Music & Search Engine Marketing: Quality Score & The Volume Game — SES New York 2011

Last day, first session. Still without a bagel. Last night, I was assaulted by hail. New York, you are on notice.

However, we’ve got a couple of sessions today that I picked because they just sounded so different than the norm and I’m actually excited about them. This is the first of them and here’s the panel.

  • Moderator:
    Jeff Ferguson, CEO, Fang Digital
  • Speakers:
    Paul Szymanski, Search Engine Marketing Manager, Sony Music Entertainment
    Clayburn Griffin, Social Media Director, Promediacorp, @Clayburn
  • Avi Wilensky is sitting in for the Q&A portion, @aviw

Music & Search Engine Marketing: Quality Score & The Volume Game

There is no one in this room. Because everyone is still asleep.

Jeff starts off with a little background on the State of the Music Business.

So far, in the 21st century, consumers have spent less money on record music than they had in the 1990s for all formats. It’s like the 1960s out there and only getting worse.

What’s causing the decline? No one really knows.

  • Shift albums to singles?
  • Napster? iTunes? Pandora?
  • Lack of talent?
  • Labels not keeping up with the current tech and promotion methods?

Paul is up first to give us things from the labels’ standpoint.

The fact that music has been suffering which is why the direct to consumer group has been expanding into digital.

In case you didn’t know: Sony Music Entertainment comprises 14 different labels covering rock, hip hop, pop, classical, etc.

The direct to consumer team develops exclusive bundling of artist products. This is t-shirts, signed images, etc.

He was brought in to build the SEM from scratch. He’s focused on revenue, not branding and awareness. Mostly he’s focusing on Google in this presentation.

The main thing that they can control about Quality Score is the relevancy of the build. However they’re seeing QS as low as three for terms that should have a 7-9. (Yesterday, he asked Google about categories receiving low scores. They said they don’t but he thinks they treat all music as low quality.)

Low Quality Score’s Impact:

1. Increase in CPCs

Combated by raising bids

First page bid estimates – CPC increase of 3x to 10x of your average CPC in order to make first page

2. Decrease in volume

Quality Score and Competition?

Artists are unique brands with mostly competition from iTunes and Amazon using dynamic insertion.

How is this cost effective for them?

  • Higher Quality Score?
  • Lower CPCs?

Test: Drive to different domains to determine impact of quality score — doesn’t seem to be an advantage for better known brands.

They want endless volume for

  • ability to generate many transactions for any initiative
  • for those to continue before and after street date
  • analyze purchase behavior
  • Focus on most efficient transactions
  • etc

They don’t really have a purchase funnel exactly. The converting terms that htey have are non-purchase terms. The majority of conversions come from generic artist terms like their name. The volume on very popular artists is higher but the conversions on the same as an emerging artist.

Because of the high volume, QS is affected.

1. Impress Share Lost Due to Rank

  • Low quality score reduced the number of times your ad appears

2. First Page Bid Estimates

  • Ads will not serve at all for selected keywords (except that sometimes they do)

Caveat to the next: Each artist is its own brand — each will behave differently in different mediums, even in the same genre.

Email List Rental:

  • Different from in-house lists which are likely to have excellent performance
  • Targeting correct users
  • limited volume

In-text advertising: [Those annoying links that cover what you’re reading if you mouse over them]

  • Keyword-based CPC buy
  • Adaptable ad units
  • Limited volume for artist specific terms but better for generic terms
  • CPCs at least 2x higher than normal search buy, better for branding


  • CPC or CPM based ad units
  • Image & Test allocations longer than traditional search
  • Very high impression volume
  • Probably better for branding or awareness

Banner Buys:

Branding/Awareness, usually not targeted

however, there are highly targeted campaigns available. Network buys can have very very pricy CPMs, like 10x more than Google’s content network.


  • Difficult to procure offer-based video assets — most are produced for the artists not for ads.
  • YouTube mostly points internally.
  • High Monetary commitment up front for other video outlets

Google Content:


  • Site-targeted text or banner-based buys
  • Significant impression and click volume but low CTR
  • Branding/awareness
  • –Retargeting
  • Highly targeted but seemingly lower volume for high traffic sites.

Conclusion Sony

What can you do?

  • combat low QS from launch – immediately eliminate low QS score terms even if these are ones that you think are very relevant. Add them back in as your overall QS rises, generate small builds with very strict keyword to ad copy correlations, Run only highly-targeted keyword lists
  • Run broad and check search query reports
  • Test, test, test
  • Manage expectations, certain offers will flop — If you don’t include something new or exciting in a Greatest Hits package, no one will buy it. [IOW, sell things that people want, not just the same thing over and over packaged slightly differently.]
  • Do not support low price point products
  • Explore Bing – volume in Bing is very low compared to Google but conversion rates are higher.

Jeff (asking from his experience at Napster): We gave up on PPC because it was just too expensive to compete against you guys on artist terms. Have you considered SEO?

Paul: SEO does drive sales and it’s very beneficial but it’s more the other panelists area.

Clayburn Griffin (which is the most amazing name ever. Kudos Clayburn’s mom.) is up next.  He’s taking the SEO side of things.

SES: Music and Search Engine Marketing

There’s a bunch of different players who all want different things from this: The Artist, Label, Fans, The SEO

Problems for the SEO:

Splash pages (with interstitial pages and offers) block the nice content rich site with a glossy offer page built of Flash and images (use to see your site like the engines see it)

Wikipedia is one of their biggest competitors because it’s always text.

How do you fix the splash page? Use a lightbox instead! [I hate lightboxes. Just saying.] You still get the content but the users get the offer.

The Artistic Vision!

SES: Music and Search Engine Marketing Session

Artists want creativity and SEOs want content. How do you fix that? Use divs to put the text behind the image map [Hey, that’s Adam Lambert’s homepage!  …what? Don’t judge.]


Artists make news. It changes the SERPs and pushes the official site down the page.

It also affects their Suggest. Some artists are good and have good autocompletes. Others like Miley are troublemakers and their news takes over their suggest.

Ke$ha - Good News Citizen

Miley - Bad News Citizen

News can cause a temporary spike in traffic which is good for ad impressions but not for sales.


  • — see who the up and coming artists is (Hey, guys, Justin Timberlake might become a thing. You heard it here first.)
  • — keep tabs on social accounts by artist or by site. [Follow them on Twitter @statdash to get a beta invite]


Ke$ha’s dollar sign causes problems on her site because it uses $ for all S’s. They image replace it and div the S behind it.

How much do brand nicknames get involved: (Led Zeppelin being Zeppelin, Justin Bieber being Biebs, etc)?

They do have to go with the official names but they try to optimize for what the user might be searching for as much as they can. It’s often up to what the artist wants and will let them get away with.

[Ramble from a guy about how corporate radio is killing music because there’s no discoverability or something. Yawn. 60s are over, dude. I don’t even know what his question was but…]

Clay: Statdash came about because Sony needs to monitor so many assets. It can be applied to any bulky workload. They’ll be doing a freemium model.


Susan Esparza is former managing editor at Bruce Clay Inc., and has written extensively for clients and internal publications. Along with Bruce Clay, she is co-author of the first edition of Search Engine Optimization All-in-One Desk Reference For Dummies.

See Susan's author page for links to connect on social media.

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One Reply to “Music & Search Engine Marketing: Quality Score & The Volume Game — SES New York 2011”

My mom appreciates the shout out. Thanks, Susan.


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