Will Increased Scrutiny Make Google More Transparent?

Will Increased Scrutiny Make Google More Transparent?

Advertising Google

It’s been a tough week for Google from a PR standpoint.

On November 11, The Wall Street Journal published a story about how Google has been collecting Americans’ personal health data as part of an ambitious foray into healthcare. Although Google was not accused of any wrongdoing, the examination of its data collection practices resulted in the announcement of a federal probe. And then to cap off the week, on November 15, The Wall Street Journal published a lengthy article, “How Google Interferes With Its Search Algorithms and Changes Your Results.”

Let’s just say the title of that second article captured plenty of interest in the advertising world.

Do Google’s Actions Match Its Message?

The November 15 article, like the article about Project Nightingale, did not accuse Google of doing anything illegal. But The Wall Street Journal painted a picture of a company whose actions are not always aligned with its statements. For instance, The Wall Street Journal pointed out examples of Google intervening to manage search results contrary to what Google says on its blog, “We do not use human curation to collect or arrange the results on a page.” According to The Wall Street Journal, Google:

  • Weeds out more-incendiary suggestions in the search auto-complete function.
  • Has made algorithmic changes to search results that favor big companies over smaller ones and “in at least one case made changes on behalf of a major advertiser,eBay, contrary to its public position that it never takes that type of action. The company also boosts some major websites, such as Amazon.com Inc. and Facebook Inc.  . . . .” (The comment about Facebook and Amazon is especially interesting given how Amazon and Facebook compete with Google for advertising revenue.)
  • Employs thousands of contractors whose job is to assess the quality of the algorithms’ rankings. “Even so,” says The Wall Street Journal, “contractors said Google gave feedback to these workers to convey what it considered to be the correct ranking of results, and they revised their assessments accordingly, according to contractors interviewed by the Journal. The contractors’ collective evaluations are then used to adjust algorithms.”

For me one of the most fascinating details in the article is the inference that Google’s advertising growth has influenced how the company treats businesses on Google. According to the article:

Some very big advertisers received direct advice on how to improve their organic search results, a perk not available to businesses with no contacts at Google, according to people familiar with the matter. In some cases, that help included sending in search engineers to explain a problem, they said.

One former executive at a Fortune 500 company that received such advice said Google frequently adjusts how it crawls the web and ranks pages to deal with specific big websites.

Google updates its index of some sites such as Facebook and Amazon more frequently, a move that helps them appear more often in search results, according to a person familiar with the matter.

For its part, Google said it does not provide specialized guidance to website owners. Google said that faster indexing of a site isn’t a guarantee that it will rank higher. “We prioritize issues based on impact, not any commercial relationships,” a Google spokeswoman said.

I would urge any business to take the time to read the article. Here again, this is not an exposé of wrongdoing but rather an in-depth examination of how well Google’s practices align with its words.

The Core Issue: Transparency

Google is certainly not alone in facing increased scrutiny for its management of data and its relationship with advertisers, and the heat Google is experiencing right now is nothing compared to the firestorm that Facebook is enduring.

To me, the core issue of the November 15 article is this: transparency. Google’s practice of holding its cards close to the vest has created an impression of a business that has something to hide – perhaps not a fair impression, but as they say, perception is reality. As Google manages the fallout from the November 15 story, I do think we may see some interesting outcomes for advertisers:

  • Smaller businesses — which the article characterizes as second-class citizens groveling for fair consideration — may receive more responsiveness than they typically get from the advertising giant when issues arise that demand attention.
  • All businesses may see more transparency from Google, such as how the algorithm works and the explicit impact of the many algorithm changes that Google enacts through the year. A message of “Trust us – we know what we’re doing” just isn’t going over very well. At the same time, Google needs to protect its intellectual property, and the company says that revealing too much of how the algorithm works will make it easier for parties with bad intentions to game the system. It will be fascinating to see how Google reconciles these factors amid increased scrutiny.

In many ways, Google is grappling with issues that social media platforms do all the time – providing an open forum for the exchange of ideas among people while at the same time making it possible for businesses to succeed through advertising and commerce. What exactly goes on behind the scenes to represent the interests of both people and businesses is not always clear. But that situation may change soon.

Contact True Interactive

At True Interactive, we live in the world of online advertising. We know how to help businesses succeed with Google, Facebook, Amazon, and many other advertising platforms. Contact us to learn how we can help you.

