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The era of being able to accurately track your online marketing efforts is over. Or more accurately: the era of thinking you could accurately track your online marketing is over.

Only a few years ago, we thought we could track almost every single keyword that was used to find our websites. The reality was that we could track the keywords that were used to click on our websites in the search engine results. If we’d have left it at that, the difference would have been minor, but we didn’t.

Once we could track our keywords, we then wanted to link them to conversions. We wanted to know which keywords resulted in the greatest number of enquiries, signups and sales, and why not? The information was there. Except it wasn’t.

A few years ago we worked with a company who were spending a great deal of money on their AdWords ads. Initially they were confident that the ads were sending targeted visitors to their website, but with time they became accustomed to the smörgåsbord of data that was there for the taking, and started trying to track their ROI more accurately.Precious

After months of implementing an impressive series of steps to track their conversions to previously unheard of levels, they saw their worst fears confirmed. Their AdWords account wasn’t anywhere near as profitable as they’d thought. In order to confirm this they decided to freeze their AdWords account for a seven day experiment to see what impact this had on their sales.

If I remember correctly it was just over 24 hours later that they turned their AdWords ads back on, as the immediate and dramatically negative impact on their sales was all the proof that they needed. Their brief but costly experiment had taught them that conversion data is not to be relied on.

This particular company was fortunate in that they not only had high volumes of fast-converting data to reach this conclusion quickly, but also had the foresight to test their theory before fully committing to it.

I won’t bore you with the variety of different reasons that there may be disconnects in your conversion tracking, but I will ask that you at least consider the idea that your tracking may be dangerously misleading.

Let’s take a step back. If I were to build bird houses and sell them in local markets and craft fairs, I would be able to precisely track my ROI, based on the costs of my time and raw materials, the costs of my selling at each event and the sales from each.

The same rules, however, do not apply online – at least not for most businesses. And this goes far beyond the issue of which attribution model you choose to work with. You simply cannot track all your sources, and more importantly you have no idea how representative this data may be.

When a person fills out one of the forms on the SoftwarePromotions website, we can see where that person came from as a referral source.

In days gone by we used to also ask people where they heard about us, and the disconnect between what people said and where they actually came from was enormous.

So even when you can track, you can’t necessarily rely on the data produced.

We also recently started working with a company that I first met at a conference many years ago. When they filled out the form on our website I could see that they “found us” through Google. This was in fact true, but also quite incorrect.

I can only imagine how many businesses close their AdWords accounts in error because of incorrectly calculating a poor ROI.

I assume that this is significantly less than the number of businesses who spend far too much on their accounts but never realise.

The house, in this case Google, always wins. And they don’t even need to rely on statistical probability – they can weight the system as they see fit.

Conversion tracking is an extremely useful indicator. Using it as anything more can be deadly.


When it comes to AdWords, what works for some may not work for others.

One account’s goals may be different from another. I might want to show my ads to a large number of people, while you might only want to show your ads to those who are at a specific point in the purchase process.

We each have different agendas and how each of our accounts perform will be fundamentally different. We will also gauge success differently.

Begin by taking a step back.

Ask yourself, what do you hope to achieve by using AdWords, and how realistic are those goals?Goals Concept

AdWords provides you with the ability to precisely target your prospective customers as well as the analytics to back it up. The problem is that most people don’t know how to correctly interpret the analytics.

You should know that conversion tracking as well as Google Analytics are integral to understanding how your account has been performing. Clicks, impressions, CTR, cost and average position will only tell you one side of the story.

You want to understand what happened after the ad click.

What most people don’t realise is that conversion tracking is not accurate. You’re able to track some data but you won’t be able to tell how accurate it was. You won’t know if it was 10%, 90% or 100% of the actual conversions.

If you concluded that success is down to ROI, you’ll need to identify all the people who clicked on your AdWords ads and paid for your product or service. The problem is that you might not be able to see that occur every time.

In my years of AdWords experience, I have dealt with a wide range of AdWords account types. Accounts that advertised pregnancy classes, luxury resort rentals, real estate, enterprise level software and more. They all had one thing in common: Tracking success within AdWords is a problem.

Each of those accounts received sales, however they weren’t always attributed back to AdWords. Understanding this lack of accuracy with conversion tracking is critical when interpreting your account’s performance.

