The Google Anti-Trust Lawsuit: Advertiser Q&A

The Google Anti-Trust Lawsuit: Advertiser Q&A

Google

On October 20, the Justice Department filed a long-anticipated anti-trust lawsuit against Google. The lawsuit alleges that Google is “unlawfully maintaining monopolies in the markets for general search services, search advertising, and general search text advertising in the United States.”

In other words, Google wields an unfair competitive advantage.

Google, of course, holds a commanding share of the online advertising market, at roughly 29 percent, followed by Facebook and Amazon. Ironically, Google’s share has been dropping, and 2020 has been rough on its ad business. But the lawsuit isn’t about market share; it’s about allegedly unfair business practices. Read on for answers to questions you might have about the matter.

What exactly is the lawsuit accusing Google of?

According to the Justice Department, Google illegally protects a monopoly in its core search business. That monopoly is harmful to consumers and Google’s competitors. Google pays companies like Apple billions of dollars to make its search engine the default option on their devices – giving Google an unfair advantage. In addition, the Justice Department alleges that Google capitalizes on its dominance by collecting data from users, thus giving its search-based advertising business even more of an unfair advantage.

What is Google’s response?

Google disagrees strongly. In a blog post, Google’s Senior Vice President of Global Affairs Kent Walker wrote, “People use Google because they choose to, not because they’re forced to, or because they can’t find alternatives. This lawsuit would do nothing to help consumers. To the contrary, it would artificially prop up lower-quality search alternatives, raise phone prices, and make it harder for people to get the search services they want to use.”

Walker contends that Google paying businesses like Apple to make its search engine the default search engine is no different from a cereal brand paying a supermarket to stock its products at the end of a row or on a shelf at eye level.

When will the anti-trust case be resolved?

The case could take years to be resolved. Google has deep pockets and will defend itself aggressively. Don’t hold your breath waiting for an outcome anytime soon.

How will the outcome of the presidential election affect the lawsuit?

No matter who wins the presidential election, the lawsuit will move forward. The Justice Department has gone on record saying it is committed to the legal action. Attorney General William P. Barr has aggressive pursued a lawsuit, and the action will simply continue if President Trump wins the election. If Joe Biden wins the election, the consensus legal opinion is that the lawsuit would remain in place.

What happens if Google loses?

Google could get broken up, thus reflecting a growing “break up big tech” sentiment among lawmakers. In the complaint’s “request for relief,” the U.S. is seeking “structural relief as needed to cure any anti-competitive harm.” In other words, Google might be forced to be restructured, or broken up.

What should advertisers who use Google do?

For now, everything is business as usual. The case may take anywhere from six to 18 months to even go to court. We recommend:

  • Do manage your Google advertising account very closely. As we have blogged, Google has been known to introduce features and policy changes that could increase your advertising costs.
  • If you advertise with Amazon Advertising and Facebook, keep a close eye on current events. In recent years, lawmakers have been critical of the Amazon, Facebook, and Google because of their growing dominance. The Google lawsuit may not be the last against them.

Contact True Interactive

To succeed with all firms of online advertising, contact True Interactive. Read about some of our client work here.

How Google’s New Ground Rules for Search Term Reporting Affect Advertisers

How Google’s New Ground Rules for Search Term Reporting Affect Advertisers

Google

If it seems to you that Google is reporting fewer search terms in your keyword reports, you are not alone. As discussed in Search Engine Land, Google is revising search term reports “to only include terms that were searched by a significant number of users.” As a result, advertisers have access to fewer search terms when evaluating keyword performance. And lack of visibility is a problem.

Here’s how advertisers are affected: lack of visibility into keyword performance makes it more difficult for advertisers to optimize campaigns, especially when using manual bid strategies. That’s because advertisers lose valuable insights into how people are searching. Without that insight, advertisers struggle to add negative keywords to block irrelevant traffic and improve traffic relevancy — which ultimately can make controlling costs per conversion more difficult.

