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Good Aggregate Tablet Performance Doesn’t Equal Sound Bid Strategy (Exhibit C)

Posted September 25th, 2013 by Andrew Goodman

Let the data revolution continue!

Client C:

  • In retail. This is a good-sized account with a lot of diversity. Big dataset, long date range chosen (but not too long). The business is 99% online.
  • AdWords-attributed revenue annually is north of $4 million and less than $50 million, and that’s all we’re saying. The point is that blanket inefficiencies can cost a lot in absolute terms.
  • All metrics are watched closely by segment (keyword, ad, etc.); particularly revenue (ROAS) & CPA. We also weigh various attribution models in decision-making.
  • The site functions well on both computers and mobile devices, and the checkout process is very smooth by industry standards.
  • Average CPC is virtually identical tablets and computers; tablet CTR’s are slightly higher, but it depends on the product.
  • About 13% of clicks are on tablets.
  • In the aggregate, CPA and ROAS on tablets are only slightly worse than on computers, and they still hit our ROAS targets.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem, though. The trick is in the fact that “aggregate” takes a lot of interesting and diverse behavior by product (ad group), and averages that behavior. It’s in the detail that you find the opportunities, of course. That’s pretty obvious to anyone who has ever bid on a keyword since 2001.

iHomeless-300x225

Here’s what you get when you dig in, ad group by ad group (for this account).

This account is a poster child for the general theory that “usually, tablets perform about the same as computers.” And in many cases, that performance is very good. In fact, as I run through a long list of ad groups by top volume spenders, I find only about 20-25% of the ad groups have deviations in tablet behavior sufficient to warrant a special bid for that ad group. The ratio of “we would bid down” to “we want to bid higher” is around 3:1. What’s more, the deviations in behavior seem to be for recognizable reasons. The poor performers tend to share certain characteristics that attract more casual, nonconverting clicks in the tablet environment specifically.

Long term, it’s clear that Google comes out *roughly even* if they simply allow power users to enter adgroup-specific tablet bid factors, similar to those we can currently control for smartphones.

In this particular account, “only” 20-25% of ad groups being bid too high or too low represents a lot of misallocated resources. It’s really not all that much work to set those bid factors, especially since, past the first 300-400 ad groups, you won’t see statistically significant volume for a long time, so you wouldn’t want to tinker with them.

Whether it is a best-case or worst-case scenario (this being best-case), I say either way, case closed.

As Avinash says: “All data in aggregate is ‘crap’.”

 

Concrete Evidence on Tablet ROI in AdWords (Exhibit B)

Posted September 23rd, 2013 by Andrew Goodman

Continuing the data dump. Data: what a great way to start the week!

Client B

  • In a travel-related business. The dataset is pretty big, so no problem with reliability here.
  • We’re getting lukewarm, but steady, conversions from mobile devices (smartphones) with full browsers. We’re able to control these bids.
  • Success is measured by e-commerce transactions (bookings). Some business is on the phone, but about 60% of conversions happen online.
  • Average CPC is roughly the same between tablets and computers; tablet CTR’s are quite a bit higher.
  • About 15% of clicks are on tablets; about 13% is on smartphones, leaving 72% of current clicks in this account on computers. The smartphone CPC’s are 40% lower than computer, so the spend is manageable.
  • CPA on tablets is about 48% higher than on computers. Much better than the previous example, but still not a profitable channel for the client. Just like any other big segment, we want to control the bid.

Before Enhanced Campaigns, many clients were quite granular with their mobile bidding strategies. Some excluded Android because the buying behavior seemed markedly different on Android devices than on iOS, etc.

I can think of no good reason why Google wouldn’t move to allow this flexibility.  It’s already working well in the mobile devices arena, with many advertisers continuing to spend at “mobile appropriate” levels.

The market for clicks is efficient and opportunists always pile in whenever pricing gets better in a given segment.