Determine what you can track.

If you’re just tracking sales and you’re not seeing many conversions, you won’t be able to act on that data. And you need data in order to make decisions.

Think in terms of what people do once they arrive on your website, starting with what you want them to do once they arrive on your website.

Most probably don’t arrive and then enter their credit card details. Your potential customers are more likely to read a few pages, fill out a form, download your software prior to purchasing or simply leave.

Track them all. The more data you have, the easier it will be when making decisions that impact your account.

Keep in mind that once you begin tracking more than one type of conversion, you’ll have to weigh them differently. Someone that clicks on your AdWords ad and then purchases your product will be more valuable than someone who just downloads a PDF whitepaper.

At this time, Google don’t look at them differently. To Google, a conversion is a conversion. Meaning you have to be careful when using Google’s conversion optimization tools.

Sometimes, you need to look beyond the conversion.

Let’s assume for whatever reason, that you can’t track sales back to AdWords. You’ve proceed to setup conversion tracking for various actions across your website, all of which indicate an interest in what you’re offering, and it’s producing plenty of data.

Just because you’re seeing large numbers of conversions doesn’t in itself mean anything.

To put it bluntly, people are strange! You might find a situation where a website or search term results in a large number of conversions that has nothing to do with your product or service.

These people are clicking on your descriptive ads, traversing your website, and ultimately performing those conversions.

Everything indicates that these people are interested in what you’re offering, however you’ll need to put the conversion tracking data aside and try to understand what is truly happening.

Conversions tracking will only take you so far.

Don’t let it lead you to the wrong conclusions. Understanding its limitations will help you determine if AdWords is working or not.

Start by reviewing your search terms report. This report provides you with the exact searches people performed in order to trigger your ads. If they seem overwhelmingly off-topic, then you’re not targeting the right keywords or you’re allowing irrelevant traffic to somehow enter the cycle.

Review your CTR (click-through rate). How has it been trending over time? If you’re seeing that it’s rising, that’s a good sign because it means that you’re delivering relevant ads. Google will reward you for relevance by showing your relevant ads more often and at higher positions. If you’re seeing that your CTR is declining, that’s not a good sign because it means you’re not showing relevant ads. In turn, lower CTRs could result in your ads being shown less often and possibly costing more per click.  

Review your bids and your average CPC (cost per click). If your bids are set too low, your keywords won’t trigger your ads. Setting your bids too high, will result in wasted spend. You wouldn’t want to pay more for something that you can get for less.  

Review your average positions. If your ads are shown predominantly in lower positions, they will be clicked on less often or not clicked on at all. That will impact your CTR as well as your cost per click.     

Review your Analytics data. Once people click on your ads, you need to understand what they do after they arrived on your website. If they leave immediately (bounce rate), then your landing page might not be the best fit. If people are arriving and then viewing a few pages (pages / visit), that could be a good indication, however you need to make sure they’re visiting the right pages. If most visitors are not finding what they’re looking for, that’s not good.

Review your conversion data. Once again, you need to be careful when analyzing your conversion data. Understand that the absence of conversion data does not necessarily mean that it’s a bad thing.

Last but not least, never look at just one metric. A high CTR is pointless if most visitors leave your website within a few seconds of arriving.

On their own, each metric is meaningless. Combined they carry power and authority.


I recently stumbled across a great source of practical, qualified and tailored advice for our company. He knows our business like no-one else, is an expert in his field, always has time for us, and is completely free. (Despite the publishing date of this post, this is not an April Fool’s Joke.)

Aaron and I recently had our annual get-together, where we carved out a few days to look at some of the bigger issues of our business and to plan the year ahead.

When we do this each year, magic happens. I don’t know if it’s because of the face-to-face real interaction (Aaron typically flies to the UK for this), or because we set time aside from the day-to-day practicalities of running our business. But it works, and most of our biggest successes over the years began in these meetings.

But there’s a problem. We often get stuck in a rut, and start to obsess over some of the minor issues and practicalities, instead of making progress on the bigger picture.

So this year we somehow came up with this two-pronged approach for maintaining our focus.