The new ground rules also lack transparency. Google has not explained what the criteria for a specific search term to be deemed as one being “searched by a significant number of users.”

Taking a Closer Look

The change means that advertisers and their agency partners cannot see all the search terms that match their keywords. As a result, it’s impossible for anyone planning keyword spending to have a complete view of how people search — which means keyword planning is less efficient and more costly.

We have seen the negative impact of this change in our own client work. Here are two examples:

  • On one of our campaigns, thanks to this update, we have lost visibility into search terms that account for 47 percent of month-to-date clicks. If this doesn’t sound significant, consider that in highly competitive verticals with relatively high cost per clicks, advertisers may lose visibility into search terms that drive 44 percent of month-to-date spend, just as it happened for our client.
  • In another campaign, we have lost visibility into search terms that account for 53 percent of month-to-date clicks. In other words, we cannot see search terms that drive 51 percent of month-to-date spend for our client.

When an advertiser cannot see which search terms correspond to its keyword spend, then the risk for inefficiency is unacceptably high. Unfortunately, advertisers end up paying for irrelevant search terms, which means paying for terms that are not converting. The visibility fog is not so damaging for advertisers whose cost-per-click spend is low, say, $1 CPC. But for an advertiser paying, say $50 per click, the resulting inefficiency is very high.

Why Is Google Limiting Keyword Visibility?

Why is Google doing this? Well, Google’s official stance is that it all comes down to user privacy. As Google told Search Engine Land:

In order to maintain our standards of privacy and strengthen our protections around user data, we have made changes to our Search Terms Report to only include terms that a significant number of users searched for. We’re continuing to invest in new and efficient ways to share insights that enable advertisers to make critical business decisions.

While Google’s primary purpose may be to protect privacy, this change may result in greater ad spend as budgets are increased in order to make lead goals – which means more revenue for Google. Having visibility into search terms means a more targeted spend for advertisers, and less money for Google. But when an advertiser lacks visibility, the advertiser may spend money needlessly on terms that are irrelevant to the product or service that is being advertised. An inefficient spend means more money for Google resulting from wasted dollars.

We reached out to Google to share our concerns. If you are seeing similar results, you may want to provide your feedback to Google as well.

Contact True Interactive

To succeed with online advertising, contact True Interactive. Read about some of our client work here.

Walmart Takes Aim at Amazon, Facebook, and Google with Online Advertising

Walmart Takes Aim at Amazon, Facebook, and Google with Online Advertising

Advertising Amazon Facebook Google

When Walmart recently announced that it was joining Microsoft in a bid for TikTok, the news had many people scratching their heads. But the bid makes perfect sense in context of Walmart’s growing online advertising business, an aspect of the Walmart empire that is beginning to catch more attention among brands. Read on to learn more.

The Growth of Walmart Advertising

You might not know it, but Walmart operates its own digital advertising business under Walmart Media Group. Under CEO Doug McMillon, Walmart Media Group has been building an advertising business to compete with Amazon, Google, and Facebook (the Big Three of online advertising). As reported in The Wall Street Journal, “deep-pocketed companies with large amounts of data on their customers are in the best position to mount a challenge” to these competitors.

Walmart feels ready to play in that sandbox. The retail behemoth aims to tap into its own trove of shopper data (about purchases made both online and in brick-and-mortar stores), and sell advertising services to businesses with products in Walmart stores and across the entire digital world, on sites including Walmart.com. As Steve Bratspies, the chief merchandising officer for Walmart U.S., has noted, data can give advertisers a leg up by providing insight into what a consumer might really want and need.

For example, as noted in The Wall Street Journal, a customer might buy a bicycle in a Walmart store, then subsequently see ads for bike helmets on platforms like Facebook. The ads would direct the shopper back to Walmart.com to make the purchase. It’s a win/win, with consumer needs being anticipated and met, and brands making the connection to a motivated shopper.

