Time, Competition, Adwords and Market Dynamics

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The gap between where you are and where you should be

3am is not the busiest time of day for search. Nor is it the best for conversions. For organic traffic, this does not matter. Ranks do not change depending on the time of day or week in the search results. The same is not true for paid search.

Search activity and volume change over time, and most of the time, in predictable ways. There are patterns that repeat from day to day, from week to week and from year to year. These changes over time can be important for managing organic search engine marketing. Understanding how demand and interest change and when is important for planning site development and content.

Typically the cycles in demand that are important to search engine optimisation (SEO) are longer than those that matter in paid search (though updates like Caffeine have shortened these). Generating visibility for specific changes in search within the organic results is not as straightforward as a media buy.

Timing and effectiveness are limited by how appropriate the content is for the targeted queries, how successful promotional and linking activity was and how the search engines crawl and rank the content. Paid search does not have the same limitations.

Visibility, Productivity and Competitive Bidding

AdWords Ad Schedule feature

Paid search and display advertising platforms such as AdWords let advertisers manage their campaigns by hour of day and day of the week. How an optimised campaign will use these tools will depend on industry trends, how and when their target market uses search and their own objectives. Unfortunately there is usually more than one advertiser doing this.

Choosing when to push for more traffic and impression share on AdWords and other realtime bidding-based platforms is important. Cost per acquisition (CPA), click through rate (CTR) and conversion rate (CVR) are all good indicators for what is performing and what isn’t.

Another factor to take into consideration is competition. If a day or time works for you, it is likely that it would work just as well for your competitors, and be just as desirable to them as a result. Consequently, when a particular time or day stops performing as well as expected, it could be due to increased competetion rather than just the market. AdWords provides a number of metrics that make it possible to analyse for competitive pressure:

  • Search impression share
  • Average position
  • Average cost per click (CPC)
  • CTR

Search impression share is the most straightforward of these: it does what it says. The information is available down to ad group level, and assuming these are tightly themed, it will give a good indication of what kind of share of voice you have within those query groups.

The other metrics do not directly measure competition, but they can show its effects. Average position is not a reliable metric. It represents an average of all the positions the ads have appeared in for the period, but gives no indication of spread. However, it can indicate large general movement. Changes in CPC and CTR are more reliable indications of competitive activity. Changes in CPC can signal changes in bidding and CTR can also indicate changes in position. Together these two metrics can indicate changes in competitor activity, barring other confounding factors.

The Why of Benchmarking

Monitoring changes within the account can only provide insights when compared to something. Benchmarking makes the difference between identifying a shift in the market and noise. Choosing what to benchmark campaign changes against will depend on what other information is available. Other campaigns that experience the same user behaviour and market similar products are one possibility; organic search traffic for the same kinds of terms is another covering a similar time period.

While there are a few ways to approach analysing and processing this information to create actionable insights, setting some kind of a benchmark matters. Because of AdWords’ nature, many of the changes in cost and behaviour are as likely to be caused by your competition as by changes made to the campaigns and changes in actual user behaviour. Consequently, it is important to be able to differentiate between each.

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