“Concrete Evidence” On Tablet ROI in AdWords (Exhibit A)

Posted September 20th, 2013 by Andrew Goodman

At a recent conference, a Google executive reiterated what has become a surprisingly sustained refrain from Google since the full switchover to the Enhanced Campaigns architecture in AdWords: Google believes that “tablet behavior is about the same as computers,” and that there is “no concrete evidence” that any disparities in behavior warrant separate bidding capability for this device type. Yet Google feels that “this does not mean that Google plans to take away the separate reporting, as Google has always maintained the principle of providing data and not shutting off data breakdowns that can help advertisers gain insight.” Do you feel lucky?

Most PPC advertisers are now well aware that all of the granular bidding options for various mobile devices (including OS, device types, etc.) have been taken away under Enhanced Campaigns. Some of this is available for Display, but much of the control was removed for Search. Despite the removal of a “mobile only” campaign capability, some of us believe that the bid factors for smartphones are a convenient way of using a heuristic to simplify account management. The smartphone bid capability is now customizable to the ad group, allowing us to avoid wasting funds on a channel that needs a different bid structure to be profitable for most advertisers.

So the question remains: when will Google let us control our tablet bids? Want to see “evidence” that we urgently need to stop wasting funds in this channel?

All we have to go by is our clients. I’ll start with data from one dart-picked client, and keep going until I get farther down the alphabet. I will also be holding my breath until I turn blue.

In order to maintain client confidentiality, I’ll refrain from sharing date ranges and other private data, but the date ranges are long & the data is significant. The industry segment may be disguised, also.

Client A

  • In a printing-related business
  • Success is measured by e-commerce transactions (sales) and revenues (CPA, ROAS).
  • Average CPC is identical between tablets and computers; tablet CTR’s slightly higher.
  • 7.7% of spend is on tablets; less than 1% is on smartphones as we’ve chosen to largely avoid the latter
  • CPA on tablets is 5.4X that on computers (440% higher)
  • Tablet ROAS is 80% worse than computers (or, it’s 20% the computer number).
  • This is on search campaigns. In our Remarketing campaigns in the Display Network, we have not a single conversion from tablets, ever. Depending on the month, this channel amounts to 10-15% of remarketing spend, but we can’t shut it off or even turn down the bid, despite it never having converted.

Of course, people may switch devices and attribution may not be perfect. And some advertisers may not have a website that makes it quite so hard to customize a purchase on some tablet OS’s, as this advertiser’s does.

But it should be up to the advertiser to decide how to handle bidding on all of their significant, identifiable segments.

Exhibit B… to follow soon!

Testing and Statistical Confidence: The Three Bears

Posted August 26th, 2013 by Andrew Goodman

The primary danger in taking actions in response to data (or even structured tests) in our industry appears to be overconfidence in overt data points and a lack of grasp of randomness and statistical confidence levels, leading to a flurry of actions and tweaks that get us more lost in the woods, not less. (I pointed this out here, last week.)

According to cognitive scientists like Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, humans — even professional statisticians — are “poor intuitive statisticians.” (Predictably, some up-and-coming scholars in the same field have argued just the opposite.)

Translated into terms we see in our daily work in performance-based ad testing (etc.), it’s very common for novices — or even good workers who feel under the gun from bosses/clients who push us to “test more, do more,” — to respond frequently to random bits of data. For example, ads will be paused in favor of the ad or two that are “winning,” despite the statistical confidence levels on the win being (if you took the trouble to run them through a calculator) below 70%, despite the fact that a suboptimal attribution model is used such that sometimes segments get “last click credit” for “converting,” but other times do not (and again, often that is for no rhyme nor reason other than pure randomness). “What’s working better” in a combination of ads, keywords, queries, landing pages, inter-family buying dynamics, and medium to long consideration cycles — is never as easy as it looks. Tweaking to random data is, arguably, tantamount to concluding tests before they’re finished. In other words, you set up a whole bunch of experiments, and then shut them down prematurely. Wasted resources and insufficient learning/takeaways.

Too much random tweaking, we might say, is the action of the Impetuous Bear.

