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.

Convenience Is King This Holiday Shopping Season

Convenience Is King This Holiday Shopping Season

Advertising

This is going to be a different holiday season. Many shoppers will be planning for holidays apart from their extended families and friends as they practice social distancing. And shopping itself will look different: consumers will likely be very careful about going into brick-and-mortar stores. As a result, shoppers will seek convenience. We’ve blogged about the importance of customer-friendly shipping in the past; this year, as consumers order gifts for shipping abroad to their socially distanced loved ones, convenient and cost-effective shipping will be more important than ever. Shoppers will also rely on services such as curbside pickup that make it easier to purchase gifts without needing to go into stores. It’s important that retailers adapt online holiday advertising strategies accordingly.

Rise of Convenience

Signs are everywhere that shoppers will place a heavy emphasis on convenience:

  • Retailers from Home Depot to Macy’s are downplaying Black Friday, focusing instead on spreading out holiday deals over a period time. This is a big shift: no longer will customers be expected to queue up in front of physical stores on retailers’ timetables. It’s simply not safe to do so.
  • Instead, retailers are stressing their ability to manage—and support—how people want to shop on their own terms. For example, Walmart has launched Walmart Plus, a new subscription service through which the retailer, among other things, manages delivery of purchases. For $98 a year, participating consumers receive in-store and online benefits like unlimited free delivery. The service, a direct competitor to Amazon Prime, demonstrates how retailers can pivot to meet customer needs during a year of radical change.
  • We also see retailers expanding their curbside pickup services, which makes it possible for shoppers to minimize in-store shopping while still getting what they want on their own timetable. As noted in eMarketer, curbside pickup is booming: “We now expect US click-and-collect ecommerce sales to grow to $58.52 billion, up 60.4% from our initial forecast of 38.6% growth.”

What Retailers Should Do

There are steps retailers can take to stay competitive during a holiday season shaped by an unprecedented year. What do we recommend?

  • First off, start now to advertise your holiday sales. Why? Because people are probably shopping earlier to accommodate more time to ship things. eMarketer recommends capturing accelerating holiday traffic by setting suitable budgets, not to mention competitive targets, for Smart Shopping campaigns and Smart Bidding.
  • But don’t just promote merchandise. Promote convenience; send the message that you are recognizing shoppers’ needs during an extraordinary year, and working hard to make life easier. For example, if you offer curbside pickup, use Google advertising tools to promote it: retailers can now indicate in their local inventory ads that curbside pickup is an option. And features like the local inventory ads curbside pickup badge, currently in beta, allow retailers to highlight contactless pickup available for products next day or even same day.
  • Capitalize on location-based advertising such as advertising on Google Maps. As we have blogged in the past, Google Maps advertising offers unique possibilities; why not use this tool to highlight your shipping and curbside service offerings?
  • Put video to work. Explain how your shipping and curbside services work via tight, thoughtful video segments. Per eMarketer, “Viewers are three times more likely to pay attention to online video ads than television ads, and 70 percent of viewers say they bought a brand after seeing it on YouTube.” YouTube’s value, in fact, can’t be overstated: the article goes on to detail that the video-sharing platform has a 97 percent audience reach. Internalize these tendencies and strengths, and capitalize on them by planning a video strategy that reaches more people, and inspires those people to come shop this holiday season.
  • Make sure you promote services such as shipping through Google search ads. As eMarketer notes, almost 75 percent of U.S. respondents who indicate they plan to shop this holiday state that they will shop online more than they have in past holiday seasons. And the time-honored joy of browsing for gifts? A similar percentage say they will indulge their browsing online rather than on-site. Meet these online browsers and shoppers where they are at, letting them know, in their online search results, what you are offering in terms of shipping.

Contact True Interactive

A year ago, no one could have predicted the ways 2020 would shape consumer need—or the imagination and agility that would be demanded of brands responding to that need. Let us help you create online holiday advertising strategies during a singular time. Contact us.

Three Ways Retailers Can Succeed during the 2020 Holiday Shopping Season

Three Ways Retailers Can Succeed during the 2020 Holiday Shopping Season

Retail

The 2020 holiday shopping season will be unlike any other as people plan amid the reality of social distancing. And yet in a few important ways, the season will reflect the direction that consumer shopping behavior has been headed already, especially with people putting digital at the center of their shopping experience. Here are three ways retailers can prepare:

1 Be Digital-First

A Google-commissioned Ipsos survey found that 74 percent of U.S. shoppers said they plan to do more online shopping than they did in previous seasons. These findings should surprise no retailer. The holiday shopping season has been going increasingly digital for years. According to Salesforce data, there was an 8 percent increase in digital spend overall for the 2019 season, with $723 billion in digital revenue worldwide. The difference in 2020: digital will dominate.

If more people are buying online, that means they’re spending more time online searching for things to buy. In the past, we’ve counseled retailers to aggressively embrace digital advertising tools to prepare for this shift in behavior (for more insight, see this post from 2018 and a sample post of mine from 2019). What’s different about this year is that online advertising where your audience is – such as on Amazon, Facebook, and Google  – is essential, not optional, especially as social distancing has created a surge in people spending more time on digital.