3 Ways to Gear up for Black Friday with Online Advertising

3 Ways to Gear up for Black Friday with Online Advertising

Advertising Google

Black Friday is coming in hot! We’re already seeing an explosion of deals. For instance, Walmart has gone live with a wave of reductions and early Black Friday deals. Amazon’s Black Friday “preview” features a smart home device bundle deal. And not to be outdone, on November 8, Target celebrated “HoliDeals” with a two-day Black Friday preview sale.

As we discussed in our recent blog post, “3 Ways That Retailers Can Win During the 2019 Holiday Shopping Season,” Black Friday is more than a day. It’s more like a season unto itself. And as the examples above illustrate, more retailers are responding by not only extending Black Friday hours, but actual deals, beyond the day. As a consequence, advertising begins early, too, and carries over into Cyber Monday.

Don’t want to get left behind? Here are some ways to stay competitive with your Black Friday offerings:

1 Put Google to Work for You

Maximize the value of Google’s many advertising tools to showcase your Black Friday sales and your merchandise. These tools include Black Friday promotion extensions, which allow advertisers to get granular with specifics in their text ad promotions, without cutting into established character counts. And note that Google’s Black Friday-specific ad units, as distinguished from the typical promotion extension, will drive your ad to prime placement so that it shows up at the top of the SERP under “Black Friday Deals.”

2 Be Visual

It should go without saying that Black Friday means turning it up a notch with visual storytelling. This is a time to make your merchandise pop. Fortunately tools exist to make it easier on platforms such as Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Instagram.

As we’ve noted, Google’s Showcase Shopping Ads take a common-sense approach to advertising. Using Showcase Shopping Ads, brands can visually group related products, and in the process merchandise them more effectively. Google recently blogged about how retailers such as Urban Outfitters are benefitting from Showcase Shopping Ads. According to Google:

Urban Outfitters is one example of a retailer using Showcase Shopping ads to get into the consideration set and inspire those new to their brand. Urban Outfitters expanded their Showcase Shopping ads to 50 key categories across apparel, home decor, and beauty. Overall, they saw a 241 percent CTR lift across campaigns running Showcase Shopping ads, with 52 percent of those customers being new. Moreover, Urban Outfitters saw a 186 percent increase in sales from new customers via Showcase Shopping ads (compared to reactivated customers).

In addition, Google recently announced it has improved Showcase Shopping Ads by expanding them into Google Images. Moreover, Google also announced it is making YouTube more shoppable. You get the idea: Google wants advertisers to rely on Google to reach customers.

Meanwhile, Instagram and Facebook Stories are a brilliant way for advertisers to draw potential customers with appealing content that incorporates a narrative and interactive elements. In a survey by research firm Ipsos, 62 percent of respondents reported becoming interested in a product after discovering it via Stories, and more than half indicated they make more purchases online due to Stories.

Finally, Amazon, now the third-largest online ad platform behind Google and Facebook, offers tools like Sponsored Products (which promotes products to shoppers who are using certain keywords, or viewing similar products on Amazon) and Sponsored Brands Display Ads (through which advertisers can upload a customized creative). Amazon provides more insight into these products here.

3 Go Mobile

As we recently blogged, the 2018 holiday season marked the first time smart phones accounted for more than half of all visits to websites during the holidays. Brands are wise to embrace mobile—and deliver a great experience on their site, regardless of where consumers are accessing it from. You don’t want to lose customers to an online experience that reliably delivers from a PC or laptop, but not a smart phone. A failed purchase from a smart phone may result in . . . no purchase at all.

Contact True Interactive

Need help making the most of the opportunities Black Friday affords? Contact us.

Image by 3D Animation Production Company from Pixabay

Facebook’s Growth Highlights Importance of Messenger

Facebook’s Growth Highlights Importance of Messenger

Advertising Facebook

Facebook is having a good year financially. In its recent third-quarter 2019 earnings announcement, the company bested analyst expectations for growth in not only revenue but also membership: monthly active users now number 2.45 billion. Facebook isn’t going anywhere even though its problems have brought upon itself the threat of government regulation and even break-up.

What is Facebook doing right? Well, here’s one answer: Messenger.

What Is Facebook Messenger?