The first was that we kept reminding ourselves to take a step back. It’s too easy to get sucked into the nitty-gritty and minor details, and when this happens, the flow of ideas and creativity can come to a juddering halt.

Bertie

The second thing involved taking this idea even further. At the risk of sounding slightly deranged, we repeatedly called on a totally fictitious and slightly ruthless consultant who we named Bertie. (I honestly don’t know why.)

We kept asking what would Bertie say? For instance when we were looking at some of the more time consuming processes that take up our working hours, Bertie (who quite enjoys being blunt) would ask “obvious and reasonable” questions that an outsider might ask. “Why are you doing this when you could outsource it?“. “Why do you do that at the most productive time of your day?“. “You really spend that much time on this? Do you think that’s using your time wisely?” and so on.

Bertie was (actually is) more than just a devil’s advocate. He doesn’t only take the opposing view, he digs, probes and questions everything that we do. And it’s incredibly useful.

Bertie has already become an important member of our team, and as silly as the idea might seem, he might well prove to be equally useful for your company too.

Give Bertie a try. He’s free, understands your business and really does help bring some important issues to light.

As yourself: What Would Bertie Do?


Tracking is deadly. It skews our perception of reality, gives us a dangerously false sense of security, and pushes us into making poor decisions.

In our own company, we track the work that we do to near-psychotic levels of accuracy. Note that isn’t a boast thinly veiled to look like criticism (I’m thinking of “my greatest weakness is my attention to detail”). We track our time to a truly pathological level. I’ll explain why with an example.

Right now we’ve been investing a great deal of time and effort building our online course on Search Engine Optimisation.

I myself spend an average of five hours per lesson, which includes preparing the content, filming and editing. Data can be deadly

There will be 12 lesson in the course, so we’re looking at around 65 hours just to create the content. Then we’ve also had to set up a payment and access system, video hosting, pricing, creating the launch content and the hundreds of other little things that have been involved in this particular adventure.

For the sake of this example, let’s say that the total number of hours spent on the project will be 100. And (hypothetically) let’s say that we sell access to the course for $500, and manage to sell to 50 people.

So we’d be looking at a revenue of $25,000 for 100 hours of work, working out at $250 per hour. Not bad.

So in this scenario, when I do my maths, I’m reasonably happy.

But what if I’d stripped out two of the lessons, saving ten hours, thereby generating the same revenue for $278 an hour?

And what if I then raised the price to $599, still managed to sell to 50 people, thereby generating a revenue of $29,950, working out at $332 an hour?

The time spent would have been identical, but with a healthier profit.

And let’s not stop there. What if the value of the videos was so incredibly high that 10 of the 50 original people told some of their friends about the course, half of whom then went ahead and purchased? What if the quality was so low that 10 of the original 50 asked for their money back?

The same principles can be applied to any sort of spend – whether time, effort, money or pretty much anything.

“Google AdWords doesn’t work for me” may be down to a poor landing page, the wrong product price, incorrect bid levels, poor value proposition, bad targeting or simply not knowing what on earth you’re doing with Google AdWords.

“Spending five hours creating a single one minute video blog post is crazy” depends on what you do with the video. If it’s little more than a rant about Google’s new look then you may be right, but if it impresses the person who then spends more than $2,000 a month on your service, then the time spent starts to look more effective.

Over the years I’ve spoken at many different conferences around the world, and we eventually drop the events that we get no value from. Value can mean new clients, new ideas, quality networking and more.

Yesterday I received an email from a person I met at a conference in 2004 who’s now ready to start working with our company. Ten years ago! If that person signs up for our services at $2,000 a month and even only remains with us for one year, that would be $24,000 from a person I would never have met without attending that event. If I’d decided the year before that this event wasn’t worthwhile, the meeting would never have happened.

So what should you do about it? Ignore data completely?

I’m not saying that tracking is a bad idea – far from it. But gathering data is only a small part of the process of analysing it. The information needs to be fully understand, flaws and weaknesses need to be identified and where possible quantified. Just having access to the data does not make a decision in any way more informed.

Care should be taken when using data to write in stone.


As a service provider, who would you think is our biggest competitor? It’s not another SEO agency, and it’s not an AdWords agency. It’s the firm based near where you work, who can walk, drive or commute to where your business is run. This is ludicrous.

