<< by on September 2nd, 2009
Thanks to Google, the James Madison University Marketing Department, and the many professors dedicated to going the extra mile to see students succeed after college, I was introduced into the world of online marketing last spring through a Google program aimed at educating college students about PPC advertising.
One such dedicated professor, Dr. Flaherty, acted as a mentor and liaison between Google and James Madison University. Dr. Flaherty took time out of her schedule to offer students the opportunity to participate in Google’s Online Marketing Challenge.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the program, the Challenge works like this:
- Students divide into groups of 3-6, and then receive free online advertising vouchers for Google AdWords worth US$200.
- The groups recruit a small-to-medium local business, under 100 employees, that has a website but doesn’t currently use AdWords.
- Each group works with its business to set up an AdWords account and structure an effective online marketing campaign.
- During a 3-week competition window, the groups optimize and refine their campaigns. They must submit two competition reports – one before they begin and one after the campaign ends.
- Google and a panel of independent academics from all over the world select the winning teams based on the success of their campaign and the quality of their competition reports.
Judging for the competition:
According to the 2009 Results page for the Google Online Marketing Challenge, the first round of judging “used a proprietary algorithm that examined over 30 different variables within an AdWords account to determine the top 50 teams in each of our three regions (The Americas, EMEA and APAC).” These variables included impressions, clicks, click-through rate, cost per click, average position, quality score of ads, account structure, budget allocation, etc. (only pertaining to text based ads)
In the second phase of judging, “expert Googlers then individually reviewed the top 150 accounts to determine the top 5 in each of the three global regions. The Global Academic Panel then selected winners from these 15 teams based solely on the quality of a team’s written analysis reports.”
I was grateful to have had the opportunity to participate in such a learning experience. In fact, it was because of my participation in the Google Challenge that I became interested in SEM and ended up here at Search Mojo. But it was here on the job during my initial training (studying for the Google AdWords Professionals exam and assisting with daily PPC and SEO activities) that I realized a key component to online marketing had been seemingly missing from the Google Challenge: conversion tracking.
While the Google Online Marketing Challenge does a great job of teaching the many ways you can utilize AdWords text ads for certain online marketing objectives, they do not place an emphasis on what I consider their most valuable tool for businesses within AdWords- conversion tracking. While teams may opt into using conversion tracking, it is not a requirement. Nor is it a part of the proprietary algorithm judging.
In Google’s defense, conversion metrics are probably not required for a couple obvious reasons:
· They are more complicated and difficult to set up for a first time user
· Implementation requires cooperation from the site owner/access to business website
On the other hand, the Google Online Marketing Challenge student guide states:
“…a key goal in the competition is to work towards a suitable campaign for your business. For your best chance in the Challenge, you should work towards what suits your business and not towards an algorithm.“
If every business participating in the competition has an overall strategy of solely driving traffic and branding, then the metric of focus becomes the click. However, in the real world of PPC advertising, the end goal is often some sort of on-site conversion action.
In my opinion, emphasizing conversion tracking in the Google Challenge would produce more graduating students prepared to manage PPC accounts with businesses owners in mind. Instead, the program as it stands now, seems to produce graduates who are trained to manage a PPC account with more of a focus on clicks and what generates the most revenue for Google.