How Search Results Reports Can be Skewed to Sell More Advertising

If you’ve read any of my blogs before, you know I am a champion for small business fairness (and ADA accessibility online) and I’m seeing a trend in advertising sales pitching that is driving me crazy and making me NOT want to generalize, but it’s hard to avoid it.

SMM, agencies, marketing heads, sales, etc. (insert creative job title that means ad sales here) are sending my clients screenshots of “Search Results” so they can tell them “You don’t show up for such and such search.” On Google or bing (what even is bing today?). “You need us.”

I get that they are constantly looking for ways to increase their customer base and revenues by selling ads, but one way they seem to be doing this is by skewing search results reports in representations to the potential customer.

Search results reports are used by advertisers to decide where to place their ads. This means that media companies have a vested interest in making their search results reports look as good as possible.

BUT, what if they are doing searches for terms irrelevant to your keywords, but representing them as actual results? WITHOUT telling the potential customer what the sales agent used as a search term(s). Digging deeper, even the jpeg screenshot images  for each search result “fail” didn’t include what the search request actually was. So that’s a secret?

My client (luckily) came to me with their cold proposal and I was appalled that I was able to quickly negate every single search result the salesperson represented in the proposal. I cannot even believe how sneaky that is on their part and how many small businesses are being taken in by this practice. 

Here’s how the process went: 

Agent: “When I search for model airplanes, drones, and boats on Google/Bing, MYCOMPANY does not appear. (see attached) Did you know?”

I’ll spare you the pain of the screenshots, but suffice it to say, each was misleading in its own way and none showed the actual terms used in the search or which search platform the results were from. 

This was my response to their proposed “solutions” via screenshots (which, remember, didn’t show the search bar):

      1. The first result was from the keyword search “Professional Drone Services” which is not something my client does.
      2. The second search was for “Commercial Drone Services” also not applicable to this client’s services.
      3. For the search phrase “Remote Control Toys For Sale in MYCITY,” no one is likely to show up above FB Marketplace (especially when the search phrase actually included “new or used”). The real results for “Remote Control Toys for Sale” showed the client on top with a google ad and in second place with a free google business page. (Yay team!)
      4. “Toy Airplanes for sale in MYCITY” isn’t typically how we refer to the client’s products. “Model Airplanes for sale in MYCITY” (much preferred because $$$ over toys) shows the client in first (paid) and second place in google search results.

    The way this advertising campaign was presented, without a specific list of keywords used in the agent’s searches, is misleading at best and shows a lack of knowledge at the least (or a desire to manipulate the data) at the very least.

    So, what can you do to protect yourself from being misled by skewed search results reports?

    Here are a few tips I shared with my client:

        • Be skeptical of reports that are unspecific to keywords and search terms used. You’re just not likely to show up for a one word, non localized search so those screenshots are easy to get.

        • Be skeptical of reports that compare your products/results to national competitors if you are a local small business. You can’t beat Amazon. Ever. And it’s not your main marketing goal anyway (hence “LOCAL” business).

        • Be skeptical if the proposal doesn’t use consistent and accurate terminology throughout (in my mind this includes cutesy little notes and emojis). The agency should know the difference between “search terms” and “keywords” and use each correctly in the way they relate to your business

        • Be skeptical if it seems the agency doesn’t really know your products or services (clearly the case here).

      By following these tips, you can help to ensure that you are getting accurate and unbiased information from the media.

      Just for fun I checked both google ads and google analytics and this client has not had a bing referral for more than 90 days. Just sayin’.

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