The way in which Google weighs its Recommendations is not entirely fair, according to Wijnand Meijer, founder of tech provider TrueClicks. In this interview, he discusses what exactly goes wrong with Google’s Recommendations, as well as the importance of independent parties assessing SEA management strategies. Finally, he gives us a small preview of his presentation as a speaker at the upcoming edition of Friends of Search 2021.
Wijnand Meijer is the founder of TrueClicks, a software company that provides tooling for auditing and monitoring PPC advertisements. Before that, he gained years of experience on the agency side of the search market. Wijnand Meijer will speak on November 16 (Amsterdam) and November 17 (Brussels) at the search conference Friends of Search 2021.
How did you get started with PPC?
I was already ‘online’ in the mid 90’s. As a high school student I made my own sites for a while by tinkering with Dreamweaver and other people’s HTML code. After my studies in business administration, I planned to find a ‘serious’ job with a multinational or consultancy. That didn’t go as planned. Towards the end of my studies, I came across the first AdWords success stories, at the time mainly written by (affiliate) cowboys who bought clicks for a dime and turned them into a quarter. But also marketers who managed to turn searchers into customers. From that moment on, I was hooked to the field and I wanted to make it my job.
When I started experimenting in 2006, I discovered that it’s a magical concept that by entering a few keywords and writing an ad, you can see the first results the next day. And that you can continue to improve those results. That is why, in 2007, I decided to become a SEA freelancer, partly because of Eduard Blacquière’s market research into search engine marketing in the Netherlands. That did mean that I had to learn SEA all by myself with the limited budgets of the SMEs who hired me at the time. Every euro counted, which made it a perfect learning experience.
After freelancing for two years, I wanted to work for an agency to learn more and work for bigger clients. It had to be in Amsterdam, so my search started simply by Googling “online marketing agency Amsterdam”. I soon came across Netsociety, where I started in 2009 as a SEA consultant.
You have years of experience on the agency side of the search world. What have you learned in all those years?
A lot. The fact that I that I stayed there for eight years says enough. To start with, I’ve been very lucky with the clients and colleagues I’ve worked with over those years. The clients were very diverse and challenging and I was surrounded by a growing group of intelligent and ambitious colleagues who also made me laugh a lot.
In those years, I’ve analysed hundreds of accounts from every industry imaginable and worked with just as many different clients and colleagues. That experience is worth everything. All these different perspectives have given me a complete picture of the market and the skills to make the most out of every situation. I was also given the opportunity to develop all kinds of beautiful ‘side projects’, like setting up a traineeship, writing articles, giving presentations and improving our SEA working method in general. Because of these projects, I discovered that I get the most satisfaction from inventing or writing something that is accessible and useful to a large audience. Naturally, achieving great results for specific clients is also satisfying, but towards the end of my time at agencies, I knew I wanted to work on something with a larger reach. Something that doesn’t depend on how many hours a client has available. Advertisers should seldom have to pay agencies by the hour anyway, but that’s a topic for another time.
In short, I have a lot of great memories of my time at agencies, and I couldn’t have wished for a better environment to start my career.
You have started developing your own software, TrueClicks. Why did you start developing software?
Like I said, I knew I wanted to work on something scalable. Developing software is the obvious choice then. I’ve always had an affinity with it anyway. With new tools some people think “No, not another tool”, but I always think: “Yes! Another tool to play with.” The beauty of a self-invented tool is that you truly believe that it will solve problems that bother you. I had the idea for TrueClicks for a while, thanks to writing the audit articles and the positive reactions I got from it. But it wasn’t until my co-founder Ales got seriously involved that the foundation was built to really make something out of it. Ales’ vast knowledge and experience in the technology field and my SEA background were the ideal combination to start TrueClicks.
In addition to the money and time savings a tool should always achieve for customers, I also started TrueClicks because I believe there is a need for an independent third partiy that can assess how well SEA accounts are managed. Most agencies that ‘audit’ their own work or that of their competitors will look at their own work quite leniently, while work of competitors is judged very strictly. The same goes for Google, who also categorizes and judges advertising strategies with exams, partner badges and Optiscores. We should always take into account that Google has a certain interest in these scorings. That why we, as TrueClicks, take on the role of an independent quality mark, since we don’t manage accounts ourselves (such as agencies) or sell clicks (such as Google).
With Google’s ‘Recommendations’, Google offers organizations a helping hand by making suggestions to improve the performance of their campaigns. In addition, with each recommendation, Google displays an optimization score (Optiscore), an estimate of how the optimization score changes if the recommendation is followed. What do you think of these functionalities?
Let me start by answering this question on a positive note. A few years ago all you had was the Opportunities tab and that was a laughably self-serving functionality. It was almost only about increasing budgets and CPCs. The Recommendations functionality is about much more than that and I advise organizations to look at them at least once a month and pick out what applies to you, regardless of the weighing in the OptiScore. As far as I’m concerned, the score itself has all sorts of flaws. For starters, it’s hilarious that the visible score jumps up instantly when you click ‘dismiss’. I understand that a ‘real’ score remains in the background, but in terms of transparency to users with little knowledge of SEA scoring like this seems questionable. By clicking on ‘dismiss’ a few times you can easily achieve a score of 100%. Also, recommendations regarding expansions or automation seem to weigh more heavily then others. Things like adding broad match keywords and turning on smart bidding will get you the most points. In general, those can be good ideas, but not five times better than recommendations on other matters, an impression that is often given.
What I also find striking is that OptiScore is valued very differently, also within agencies. For example, one agency finds it extremely important and the other total nonsense.
Friends of Search 2021 is just around the corner. What can visitors expect from you?
Strangely enough, nothing about auditing or monitoring your accounts. I’m going to talk about a relatively new development: generating text with AI. In the summer of 2020, OpenAI launched the beta of GPT-3, and since then there have been numerous tools and news outlets claiming that this technology can write text that is indistinguishable from human-written text, all in a matter of seconds. During my session, I explain how this technology works and how you can use it to generate ad copy, product description, blog, etc. In addition, I tested “AI-assisted” ad texts against 100% self-written ads and show the results.
That’s all I’m going to say about it for now, except that nowadays I always turn on the AI before actually write something. Still, you should never just copy and paste AI-generated text. If you want to know why this is the case, you have come to see me at Friends of Search. The answers to the questions in this interview are at least 100% human-generated.