When Google announced changes to its search engine results page (SERP) earlier this year, marketers immediately began re-evaluating their digital advertising programs. Like highly trained athletes who were suddenly competing with a new set of rules, marketers wondered if they could learn and adjust to the new playing field fast enough.
The net effect of Google’s changes is there is now 30% less advertising opportunity on the SERP. As we said in a previous post, in any contest, who remembers the competitor who finished outside the top spots?
In this “Nuts & Bolts” post, we explain Google’s recent changes and how they affect your campaigns, then we look at four strategies you can use to capture a coveted top position or use other options to bolster your ad’s visibility.
For my last couple of posts, I’ve drawn 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 in the last installment, I advised digital marketers to keep in mind there is more than one competitor on the track.
Sure, Google has the pole position. But other racers, such as Bing or YouTube and social-media contestants Facebook and Instagram, also are worth evaluating. These online venues can still yield excellent results. So, we walked through the garage and kicked a few tires.
OK. Some of the alternative vehicles look pretty slick. But admiring their gleaming chassis in the garage isn’t the same as jumping behind the wheel, gunning the engine and burning rubber on the track.
So, here are a few pointers for running the race…
Different Vehicle, Same Race
Just because you’re slipping into a new cockpit doesn’t mean your overall objective has changed. You want to finish in a competitive position – generating as many quality clicks as possible. To cross that finish line, you need to be comfortable in your new seat, knowing what your vehicle can and can’t handle. In other words, know what to expect in terms of performance. Don’t figuratively slam the gas pedal before you have had a few test laps in your new ride.
In marketing speak, this means you should move to new vehicles incrementally. If you want to explore other channels, pick one for your experimentation, rather than blanketing Bing and YouTube and Instagram and Facebook all at once. The digital world gives you hard data very rapidly, so you can conduct a test and know within days or weeks if it works for you.
Are Car & Driver Up to Specs?
No one just rolls up on race day and enters the Indy 500 field. Racing teams must qualify for the event, demonstrating that their cars and drivers are up to the challenge. In marketing terms, when you think about where to extend your digital advertising, which new channels to try, always consider your goals and your target market. As noted in earlier posts, your product may or may not play well on Instagram, and your target may or may not be more likely to be a Bing user.
One Car Can Run Two Races at the Same Time
My Indy 500 analogy finally has run out of gas. Because digital advertising is not limited by the constraints of the physical world. We’ve seen many clients who set up Bing ad accounts and put 10-20% of their budget in them, then let them run on auto-pilot while tending to the 80-90% of their campaigns in Google. As they make refinements in their Google AdWords campaigns, they don’t go back and make the same adjustments in Bing. But Bing has made it very easy to import your Google campaigns and keywords directly into Bing. So, by carefully choosing your channels and managing your digital advertising strategy, you can effectively drive one vehicle and have it compete simultaneously in two races.
That’s a feat not even the best Indy 500 driver can accomplish.
In 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
With 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.
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.
If 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.