Nielsen’s TV Moves and Google’s Quality Score

What do Google’s Quality Score and Nielsen’s move to measure TV commercial ratings have in common? Relevance. The new buzzword in marketing is engagement, and consumers don’t get engaged in advertising if the advertising isn’t relevant. Google may have become the catalyst for a major marketing evolution, perhaps even a revolution. I’ll cover why in this column.

First, let’s look at Google’s latest revelations.

Landing Pages and Quality Score

There was quite a bit of buzz in SEM (define) circles this week when Google reaffirmed that landing pages are a factor in determining the all-important Quality Score. Your Quality Score is multiplied by your bid to determine AdRank. AdRank, in turn, determines your position. Therefore, anything you do to lower your Quality Score or anything you don’t do that could have raised it directly affects your campaign’s success or failure.

Academicians refer to the fit between a search query and a landing page as a “continuation of scent.” From the moment of the query, the searcher’s scanning for his exact phrase and segments of the phrase both in the SERP (define) in the organic listings and ads, and on the landing page. A searcher’s failure to find what he’s looking for is therefore considered a failure in the system.

The blogosphere seems to believe strengthening landing page criteria in Google’s Quality Score calculation (landing page criteria were originally implemented in December 2005) is targeted primarily at click arbitrage players. Click arbitrageurs bid very low and appear in the right rail at Google for millions of keywords, then send visitors to landing pages that include either Yahoo or Google listings (usually Yahoo, as these outbound clicks can be tracked more easily to determine sources of click activity).

How can this work? The arbitrageurs know the difference in CPC (define) between top and bottom listings is very high on many keywords (by a factor of perhaps 20 or 40). The top position may bill out to an advertiser at $2 CPC, for example, and the bottom ad might be $0.05. The click arbitrageur uses analytics to determine which keywords have a sufficient CTR (define) on his landing pages to justify paying a low CPC on Google.

Knowing a change in landing page criteria is coming, more sophisticated landing page arbitrageurs find ways to make their pages look very targeted indeed. I won’t go into details because I don’t want to provide ammunition, but we shall see arbitrageurs continue to inhabit the lower ranks of PPC.

However, Google’s quest to include landing-page scent exposes many marketers to significant risks, because marketers often build high-converting landing pages and microsites specifically for PPC (define) search and other media buys. These sites and pages are generally built with no regard to SEO (define). If they rely on graphics or an embedded Flash movie to provide a strong scent, Google may mistakenly believe the page to be is less relevant. Marketers with these high-converting landing pages may lose all their advantage if their Quality Scores drop.

If you’re affected by this unfortunate situation, in which you’re relevant but a Google spider won’t think you are, a bit of retrofitting on your microsite or PPC landing pages may be required.

Enter Commercial Ratings

Believe it or not, Google’s interest in whether searchers like landing pages relates to the wonderful world of TV advertising, where measurability has long been a buzzword but supporting data scarce. This week, Nielsen Media Research announced that starting in November, its clients will be able to see how many people watch commercials on a show-by-show basis. Though measuring viewer receptivity by show is a step in the right direction, it misses the mark of being a truly powerful closed-loop system. The theme is clear, however: technology enables measurement at a much more granular level than ever, and that measurement data result in more relevant advertising. If Nielsen wants to take the commercial measurement product to the next level, it would provide a true feedback loop, thus eliminating the problem with the current system.

I’d hypothesize the likelihood a commercial block is viewed is directly tied to the relevance and entertainment value of the first spot in that block. Smart TV networks, given the flexibility, would be wise to use their own research to determine which commercials slated to run during a break are the most relevant, compelling, and engaging. Their medium’s effectiveness is, to a great extent, being judged based on something they have little control over: commercial content. Of course, the networks could lead with the cross-promotional spots that are likely of greatest interest to viewers, and they could make those spots very titillating. After all, a shift of a couple points in the measured average of total commercial time viewed results means millions of dollars.

Across the media landscape, relevance and measurability are combining to form a system in which all players agree the ecosystem’s survival relies on everyone getting their respective needs met. I like where this is heading.

Meet Kevin at Search Engine Strategies in San Jose, August 7-10, 2006, at the San Jose McEnery Convention Center.

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