Historically it made a great deal of sense. Our parents and grandparents did business in a world where phone communication might be too limiting and travel was expensive. My Dad, for example, was a self-employed Optician who needed to meet quite regularly with his accountant. He couldn’t have considered someone who was based an hour away, let alone someone in a different country. More importantly, there were an abundance of people to choose from within his local community, so choosing from a set of local options made perfect sense.

Today we live in a world with a more diverse set of skills, many of which didn’t exist in our own childhood – if you’re as old as me anyway. And the internet has provided us with possibilities that were only considered in science fiction even one generation ago.

Which is why I am baffled when a company reaches out to us, likes what we say and admires our reputation, yet chooses instead to work with a local company. (Note: I’m only baffled when the main reason for doing so is their proximity.)

It's 2014 already

Don’t get me wrong – there’s no bitterness. Our company is generating enough profit to feed ourselves quite nicely, thank you. And I certainly don’t expect every sales quote I send out to be accepted.

Yet I find it difficult to understand when we lose to a local company. If you’re based in Silicon Valley, then there’s a reasonable chance that by choosing a local option you’re not limiting yourself too dramatically. Everyone else, however, are limiting their options to the services based within a small radius of where they happen to be located. If you insist on your SEO agency being located within an hour of your offices, how many options do you have to choose from? Five? Ten? Fifty? No matter where you’re based,I guarantee it’s less than the whole world.

Limiting the companies you work with means limiting your chances of growth and success. And all of this so that you can indulge in the formality of a handshake? Perhaps you also insist that they wear a suit and tie while optimising your content, or maybe even a three piece suit?

This is 2014. Our company has worked with more than 500 companies from more than 40 different countries. We communicate regularly with our clients using email, Basecamp, Google Hangouts, Skype, GoToMeeting, the phone and yes, occasionally we even get on a plane to see them.

The price you pay for confining your options around the conventions of yesteryear might be enormous.


Last week’s post on Why keywords are no longer relevant to SEO produced more of a reaction than anticipated. Today I’ll show you how to adapt to the new reality.

In a sense, Google have done the SEO world a favour, by forcing us away from a flawed model. Even ignoring the (not provided) issue, the fact is that different users not only have different needs but also use different terms to find what they are looking for.

Consider an over-simplified example of a fictional company selling anti-virus software – we’ll call their product KillVir.

I’ve never worked for such a company, but it’s a reasonable assumption that they receive a large number of visitors searching for quite different and distinct terms, despite all being potentially interested in the same application.

Some of the searches might include the following terms:

Is my computer infected with a virus?

realtime malware protection

how do I protect my computer?

low resources virus protection

And many more.

The old SEO model might start by looking in the Analytics data to see (1) how much traffic the website is getting for each term and (2) which pages they are landing on. Neither of which are possible today.

What we can do, however, is to take a step backwards and look at each phrase separately. The people searching for each are all potentially interested in KillVir, but not only are they searching for different phrases, they are also demonstrating very different personas.

Is my computer infected with a virus is more likely to be non-technical, realtime malware protection appears to have a greater level of knowledge and understanding, how do I protect my computer is probably of a non-technical nature, while low resources virus protection is someone with above-average technical knowledge with very specific needs.

If we were to score the technical expertise for each query, it might look like this:

keyword and technical signals

We can also add another layer of analysis, as the language used provides strong signals as to what the person searching is actually looking for or hoping to find:

keyword and requirements

And here’s where the old methodology does still carry some weight. We can include how many searches there are for each term using Google’s keyword planner:

keyword and data

So even with this over-simplified example using only four keywords, we already have some useful information. One obvious opportunity might be to create some very focused content for each.

For example the page addressing is my computer infected with a virus shouldn’t be a general page about anti-virus software, and certainly shouldn’t be a sales page with one short section of text that barely addresses the question. It should instead be a detailed article outlining precise steps that the user could take to determine whether or not their machine was infected. There would be lots of illustrations, lots of information, the overall tone would be very non-technical, and there would very little by the way of blatantly pushing KillVir.

Once the page was complete, it should then be linked in from the rest of the website, added to the sitemap.xml and submitted to Google for indexing. At the same time it should be circulated freely via the likes of the company blog, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and others as a useful resource. Why? Because it is genuinely a useful resource, and not just yet another thinly veiled sales page.

