Advertising Powers Google’s Future

Advertising Powers Google’s Future

Google

In recent weeks, we have seen a flurry of earnings announcements from the major digital advertising platforms, including the big three: Amazon, Facebook, and Google. Together these companies account for 62 percent of all digital ad spend, according to eMarketer.

Google dominates with 37.1 percent market share. And yet, during earnings season, Amazon and Facebook have dominated the news even though Google’s ad business grew by 20 percent (year over year) for the final quarter of 2018. Google’s advertising revenues for the quarter were $32.6 billion, accounting for 83 percent of Alphabet’s revenue. For the full year, Google achieved $116.3 billion in ad revenue compared to $10 billion achieved by Amazon Advertising.

Where’s the Love for Google?

So where’s the love for Google? Here’s what I think is happening:

  • Surprise is more interesting than predictability. Facebook surprised analysts by reporting strong advertising growth for 2018, as we noted on our blog. Here is a company that has been rocked by data privacy scandals for months. And yet, the world’s largest social media platform just keeps growing, which raises questions about how important data privacy really is to Facebook’s community. As for Google? Advertising growth is expected. Even when Google surpasses analysts’ estimations, the pundits say “Yes, but . . . “ With Google’s latest quarterly earnings, analysts noted that Alphabet is spending more to support its ad business.

Google’s Advantages

But make no mistake: Google is going to continue to grow its ad business and in doing so will draw upon several advantages, such as:

  • A massive user base that relies on Google across multiple platforms and apps ranging from the Google search engine to Google Maps and YouTube.
  • A head start in using artificial intelligence to make advertising smarter and more effective. True, Google faces competition from Amazon and Facebook. But as I’ve noted, Google’s extensive AI tools are rapidly evolving.
  • Global reach. Amazon and Facebook are improving their advertising products to support international ad campaigns, but Google commands an already established global presence.
  • Strong content marketing that educates advertises on Google’s products. You can see for yourself from Google’s blogs.

What Businesses Should Do

My advice to businesses:

  • Stay abreast of advances in Google’s ad tools, especially with AI.

To maximize the value of your digital ad spend, contact True Interactive. We’re here to help.

Google Sunsets Average Position: What Advertisers Should Do

Google Sunsets Average Position: What Advertisers Should Do

Google

In September, Google will sunset one of the oldest Google Ad metrics, average position. Average position has traditionally helped businesses understand how high their ads rank above organic results in search engine results pages (SERPs). Google is replacing average position with four metrics designed to give advertisers a better sense of how their ads are ranking. Let’s unpack this news and its meaning.

What is average position?

As the name implies, average position provides an average for how high your ads appear above organic results in SERPs. Of course, an average rank of Number One is great. But an average is not terribly precise. Even if you enjoy a strong average, your ads still might experience wide variances.

What are the new metrics?

Come September, Google will replace average position with these metrics introduced in November 2018:

  • Absolute top impression rate: the percent of your ad impressions that are shown as the very first ad above the organic search results. This rate is calculated by taking all your Number One impressions divided by the total number of impressions.
  • Top impression rate: the percent of your ad impressions that are shown anywhere above the organic search results. This rate is calculated by dividing the total number of top impressions (above the organic search results) by the total number of impressions.
  • Absolute top impression share: the impressions you’ve received in the absolute top location (the very first ad above the organic search results) divided by the estimated number of impressions you were eligible to receive in the top location.
  • Top impression share: the impressions you’ve received in the top location (anywhere above the organic search results) compared to the estimated number of impressions you were eligible to receive in the top location.

Think of absolute top impression share and top impression share as a measure of your opportunities to have ads appear either at the top or anywhere above the organic search results. By contrast, absolute top impression rate and top impression rate provide actual results.

Why the change?

The new metric comes down to precision. Google wants advertisers focus on:

  • How often their ads appear above organic results on the first page.

And not:

  • Average ranking.

Of course, having four metrics to worry about makes life more complicated.

Do all these metrics matter?

We believe that the most important metrics are top impression rate to measure actual results – and top impression share to measure potential opportunities. Focusing on absolute top impression rate and absolute top impression share can become costly.

Top impression rate will give you a better idea of how often your ad is appearing above organic search results. Sure, absolute top impression rate will give you a sense of how often you rank Number One – but how many businesses can afford to keep bidding for a Number One ranking? If you are managing a budget, it’s just not realistic to gun for the best possible absolute top impression rate. Top impression rate should suffice.

What exactly is a favorable top impression rate?

You want your ads to appear among Top Four positions in SERPs. But it’s going to take some time and experimentation for you as an advertiser to figure out your ideal top impression rate.

What should advertisers do next?

This is a period of experimenting and learning before Google transitions everyone over to the new metrics. So, start using them and learning, availing yourself to Google’s blog content along the way. Two things you should do now:

  • Identify what a top impression rate is for you. To get started, look at historical data. Then test different ad campaigns. This process will require you to examine results and positions and monitor them over time. Also, outcomes for every advertiser will be different. Retail businesses will be different from media/entertainment, education, healthcare, and so on.
  • Monitor your costs per click (CPCs) closely. As your top impression share rate improves, your CPCs are going to increase.

