Anonymous AdWords placements

Update 2 (august 2018): Should you still want to see specific placements that are sending you “anonymous” traffic you’ll need to leave the Google Analytics interface and use Google’s Analytics API. Three easy ways are Google’s Data Studio, Google Analytics’ Query Explorer and Google Sheets with a Google Analytics add-on.

Update 1: as of June 2013, Google Analytics no longer “de-anonymizes ” URLs reported as anonymous by Google AdWords (see the comments below). It was fun while it lasted, though.

Having a look at a placement performance report a few days ago I was both surprised and annoyed to see that I got the most clicks and incurred the biggest costs for some famous AdSense publishers, by the names of and such.

Obviously, those placements only got me clicks and no conversions, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this.

AdWords anonymous URLs

 According to Google, “Some publishers choose to offer placements anonymously and not disclose their site names to advertisers.” ( Which, to me, reads “you may find yourself spending money without knowing where your ads appear”.

It’s like going out to dinner, asking for the bill and seeing, next to everything, from hors d’oeuvres to desserts, some items which requested to remain anonymous. In spite of representing a significant part of the bill. They just don’t like publicity, you know, so they chose to remain anonymous. In the background. Discrete. 🙂

Luckily, every AdWords account I run is linked to a Google Analytics account, and AdWords related data is in there as well. And – lo and behold – Google Analytics knows no such thing as anonymous placement URLs. Every URL that got me at least a click is there, undisguised. In the foreground, for all to see. Transparent.

Which means that I can see, per placement domain or URL:

  • bounce rate
  • pages / visit
  • visit duration
  • goal completion
  • revenue

That’s enough for me to be able to judge whether a certain placement is worth my money or not. And although I won’t be able to say who is, specifically, I will be able to say that I no longer want my ads to show on a certain website or section of it.

The image below represents filtered data; domains containing the string “anonymous”. As you can see, there are no such URLs in Google Analytics. All data is visible there.

So, in the future, if you see a lot of in your placement reports, and do not know what to exclude, leave the AdWords interface and move to the Google Analytics one. Once there, see what placements are not performing according to your targets and expectations and exclude them.

If you don’t have a linked Google Analytics account, get one and link it to your AdWords account. It’s free, and it’s the only way for you to access post-click data related to your AdWords visitors (data which is not in the AdWords interface).

Unfortunately, you won’t be able to exclude placements with only impressions and no clicks, because those placements only appear in the AdWords interface, not in the Google Analytics one (obviously, as you need the visitor to reach your website in order for Google Analytics to be able to record anything). And those placements, if your ads keep showing without getting clicks, may drag your quality score on the display network down. But you can at least stop wasting money for placements that only get you clicks and no other benefits.


An average lie. Three levels of average CTR.

House was right.

Everybody lies. Averages are no exceptions. Averages are icebergs. You see their tip, but have no idea what’s under the water.

Unless you dive deeper.

Pick a keyword. An average one. Nothing special. Look at its average CTR.

  • CTR: 5%
  • Quality Score: 7
  • Impressions: 4000
  • Clicks: 200

Nothing to call home about, right? So how is that keyword doing? Good, bad, average?

If you stay at this level, you’ll never know. So let’s deconstruct that keyword’s CTR.

How does a keyword get its CTR? Someone types a search term into Google’s search box. A keyword is triggered. If that keyword makes it into the auction (its Ad Rank is high enough), the system pulls an ad from that keyword’s ad group, and shows it. That’s an impression. For the keyword, the ad, and the search term.

Another search term is typed, and the same keyword gets triggered. If it makes it into the auction, the keyword gets another impression, just as the search term, and the ad.

So actually, a keyword’s CTR is, in fact, the sum of clicks of all search terms that triggered it, divided by the sum of their impressions.

Therefore that 5% CTR can in fact be composed of:

  •  120 clicks per 2000 impressions for S1 (search term 1), CTR 6%
  •  80 clicks per 2000 impressions for S2 (search term 2), CTR 4%

Again, 4% and 6% are not too far apart, they both look pretty much the same.

Let’s go one level deeper. Let’s say you have two ads in that ad group. How does a search term record an impression? All alone? Not really. An ad gets triggered by it. And if we put on a pair of our customers’ shoes, we realize that the decision to click an ad or to skip it is not related to the search term alone. It’s related to the search term / ad pair. If the ad answers the search query, if it is related to it, a click is recorded.

So those 6% and 4% CTR for search terms S1 and S2 can, in fact, be, the sum of clicks for the S1A1, S1A2, S2A1 and S2A2 search term / ads pairs, and their impressions.

They could be:

  •  110 clicks per 1000 impressions for S1A1, CTR 11%
  •  10 clicks per 1000 impressions for S1A2, CTR 1%
  •  10 clicks per 1000 impressions for S2A1, CTR 1%
  •  70 clicks per 1000 impressions for S2A2, CTR 7%
Just as they are in the picture below.

The average lie. Three levels of CTR.