With a little time and a little luck, the page should receive some reasonable incoming links, and should eventually start showing up in Analytics as a landing page for organic traffic.

The website owner would never know which precise keywords were sending traffic from Google, but this no longer matters. If the SEO does their job correctly, we can then trust Google to send visitors who are looking for what the page provides. More importantly, these invisible terms would change over time, but the page would be no less relevant, and would therefore adapt to the new keywords.

It’s a basic illustration, but once you get your head around the new “content for intent” model, it can truly work wonders. Welcome to SEO of 2014.


SEOs have to take their fingers out of their collective arses. Apologies for the vulgarity (this was the toned-down version) but being an SEO in 2014 means you have to duck and weave with Google, fight web designers, combat the “we’ve always done it this way” mentality, and, depressingly, fight the never-ending wave of ignorance within the SEO industry.

I’ll take a deep breath. Let me explain. The reasons for my anger lie at the bottom of this post. But the more important, potentially life-changing idea (terms and conditions may apply) is more relevant. So here goes.

The age of keywords is more or less over.

Pointing fingers and accusing Google is pointless. Keyword data has gone and won’t be coming back any time soon.

There are still strategies to gain insight into your organic keyword data, but these are time consuming and inexact. And with time they’re likely to get less precise and more abstract. It’s time to look at a new approach.

The old model:

Step 1 – User went to Google and entered their search term.

Step 2 – Google displayed pages optimised for these terms.

Step 3 – Website owners were able to see how many people arrived at their website for those terms. Also which pages they landed on, how much time they spent, bounce rates, conversion rates etc.

We never realised how good we had it at the time. Until, that is, it was taken away from us.

The new model:

Step 1 – User goes to Google and enters their search terms.

Step 2 – Google interpret the intent behind the search.

Step 3 – Google display pages they think are relevant to their perception of the visitor’s intent.

Step 4 – Website owners have no real idea how many searches for the keyword came to their website, and no way at all to link this hazy data to performance, bounce rates, conversions etc.

In other words, Google don’t provide results for what the user has searched for, they provide results for what they think the user meant by what they searched for. And the results delivered aren’t based on what the content creator claims their page is about, but on Google’s interpretation of what they consider the subject of the page to be.

It’s not about evil, it’s about evolution:

Google aren’t taking keyword data away from us because they’re evil, and I don’t believe that privacy protection is the main reason either.

They’re taking away keyword data because the delivery of results has now moved far beyond the words on a page.

Also bear in mind the see-saw effect of complexity going on at the same time:

Proficient users of Google have become adept at entering our search terms. We strip out unnecessary words, and keep our searches as focused yet detailed as possible. So we don’t search for “how do I get from Brockenhurst to London“, instead we search for “travel directions Brockenhurst to London” and know that the first result will likely answer our search query.

This age is over. Our dinosaur skills are no longer required.

Our old style of search gets us an old style of results:

Travel directions Brockenhurt to London

The new way of searching, using simple conversational language gets us a far easier to understand set of results:

How do I get from Brockenhurst to London?

If you think of this as dumbing down, then you’re missing the point. Google have now adapted their interpretative technology to the point that keywords are only one single factor signalling intent. Hence the see-saw effect: search terms are becoming simpler and more varied; search results are becoming more complex and laser-focused.

The question is no longer how we find our keywords, but rather how we adapt to the new intent-based model.

The answer is surprisingly simple. Watch this space for next week’s post. You’ll like it.

Background on the reason for the angry intro:

I recently attended the SES London conference with a view to keeping myself up to date and learning new skills. Like many SEO conferences, the quality balance was around 60% awful, 20% good and 20% incredible.

One of the sessions that I attended had two professionals who spent in the region of 5-10 minutes debating the importance and relevance of (not provided), and why it actually matters. The whole (not provided) issue was announced by Google almost two and a half years ago, and SEOs with any real understanding of their profession soon realised what lay ahead.

To listen to SEO professionals debate the loss of keyword data in February 2014 is incredible. To hear over-used and insubstantial solutions such as “look at your paid traffic keywords” is jaw-dropping.

As an industry we have to do far better.


