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Changes to Google’s and Microsoft’s Ad Interfaces

This article originally ran on ClickZ.com on May 22, 2009. While the future developments it covers have now occurred, it still has value for those interested in improvements and refinements recently made to the search engines’ PPC advertising consoles.

In the wonderful world of software (including Web-based software), it’s sometimes difficult to know if one solution is inherently better or if it just seems better due to familiarity and constant use. Such is the case with search engine advertising management consoles.

Many advertising and marketing staffers have voiced a preference for Google’s AdWords interface in the past — so much so that, for better or worse, the other engines have adopted similar interfaces. Reality is, all the Web-based management consoles have gotten where they are through a controlled evolution, not because a full feature set was evaluated and a user experience created to optimally address the needs of different people using the consoles. Like the sub-optimal but ubiquitous QWERTY keyboard, inertia has held back change for the interfaces many marketers use every day.

However, Google recently re-engineered its AdWords interface, making some fairly significant changes and making adoption mandatory over the next months. The change just goes to show how confident Google is that advertisers won’t abandon the platform, even if there will be some challenges for users adapting to the new interface.

After all, few search marketers can survive on Yahoo, Microsoft, and second-tier engines alone. So, join everyone else, suck it up, and start using the new Google AdWords interface now, because, just like an old version of Microsoft Word, the time will come when you won’t even remember why you liked the old version.

With graphs embedded on pages where only tabular data existed before, Google’s new AdWords interface is looking more similar to the Google Analytics interface. In my informal tests, the new interface seems to render more slowly in Internet Explorer and Firefox, both when graphs were included and when they were not. This can be exasperating if you aren’t interested in the data visualization elements but have a task to do.

The new Google interface includes other major changes that take some getting used to.

First, the primary navigation tabs have been updated. You may find it easier to get to some things and more challenging to get to others.

For example, the Reports and Analytics tabs have been combined into a “Reporting” tab, along with Website Optimizer (which isn’t really a reporting tool to me, but hey, Google had to decide where to put it and the only other option was “Tools.”) Ironically, if you select that option, your navigation changes back to classic (perhaps only if you’ve never turned on Website Optimizer). This is clearly still a work in progress.

On the positive side, the new navigational changes make it possible to drill into keywords at the campaign level (not just at the AdGroup level). Plus, instead of the breadcrumb navigation at the top, there’s a nice left rail sidebar allowing for easy jumping between campaigns and into specific AdGroups. This should be a time-saver, but the slow load offsets the utility of this feature, particularly on slower Internet connections. (I tested it on a slower connection and found a further reduction in speed).

The required graphs can be customized to include two simultaneous metrics. For example, you can select and compare clicks, impressions, CTR, average CPC, cost, and average position. Because you’re stuck with a graph, you might as well customize it to your preference.

At the campaign and AdGroup level, a Settings tab makes it easier to get at these settings. However, the campaign-level roll-ups feature is my favorite, because, while it’s often best to have a lot of highly tuned AdGroups to keep Quality Score high (the idea is to tune the creative to the keywords), having to drill into every AdGroup separately was a real annoyance.

This is solved with roll-ups. According to Google’s documentation of this feature: “Clicking the Keywords, Networks, or Ads tabs will display all the keywords, placements, or ads at the level you’ve selected. This makes it easy to sort or filter by key metrics across ad groups and focus on specific high- or low-performing items.”

Microsoft has also been changing its adCenter interface over time, and such changes often coincide with the addition of new feature sets. The recently released “Microsoft adCenter Spring 2009 Upgrade” comprises a combination of changes driven by new features and better organization of existing functionality.

According to Microsoft: “You can now take advantage of the newest adCenter features and enjoy more control over targeting, bidding, and ad distribution, and other elements of campaign management.” Many of the new changes in Microsoft’s adCenter are designed to make it easier for those marketers who prefer to experiment with content-driven media to add and better control contextually-targeted media.

Taking the time to learn all the new interfaces isn’t just a good idea; it’s mandatory. Set aside some time, take your least important campaign, and use it as an experiment for testing some of the new features.