Amazing, right? Average at keyword level, still average at search term level, completely apart at search term + ad level. What works for one search term in terms of ads does not work for the other, and vice versa. Please note that if the same CTRs would have been split differently, you would have seen the bad performance either at search term level, or in your ad report. But when one search term works well with one ad and bad with the other, and the other way around, you can only see it when you look at the pairs.

So should you start looking at all the search terms and all the ads, in all the ad groups through all your campaigns? No. That would be way too much. But for loose match keywords, more general keywords (if you have to use them), for keywords attracting many impressions and many different search terms, in ad groups where you have more than one ad, and where the ads you’re testing are quite different, it’s something worth looking at.

All you have to do is to look for those keywords, click on them, then choose “See search terms – Selected”. Press “download” and add the Ad Id as a segment. You’ll end up with a table which will contain search terms, Ad Ids, CTR and other metrics.

Sort by search term, and go through that table, and check for variations in CTR as the Ad Id changes for the same search term (or create a pivot table if you wish). Consider splitting that ad group into several ad groups, and make good use of negative keywords whenever you see that some search terms do great with some ads and bad with others.

Make sure you are the master of your search terms, and that you always pair them with the right ad.

We’ve now come to see that there are situations when even inside the same ad group, search terms can perform radically different, according to the ad they’re paired with. And that what matters is in fact exactly what the customer uses when making the decision whether to click or not: the search term, and the ad paired with it. Not the keyword, because that’s invisible to the customer, and all it does is attract one search term and another, not the ad (alone), and not the search term (alone). But the team. As always.


AdWords phone and verbal conversion tracking

Stop making excuses and start tracking your leads and conversions, even if they happen over the phone or through e-mails.

It’s pretty amazing how features which are available since long, long time ago are still neglected by both advertisers and their customers.

And how customers and advertisers keep throwing money out the window without the faintest idea about the profitability of their “investment”.

I’m not going to insert the famous Wanamaker “half the money …” quote here, because:

  • By now everybody knows it
  • It’s false (in many cases). It’s way more than half.

Here’s a quick way to track conversions which start on the website and end on the phone (or in e-mails).

Instead of hiding behind the “our leads/conversions are happening over the phone, and we cannot ask our customers which ad they clicked and what they searched for” poor excuse, talk to your webdeveloper, the person doing the advertising, and the one answering your phone / e-mail.

Here’s what each has to do:

  • the advertiser has to tag his campaigns (auto-tagging, specific tagging, it doesn’t matter)
  • the web developer has to detect an AdWords visit and
    • switch to the AdWords phone number (show that number for AdWords visitors)
    • switch to the AdWords contact e-mail (send contact e-mails to that address)
  • the person answering phones / e-mails has to log them, together with their source

Piece of cake, for any of them worth their salt. They’re not perfect, but you have an indication. You can tell if on one day you’re doing better or worse. And if you don’t have many campaigns, and you can use more extensions, you can track each campaign. You can even generate a code on the website and have the customer give it to you over the phone, or include it in the e-mail, and then you can track everything down to search term and ad level if you want to.

If you can’t do that, the you can talk to your customer. You, the advertiser, can call him, as often as you can afford, and ask him how things went since your last talk.

You can ask him how many phone calls he received, and how many orders / leads he got. You can ask him what kind of orders they were, and you can deduct which campaigns went well and which nose-dived. If you and your customer work as a team, you can do it.

Not long ago, I convinced a friend of mine, the very first person whose account I managed, to use a different phone number for AdWords calls. And he agreed. Shortly after that, I was walking with him not far from his office, when I heard a phone ringing. He smiled, reached into his pocket and told me “AdWords”. And he went “Yes, that’s us. Sure, how many would you like? Ok, this is the price, you can pick them up anytime”. That was a live conversion, for the campaign related to the product he was talking about.

He gave up carrying three phones (he already had two when we started using the AdWords phone) abouth a month later. By that time advertising costs were insignificant compared to his AdWords-related revenues. And it was him who made that conscious decision, I did not push him.

He now talks to his customers and asks them how they found out about him. And I talk to him, several times a week, sometimes daily. And he tells me what he sold, how many, what the approximate revenue is, how many customers were new and how many were return customers. In my turn, I tell him what his AdWords expenses are, which products spend more, which less, which cities are more active and which less. That’s verbal tracking. And it works. In any case, it works much better than no tracking at all. I learn about his business, he learns about what I do. And together we managed to turn a  secondary product into a main revenue source.

A few days ago he asked me, for the first time “can you see how many people have downloaded my price list?”. I smiled, but he could not see me. I was tracking downloads and hits on the contact page since I set that website up.

“Yes, I can. About X% of your visitors download your offer. That’s about Y a day. Most of them download it from product page A, then C, then B, and you also have some downloads from D and E.” They’re from city A, B, and C. “C, are you kidding me? Are people from C visiting my website and downloading my offer?”. “Yes they are”. “Amazing”.

Amazing, indeed. Yet so simple, so affordable and so effective.