Walmart’s Advertising Services

How does Walmart propose to make those connections? The retailer currently offers advertisers services such as:

  • Sponsored Products ads, which consumers encounter when they are browsing Walmart.com. These ads can take many forms:
    • A brand’s products can get premium placement on the first page of a shopper’s search results.
    • An advertiser’s logo might appear, along with a custom headline, at the top of relevant search results.
    • Products can appear as part of a product carousel of relevant alternate purchase options.
    • Items can be highlighted in a “Buy Box” as the most relevant alternate purchase option on a product detail page.

Walmart Sponsored Product Ad

  • Visually compelling display ads, which keep a brand in the forefront:
    • Across Walmart’s digital properties. Content and advertising can be seamlessly merged on Walmart.com, pickup and delivery, and Walmart apps.
    • Offsite, across the web and social channels like Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. As noted earlier, relevant ads will re-engage customers and send them back to Walmart for products.

Walmart Display Ad

Where Does TikTok Fit into All This?

Walmart’s motivation for acquiring TikTok probably has much to do with digital ad dollars. As Mark Sullivan of Fast Company points out, TikTok is a prime space for digital advertising. And Walmart clearly recognizes that, sharing in a statement that TikTok might represent “an important way for us to reach and serve omnichannel customers as well as grow our third-party marketplace and advertising businesses.”

Sullivan elaborates:

TikTok is itself in the early stages of selling ads on its app, and it has data on people’s video content choices, but it lacks data on the things people buy. If Walmart owned TikTok it could use its ecommerce user data to help advertisers put ads in front of the right TikTok users. And Walmart could be the exclusive seller of targeted ad space on TikTok.

One advertising industry insider told me that a brand—say a car company—might use a cookie to capture data on a consumer that came to its site to look at cars, then use Walmart’s ad-tech to show an ad to that same consumer on TikTok.

If Walmart had an ownership stake in TikTok, Walmart could connect its advertisers with TikTok’s young demographic, too. And let’s face it — TikTok is hot. In early August 2020, the video-sharing social networking service reported about 100 million monthly active U.S. users, a figure that is up nearly 800 percent from January 2018. Walmart clearly sees the opportunities inherent in connecting its brands with that audience.

Contact True Interactive

To succeed with online advertising, contact True Interactive. Read about some of our client work here.

The Online Opportunity for Higher Education

The Online Opportunity for Higher Education

Google Higher Education

In April, when I first blogged about the impact of COVID-19 on higher education, I assumed the issue would be how colleges addressed finishing out the spring semester of 2020. Perhaps I was naïve in thinking the worst would be behind us by the time the fall semester rolled around. Now with the 2020-21 academic school year deadline upon us, there are still many obstacles and challenges ahead for higher education institutions. Meanwhile, thousands of students (and parents) are either anxiously awaiting more guidance or bracing themselves for a disruption similar to what the University of North Carolina just experienced when the school abruptly halted plans for an in-person school year amid a COVID-19 flare-up on campus.

Learning in the Age of COVID-19

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education’s most recent list of College Reopening Plans, 21 percent of colleges are planning “primarily in person,” 24 percent are planning “primarily online,” and 27 percent are still currently “TBD.” A very small percentage (2.5 percent) are planning “fully in person,” 2.9 percent will be “fully online – no students on campus,” 16 percent are planning on a “hybrid” approach, and less than 1 percent are planning on “fully online – some students on campus.”

All said, as of now, most colleges are leaning toward either an online approach or a hybrid option, offering some online courses and some in-person learning. And while the format of classes for the fall semester continues to be worked out, many students and (even more parents) are discovering how tuition will be affected. Harvard has come under harsh criticism after recently announcing it will still be charging full tuition as classes go online amid the coronavirus outbreak. Harvard, Smith, Tufts, Duke University, and others did say they will refund students for unused room and board on a prorated basis.

