Vetting Competitors in the Digital Advertising Race


RED INDY STRAIGHTAWAY shutterstock_141403861In my last post, I drew parallels between the “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” – the Indianapolis 500 – and the current state of digital advertising because recent changes to Google’s Search Engine Results Page (SERP) have made competing for space a more rigorous contest. And when faced with picking a winning strategy for this daunting challenge, digital marketers would be wise to remember there is more than one competitor on the track.

Yes, Google has earned the pole position. But it’s worthwhile considering other racers, such as Bing or YouTube and social-media contestants Facebook and Instagram. These online venues can still yield excellent results. By placing figurative bets on multiple vehicles, you can determine whether keeping all your money riding on Google is the most optimal strategy. Perhaps you should spread your digital advertising wagers across several “cars” in the race, which could yield a more dominant position in the field.

So, let’s kick a few tires…

Bing customers tend to be more educated and affluent. It’s the default search engine on Windows 10 devices, including the popular Microsoft Surface laptop/tablet hybrid, which are becoming standard issue in corporate suites. Bing’s share of the search market, while still much smaller than Google, is growing. It’s worth consideration, especially if the demographics of your target market align with Bing users, which are skewing toward businesses large and small.

If you want more eyeballs and increased branding at a relatively low cost, then YouTube is a solid option. After all, it is the second-largest search engine on the internet.

Depending on your product, Instagram might be a good option, too. Particularly for business-to-consumer marketers who have visually appealing products, we are seeing some strong results on Instagram. Flowers, landscape designers, foodies – these are strong plays on Instagram. However, if you are a B2B industrial machine supplier, Instagram is probably not the best venue for a share of your marketing budget.

Another avenue to explore down is remarketing campaigns on Facebook. Remarketing, if you’re not familiar with the term, is the ability to show an ad to someone who has previously visited your website or Facebook page. Since we know most consumers begin their purchasing decision process online, remarketing is an excellent way to reconnect with people who have already shown some interest in your company or product.

Facebook’s targeting options have improved dramatically, so you have many options for reaching people: standard demographics, of course, as well as tight geographic areas, interests, pages they have visited and liked. Especially useful to many advertisers are “lookalike” options – the ability to target people who share similar characteristics to a group you understand already, such as your current customer base.

Now that you’ve vetted the racers, it’s time to determine the best approach to race day. More on that topic in my next post.

Racing for the Win in Digital Advertising


Red Indy carThe month of May ends with “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” – the Indianapolis 500. This year marks the 100th running of the race, and the race organizers have spent considerable time and money updating the facility, which is the largest sporting venue in the world.

Maybe it’s the smell of ethanol in the air, but I can’t help but think of the parallels between this event and the current state of digital advertising.

Just as the Indy 500 represents the potential for the most people to watch a race, so too does Google offer the biggest audience for search engine marketers. And recent changes at the storied track have many long-time race fans wondering what to expect when they arrive, just as digital advertisers are trying to navigate the latest updates to Google’s Search Engine Results Page (SERP).

There’s one more important parallel. While drivers yearn to be among the top competitors at Indy, it’s not the only race on their calendar. Digital advertisers likewise have many other options where they can compete.

Who Else is in the Race?

Clearly, Google is the king of search; if you can capture one of the coveted spots it can do wonders for your business.

But what if you can’t? Small and mid-size businesses (SMBs) will have more and more trouble competing as time goes on, and even larger organizations may struggle. It may be worthwhile to consider other channels, such as Bing or YouTube and social-media darlings Facebook and Instagram. These online venues can still yield excellent results. By testing on multiple platforms you can determine whether you need to keep all of your investment on Google, or perhaps can branch out to others where you can gain a more dominant position.

While these channels usually don’t draw the sheer volume of eyeballs that Google commands, many advertisers are nonetheless finding them to be effective.

In my next post, we’ll take a closer look at each up-and-coming channel: Microsoft’s Bing, YouTube and the social platforms Instagram and Facebook.

Draw Virtual Shopping Crowds: Capitalize on Shopping Improvements for SEM Success


Shopping cart of crowdsIn 2012, 42 million people died during the bloodiest Black Friday weekend in history.

Okay, that’s not really true. That was The Onion’s unique satirical style chronicling our quest to get the best shopping deal. Today’s post, fortunately, keeps us away from the literal bloody fray. But online marketers are engaged in their own very real shopping battle as they fight to get in – or stay in – one of the all-important top ad spots.

Previously, we explained how recent changes in Google’s Search Engine Results Page (SERP) layout affect your opportunities for ad exposure. With up to 30% fewer ad placements on a page, winning one of those spots is imperative for marketers. We looked at how to be strategic in your search engine marketing efforts and how to improve your targeting to achieve better results.

This is the fourth in a five-part series on how to win the search engine marketing (SEM) race. To tell the story, we’ve used analogies involving athletes and competitive sports: runners, hockey and basketball. Today, we dive into the ultimate “contact sport” – shopping.