At the other end of the spectrum is the Inertia Bear. That bear once saw an A/B test that was rigged to be exactly the same ad competing with itself. 9 conversions accrued to the “winning version,” and only one to the “losing” (yet identical) version. Consulting the math experts, that outcome (in the case of a truly fair coin flip) happens only ten times out of 1024, so it’s less than 1% likely to happen. And yet it happened! From this, the Inertia Bear decides to insert a lot of these “placebo tests” into testing as a way to guard against acting on purely random results. Over time, though, the paranoia about some results necessary being random or impossible to explain (or correlate with the triggers being tested) begins to creep into a general mistrust of testing. That leads to a broader trend away from building anything new. That works fine, until it doesn’t.

So is the answer to simply be “Moderate Bear” and chart a path in between the two? Well, certainly you want to avoid either of these two extremes.

But in addition to that, you probably should be Curious Bear or Creative Bear, the kind of bear that fashions new things to see what might come of them, regardless of what the data say. If you’re purely driven by spreadsheets, provable outcomes, and “what’s best for the shareholders,” your output is bound to be less interesting. (See If Steve Ballmer Ran Apple.) And the end result of that, we see all around us. It’s why — despite not being an Apple guy either — while I have been somewhat intrigued by the Microsoft Surface tablet, I never bothered to actually buy one. If someone didn’t demonstrably pour some passion into the conception and development of the product, then why would I line up to buy it? Probably, I eventually will. Maybe. (Is that level consumer intent even worth testing around?)

The Relentlessly-Widening Performance Gap

Posted August 14th, 2013 by Andrew Goodman

Recently, I had a chance to review a deck produced by one agency handing back over a PPC account to its client owners (or potentially, a future agency).

Bullet point after bullet point referred to emphatic actions taken in the account. No doubt this only scratched the surface of the great number of actions taken.

I’ve always worked in the AdWords auction with a tacit ideal of “the perfect account.” Of course, there is no such thing. But insofar as every action has a chance to move either towards or away from perfection (much like a bronze sculpture, except that PPC is 90% science, 10% art), the end result of a vast many changes can vary greatly from manager to manager, account to account.

Analogy #43,589: you can think you’re going in a straight line in the forest, when what you’re really doing is making so many wrong turns you get impossibly lost. Getting out of the forest is actually easy, though, if all goes reasonably well. You find a river and follow it. Not counting the potential hypothermia and bears, “lost in the forest” is a picnic compared with “made 5,000 wrong moves in AdWords.”

What if the majority of changes in the account are pure guesswork, such that no change — the status quo — would have been superior to the change? As performance challenges toughen, are those errors compounded by further changes and desperation borne of declining performance? That sense of urgency — ironically, created by an urgent sense that bold, decisive action needs to be taken (often in the absence of insight into how much of that action is based on inexperience or guesswork) — parallels the “Death Spiral” concept that Jim Collins outlines in books like Good to Great. (That’s the opposite of focusing on the Hedgehog Concept and Turning the Flywheel.)

When you see a list of initiatives being taken in account management, it’s worth asking: how much of it is pure guesswork? Guesswork is nothing like testing. A testing orientation will greatly reduce guesswork. A typical “guesswork” bullet point would say something like “paused all ads with CTR below 1%.” Testing isn’t like that. Try instead: “Chose the winning ad, based on a thorough understanding of performance criteria, not necessarily reduced to one variable in all cases, and insofar as feasible, with statistically significant data (to a 95% or 99% confidence level).”

Other guesswork gimmicks include adding 1,000 new exact match keywords to an account from a keyword dump, because you have a theory about exact match. Despite 30% of those phrases being poor fits in the account. One step forward… two steps back… endless busywork… not data-driven.

When accounts are managed based on pure guesswork, they get farther and farther from perfect, rather than the other way around. Approaching perfection isn’t easy. Even the best account managers using the smartest rules will make many so-so decisions. But they need to be vastly outweighed by a strong overall sense of how moving parts in an account strategy fit together. And most of all, the actions taken should be accurate (not guesswork) most of the time.

Not as easy as it looks. It’s especially daunting to decide (many times over) that “no action” is safer than “wrong action.” How can you improve anything unless you’re constantly doing stuff, right? (Unless it’s the wrong stuff!)

If you hand a high quality account over to a relative novice, it’s predictable what will happen: performance will begin gradually deteriorating from Day One. As things worsen, the scattershot “panic tweaking” begins. It then takes a steady hand and a high quality rebuild to bring everything back into line.