Assessing Costs

However, room and board costs, while still a considerable investment, are far less than tuition expenses; many parents may find themselves questioning the value of paying for a “top-tier” school education if classes are 100 percent online. Without a doubt, the college experience will be vastly different when learning is online versus on campus. Parents and students may instead opt for classes at a community college if they are within their first two years of their college degree. The financial savings are substantial, and with the lack of a traditional on-campus college experience, there certainly is a case to be made for saving money. Additionally, students will have more options available for online courses —and where they take them — as more and more schools expand their offerings.

So, what does all this mean for higher education from a marketing perspective? Two things: more opportunity, and more competition.

Opportunity

This is an opportunity for schools to promote their online offerings, whether they are new to the online learning format or a veteran in this department. Colleges who have traditionally featured online offerings may find themselves attracting a whole new demographic of students — students who might not have considered online learning before COVID-19. These students might think, “If I have to study online right now, I’m going to go where they’ve been doing it a while.”

But colleges just embarking on an online learning program may also appeal to a new demographic: students who, for reasons such as geography, might not have even considered a particular school before. With online learning, schools may suddenly become “in reach.”

Competition

Competition for online degrees is stronger than ever before, as more and more traditional on-campus programs are now entering the online space. In Google Ads, we have seen steep increases in keyword cost per click, primarily due to increased competition. To maintain an acceptable cost per lead, it is becoming even more important to leverage as many targeting options as possible within the Google Ads platform. Those options include audiences, device, location, age, income, and more. It is also essential to evaluate performance based on day of week and time of day in order to find the most efficient time to invest your advertising dollars.

While the increase in keyword CPCs might make it more difficult for smaller schools with smaller budgets to compete in paid search auctions, we’ve also seen a significant investment in Google Display Ads and social platforms as schools attempt to expand their reach. That’s because Google Display Ads and platforms such as Facebook and Instagram have much lower cost per click (or cost/impression) than traditional paid search in Google. So, for colleges with smaller marketing budgets, Google Display Ads, Facebook, and Instagram can be an effective method of reaching potential students.

Contact True Interactive

In short, great opportunity exists for higher education in the online market, but the competition is fierce. Now, more than ever, you need to have a comprehensive marketing plan in place. At True Interactive, we are well versed in the higher education vertical and are ready to help you navigate this ever-changing market. Contact us. We can help.

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

New Report Underscores Importance of Google My Business

New Report Underscores Importance of Google My Business

Google

Software provider Moz has released its 2020 State of Local SEO industry report, and the insights are revealing. The report, which surveys the priorities of website owners across several industries, focuses on organic content, but it’s still a useful tool for advertisers. That’s because a brand’s priorities for organic content are usually a good indication of its advertising priorities; in short, the Moz report provides insights into digital marketing that can influence online advertising. Two headliners, according to Moz? Google My Business (GMB) and Maps. Read on for more details about these tools, and how they might support your business.

The Growing Importance of Google My Business

One of the big take-aways of the report is the growing influence of businesses’ GMB listings. In fact, according to Moz, businesses are increasingly viewing GMB listings as critical to their local search result rankings: “75% of marketers believe that the use of Google My Business profile features impacts rankings in the local pack.” The report recommends keeping abreast of GMB features and management, making sure details such as categories, and descriptions, are up-to-date. In short, more businesses are investing time in their GMB page, and you should, too.

Google Maps: More Than a Wayfinding Tool

Another recommendation: mind your presence on Google Maps. The report casts a spotlight on Google Maps’ rise, describing it as “a go-to tool for how consumers navigate their community.” And as consumers find their way around an area, it behooves brands to position themselves front and center. The benefits of learning the nuances of Maps, and keeping one’s map intelligence accurate, cannot be overstated.

These findings underscore how significant GMB listings and Google Maps are to businesses. Google continues to dominate the online landscape even if it is having a down year in the advertising sector.