Facebook Messenger is an app that people and businesses use to communicate with each other. Users can send messages, react to messages from others, and exchange photos, videos, and audio files. Facebook operates Messenger as a separate app. And it’s an extremely useful tool for brands, which can share all sorts of things, including ads. Through Facebook Messenger Ads, companies and users enjoy real-time text conversations—with the click of a button.

Currently, Facebook offers a number of different types of Messenger Ads:

  • Destination ads, which employ a lighter touch to engage customers. Rather than the usual “Shop Now” call to action, a “Send Message” button allows users to “get their feet wet,” as it were, and grow acquainted with a brand.
  • Sponsored messages, which deliver specially created messages (a sale coupon, for example) directly to a consumer’s inbox.
  • Home section ads, which crop up in the home dashboard of the messaging application and allow users and brands to engage in organic conversations.

Brands embracing tools like Messenger Ads stand to benefit: according to Facebook, 53 percent of users are more likely to make a purchase if they can message you. And because Facebook Messenger Ads don’t target non-brand-aware users, companies connect with people who have already interacted with their ads previously—an audience that is likely to be receptive (brands also gain points for not invasively reaching out to . . . everyone). Finally, it’s worth noting that Messenger Ads offer local targeting options, allowing brands to touch base with a specific audience based on where the business is located.

What Does Facebook Have to Say About Messenger?

During a recent conference call with investors, CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg returned to the topic of Messenger, and its importance, several times. Some key points stand out:

  • Businesses are already using Messenger to drive sales. According to Sheryl Sandberg: “Messaging is one of the fastest growing areas for online communication–especially between businesses and people. We’ve seen businesses use Messenger to reach customers, generate new leads and even sell cars. For example, French auto manufacturer Renault used a combination of Instagram Stories and Click-to Messenger ads to drive sales of a limited-edition vehicle, the Captur Tokyo. Facebook was their only advertising channel, and over the span of 30 days, they sold 100 cars—20 directly through Messenger. This quarter we added a Click-to-Messenger feature in Stories so businesses can grab someone’s attention in Stories and then continue the conversation.”
  • Messenger and Stories Deliver a 1-2 Punch. As noted above, Renault is using Messenger in conjunction with Stories. In the investor earnings call, Zuckerberg and Sandberg underline how businesses can maximize the value of features like Messenger through this type of imaginative pairing. To make it easier for more brands to create ads for the Stories format, Facebook has launched customizable templates for Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger. Advertisers can upload existing photos and videos, then augment them with different layout, color, and text options. The end result? More engaging Stories. And the Click-to-Messenger feature Sandberg references makes it possible for businesses to capture a user’s attention on Stories and then continue the conversation via Messenger.

What You Should Do

 When using Messenger as part of outreach:

  • Consider how Messenger will serve your brand in the context of the entire customer journey. Messenger Ads can spark interest, for example, and the Messenger the app can be a brilliant customer service tool.
  • Combine Messenger with Stories for an engaging and ultimately personal customer experience.

Contact True Interactive

Want to learn more about Messenger and how it will elevate your outreach? Contact us.

 

Why Brands Need to Capitalize on the Power of Visual Content

Why Brands Need to Capitalize on the Power of Visual Content

Social media

We respond to images every day: an Instagram shot of a stunning sunrise, or the pictures friends text us from a vacation spent hiking in Ireland. But not everyone understands the tremendous power images wield in the business world. Just as any business cares about how its website is written or its ad copy composed, it should also treat images with the same attention and respect. Mary Meeker’s widely read 2019 Internet Trends report underlines that truth.

Images are on the Rise

Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends report is an annual thought bomb with considerable influence. According to Meeker, consumer usage of digital continues to increase overall:

With that uptick, there’s been a climb in image creation. Images hold a lot of power. People respond to them: not only the pictures they take, but other people’s, too. And as image sharing becomes more popular, perhaps it’s no coincidence that Instagram use is soaring:

As Meeker points out, Twitter content with images gets more tweet impressions:

And artificial intelligence tools are making images more sophisticated, in the process rendering them more powerful as communication instruments:

What Does The Rise of Visual Storytelling Mean for You?