Give an account to a guesswork-driven manager to build from the start, and there’s a good chance it won’t reach anywhere close to its potential.

As one of my colleagues said to a client, once: “It’s like chess.” (Unfortunately, turned out the client was a Chess Grandmaster, and far smarter than 99.99% of the population at chess. But that’s a story for another day.)

Manufacturing Purple Cows When Others Can’t

Posted August 12th, 2013 by Andrew Goodman

“All they care about is price.” Seth Godin reminds us that pure commodity thinking is deadly. If that’s all your customers can think about, they don’t care about anything to do with your product.

As PPC marketers wading into competitive (sometimes expensive) keyword auctions, we’re dead before we begin if we can’t suss out some so-called Unique Selling Propositions. Call it an identity. Call it differentiation. Call it a “story” (All Marketers Are Liars). Or just call it a Purple Cow.

Looking back over the long haul of efforts to win through sheer tactics, I can’t find too many businesses that have been unbendingly commodified to the point where we just throw up our hands, helpless. There have been a few. Web hosting is so bad it will make your eyes bleed if you’re a PPC marketer. Obviously, stuff like credit card deals and comparison sites will get pretty ridiculous as well. And even if you’re really good at working hard on the details — endlessly tweaking landing pages for conversion, even — you’re up against other companies that have Tim Ash or Conversion Rate Experts working on the same thing, up against obsessed PPC optimization and testing from the likes of yours truly (Page Zero Media), etc. It’s no picnic.

We were pretty impressed when one of our former clients, 50% of whose revenues came from various takes on web hosting, threw up their hands and divested all of their web hosting businesses in order focus on areas that were working, areas that weren’t so ludicrously commoditized.

Even at that, their other line of business — domain names (in various guises and areas of that industry) — is supposedly dangerously commoditized due to the well-known “GoDaddy effect.” The GoDaddy Effect has reached way beyond GoDaddy of course. Behemoths like Yahoo, various utility companies, web developers and yes hosting companies by the thousands — are all in on the act.

We certainly found that turning a profit on an $8 or $15 domain name registration wasn’t going to be a walk in the park via PPC. Over the years, we had our successes and failures in that endeavor. But the client, fortunately, kept building their unique take on their services, and an extremely loyal following. Plain and simple, what they offered was better and more tailored to the discerning customer’s needs. The sometimes-higher price point was simply a signal of that better neighborhood. And indeed, nearly 100% of the customers are buying from our client as a conscious protest against the GoDaddy’s of the world.

After years of staying the course, building great products, and telling their story in a supposed “commodity” business, this client has experienced a nice little breakout. (Their stock price is, in fact, up 82% in the past year, and business has never been better.)

Drawing out your unique qualities is almost always vitally important unless your competitors (and their agencies or in house professionals) are just stumblebums when it comes to logistics and campaign optimization. And it is almost always possible.

Like Seth says, it’s pretty rare that you can purely out-execute your industry peers by managing strictly to numbers. That is tablestakes, to be sure. But your big breakthroughs come from figuring out how people are going to react emotionally to your offering. Yes, emotionally.

PPC: Fast and Slow

Posted July 11th, 2013 by Andrew Goodman

At our house, “Canada’s Worst Driver” is a huge hit. The show is so popular nationwide that it’s into its eighth season. Not too shabby.

Speaking of “hit,” that’s what contestants do to the inanimate objects in the obstacle courses, on a regular basis. On “Canada’s Worst Driver,” the expert judges consist of a retired cop, a couple of advanced driving instructors, and – yes – a psychologist.

This last one is telling, because the show is like a lab demonstration of just how sound theories of attention are. Even if you’re a talented driver, distractions can be hazardous. Distractions can drain anyone’s ability to concentrate. The most dysfunctional drivers also happen, quite often, to be part of dysfunctional couples. When the hyper-critical spouse is riding shotgun, there is screaming, crying, and denting of fenders. When they kick the spouse out and let the “hopeless” driver go it alone, there is often marked improvement.

Many of us would rather rely on our “raw skill” than admit we need to step back and build in a consistent routine intended to manage our natural limitations.