It’s 2014 and I just turned 44 years old. I think it’s time to stop chewing over the SEO vs. AdWords debate. Here’s why.

Google have long argued an absolute separation of their organic and paid search results, at least from the point of view of the factors and variables involved. Yet the two sets of results have, over the years, moved closer to each other, both in terms of spacing and appearance.

Google’s position is an interesting one, as the majority of their visitors are probably more interested in the organic results than the ads. Google’s revenue, of course, comes from the clicks on the ads. So while the organic results (and underlying data) act as the bait to draw the masses in to Google’s network, it’s the ads themselves that feed the very infrastructure that supports them.

This balancing point is incredibly fine. If Google get it wrong, they risk either alienating and losing their clicking customers, or losing and alienating their clicking customers. Caught between a rock and a rock in other words.

The question for many businesses is where to invest their resources – in organic search engine optimisation/optimization or in AdWords.

There are many who are convinced that Google’s party line on organic and paid separation is little more than a lie, designed to make you reach for your credit cards, but they’re wrong. Dr Pete Myers put together an excellent Mathographic on correlation vs. causation – the internet would be a better place if more people printed it out and put it on the walls by their computers.

But returning to the main question: organic vs. paid. The bottom line is that while the effects of changes can be measured, I’m yet to see a complete understanding of the precise causes of the overall impact.

balsamiq score twice!

Consider the following example:

If a person searches for wireframing software in Google, the first few results show one company – Balsamiq – being represented both in the ads and organic results. It doesn’t take the most astute of marketing minds to appreciate that being shown twice in a relatively small amount of space increases the exposure and subsequent chance of being noticed. It’s impossible to say with any degree of accuracy precisely how much each option is effectively being strengthened. It is, however, almost certain that either the ad, the organic listing or (most likely) both are more likely to be clicked. It’s also extremely likely that the balsamiq listings are more likely to be clicked than their comparitively under-represented competition.

Failure to optimise your website for Google and/or failure to effectively compete in AdWords takes away or even eliminates this competitive advantage.

For me there’s nothing to weigh up between AdWords and SEO. It’s both.


Retaining customers has a lot in common with getting more exercise. We know how important it is, we sometimes feel powerless to affect it, and it often takes a crisis to make us actually do something constructive about it.

One of the reasons for this is the apparent lack of tangible data points for us to latch on to.

Every Wednesday evening I go climbing, and I admit that it sometimes usually takes a lot of willpower to get myself there. For instance I might have to weigh up the pleasure of putting my feet up and watching TV with my wife, with driving half an hour in the rain to ignore the screams of my muscles and tendons while I haul my body up an abrasive, cold and very unfriendly climbing wall. If things have been busy (they usually are) and I’m feeling tired at the end of the work day (I usually am), then the couch makes a far more compelling case than the climbing wall.

If, however, I knew that every minute I spent climbing improved my quality of life by X and extended my probable lifespan by Y, while the couch-and-popcorn option decreased them both by the same amount, the decision may be easier. In theory at least.

Many people take exercise and a healthy lifestyle a lot more seriously after a health scare, yet the benefits of doing so remain the same. Only the perception of the value changes.

Losing a customer may be based on any number of possible factors, and every product will have its own unique mix. Yet most products would see an overlap of common reasons that would include need for the product, performance, price and support.

Crucially, these are not of equal importance. Let’s consider an example.

As a long-time user of Evernote, I can’t imagine switching to a competing application, even though there’s no shortage of options to choose from. This doesn’t mean that I would never switch – far from it.

If I were to assign a value from one to five for each of the above aspects of Evernote, where one is the least happiest and five the most, I would probably apply the following:

Need for product – 5

Performance – 5

Price – 5

Support – 3

If I were then to combine these to produce a happiness index, I wouldn’t simply add the figures together, as I believe that my need for the product is by far the most important, and the performance is of greater relevance than the price and support.

So my happiness index formula might look something like this:

The formula for happiness

The interesting aspect of this is that provider of the software, in this case Evernote, has the potential to directly influence any of these factors. So when it comes to retaining me as a customer, they’re as far as you can get from powerless, and in face are in almost complete control.

If Evernote take the time to understand me – my needs and how I use their software – they can clearly identify that all things considered equal, it makes the most sense for them to focus on my need for their solution. Note that this doesn’t necessarily involve adding more features – I’m already happy with what I have.