Her findings are a reminder that businesses need to treat images as critical assets in both paid and organic content. What should your response be? Here are some tips:

  • Capitalize on tools that make your digital advertising stand out, such as Google Shoppable Ads. As we noted in this post, select retailers are experimenting with a format that allows them to highlight multiple products for sale within a sponsored ad appearing in Google Images results.
  • Make Instagram part of your game plan. Instagram is trending, becoming increasingly popular for both business-to-consumer and business-to-business brands, as advertisers become aware of—and ever-more curious about—the opportunities the platform affords. We’ve written about some of those opportunities, including Instagram’s Branded Content Ads, which makes it possible for businesses to use Ads Manager to promote branded content as an ad in their Instagram feeds.
  • Use strong images in your organic content. In a recent post, Andy Crestodina of Orbit Media discusses how images can improve your search rankings. As he points out, “Now we know that visuals are an SEO’s (search engine optimization’s) best friend.” Perhaps that’s because visuals, like well-crafted text, can speak volumes with a minimum of fuss. “Just as you wouldn’t miss the chance to turn a paragraph of items into a bullet list, never miss the chance to use a visual to explain a concept,” Crestodina says.

We agree. And one area where you can make the most of strong images is your Google My Business (GMB) page. That’s because a company’s GMB page, as noted in moz.com, is the single most important way for a business to be found through local searches.

Images hold power. Want to learn more about how to capitalize on that power? Contact us.

Three Big Trends Shaping How Businesses Use Social Media

Three Big Trends Shaping How Businesses Use Social Media

Social media

Paid social on the rise. Facebook is king. And Instagram is the crown prince. Those are some of the take-aways from a recent Social Media Examiner survey of marketers’ social media spending priorities in coming months. The survey offers a useful snapshot of social media trends that cut across industries. Here are some of the principal findings:

Paid Social Is on the Rise

According to the Social Media Examiner report, social media ads are fast becoming indispensible to social media marketing strategy. This development is due to the fact that social media platforms like Instagram are offering more sophisticated tools that help businesses create content that targets specific audiences. One example: Instagram’s new feature, Branded Content Ads. As we recently discussed, the Branded Content Ads feature makes it possible for businesses to use Ads Manager to promote branded content as an ad in their Instagram feeds, and to target a specific audience when they do so.

Facebook Has Fans—A Lot of Them

According to the Social Media Examiner survey, Facebook is the most popular platform for advertisers, with 94 percent of marketers polled choosing it as their first option. On the surface of things, this might be surprising, given the knocks Facebook took in the wake of the high-profile privacy scandals that plagued the social media giant in 2018. And yet, Facebook membership keeps rising: according to the company’s Q4 2018 earnings report, approximately 1.52 billion people used Facebook every day in December 2018. That’s a nine percent year-over-year increase. Also noteworthy is the fact that Facebook tends to be popular among Baby Boomers and older millennials: that’s significant to advertisers who want to use a social platform to reach this audience, which tends to have more discretionary income.

Another reason Facebook remains popular with advertisers is that the company has always provided strong targeting tools, and continues to do so. As this WordStream article discusses, the company makes it easy to launch ad campaigns that target specific audiences with different ad formats and literally thousands of ad targeting parameters. Finally, Facebook is popular for all kinds of content, including video, which expands its usefulness to advertisers. According to the Social Media Examiner report, Facebook is right up there with YouTube as the most well liked video channel for marketers.

Instagram Is the Crown Prince

Though perhaps not as popular as Facebook, Instagram is still a valuable resource for advertisers. And advertisers are intrigued by it: the Social Media Examiner report indicates that when marketers were asked about the social media platform that they’d like to learn more about, a whopping 72 percent chose Instagram. Maybe that’s because the app’s strengths in visual storytelling present a golden opportunity to capitalize on the fact that increasingly, people are using images as a means of communicating. We take trillions of photos each year. And not surprisingly, we’re sharing those photos on platforms such as Instagram, which is also showing a marked increase in membership.

These takeaways paint a compelling picture. Interested in learning more about how social can serve your business needs? Contact us.

https://pixabay.com/photos/twitter-facebook-together-292994/

Why the Amazon/Sizmek Deal Matters

Why the Amazon/Sizmek Deal Matters

Advertising Amazon

On May 31, Amazon said it will acquire assets from Sizmek, an advertising technology firm. The announcement consisted of three paragraphs with little detail. But the deal is valuable for Amazon as the company builds a stronger advertising platform to compete with Facebook and Google.

