Dear Jill,

I manage Overture and Google AdWords campaigns for a college. I spend $6,000/mo in Google AdWords and $4,000/mo in Overture, and I am perplexed as to why the Overture campaign is working better. We track the campaigns on the basis of online forms from their respective landing pages, and Overture brings in twice as many form inquiries.

I've managed Google AdWords campaigns successfully before for other companies and I thought that since Google has a larger share of the search engine market, they should be bringing in better response. Is Google slipping in their performance and ability to deliver? (Both campaigns are extremely similar as to keywords and match choices.)



Jill's Response

Since I'm not really a PPC kinda person, I decided to enlist the help of my friend and High Rankings PPC forum moderator, Ed Kohler (Haystack), to answer Karen's question. Ed is the president of Haystack In A Needle, a Web marketing company based in Minneapolis, MN offering pay-per-click campaign management and search engine optimization services.

Take it away, Ed! - Jill

Ed Kohler's Response

Interesting issue, Karen. Since your Overture campaign is generating twice as many leads as your AdWords campaign, and is doing so at only 2/3 of the cost, it sounds like your Overture campaign is actually working three times better than AdWords. In my experience, the results from Overture campaigns vs. AdWords will vary from one campaign to the next, but not enough to justify the disparity you're experiencing. This leads me to believe that your situation is more likely due to the campaign settings within your AdWords account. I'll break down some of the major differences below, and hope this helps identify the lurking variable(s).

I'll work from the assumption that you're pleased with the results generated by your Overture campaign and would like to figure out how to configure your AdWords campaign to match Overture's. I'm also going to assume that a visitor to your site from an AdWords-powered pay-per-click result is likely just as qualified as one from an Overture result. This may not be entirely the case, but I don't think it accounts for the variance in ad performance you are experiencing.

Differences Between Google Adwords and Overture

1. Geotargeting: If your AdWords campaign's location targeting is set wide open, you may be paying for traffic with a very low chance of converting to leads. Double-check this in your campaign settings. Overture's ads will appear almost entirely to a US and Canadian audience. If your AdWords account is set to a wider audience than that, consider tightening it up. You may also want to consider creating an additional campaign targeting just your home state. While the traffic will be significantly lower for this campaign, the conversions should be considerably higher.

2. Language Targeting: Your Overture campaign will display ads almost entirely to an English-speaking audience. If your AdWords account is set to display ads to a broader audience, consider tightening the focus in your campaign settings.

3. Ad Syndication: What percentage of your traffic is coming through content targeting compared to search engines on AdWords? While clicks from content-targeted ads can and do convert to leads or sales for businesses, a person clicking through from an ad on a web site is not as qualified as a person who is actively searching for the services or products your business offers. I've found that this varies considerably from one industry to another. For example, if ads for an online hardware store are syndicated onto a do-it-yourself web site, the ads are likely targeting motivated customers. However, since you represent a college, your ads may be running alongside newspaper articles regarding education funding or other educational topics that are only loosely related to your marketing goals. Consider turning off content targeting for a test period or comparing your conversions rates from search- vs. content-targeted ads. You may not miss that traffic.

4. Matching Variance: It sounds like you have a feel for the various matching options used by Google and Overture. While they are quite similar in name, they will provide somewhat different results. This is most prominent with exact and broad matching, where AdWords' broad matching is a bit broader and exact matching is more exact.

- Exact Matching: Google's and Overture's matching options vary considerably, especially when it comes to term-stemming. For example, if you exact-match a phrase on Google (put the phrases in [brackets]), your ad will only show to searchers typing that exact phrase into a search engine. However, Overture's version of exact matching (their default style of matching) will also match your term to phrases beyond the exact match using their Match Driver feature. This includes matching your ad to common misspellings, plural and singular versions of the term, and the use of the term in conjunction with common words like "the" and "of." Also, Overture's "enhanced matching" feature will match your ads to terms where the searcher's words appear in your title and description but weren't necessarily bid on by you.