In the highly acclaimed “Thinking: Fast and Slow,” Daniel Kahneman synthesizes decades of research that has uncovered two distinct thinking “systems” in our brains. System 1 (reactive) is essential for bundling together eons of evolution and a lifetime of experience into seamless performance. As amazing as this system is, its performance is easily degraded – for example, by fatigue and distractions. It won’t work effectively in the modern world without System 2, a deliberative form of thinking that is required to produce rational outcomes.

Back to the example of driving: assuming we’re reasonably skilled drivers, Kahneman notes that we’re amazing at letting our eyes and hands work to steer around a curve, with little consciousness of our skill in processing the information and reacting to it. But we need System 2 to tell us to set up a routine like drinking coffee, singing, and rolling the windows down on a long drive. Although unromantic, years of deliberations by engineers have taken our “skill” of slamming on the brakes in dangerous situations and created a much safer (machine-driven) stopping method: ABS. Neither our legs nor our brains can jam the brakes on and off fifteen times per second. We’re safer now on slick pavement because of System 2; i.e., what the engineers built and tested over a long period of time.

Too often, we hop into our PPC accounts with an excess dependence on an all-too-human System 1, like we’re some spreadsheet-enabled Tarzan swinging on a vine.

Neither being busy, nor being “really good at this stuff,” should be an excuse for completely ignoring the need to incorporate deliberative, “slow-thought” protocols into your campaign management methodology. The fact that it feels “right” to nervously tweak incremental details of accounts during the “fast season” doesn’t make that activity particularly effective. It doesn’t mean you’re off the hook in terms of System 2.

Now that we’re hitting the summer months, you may be relieved to have a little breathing room to work on more methodical, “important but not urgent” initiatives. Indeed, if you put in the time now, things might feel less frantic come fall. Not only that, but System 2 is great at building systems, protocols, and machines… not just operating them with a twitchy trigger finger. Systems, protocols, and machines are what will make you the real money. How are you going to build something new or better that scales, that relies less on your raw animal (or even advanced cognitive) abilities?

Here are some to-do’s to consider:

  • Set up new remarketing audiences and come up with new image ad creative. If you have a PPC account with little or no remarketing set up, you need to do this yesterday. The same goes for replacing outmoded remarketing code with “new” remarketing code, such as Google’s Universal Remarketing Tag. Remember that a remarketing audience must be cookied as such; your audience size starts at zero. Get that code installed on the website! Start now! If you’ve already started remarketing, work on thinking it throug more thoroughly, with custom combinations that include cart abandoners, a “don’t show any ads for the first three days” setting, etc., as seems appropriate to your custom needs. Or contact your Google rep for more information on Dynamic Remarketing, if you retail a large number of products. Finally, think through what story you want to tell, or what brand image you want to portray, with your image ads. You’ll be serving tens of millions of impressions, typically. What do you want people to see (over, and over, and over)?
  • Build simple or complex bid rules and figure out how often you’ll run them. Along with the more obvious account-wide sweeps you might do to look for anomalies or opportunities, you can also try less comprehensive, non-obvious ways of building filters and bid rules to create bespoke outcomes. For example, filter for match type and bid down on a match type you feel has been grabbing too much impression share away from better match types. Or run an account-wide match type performance report using a third-party tool like Optmyzr. That can be a nice way to inject your creativity and your “rock star powers” into the equation. But it is System 2 thinking because you’re slowing down and taking stock of how the account functions, instead of merely reacting to little pieces of data like Miguel Cabrera diving out of the way of a brushback pitch.

