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    Squeezing the best out of Google’s AdWords for small-business owners

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2009 First published in Business in Vancouver December 15 - 21, 2009 and issue #1051

    High Tech Office column

    In recent columns, I wondered whether my website (and yours) was being as effective as it could be. I started using the free Google Analytics to find out how many visitors my site was receiving, how they were getting there and more.

    I was surprised that only a fraction of visitors were being referred by search engines; apparently, far more were referred by other web pages. Another free tool, Yahoo’s Site Explorer (siteexplorer.search.yahoo.com), provided an explanation. Adding a single file to my site allowed Site Explorer to index the 1,700 or so pages there and to report on nearly 1,500 links to them. My most-linked page had traffic directed to it by links on 273 other sites.

    However, when I took the time to add the Google Analytics code to all of my web pages, a new picture appeared. Suddenly, reported traffic jumped almost tenfold, to more than 500 visitors per day, with about three-quarters of them coming via search engines. I was especially interested in getting visitors to one of my sites, squeezeboxcircle.org, which publicizes and provides resources for a monthly get-together for local accordion players and offers event listings, band listings and more for local squeezebox players. Type “Vancouver accordion” into Google, though, and the site doesn’t show up until the third page of hits, not a very useful way to get traffic. Five to 10 people a day were finding their way there.

    Type “search engine optimization” into Google and you’ll find lots of suggestions, many for services promising to improve your website’s ranking, but the cost-benefit ratio didn’t make sense to me; improving my site’s ranking by 10%, as one service promised, would only bring it from No. 35 to No. 32 – still on page three of the hits, below most searchers’ radar.

    Google has another service, however. AdWords allows businesses of any size to “bid” on search phrases. When someone types in a phrase you’ve bid on, your three-line text ad may appear beside or above the search listings. It’s a nice service for small businesses: you’re only charged if someone clicks on your ad. You can set a maximum budget per day and pay in small amounts, letting you test the service’s effectiveness.

    Squeezeboxcircle.org is not a business, but I was prepared to pay a small amount to see whether it could increase the website’s traffic and effectiveness. I created an account, transferred $20 to Google (including $10 for initial startup charges) and set a budget of $3 per day. I bid on search words such as “Vancouver” and “accordion.”

    Wrong!

    Entering “Vancouver accordion” into Google, I was rarely seeing the ad, and wasn’t seeing any increased traffic on the site. I met with Jeff Pelletier, of Vancouver’s BaseTwo Media, whose digital video-production company attributed three-quarters of new customers to its AdWords campaign.

    He suggested I’d be better off bidding on phrases rather than individual words: I didn’t want my ad to show up for any search with the word “Vancouver” in it or for any search with the word “accordion,” while bidding on “Vancouver accordion” might be more useful. He showed me how to advertise only if the searcher was close to Vancouver or in one of the municipalities of the Greater Vancouver Regional District. (Yes, Google knows all that about you when you click Search.)

    He suggested organizing multiple campaigns, separating different key phrases and separating ads that appear on search results from ads that appear on other websites that get paid, through Google’s AdSense program, to run these ads. He suggested I’m more likely to want searchers, so I should be prepared to pay more for those ads and have them appear more frequently.

    The result: daily traffic on squeezeboxcircle.org tripled, and the number of accordion players attending the November session was 50% higher than the previous month. • Favicon

Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan
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