Assuming I’m consistently happy with the software – how I use it, what I can do with it and how it performs, then a small (reasonable) price raise won’t push me away from the product.

If, however, the performance of the software plummeted dramatically in a future release, this could turn into a far more significant issue for me, especially as I don’t rate their support too highly.

Being able to identify and quantify the happiness factors for the majority of your customers is of immense importance. It allows you to not only focus on retaining your customers by directly addressing their needs, but also in effect provide a road map for expanding your customer base by building on your existing strengths.

I’d really like to hear your thoughts on the above, and am especially interested in the factors that drive your own customers happiness index.


We just discovered a bug in Google Analytics. In itself that’s worrying enough, but Google appear quite adamant that this isn’t an issue. I strongly disagree. Here’s what happened.

While recently reviewing organic search traffic in Google Analytics, we noticed that some of what Google was identifying as organic was actually coming from AdWords. When we looked further, Analytics identified this traffic as being from Google, and that it wasn’t from AdWords at all, but Google organic. There were two problems with this – it was incorrect and also impossible.

The fact is that you can’t manipulate this data. Let me rephrase that. You shouldn’t be able to manipulate this data. Google should be able to determine with 100% accuracy what is AdWords traffic and what is organic traffic. Even if you were to tag your URLs saying that it was from Google organic, for example http://www.softwarepromotions.com/?utm_source=google&utm_medium=organic, Google Analytics should ignore that.

Let me make this clear though. We were not doing that.

We manually tag destination URLs within AdWords as well as using the AdWords auto tagging system. It’s true that using manual tagging as well as auto tagging can cause conflicts, however we are not using the UTM manual tagging system. We use our own tagging system in the following format; ?source=adwords&campaign=my-search-campaign&adgroup=my-adgroup&adnum=001

This is what the issue looks like within Google Analytics:

Google Analytics - landing pages for non-paid search traffic

Note that this is for landing pages. This simply shouldn’t be possible.

If this were correct information, it would mean that Google had indexed those URLs. They would never have done so, because Google don’t want to index URLs with identical content. And as you can see, all the URLs in the screenshot are of the identical home page.

We have contacted Google about this issue and have received conflicting comments, so far with no real solutions. One Google rep said the following:

“After checking with our specialist, they confirmed that due to source and medium not being specified as google and cpc respectively, this could be the reason for Analytics not being able to attribute the visit to Google paid traffic. Additionally, we’re unable to troubleshoot further into this due to the use of auto-tagging and query string tag on your ads destination URLs. We recommend using either one and not both.”

This particular rep is implying that any form of tagging will conflict with AdWords auto tagging. As you can see, we are not using UTM tagging, so Google Analytics would ignore our tags as they do across numerous other accounts that we deal with.

Another rep we spoke with over the phone agreed with our assessment. Our unique form of tagging shouldn’t and wouldn’t cause this problem, as we are not using the Google Analytics UTM tags. 

We have never seen anything like this in any other account that we have come across. Have you?

If you have seen this issue, or something like it, I’d really appreciate if you would let me know. Either contact me through email or give me a shout on Twitter.

Update: Another reply from Google. They now seem to partly understand the issue, but their explanation is bordering on insane:

Thanks for your response.

Sincere apologies for the confusion caused.

I checked this with our specialist once again and you were right, your pages such as this: /?source=adwords&campaign=XXX&adgroup=YYY&adnum=ZZZ isn’t using the manual UTM tagging, hence, it is fine to use these pages together with AdWords auto-tagging. Once again, I do apologize for the confusion caused due to this.

As for this pages such as /?source=adwords&campaign=XXX-search&adgroup=YYY&adnum=ZZZ getting reported as coming from non paid search. If you’re using these pages only as AdWords ads landing pages and not on any other online sources or advertising mediums, it’s possible that users who previously visited these pages through an ad click had bookmarked this page or send the link to another friend, so those visits will not necessarily get attributed to Google cpc (if the cpc cookie has expired or user cleared cookies) and will instead get reported to the actual traffic that brought in the visit.

Hope this helps. Do let me know if there is anything else I can assist you with.

Good grief.


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