brushback pitch

  • Review long-running ad tests with insight into why they were set up that way in the first place. Don’t just stab the pause button at lower performers, and don’t end tests that are too close together in performance yet to be statistically distinct. Take some time to recall what principles went into the tests, and if you draw any conclusions, take time to communicate those with someone – preferably in writing. To take an example, a client in the office furniture business has several internal landing pages that are underperforming the home page in terms of ROI on PPC. Had we followed only best practices, we’d have stuck rigidly to the notion that the keyword should take us to the focused landing page, and that is that. We now have more insight into the workings of the site as it relates to different product lines. Testing is about the spirit of inquiry, which requires continuity and planning. It’s not nearly as effective when it’s only about stabbing a pause button.
  • Deliberately incorporate teamwork; don’t be a lone wolf. Successful testing, and successful companies, require a culture of acceptable debate and disagreement, as shown by Jim Collins in “Good to Great” – Collins calls it “confronting the brutal facts.” Testing isn’t about consensus, it’s about learning and iterating. As Seth Godin pointed out in “Survival Is Not Enough,” you need to think about how to involve various perspectives in your decision-making so that there is a robust mDNA (meme DNA) in your operations. Godin insightfully argues that in terms of evolving to meet new industry challenges, “competence” can be a company’s worst enemy, as it gets stuck on a routinized “winning strategy.” To shake things up when seeking input, consider a shortcut: informally “crowdsourcing” within your own company (assuming you’ve encouraged diversity in your company) – use an anonymous process if that helps. Be supportive of “weird” ideas, as long as they’re not the only ideas people suggest.
  • Get high-powered tools working for you. Above, say, $500,000 in annual ecommerce revenues, do you really have any excuse not to put a program of A/B testing in place for key landing pages? And for a busy home page driving $2 million or more, is there any excuse not to seek out an advanced multivariate testing tool to see if you can’t create a lift of 15-20% in conversions from visitors landing there? Simple math: 15% X $2 million = $300,000/yr. in increased revenues. For that kind of money, it’s pretty obvious what you should do: push away from the desk so you can’t tweak those same keyword bids 50 more times, or add another 700 negative keywords to a campaign. Get the right tools and team together and set that goal to generate that 15% lift in conversion from that page.

Cognitive scientists like Kahneman and his colleagues often employ a simple word to describe our tendency to over-rely on System 1 (reactive/heuristic thought), and to avoid too much engagement with the more mentally taxing System 2: “lazy.” It seems we’re hard-wired to conserve mental energy. Reacting does not wear us out as much as stepping back and planning. But of course a day spent reacting will be a day where we eventually make many mistakes as we fatigue, even if we’re “smart” or “sharp.”

So, plan we must. And some of that planning needs to create the kind of consistency that appears to take “us” out of the equation. By taking steps to remove your System 1 self out of the equation more often, and using your System 2 self to do so, arguably, it’s a higher-order “you” that’s involved. “Smart” or “sharp” needs to give way to “rational” when dealing with large, complex systems. It is rocket science.

To profit in the midst of modern, complex systems, our natural aversion to System 2 thinking (it’s just so taxing) is something we need to combat. System 1 was great for prehistoric man running from a hungry predator, and remains an advantage in the sport of dodgeball. But it’s terrible for sitting at a desk and correctly intuiting statistical confidence in an ad test.

Schedule an appropriate amount of time in your schedule for System 2 thinking. There’s no time like the present!

An earlier version of this column ran at ClickZ on Nov. 30, 2012. Reprinted by permission.

The Most Credible Brands Are the Thought Leaders… and How Google Is Going to Make Very Sure of That

Posted July 8th, 2013 by Andrew Goodman

What does it look like these days when someone Googles your brand? For years, that question has been under the purview of “online reputation management.”

Phase I of that field (1998-2007) was roughly: did you screw up your meta-tags and title tags, inadvertently block Google and other search engines with your robots.txt file or some arcane spider-stopper, or have you been so lazy about any kind of online engagement or presence that malicious mentions of your company overshadow the core information that you hope prospective customers find when they first go looking?

In Phase II (2008-2012), there were more ways of, in essence, complying with certain norms and channels offered by Google that could help you put a lot of useful information out for human consumption, much of it predictably appearing above the fold on the first page of search results. Along with your main home page (and increasingly, most companies took advantage of the opportunity to take up vastly more screen real estate by taking advantage of SiteLinks in the organic SERP’s), you’d do well if you had significant video content. You could also take up further space with a nice juicy paid search unit on your brand term, made larger through the incorporation of SiteLinks. Many companies began monitoring for new good and bad mentions — at first, in a semi-clueless way, and over time, in a more ongoing fashion using well-established tools.