2 Level up Your Mobile Game

Consumers prefer digital, but they have not abandoned in-store shopping by any means. According to a new survey of more than 1,400 U.S. consumers by CodeBroker, 53 percent of shoppers intend to shop at physical locations. Among those who said they were not planning to shop at their favorite stores’ locations, 61 percent said they would change their mind if they received a high-value mobile/digital coupon for a product in which they were interested.

In addition, the Google/Ipsos research says that 53 percent of shoppers that plan to shop this season said they’ll choose to shop at stores that offer contactless shopping. And 47 percent of said they’ll use options to buy online, pickup in-store, or use curbside pickup.

These findings tells us that retailers that use mobile wisely to improve the brick-and-mortar shopping experience will win. Here again, this trend is not new. Holiday shopping has been going mobile for some time, and as we blogged in 2019, retailers that had already responded to the rise of mobile orders were already enjoying a distinct advantage over those that had not. What’s different about 2020 is that retailers need to prepare for a surge in curbside pick-up orders with consumers using their mobile phones to manage the process of ordering and picking up their purchases. Moreover, retailers can and should deploy advertising strategies that use mobile coupons where possible and appropriate.

3 Adapt to a Different Shopping Mindset

How shoppers feel about the holiday season will be radically different. Consider these realities:

  • Many shoppers will be planning for a holiday apart from their extended families as they practice social distancing. As shoppers inevitably order gifts for shipping abroad to their socially distanced loved ones, their moods will be affected.
  • Shoppers are already planning amid a threat of COVID-19 cases spiking again during the winter and possibly triggering state-by-state lockdowns. The ongoing news reports about COVID-19 are likely creating a sense of urgency among shoppers as they work around the possibility of their favorite stores closing. Moreover, shoppers are likely experiencing understandable anxiety and fear.

Retailers should respond by:

  • Activating holiday shopping campaigns now. If ever there was a year when shoppers are planning ahead and are receptive to holiday campaigns that promote services such shipping and curbside pickup, 2020 is that time.

In addition, be ready for a surge in queries from shoppers about details such as product order status as people shop with caution. The Google/Ipsos survey found that 67 percent of holiday shoppers will confirm online that an item is in stock before going to buy it. This means retailers should expect more customer queries everywhere you interact with customers, including email and your socials.

Contact True Interactive

To succeed this holiday season with online advertising, contract True Interactive. We have extensive experience helping businesses thrive with digital.

Photo by Nathan Lemon on Unsplash

Why Changes to Apple Maps Matter to Online Advertising

Why Changes to Apple Maps Matter to Online Advertising

Advertising

Businesses, keep your eyes on Apple Maps. The increasingly popular wayfinding app is making some big changes with the roll-out of iOS 14 this fall. As widely reported, Apple will:

Empower Visual Storytellers

People who visit businesses may upload photos of those businesses on their Apple Maps listings, just like they can do on Google Maps. The next time someone wants to post a photo of their stay at your hotel, they can do just that on your Apple Maps listing. Or if they want to depict the quality and safety of their dining experience at your restaurant, you can expect them to do so on your listing.

Rate Your Business

For the first time, people can rate their experience at your location by giving you a simple thumbs-up or thumbs-down. Now, this is a pretty basic change. On Google Maps, people can actually write reviews, not just ratings. But even still, allowing for ratings is probably going to move Apple Maps closer to being a full-fledged site for reviews and ratings. This development means businesses will need to pay more serious attention to Apple Maps as a source of reputation building. Customer ratings and reviews are increasingly important. Nine out of 10 people read them.

Why the News about Apple Maps Matters to Online Advertising

So why should businesses that advertise online care about these changes? Well, for one thing, anytime Apple changes its products, businesses need to pay attention. Apple is a bellwether brand with a wide-ranging influence across the business landscape. When Apple acts, the world is affected. We believe that the Apple Maps changes mean a few things:

Mind Your Own Visual Storytelling

Businesses need to strengthen their ability to create compelling visual content, including images and video, in their online advertising. Apple is responding to the reality that in the age of Instagram, visual content creates lasting impact. Apple is appealing to the same consumer who follows sites like Instagram closely. The question for any business: how powerful is your visual content? How well do you capitalize on visually appealing ad formats on sites such as Instagram, Pinterest, and Snapchat to connect with customers?

Think of Maps Apps as Brand-Building Tools

True, Apple Maps is not an advertising destination. But apps such as Google Maps and Waze evolved beyond consumer wayfinding a long time ago, as we have discussed on our own blog. And Google Maps is easily the most dominant map app. As Apple continues to position Apple Maps as the ad-free, pro-privacy alternative to Google Maps, businesses should expect Google to go in the opposite direction. Rather than allow Apple to define its brand, Google will roll out more advertising options for businesses on Google Maps. Watch for them and capitalize on them.

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