After the announcement last week of The Yahoo! and Microsoft Search Alliance, I thought it would be helpful to take a look at the adCenter tools that are available, and how you can use them to help grow and optimize your accounts.

Microsoft adCenter Desktop Tool
As an avid user of the Adwords Editor, I was delighted when Microsoft launched their adCenter desktop tool. Sure, I knew it wouldn’t be as robust or user friendly, but at least it was something! Over the past year I’ve stumbled upon a few things that I hope will help streamline the use of the desktop tool, and make it a little more effective for editing and optimizing your campaigns.

When using the desktop tool, there are a few things that I think are important to keep in mind:

  • Your entire account will be downloaded when exporting. Unlike the Editor, you are not able to choose specific campaigns, ad groups, ads, or views to download. You get the whole enchilada every time. However, when uploading, it is not necessary to have every row of your account in your spreadsheet, nor do you have to have every column accounted for. You do however, need to have enough information included so the level you are editing can be identified. For example, if you are editing your keyword status and bids, you need to include the campaign and ad group columns along with the keyword columns that contain your changes. When in doubt, more information is better.
  • Your CSV import file can’t be more than 10,000 rows. Though a rep gave me this threshold, I haven’t seen an official limit documented. I have, however, had more success uploading when I kept my file between 5,000-8,000 rows. I also prefer to break up my account by campaigns, and upload them separately when possible, but that’s just a personal preference.
  • You can edit multiple rows at once. Like the editor, you can select multiple selections at once within the tool. This is helpful, because you can quickly change things like the CPC, status, or match type for multiple rows in one step (assuming you want them all to the same).
  • There are multiple account views. When viewing the various sections of your account, you have multiple choices about the data you are looking at. You can see the entire account, pending changes, errors, etc. However, as you change between the levels of your account (campaign, ad group, ads, keywords) the view doesn’t hold. This isn’t a big deal, but it’s something to keep in mind so you ensure that you are always looking at an accurate view.
  • Your CSV Import file layout matters. When importing, I’ve found that I have fewer errors when I start with an export file instead of the template you can get online. As I mentioned above, you do not have to have all of the columns or rows from the export file, but you do need to make sure that headers you are using are in the same order, and are called the same thing in order for your import to be successful.

In addition to editing your campaigns offline, the desktop tool can help you with your keyword research, and you can automatically add the relevant results to your ad groups, or add them as campaign or ad group negatives. There are four tools that you can use, but it’s important to keep in mind that the data in these tools is based on US Traffic Only, and the only metric you will see is last month’s impressions.

  1. Similar keywords: enter a word or phrase, and it will come up with (you guessed it!) similar keywords.
  2. Extracted keywords: enter a website, and it will give you a list of keywords that are the most prominent and/or relevant from that site. This tool can be very helpful for competitive reviews.
  3. Frequent keywords: this tool gives you keywords that have a lot of impressions, but they are EXTREMELY broad (think Google and Yahoo), so they probably won’t be very relevant to your business.
  4. Category Keywords: This tool gives you keywords that generate impressions within categories created by MSN. For example, in the Animals category, the term “dogs” was returned. Again, the results from this tool are more than likely too broad to be of any real use to you.

Microsoft Advertising Intelligence
We all understand that quality keyword research is what helps not only get our campaigns off to a great start, but that it is vital for their ongoing success as search evolves. I’ve been able to use this Excel plug-in to create new keyword lists, have more insight into the Bing content network, and identify search trends. It’s very easy to use, and it’s incredibly fast considering the amount of information that is returned. As with the desktop tool, there are a few things that I’ve found while using the tool that you might want to keep in mind:

  • Make sure that Excel 2007 is installed on your computer.
  • The data that is returned comes from index and adCenter. It’s important to keep in mind that Bing accounts for less than 10% of the traffic share right now, so you can’t assume the data is applicable to your Google or Yahoo! accounts. Instead, use the information as a guideline to understand the relative search volume, relevance, and pricing for one keyword over another, and combine it with other research efforts.
  • If you’re all of a sudden unable to access the toolbar after using it for a while, change the time on your computer/server. We found that by changing the time by about five minutes we were able to once again verify our account, and regain access.
  • Once the plug-in is installed you can access the three tool sections through your Excel toolbar.

The Keyword Research section gives you access to a variety of tools that allow you to perform the following tasks:

  • Identify keyword categories to help your campaigns and ad groups stay organized.
  • Recognize trends by spotting traffic spikes. This tool can help you analyze seasonal trends, and help you prepare for upcoming shifts in traffic.
  • Find high volume keywords across different business verticals to help with competitive research.
  • Gather demographic and location information on searchers.
  • Forecast keyword volume for the month to help you manage your spend.
  • Analyze content network statistics so you can identify high volume keywords and potential relevant domains.

The Pricing section contains tools that help you:

  • Access pricing estimates for the search and content networks.
  • Create benchmarks based on key performance indicators (KPIs) for various verticals that have been pre-determined within the tool.

The Content section, while currently only for the US, gives you tools to:

  • Identify most frequently seen keywords within various verticals.
  • Analyze pricing estimates by vertical for both the search and content networks.
  • Gather content network pricing and impression estimates.

Effectively Using adCenter PPC Tools
Overall I think Microsoft has come a long way in helping advertisers better manage their campaigns, and I look forward to seeing how the merger will further enhance these tools. At the end of the day it is our responsibility as advertisers to understand what our data represents, and know how to use it to effectively grow and optimize our campaigns. No matter what tools you use to streamline your account changes, or conduct keyword research, take a few extra minutes to try and understand what you are looking at, and what, if any, shortcomings the data might have. Combining data from multiple reliable sources will always help ensure that you are making the best decision possible.