Welcome to Phase III (2013-). Google is eager to provide brands with additional means of demonstrating their personalities and thought leadership. Certainly this would not be the case for Google’s bread and butter — searches with high commercial intent that Google must earn revenue from. But on brand keyword searches, it is clearly Google’s wish to promote the whole idea of “deep content” and “ongoing engagement.” Across the board, Google is frustrated with faux content and cheap tricks used by bit players attempting to rank well using SEO parlor tricks. The flip side of Google’s more punitive side — algorithmically and manually cracking down on cheating and purveying of scraped or low-quality content — is this apparent campaign to provide publishers and brands with incentives to be engaged and interesting. Whether this is done indirectly, via blog posts and articles, or in a more integrated fashion, through direct posting in Google’s own social media environment (Google+), Google’s environment seems bent on rewarding the adopters. So it almost goes without saying that, in this context, “adopter” means

Among other things, this continues to be serious business in the undeniable battle for mindshare between Google and Facebook, as companies and “environments.” Google+ isn’t Facebook now and may never be. But it can be hazardous to your business health to underestimate Google. (Remember the adoption curves of GMail and Chrome?) A recent search ranking factors study by Searchmetrics points out — almost as an aside — that Google+ is on pace to meaningfully eclipse Facebook if you go by certain metrics (+1′s vs likes, etc.) by the middle of 2016.

The adopters are already being rewarded. Those integrating their blog posts and overall presence with a clearly identifiable Google+ identity are showing up with nice large boxes — complete with logo, image, and rich snippet — to the right hand side of the SERP. Rather than a set of plain listings, then, a search for (say) Hootsuite provides a showcase for the brand, positioning it as a thought leader you should consider following.

Hootsuite SerP

Even a formerly clumsy brand like Canadian Tire is apparently going all in with its social media strategy, enjoying a similar treatment with the large visible Canadian Tire logo to the right hand side of the screen. In this case, the user isn’t taken to a blog post on the CT site, but rather directly to its Google+ page. There are some clear hiccups here: the post I got was in French and it felt like I came into the middle of a conversation I don’t understand… something about helping their team kick the tires, as it were, on this very social media experiment. This effort is threatening to be a bit of a Meatball Sundae.

Canadian Tire SERP

Barnes & Noble turns up in the sad camp. The flailing, mid-sized retailer of books appears to be a non-adopter of both social media integration and paid search with SiteLinks. This draws even more attention to a negative mention: a Forbes story asking if the company will be around in five years.

barnesandnoble serp

Another company that could be doing better? Hormel. Perhaps the problem lies in their association with Spam. But that’s a debate for another day.

And how is a reputational legend like Zappos doing in this environment? Very well, it seems. A search for “Zappos” brings up the same box, image, and logo with a link, no doubt emanating from a post on their Google+ page. This one’s a little weird, because all it says is “Nothing like a fresh pair of shoes,” with a link, simply, to the Zappos home page. Not exactly thought leadership. Well, if the shoe fits…

zappos serp

Google has set the table. Now, we all have a lot of work to do.

Display Ads That Perform

Posted June 25th, 2013 by Andrew Goodman

As we explained three years ago, we are now seeing a renaissance in the effectiveness of online display advertising because so many of the dollars have shifted from believing in certain “channels” and “publications,” to “users” and “behaviors.”

Even a superintelligent machine-learning display advertising system like adMetrica, which I love, is hampered insofar as it only learns about “places to put ads,” as opposed to “users who have a high propensity to respond favorably to those ads, based on recent behavior.”

Many casual advertisers haven’t caught full wind of the shift. On one hand, they might have been sold a piecemeal retargeting piece by a third-party vendor, and are playing around with it. On the other hand, they might still think of the “Google content network” as something that shows text ads intelligently on relevant pages, based on matching technology, keywords you feed it, or publications or URL’s you choose. And they might be unaware that various behavioral channels called “Interest Categories,” for example, do not target solely based on publication or “page,” but rather mostly on cookied users’ behavior patterns. For remarketing audiences, Google has even released a product called “Similar Audiences” to help advertisers reach a wider group than just users who have been cookied on one’s website. The idea is that Google uses statistical similarities in user behavior and attributes to try to give you another audience to remarket to — but one that you didn’t have to entice to your site in the first place. (So far, not much luck with this one, but we’ll keep trying.)

