Why Some Get Shafted by Google Pricing

First-Timers Pay More, Making Search Costly for Movie Marketers

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- How much does Angelina Jolie cost? It depends on your history with her.

And that's why for some movie marketers, who traditionally have promoted film releases by sending out the lead actors and actresses to appear on the late-night talk circuit, tabloid TV shows and the covers of fashion magazines, using search marketing doesn't always make economic sense.
Wanted: The Google search term 'Angelina Jolie.' But if you've never bought it before, it's gonna cost ya.
Wanted: The Google search term 'Angelina Jolie.' But if you've never bought it before, it's gonna cost ya.

Consider the cost of bidding on the most popular actress of this summer's film season. If you're a first-time bidder on the term "Angelina Jolie," it can run up to $5 per click -- a little steep to justify for a marketer hawking a $10 movie ticket.

Why the high cost? A Google search ad is a factor of both the price a marketer is willing to pay for a keyword and the quality of the ad, which is determined in large part by how often users click on the ad over time and how relevant the copy is to the website to which it links. The higher the quality score, according to Google, the lower the minimum bid required for a particular ad placement.

Quality is a sort of currency, said Eric Druckenmiller, VP-media at Deep Focus, who put it this way: "Marketers that buy keywords and build that currency over time have theoretically 'earned' a discount on [cost per click] because of the relevancy they are bringing to the table." (Cynics say the philosophy locks in long-term commitments, which guarantee spending over time and helps Google better project revenue.)

Pleasing everyone
The problem for short-term campaigns like those from a studio or a seasonal marketer is that history determines quality and they are often working without it. And while the minimum bid issue affects a select group of seasonal marketers, it points to the bigger question of how Google's search-ad sales model doesn't always jibe with what advertisers want -- and whether Google's engineering and algorithm culture can, or should, adapt to the nuances required by certain types of advertiser.

"Google has a number of well-documented culture clashes internally," said Jordan Rohan, founder of consulting firm Clearmeadow Partners. "The clearest one is between engineers and Ph.D.s and the MBA's." He notes that part of Google's reason for being is related to profits and the other part is related to making information accessible.

Google, however, said it's not a matter of its culture being able to adjust to the nuances of advertising, but that advertisers must adjust to its philosophy that the user comes first.

"The whole algorithm is designed to replicate the voice of the user," said a Google spokeswoman. And when an advertiser has no history of bidding on a particular phrase, other factors are used, including the relevance of the keyword to the ads in its ad group, the quality of a landing page, account history and historical click-through rate of the display URLs, plus other relevant factors that Google will not disclose. It may be a user-centric system, but it's not always transparent to advertisers.

"Google started out [with the idea advertisers were] innocent until proven guilty and assumed you were relevant and gave you the benefit of going in with low bids," said Kevin Lee, chairman of Did-It Search Marketing. "Then they decided that wasn't good because people were slipping in under the radar and it was a bad user experience." Now, he said, it's somewhere in the middle.

Google has long said it would rather not show an ad and lose money than monetize every search at the expense of the user. And just because a user searches for a movie star's name doesn't mean that he or she is interested in a commercial search. And there are cases where bidding on simply a talent's name without any other terms is unwise. Consider Jack Black, who's starred in two recent films: "Kung Fu Panda" and "Tropic Thunder" -- movies that appeal to vastly different audiences.

Amy Powell, senior VP-interactive marketing at Paramount, said that every campaign is different but that today's marketers have to continually be optimizing and making sure the keywords they're managing are both economical for the studio and relevant to searchers.

"The key to marketing now and in the future is to remain laser-focused on relevance and resonance," she said.
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