If you take a closer look at your converting search phrases, it's possible that you'll find your best converting terms to be the plural version of your terms. Assuming you did your keyword research using Overture's Search Term Suggestion Tool (which rolls up the plural and singular terms into the singular version), then used that set of phrases to set up your Google Adwords account, you may have inadvertently skipped some of the better converting versions of your important search phrases.

- Broad Match Variance: Overture's definition of broad matching is matching the individual words in a search phrase to searches containing all of the words in any order and anywhere within the searcher's given search phrase. For example, a broad-matched ad on the term "LED lighting" could appear when someone searches for "lighting for my home LED lights." (For more info:

AdWords will provide the same match as Overture does in the above example, but will go a step further with their expanded matching feature. Expanded matching will cause your ad to also display on terms Google considers to be synonyms, related phrases, and plurals. (For more info:

It's certainly possible that Google doesn't know your business and your prospective customers as well as you do, so consider tightening up your campaign by using phrase and exact matches. If you'd like to keep some terms wide open, consider only doing so with search phrases containing at least three words to prevent your ads from being overly matched.

Additionally, with Overture and Google, if you're using anything other than exact matching, it's important to include negative keywords (Google's term; Overture calls them Excluded Words) to prevent your ads from matching on irrelevant or poorly converting terms.

5. Competitive Bid Influence: Google's choice to use broad matching as the default matching option (listing your search phrases without "quotes" or [brackets]) has caused frustration for newbies, but has also had a painful effect on experienced pay-per-click advertisers. While you may have worked hard to research hundreds or even thousands of redundant search phrases relevant to your web site, newbies may be setting up new campaigns where they've inadvertently broad-matched themselves into competition with your ads. This can drive up your per-click cost on some terms where you may have little to no competition on Overture. Not much can be done about this, but it's something worth noting.

6. Landing Page Choices: Overture's system forces you to create a specific ad for each search phrase you place in their system. By default, this often leads to higher ad quality because advertisers are more likely to write unique ads for each search term. It also increases the odds of advertisers to send visitors to the most appropriate landing page on their site for specific keywords. For example, your college offers a variety of different programs for students. When someone searches for a specific program you offer, you'll generally see higher conversions if you send that visitor to the appropriate program page rather than the homepage, forcing them to dig for the same content. There are two ways to address this in AdWords. Create additional Ad Groups with a tighter grouping of search phrases, or assign unique URLs at the search-phrase level. (For more info: A combination of both strategies will provide the highest performance along with the most detailed tracking data for stats analysis.

Working through each of the above variables should help uncover opportunities for improving the conversion rates of your AdWords campaign.

Good luck!

Ed Kohler
Haystack In A Needle
July 19, 2004

CEO and founder of High Rankings®, Jill Whalen has been performing search engine optimization since 1995 and is the host of the free High Rankings Advisor search engine marketing newsletter, author of "The Nitty-gritty of Writing for the Search Engines" and founder/administrator of the popular High Rankings Search Engine Optimization Forum. In 2006, Jill co-founded SEMNE, a local search engine marketing networking organization for people and companies in New England.

High Rankings is an internationally recognized search engine optimization firm located in Framingham, MA specializing in search engine optimization, SEO consultations, in-house training, site audit reports, search marketing seminars and workshops. High Rankings has a 100% success rate for substantially improving client rankings and targeted traffic.

Jill speaks at national and international conferences and has been writing about SEO and search marketing since 2000. She's been quoted in such publications as The Wall Street Journal, U.S. News & World Report and The Washington Post. Her articles have appeared in numerous print magazines and online websites including CIO Magazine, CMS Focus, The Internet Marketing Report, ClickZ, WorkZ,, Entrepreneur, Lycos Small Business, WebProNews, SiteProNews and others. Jill has also appeared on many online and offline radio programs such as Entrepreneur Magazine's E-Biz Radio Show, SearchEngineRadio and the eMarketing Talkshow.

Search Engine Guide > Jill Whalen > Overture vs. Google AdWords