The tradeoff with doing more behavioral advertising is clear: the creep factor. Less ominously, it’s just a practical matter: we as marketers have to buckle down and stop showing repetitive offers to people who have visited our sites, abandoned our carts, etc. Sure, these efforts are extremely effective for a subset of the population, and they convert far better than typical display ads. But as Brian Easter hilariously showed at a recent SES Toronto panel on Remarketing, via a home movie of his dog rejecting the same bone seven times… if someone’s not interested, they’re just not interested.

As part of his presentation, Easter (of Nebo Agency in Atlanta) mentioned three principles (almost as asides) that still stick in my mind.

Principle 1: ”Profit doesn’t beget profit. Great user experiences beget profit.”

What I think he meant: Because retargeting is such a powerful way to boost engagement with an identifiable group of recent website visitors, it’s possible to maximize profit short-term by hammering those audiences very hard with messages. But if you want to be around for the long term, thoughtful and relevant conversations and offers are much more sustainable for the long term. Leave a little on the table now, so you can make money next year, and the year after that. Don’t forget all the efforts you’ve put into maintaining a great image and rapport with your customers just because you’re squinting too hard at the ROI column on one type of marketing spend. Among other things, use impression caps and well-thought-out audience definitions to avoid irritating people unnecessarily.

Principle 2: ”Behavior trumps demographics.”

What he meant: You’ve got Brian’s permission — and mine — to walk out of a meeting where some know-it-all with demographic research drones on about some particular target audience, as if someone’s just going to be salivating to buy today because you’ve got data that shows your product, a $35,000 motorcycle, “resonates” best with 5’7″ overweight men 28-35 with middle incomes. If a 75-year-old, wealthy, 6’6″, thin, white-haired gentleman has walked into a dealership that week and pronounced that he will “probably” be back later to “pay cash for the hog,” it’s probably worth figuring out how to craft a respectful message for (or send a birthday cake to) that near-buyer rather than bothering half the planet.

Principle 3: Don’t be lazy.

What he meant: Pay attention to image ad creative. If you’re going to be building a brand image or telling a story over an extended period of time, then craft that story in full and keep the creative diverse and interesting. The same banner over and over 50 times? The knee-jerk discounting that reduces the advertiser’s long-term ability to protect margins, sends confusing messages about brand positioning, and also costs the company margin on that particular (potential) sale? Rethink these lazy approaches to remarketing.

Grateful Friday

Posted June 21st, 2013 by Andrew Goodman

Recently, Gord Hotchkiss penned a column that referred to a panel discussion he led on, wait for it, “Is Advertising Evil?” At least he was brave enough to ask the question. There must be times when we ask how the practices in what we do for a living square with who we are. Those who simply “are” their profession, and nothing else, are puzzled by such questions. For the rest of us, we’d rather keep that “real person inside” alive… the one with a beating heart and a moral compass.

So today I came across an ad from Sunnybrook Hospital in the Globe and Mail for a High-Intensity Focused Ultrasound procedure that helped a man regain a certain brain area connected to motor function. The mention of HIFU had a personal connection for me, as we had the opportunity to work on accounts related to a HIFU process used in Canada to treat prostate cancer. Page Zero’s Scott Perry worked on the PPC accounts; our Cory Kleinschmidt redesigned a website and created an effective and respectful lead form.

The Sunnybrook ad takes us to something interesting: a fund that isn’t about specific disease, but rather the Sunnybrook Innovation Hub that builds the infrastructure and environment for experiments that can lead to great healthcare breakthroughs. Drill down and you can find out how to donate. It works just like regular charitable donation in Canada.

I’m grateful to be able to work with colleagues like Cory and Scott, and our past client in the HIFU medical field… and of course (with no professional connection to them whatsoever) to those promoting the Sunnybrook initiative in medical simulation technology in today’s Globe ad. All of whom prove that while advertising is sometimes a little bit evil, it doesn’t have to be. And every so often it is a whole lot good.

 


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