting was even available. We did it all with keywords… shortly after walking to work in the snow every day with no shoes, uphill, both ways (sorry, I just realized how old I sounded there).

Anyway, I knew from the start that my goal back then was to get heads in beds at a profit, so the position of the ad never meant as much as the ROI for the keyword.

Still, there were plenty of times when the company’s namesake, who still had an office in the building, would call me up to his cigar smoke filled den to read me the riot act when we weren’t at the top of the results for the word “hotels.” It didn’t matter that bidding high on that keyword made the campaign bleed profits like a stuck pig, “Dammit, man! We have a reputation in this business!”

I remember one of the tricks I used to use back then with companies and clients alike was to enter a meeting on PPC strategy holding a big goose that lit up when you plugged it in to the wall. The goose was actually a gift from a little company called GoTo, which was eventually renamed as Overture Services before being acquired by Yahoo and was, of course, a big distraction.

That was the point of me introducing it in the conversation. Within moments of me starting my speech, someone was bound to ask about the goose and that’s when I would start in on my rant about following the wrong metrics.

The goose as a metaphor for complex PPC strategy. Those were the days.

You’ve Come a Long Way… Maybe Not So Much

I run my own consulting business these days and we perform a lot of campaign audits for both SEO and PPC campaigns. The goose prop is long gone, but I still find myself having to lecture my clients on how not to become a slave to the wrong metrics, including position.

“But Jeff, we’ve had that spot for years… we know we’re profitable there!” they cry.

Sure, it may be profitable, but are you happy with just being profitable? How about being more profitable?

Or how about staying profitable and increasing revenue volume? What’s your real goal here, to see your name in the same spot when you do a check search or to make money?

If you’re going to check out the automation features in anticipation of losing your blessed preferred positioning feature, you might as well check out all the intricacies of that tool. Why not focus on the task at hand: conversions.

Assuming you have conversion tracking set up for your AdWords account either the old code way or via Google Analytics, you can actually set up a rule to change max CPC bids based on conversions (along with a whole host of other triggers).

  • Choose the keywords you want to automate, then click on the Automate drop down button that’s up near add keywords and edit, just under the graph.
  • Choose Change max. CPC bids when… to get to the automated rules setup screen. If you’ve ever set up a rule in Outlook to handle incoming mail, this shouldn’t be too much of a shock to the system.
  • Select which keywords you want to assign this rule (you can select them individually on the previous screen or do all but deleted terms), set the automatic action, such as raising or lowering the bid by a certain percentage or amount, then set your requirements. The requirements area is where the real money is for me because you can choose from KPIs like average CPC, clicks, conversion and conversion rate. So, say your conversions spike up nicely for you, which is a good thing, but your ROI for this term has always been a little shaky, so you want to set up a rule to pull back on the bids a bit when times are good so you can increase your ROI. Or, conversely, say conversions or conversion rate goes south for you, but your ROI is more than sound, set up a rule to goose the bids a bit so you can increase volume for a while.
  • Set frequency, which allows you to indicate when you want these fancy changes to kick in for your campaign. You can have Google check in on the changes daily, weekly, monthly, etc. and base the changes on data from the same day, the previous day, and all the way out to the last 30 days if you’re into the safer averages.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, this is some powerful technology that Google is throwing in to help you succeed. Before February, you used to have to pay a whole other company to make this kind of magic happen, so let’s see some gratitude, huh?

Back In My Day…

Hell, while you’re in there poking around in automation, you may want to poke all around AdWords and see what’s new. Sure, you may be in there all the time, but when’s the last time you really took a minute and played with all the new bells and whistles?

I was lucky enough to help set up a small AdWords campaign for a friend of mine last week, something I haven’t done from scratch in ages. Let me just sound like an old curmudgeon again: you don’t know how good you kids have got it these days.

Automation, bid simulators, automatically suggested keywords, first page bid warnings — these campaigns practically run themselves these days. Back in my day, we had to do keyword expansions in cuneiform on clay tablets…

Anyway, my point is, if you were still using the position preference feature in this day and age, maybe it was time for you to try something else anyway. When feature changes like this happen, it’s usually the kneed jerk reaction of people to shake their fists at the all mighty GOOG for messing with their mojo.

Before the first curse comes out of your mouth, you probably should ask yourself how long it’s been since you evaluated your current strategies in AdWords and then go log some time in the interface today… you bunch of rapscallions.

Jeff Ferguson is CEO of Fang Digital Marketing, a strategic consulting firm specializing in Internet marketing, and board member of the Los Angeles chapter of SEMPO, the Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization.

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