March 30, 2017
GOMCHA European Winners 2016
In the past couple of weeks, a few people have approached me asking for tips on how to do well in the Google Online Marketing Challenge. So, I thought I might as well gather some of my experiences in a blog post, and share them with everybody.
A little bit of background: I’ve been the professor of two winning teams (GOMC Europe 2013 & GOMC Europe 2016). Although the most credit is obviously due to the students that do all the hard work (the students at Turku School of Economics simply rock!), guidance does play an important role since most commonly the students have no prior experience in SEM/PPC, and need to be taught quickly where to focus on.
The target audience for this post is anyone participating in the challenge. For the teachers, I have one important advice:
Learn the system if you’re teaching it. There’s no substitute for real experience. The students are likely to have a million questions, and you need to give better answers than “google it.” Personally, I was fortunate enough to have done SEM for many years before starting to teach it. Without that experience, it would have been impossible to guide the teams do well. However, if you don’t have the same advantage, but you want your students to do well, turn to the industry. Many SEM companies out there are interested in mentoring/sparring the students, because that way they can also spot talented individuals for future hiring (win-win, right?).
That said, here are my TOP3 “critical success factors” for winning the challenge:
That’s it! Follow these principles and you will do well. Now, that being said, behind each of them is a whole layer of complexity 🙂 Let’s explore each point.
First, one of the earliest questions students are going to ask is how to choose the company/organization they’re doing the campaign for. And that’s also one of the most important ones. How I do it: I let each team choose and find their own case; however, I tell them what is a good case and what is not. I wrote a separate post about choosing a good AdWords case. Read the post, and internalize the information.
Update: one more point to the linked post – choose one that preferably has some brand searches already. This helps you get higher overall CTR, and lower the overall CPC.
The choice of a good case is crucial, because you can be the best optimizer in the world, but if you have a bad case, you will fail. An example was a team that chose a coffee company — it was not a good case to choose because it had low product range and relatively few searches. For some reason, the team, which consisted of several students with *real experience* in AdWords, wanted to choose it. Not surprisingly, they struggled due to the above reasons and were easily overshadowed by other teams with no experience but a good case. Therefore, the formula here is: success = case * skills.
By the way, that is one of the most important lessons for any marketing student in general: Always choose your case wisely, and never market something whose potential you don’t believe in.
Another common question relates to the metrics: What should we optimize for? While there are many important metrics, including CTR and CPC, I would say one is above the others. That is clearly the Quality Score, which seems to be very influential in Google’s ranking algorithm for the competition.
Note that I don’t have any insider information on this, but I’m saying *seems* because of this reason: In 2015, I instructed the teams to focus on a wide range of metrics, including CTR, CPC, and QS. What came out where several great teams that, in my opinion, had better overall metrics than many of the finalists that year (none of my teams were finalists). Last year, however, I switched the strategy and instructed the teams to heavily focus on Quality Score, even at the cost of other metrics. For example, to the team that ended up winning in 2016, I said “your goal is 10 x 10”, meaning they should get 10 keywords with QS 10. They ended up getting 12, and the rest is history 🙂
In my view, it’s because all optimization efforts basically culminate to that metric. To maximize your QS, you essentially need to do all the right things in terms of optimization, including account structure, ad creation, and landing pages. To get these things nailed, refer to this post. And google for more tips: blogs such as PPC Hero, Wordstream, and Certified Knowledge have plenty of subject matter to learn from. I also have complied an extensive list of digital marketing blogs that you can utilize.
However, do note that all third-party information is to some degree unreliable. Use it with caution, combined with your first-hand experiments (i.e., do what you see working the best in the light of numbers). The most reliable source of information is of course Google, because they know the system from the inside, any of the experts (including myself) don’t. So, use Google’s AdWords help as your main reference.
The last step, since many teams can score high on metrics, is to show real-life impact. This is pretty much the only way to differentiate when all finalist teams are good. The thing you can do here is, first of all, to meticulously follow Google’s guidelines for the reports to highlight your greatness. As a member of the academic panel, I know some cases have been failed due to not following the technical guidelines, so make sure your output is in line with them. However, that is not the main point; the main point is to show how you brought real results to your case organization. Although not part of the official ranking, if you look at the past winners, most of them have gained a lot of conversions. By knowing that, you can do the math. The reports of the winners from earlier years can be found at the challenge website.
Finally, some practical tips (the list is in no particular order, and not comprehensive at all):
Finally, read Google’s materials, including the challenge website. Follow their advice meticulously, and read read read about search-engine advertising from digital marketing blogs and Google’s website.