Gaining Advantages in Ad Campaigns

At first blush, losing those side ad spots seems like a major blow to online marketers. But the glass-half-full view sees a strong benefit: fewer distractions. The top four spots will stand out in the cleaner one-column layout. Smart retailers can use shopping campaigns and Product Listing Ads (PLAs) to gain additional advantages.

Since the SERP changes took effect, the click-through rate for the top spots has increased. That’s incentive to continue working hard on refining your ads so you can claim one of those lofty positions. For those who aren’t in one of those top four spots, shopping ads are a good way to stand out when customers do scroll to the bottom of the page. Either way, you have to get smarter and stay smarter about how and when your ads appear so you can enhance your chances of turning browsers into buyers.

Focus on Campaign Structure

For online retailers, the first order of business should be in taking steps to capitalize on shopping improvements within Google. Consider splitting out product groups, increasing bids and testing different tactics to discover what performs best.

Look first at your campaign structure, which needs to be well thought out. All too often we see one shopping channel with all of the retailer’s products tossed into it. This is akin to setting up a four-foot cube in the middle of your store, then filling it with one of everything you have to sell. Your customers have to dig through everything to find the specific item they want. They may start digging, because they really want to buy your product, but they will quickly abandon the search.

That’s why we encourage you to break each product into its own ad group. If you have an enormous amount of SKUs, that’s not practical, but with hundreds, even thousands of products, it’s still manageable. Splitting products into discrete ad groups helps to ensure the right product is showing to the right people at the right time. You will have far greater success with this strategy than if you simply toss all of your products into a virtual “bin” and let Google reach in and pull one out to show your prospects.

With a strong campaign structure that has separate product groups, you can also employ techniques such as phrase matching and negative keywords to exact much more control over which products will be displayed.

For example, if someone is searching for “contact lenses,” you may have hundreds of SKUs that would match. To increase the chances of conversion, you could use keyword fencing to limit the SKUs that will show to your top five best sellers. This increases conversions and prevents prospects from having a bad search experience that displays items in which they have no interest.

With fewer ad placements on a page, competition is going to get fierce. That means you must fine-tune your campaigns so they can work harder for you.

My next post will explore other advertising channels. Google is still the big dog, but there are alternatives, and some of they may be right for you.

Mark Smith
Mark Smith True Interactive Co-Founder

Get Your “Pucks” in a Row to Match Your Strengths


Pucks in a rowWith the NBA and NHL playoffs in full swing, differences among the leagues’ best teams are showcased nightly. Some rely on offensive quickness and speed to wear down their opponent, while others pack their defense tightly around the goal, making it tough to get anything past the big bodies.

Teams play to their strengths. That’s the approach you should take in your digital marketing. Fortunately, advertising tools like Google AdWords give you plenty of options to fit your style of “play” and help you reach a highly qualified audience.

Customer Match
If you have a solid email list for prospects and customers, your game plan might revolve around Customer Match. A relatively new feature from Google, Customer Match gives you more control over which customers to include and exclude for your ads. Armed with nothing more than an email address, you can use Customer Match to serve up the right ad based on where customers are in the buying cycle (provided they are signed into their Google account). As you collect more data from customers – through ad clicks, email campaigns and website visits – you are fine-tuning the underlying algorithms. This makes Customer Match very effective at pulling customers through the sales cycle.

If your team’s strength comes more from your website than your email list, you should consider adding Remarketing Lists for Search Ads (RLSA) to your digital marketing playbook. Another of Google AdWords’ many features, helps tailor your search ads and campaigns to people who already have visited your website, whether or not they made a purchase. Maybe a previous visit was to conduct research that compared your offering with that of your competitors. If you can get your message back in front of them again, your prospects are more likely to make a return visit to your site. RLSA helps you to capture one of the critical tops spots based on previous history.

But if neither of these approaches is suited for your organization, that doesn’t mean you don’t have a shot at winning the competition. Google AdWords offers many other targeting features. You could, for example, base campaigns on factors such as income or geography or even on combinations of factors.

As Wayne Gretzky, is often quoted, “A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.” Apply that thinking to your digital marketing. Look not only at the data you have, but also at what you can get, and consider how you want to slice and dice your audience. The more targeted you can be, the higher the likelihood of success.

In my next post, I will discuss some of the ways smart marketers and retailers can use shopping campaigns to gain additional advantages.

Mark Smith
Mark Smith True Interactive Co-Founder

Stay on Your Toes in the Race for Search Success


SprinterIf you watch a race of top sprinters, you’ll see they are running primarily on their toes. That keeps them light and nimble as they power toward the podium spots. Digital marketers would be smart to employ that same technique since Google certainly keeps you on your toes.