Amazon Advertising Gains Market Share

Amazon’s advertising business is slowly taking market share from Facebook and Google. According to eMarketer, Amazon will capture 8.8 percent of U.S. digital ad spending in 2019. This amount trails far behind Google (with 37.2 percent market share) and Facebook (22.1 percent). But Amazon is building its advertising operation from scratch, and in a short time it has emerged as a threat primarily to Google, as consumers shift their product searches away from Google and toward Amazon.

How Sizmek’s Assets Will Help Amazon

Amazon purchased Sizmek’s ad server and dynamic creative optimization tools, the latter of which helps personalize ads using data. Sizmek’s tools will bolster Amazon’s already strong warehouse of customer data with even more data from ad serving. Doing so will give Amazon more targeted ways to advertise to the millions of people who search for products on Amazon and willingly share their personal information with the company. The deal isn’t making Amazon bigger, but it will make Amazon smarter.

What Advertisers Should Do

At True Interactive, we help businesses capitalize on Amazon as an advertising platform as part of our broader digital advertising offerings. We’ve been actively blogging about the many features Amazon Advertising is developing, such as video ads on Amazon’s mobile app. Based on our own experience, we suggest advertisers:

  • Examine how partnering with Amazon Advertising will help you attract and acquire customers, even if you don’t sell products on Amazon. As The New York Times reported recently, Amazon is tapping into its rich vein of customer data to help companies create more targeted ads across the digital world – an “insanely powerful” capability, according to the article.
  • Watch as Amazon’s competitors evolve their platforms to compete with the Amazon threat. For instance, Google recently announced new features intended to make it a stronger mobile advertising platform (which we discussed here). And, don’t forget Microsoft. Its own advertising business, while small, gives businesses an alternative to the Big Three of Amazon, Facebook, and Google.

Online advertising is changing rapidly as the major players make acquisitions and develop their products organically. Advertisers will benefit so long as you remain vigilant and capitalize on these improvements. True Interactive can help you. As an outside party, we constantly evaluate new tools and ensure that our clients benefit from them with effective digital advertising campaigns. Contact us. We’d love to make your online advertising more powerful.

3D for Brands: No Longer a Novelty

3D for Brands: No Longer a Novelty

Advertising

3D is no longer a novelty. It’s becoming a way for businesses to share both advertisements and organic content. Case in point: Bing Ads recently teamed with Samsung to create 3D advertisements that display when consumers search for Samsung Galaxy devices on the Bing search engine.

Here’s how it works: an option for a 3D ad appears when an individual (using Bing) searches for the Samsung Galaxy S10 or S9 on their desktop. The ad, which expands to full screen size, can be manipulated by rotating the image, or zooming in on it. But it’s more than a zoom. Consumers see every aspect of the Samsung device plainly, from multiple angles, and can click on an image to access product details.

As Ravleen Beeston, UK head of sales for Microsoft Search Advertising, said in a statement to Netimperative, “These new 3D ads, unique to Bing, herald a new era of search advertising when it comes to displaying products through desktop search since they complement and enhance the experience for consumers looking to engage with a product.”

3D on Facebook

In addition, Facebook has made it possible for both businesses and consumers to post 3D photos, which makes organic content really pop. As discussed in this Digiday article, the 3D photos are “inherently thumb stopping.” If long-form video is showing a decline in effectiveness as attention spans likewise decline, 3D photos promise to be the next frontier. And brands are jumping at the chance to engage consumers in a fresh way. 3D can be especially useful for retailers trying to showcase products that require close inspection—expensive cellphones, for example, or even food. Food delivery service Bite Squad, for one, has capitalized on the opportunity by posting 3D photos, including one of BBQ from Famous Dave’s. “My goal is to catch your eyes as you [are] scrolling your feed,” Craig Key, CMO of Bite Squad, said, adding that just the sudden movement of an image can be a reason for users to scroll back up.

What You Should Do

At True Interactive, we recommend that you constantly look for ways to incorporate technology such as 3D if they are appropriate for your business:

  • Understand how 3D might add value to your paid and organic content. Don’t be gimmicky about using 3D. Have a specific goal in mind, such as increasing engagement with your ads, especially for products that require high levels of consideration.
  • Be aware of companies such as ThreeKit that provide technologies to help you design advertisements in 3D.
  • Work with an agency partner such as True Interactive that knows how to incorporate formats such as 3D into a larger advertising campaign.

Interested in exploring the opportunities inherent in 3D? Call us.