What You Should Do

  • We recommend that you maintain a strong strategy for maximizing GMB as a platform for paid and organic content. As we have blogged here, more than half of search queries on Google result in no ensuing clicks to brand sites. That’s because users frequently find what they need on GMB pages—when businesses have taken the time to make them rich and informative, that is. Make sure your GMB page has substance, from compelling images to accurate location data. As we recommended earlier on our blog, it’s important that you link your GMB account to your Google Ads account. As Google discusses in this tutorial, linking your GMB account to your Google Ads account makes it possible for your ads to appear with location extensions, which encourage customers to visit your storefront. Through location extensions, customers can see your ads with location information such as your address. And then they can get more information about your location by clicking on location extensions.
  • We also suggest that you have a plan for maximizing Google Maps as a platform for paid and organic content. As we blog here, Google has managed to effectively accommodate advertising without corroding user experience on Maps. That’s good news for brands and users alike. A satisfied user will continue to use Google Maps—and subsequently see content, such as promotions, posted by savvy advertisers.

Note the mention of organic and paid content in both suggestions above. The rationale is this: if you are going to spend more time building up your Maps and GMB organic content, why stop there? Google makes a plethora of advertising tools available, tools that can increase your visibility even more—and attract more customers. Get to know those tools.

Contact True Interactive

Through offerings like Google My Business and Maps, Google can help your brand achieve the visibility you desire. Not sure how to make the most of these platforms? Contact us. We can help.

It’s Amazon Advertising’s Year — So Far

It’s Amazon Advertising’s Year — So Far

Amazon Facebook Google

Good news for Amazon. Bad news for Google. According to a new report from eMarketer, Amazon’s share of online advertising continues an upward trend. Google, by contrast, continues to lose marketshare. Read on to learn more.

The What

Amazon’s share of online advertising, which has been rising every year, will reach 9.5 percent in 2020, eMarketer says. Google’s share will drop to 29.4 percent, as Google reports its first-ever decline in advertising revenue since eMarketer began tracking advertising revenue in 2008. Meanwhile, Facebook’s share of online advertising is predicted to rise to 23.4 percent (note, however, that eMarketer published its analysis before an advertising boycott of Facebook took hold—those numbers will likely be re-evaluated).

The Why

Why is Amazon Advertising increasing its share, while Google sees its marketshare drop?

  • Amazon’s advertising unit, known as Amazon Advertising, is probably benefitting from people shifting their purchasing online during the COVID-19 lockdown of 2020. As we have blogged, Amazon without question became an especially attractive place to make purchases as shelter-in-place mandates took hold. And Amazon was prepared to help advertisers build their visibility during this surge, with a tool kit including products such as Sponsored Ads and Display Ads.
  • Meanwhile, eMarketer principal analyst at Insider Intelligence, Nicole Perrin, explains that “Google’s net US ad revenues will decline this year primarily because of a sharp pullback in travel advertiser spending, which in the past has been heavily concentrated on Google’s search ad products. Travel has been the hardest-hit industry during the pandemic, with the most extreme spending declines of any industry.”

What the News Means

The news creates some nice press for Amazon Advertising, but as we have blogged, Google’s ad business remains healthy and solid. And as eMarketer points out, Google is being hit by the economic downturn in travel. There is nothing inherently wrong with Google’s ad products, however.

In fact, Google continues to make its ad products better. We have blogged about some of its innovations lately:

Facebook likely has more to worry about than Google. An advertising boycott is gaining traction with big brands such as Unilever and Starbucks pulling their ad business because they believe Facebook is not doing enough to police hate speech, among other grievances. As reported by cnbc.com, the big names already responding to the #StopHateForProfit campaign have the potential to influence more companies to join the boycott.

Our Recommendations

We suggest that regardless of your platform of choice, businesses continue advertising online. Despite the turbulence among the big online ad players, we know that businesses that continue to have an online ad presence are best positioned for success.

Contact Us

Do you need help sorting your digital ad presence? Contact True Interactive. We can help.