Good luck!! 🙂
CAVEAT: I’m a member at the Google Online Marketing Challenge’s academic panel. These are my personal opinions and don’t necessarily represent the official panel views. The current judging criteria for the competition can be found at: https://www.google.com/onlinechallenge/discover/judging.html
UPDATE (May, 2017): Together with Elina Ojala (next to me in the picture above), we had a Skype call with students of Lappeenranta University of Technology (LUT). Elina pointed out some critical things: it’s important 1) to be motivated, 2) have a really good team without free riding, 3) share tasks efficiently (e.g., analytics, copywriting; based on individual interests), and 3) go through extra effort (e.g., changing the landing pages, using GA). I added that for teachers it’s important to motivate the students: aim HIGH !! And to stress there is zero chance of winning if the team doesn’t work every day (=linear relationship between hours worked and performance).
March 29, 2017
Update [24th March, 2017]: In addition to the formula explained in the post, I would add the following general criteria for a good AdWords case: 1) Low-Medium competition (high CPCs force to look for alternative channels), 2) Good website/landing pages (i.e., load fast, easy to navigate, have text information relevant to the keywords.
Google AdWords is a form of on-demand marketing which matches demand (keywords) with supply (ads). Because it provides good relevance between demand and supply, it efficiently fulfills the core purpose of marketing which is, again, to match supply and demand. However, while this property of AdWords makes it generally much more effective than other forms of online marketing, it also leads to a major limitation: the campaigns cannot scale beyond natural search volumes.
I often tell this to my students participating in the Google Online Marketing Challenge (GOMC), but a few of them always fall into the “trap of low search volume”. I will explain this in the following.
First, the relevant dimensions for assessing the potential in AdWords are:
These can vary from low to high so that
Low geographic range x Low product range = Trap of low search volume
Low geographic range x High product range = Potential risk of low search volume
High geographic range x Low product range = Potential risk of low search volume
High geographic range x High product range = High search volume (Best case for AdWords)
In other words, this formula favors companies with nationwide distribution and large product range. These campaigns tend to scale the best and offer the best ratio between cost and value of optimization. In contrast, local business with one or two products or services are the least feasible candidates.
Well, first of all it means the spend will be low. In GOMC, this means some teams struggle to spend the required $250 during the three-week campaign window.
Second, and more importantly, it means these cases are less interesting for marketers. They offer little room for optimization (because spend is low and there is very little data to work with).
Also for this reason the management cost of running these campaigns (=the amount a marketer can charge for his/her services) can become unbalanced: for example, if the yearly spend of a low-volume campaign is, say $400 and the marketers charges $100 per hour for his/her work, there is no point for client to pay for many working hours, as their cost quickly exceeds that of the media budget.
As a marketer, you always want to select the best case to amplify with your skills. You can think of it through two dimensions:
By multiplying them, we get the following.
Bad marketing x Bad product = Bad results
Bad marketing x Good product = Okay results
Good marketing x Bad product = Bad results
Good marketing x Good product = Good results
The same in numbers:
0 x 0 = 0
0 x 1 = 0
1 x 0 = 0
1 x 1 = 1
In other words, it makes sense to choose a case which is good for you as a marketer. A good case will work decently with bad marketing, but not vice versa. And only coupled with good marketing will the maximum potential of a good product be achieved.
March 29, 2017
I teach this very simple formula to my students when they are required to write a pre-campaign report for the Google Online Marketing Challenge (GOMC).
You want to report metrics in a table like this:
budget ctr cpc clicks impressions
250 0,05 0,2 1250 25000
(The numbers are examples.)
To calculate estimates for a campaign plan, you only need to know three figures:
In the case of GOMC, the budget is set to $250. In other marketing cases, it is based on your marketing plan.
Goal CTR is what you want to accomplish with your ads. I usually say a CTR of 5% is a good target. Based on bidding strategy and competition, however, it can range between 3 and 10%. Less than 3% is not desirable, as it indicates poor relevance between keywords and ads.
Goal CPC is what you want to pay for clicks. Ideally, you want the CTR to be as high as possible and CPC as low as possible to maximize traffic (website visitors). The actual figure will be based on competition as well as your quality score (to which CTR contributes, among other factors of relevance).
Quality score can be enabled by customizing columns in keyword view; the bid estimates for your keywords can be retrieved via Keyword planner, as well as by looking at bid estimates (first-page and top-of-page) in the keyword view. In Finland, I usually say €0.2 is a good target for average CPC. In other markets, the CPC tends to be higher.
Out of the previous figures, you can calculate other metrics:
The calculation assumes full usage of budget, which is not always possible when organic search volumes limit the growth (this is just a general limitation of search advertising).