One of Google’s latest changes to its Search Engine Results Page (SERP) layout effectively cut advertising opportunities on the SERP by 30%. Gone are the ads along the right side of the page. The new layout adds an additional paid search result at the top, bringing the total to a maximum of four up there, and three ads at the bottom. As I pointed out in a previous post, these changes put a premium on finishing in the top four. Just like those strong-toed sprinters fighting for the finish line, who remembers the ones who come in 5th through 7th?

So how do you boost your chances of “making the podium”? You must be strategic with your ads and messaging. While none of us know the secrets behind the all-important Google algorithm that determines placements, we do understand that a diverse set of criteria determine who gets those top spots. You can improve your chances (and produce better results) if you make effective use of manual Google AdWords™ ad extensions, such as apps, calls and locations. These extensions can be used to carry a variety of messages to your audiences and encourage immediate action.

Eliminate the negative, accentuate the positive

Extensions can be powerful tools, but with so many options to choose from, you must be careful to eliminate redundancies in your campaigns, you want to maximize your exposure by presenting as many options to customers as possible.

This sounds simpler than it often proves to be, especially if multiple people are working on your AdWords account or if you have a large number of campaigns. That’s why it pays to have someone do an ad audit that shows you what consumers are seeing on the SERP. You can then use that information to make adjustments. As we said before, to get the best results you can’t afford to set it and forget it.

Just like those Olympic hopefuls who are constantly tweaking their mechanics and mental game to ensure the best performance when everything is on the line. You should do the same. The more you stand out in this new ad format, the better the ROI will be for your business.

In our next post, we will look at how to improve your ads with targeting.

Mark Smith
Mark Smith True Interactive Co-Founder

How to Medal in the Sprints of Search

Finish Line photo: Natursports /
Photo: Natursports /

Spring has sprung, which means track & field season is upon us. And that makes me think of how much competing for prime positions in search results is like competing in sprinting events. So often the margins between finishers in one of the medal spots – i.e., 1st, 2nd or 3rd – are so thin that using high-speed cameras to determine outcomes is common practice.

Just as sprinters at every level train for months, pushing themselves harder every day, persisting through pain to prepare for what may be one chance at glory, pay-per-click (PPC) marketers must continually plot, plan and tweak, tweak, tweak just to win a couple more leads or sales than their nearest competitors. And let’s be real, despite all the effort and sacrifice, few searchers will notice anything beyond those top three spots. Who remembers who came in 8th, 6th or 5th in a sprint? Even 4th place is an iffy proposition.

This reality is more challenging than ever for digital marketers this season as Google recently announced changes to its Search Engine Results Page (SERP) layout. Google has added one more paid search result at the top, bringing the total to a maximum of four while eliminating the side ad positions. The new SERP layout also has three ads at the bottom, but much like the sprinters who finish 5th through 7th, these ads will not gain the recognition of the top spots.

This significant change means there is now 30% less advertising opportunity on the page – from a maximum of 11 to a maximum of 7 – which makes winning one of those places on top about as rigorous for marketers as placing in a sprint race.

These changes also have another effect: They continue Google’s concentration on larger advertisers with significant budgets, as those are the ones who are in the best position to bid on coveted top positions. Small and mid-sizes businesses (SMBS) are less likely to be able to compete for those top spots — just as this summer in Rio Olympic sprinters from smaller countries will have trouble competing with the Big 3 powerhouse nations: U.S., China and Russia.

However, even if you are a “small nation” advertiser, there are a few things you can do to improve your chances of “medaling” in the sprint events like PPC and click-through rates (CTR). We will cover those in an upcoming series of posts, starting with a look at how to improve your strategy and targeting.

Solving Paid Search Mysteries with Analytics

Analytics Spotlights

ANALYTICS in PALMWhen analyzing the effectiveness of paid search marketing campaigns, many marketers turn first to key performance indicators (KPIs) like clicks, impressions and conversion rates. After all, if your campaigns are not reaching people and enticing them to visit your website, they are not working.

However, if you approach search engine marketing (SEM) like a skilled detective, you can discover many more pieces of evidence to prove what truly works – and doesn’t – in your paid campaigns.

In “Five Ways Google Analytics Turns You Into the Sherlock of Paid Search,” which originally appeared in MarketingProfs (June 19, 2015), I explain how to complement basic KPIs with analytics to gain richer insights. Using a tool like Google Analytics, you can go beyond seeing how many people you’re attracting with your digital marketing to understanding whether they are prospective buyers—people who have a need for what you’re selling, either now or in the future.

Google Analytics lets you examine kernels of evidence, such as bounce rate, average session duration and how well individual pages are performing, to convert site visitors to leads. You can even point a magnifying glass on cross-platform performance to see how campaigns compare across devices – a critical component in today’s omni-channel marketing.

Once you understand what is working at this deeper level, you can make more-informed decisions about your paid search campaigns. Using analytics will help ensure you’re relying on data rather than instinct—just as any skilled detective would do.