How to Succeed with Google Discovery Ads

How to Succeed with Google Discovery Ads

Google

It’s official: Google has launched Discovery ad campaigns globally. “Discovery ads,” so dubbed because they are designed for Google users who might not be actively looking for things to buy, have already been adopted by True Interactive in our client work. In fact, we’ve seen higher conversion rates on Discovery campaigns than on traditional display campaign, which have translated into lower cost per conversion numbers. Read on to learn more.

What Are Discovery Ads?

Google Discovery ads are designed to appear exclusively on mobile devices, with the exception of those discovery ads showing in Gmail (these also appear on the desktop). As noted, they are called “Discovery ads” because they are designed for the “laid back” individual: someone who didn’t necessarily access Google with an intent to make a purchase. As reported in Adweek, this is in fact a receptive group: Google says that 86 percent of online consumers exploring the web or watching videos are also open to shopping ideas. That’s a sizable audience: according to Google, Discovery Ads can “reach up to 2.9 billion people across multiple platforms, including Gmail social tabs and YouTube’s Watch Next feeds,” all in a single campaign. As Search Engine Land points out, Discovery ads tend to be image-rich: advertisers can run a single image ad or a multi-image “carousel,” meaning an ad with multiple images users can scroll through. The ads may be similar to ones brands are already running on Facebook, which means advertisers can repurpose existing ad creatives.

On what platforms do Discovery ads appear? As one might guess, they occur on Google Discover (the new name for Google Feed). They also show up on Gmail, which The Drum reports enjoys more than 1.5 billion monthly users, and YouTube, cited by Forbes as the second-largest search engine in the world. Heavy hitters, in other words.

True Interactive and Discovery Campaigns

True Interactive has been an early adopter of the format for our clients. As noted, we have seen an increase in conversion rate and a decrease in cost per conversion. Why? For one thing, the ad format applies the power of the Google algorithm to target the right consumer. And the format has simply hit at the right time: mobile usage is increasing.

Some basics about our experiences and requirements follow here:

  • Targeting: as with any regular Display campaign, we can use remarketing, in-market, affinity, custom intent and similar audiences.
  • Bidding: these campaigns can only use automated bidding strategies such as Target CPA and Maximize Conversions.
  • Ad Placements: ads can show on YouTube (mobile home feed only), Gmail (Promotions & Social tabs—as noted, ads are served on both mobile and desktop), and the Discover feed (iOS, Android Google app, and mobile Google.com site).
  • Ad Formats:
    • Two options:
    • Asset requirements:
      • Images: high-quality images are needed (they can’t be blurry) in either 1200 x 628 (landscape) or 1200 x 1200 (square)—preferably in both sizes.
        • Note that ads with call-to-actions inside the images will be disapproved. You can have Google include a Call-to-Action button in your ad by choosing one from Google’s predefined list (e.g., Learn More, Subscribe, Shop Now, Apply Now, Get Quote, etc.)
  • Text:
    • Carousel requirements: one main headline (40 characters max), one main description (up to 90 characters), a business name (up to 25 characters), as well as one headline for each individual carousel card of up to 40 characters.
    • Single image requirements: at least one headline no longer than 40 characters (can include up to five different 40-character headlines and Google will optimize for performance), along with one description line of up to 90 characters long (can include up to five different descriptions of 90 characters each and Google will optimize for performance).

What You Can Do

What should your takeaways be? We recommend that you:

  • Capitalize on this format.
  • Monitor Google ad innovations on an ongoing basis and understand the powerful nature of Google and how it is evolving.
    • As we’ve blogged, Google draws on several advantages as it grows its ad business:
      • A massive user base that relies on Google across multiple platforms and apps.
      • A head start in using AI, with the specific aim of making advertising more effective—and smarter.
      • An established global presence that showcases how Google tailors advertising products in support of international ad campaigns.

Google has a good track record of recognizing needs, and creating products—Shopping campaigns with partners, for example, or location-based digital advertising—to meet those needs. That proactive stance will no doubt continue.

Contact Us

Eager to learn more about what Google might offer your brand? Contact us.