Of course, True Interactive is here to help. We’ve been managing all aspects of performance marketing for years. Contact us for more insight. We know how to deliver results.

Facebook Shares an Advertising Roadmap for 2019

Facebook Shares an Advertising Roadmap for 2019

Facebook

Call it was the meltdown that wasn’t.

As Facebook prepared to announce its quarterly earnings January 30, there was a lot of public speculation that its scandal-ridden year might finally scare away advertisers and members.

The doubters were wrong.

Here’s what Facebook announced:

  • A 9-percent year-over-year increase in monthly active users, with 2.32 billion as of December 31, 2018.

  • Fourth-quarter revenues of $16.9 billion, up 30 percent year-over-year. That number beat Wall Street’s expectations of $16.4 billion.

Facebook is not only weathering months of data-privacy scandals, it is actually getting stronger. At True Interactive, we’ve shared our concerns about Facebook’s scandals and their possible impact on advertisers. We still think it’s important that advertisers watch Facebook closely. The threat of government regulation looms large. The number of fake and duplicate accounts are on the rise, by Facebook’s own admission (116 million fake accounts and 255 million duplicate accounts exist on the site). But advertisers should also be aware of some other numbers:

  • 93 percent of Facebook’s advertising revenue comes from mobile.
  • 500 million people use Instagram Stories daily.

  • 2 million advertisers are now focusing on Stories.

Stories play a big part in Facebook’s growth plans for 2019, which Mark Zuckerberg published in a Facebook post. I have excerpted some highlights and used boldface to emphasize some points that jump out at me:

Messaging is the area that’s growing the most quickly, and this year people are going to feel these apps becoming the center of their social experience in more ways. We’ll roll out payments on WhatsApp in some more countries. Private sharing in groups and stories will become more central to the experience. We’re going to onboard millions of more businesses that people can interact with.

On Facebook, I also expect this to be the year where Watch becomes more mainstream. There are now 400 million people who use it every month, and people spend on average over 20 minutes on Watch daily. This means we’re finding ways for video to grow outside of News Feed so it doesn’t displace the social interactions that people primarily come to our services for.

In Instagram, one of the areas I’m most excited about this year is commerce and shopping. There’s a lot of natural activity happening here, and this year I expect us to deliver some qualitatively new experiences around that.

Longer term, I remain very focused on building technology that brings people together in new ways, including through AR and VR. I’m looking forward to Oculus Quest shipping this spring — the feedback there so far has been very positive.

The numbers tell me this:

  • Advertisers need to understand how to capitalize on messaging. In September I wrote an Adweek column about Facebook monetizing WhatsApp. Clearly, Facebook is going full steam ahead here.
  • If you aren’t using Stories, you’re behind. Stories are now table stakes for brand building on Facebook’s platform, which includes Instagram Stories.
  • Figure out how Facebook Watch plays into your strategy. So far adoption numbers are underwhelming. But these are early days. The success of Facebook Live shows that Facebook knows how to make video a branding platform.
  • Integrate your Instagram with commerce. Brands are getting better at giving users compelling reasons to stop scrolling and buy. Expect new features to make social shopping more of an experience.
  • Augmented reality and virtual reality are branding plays for forward-thinking businesses, but AR and VR still have a long way to go.

Facebook is not as weak as its doubters said it was. Neither is Facebook as powerful as some would have you think. The company has issues. It’s not the cool place for Gen Z to hang out. A potential recession coming up could take a bite out of its advertising revenues. And as I mentioned, regulation is a constant threat. But Facebook remains a strong platform for advertisers with exciting features worth embracing. For more insight into how to succeed with digital media, including Facebook, contact True Interactive. We’re here to help.

Alexa Stars in Amazon’s 2018 Earnings Announcement

Alexa Stars in Amazon’s 2018 Earnings Announcement

Amazon

The conversation about the voice interface no longer focuses on whether we’re entering a voice-first world. The questions have quickly shifted to who will lead it and how soon using our voices to search for things and manage our lives will be as second nature as texting.

My teammate Taylor Murphy recently discussed an answer to the first question: no single firm “owns” the voice-first world, but both Amazon and Google have a strong lead. The answer to the question about how quickly voice will saturate our lives comes down to how soon people will be comfortable using voice to do tasks that require extremely high levels of trust in the device you’re using, such as buying a product or handling an emergency. Most people use voice to do mundane things like check the weather. Few actually ask Alexa or Google Assistant to order a pizza or conduct other transactions. That’s because we’re not quite ready to trust a device to interpret our speech with enough accuracy.

The major players in voice are trying to address that issue. In Amazon’s January 31 earnings announcement, CEO Jeff Bezos said, “The number of research scientists working on Alexa has more than doubled in the past year, and the results of the team’s hard work are clear. In 2018, we improved Alexa’s ability to understand requests and answer questions by more than 20% through advances in machine learning, we added billions of facts making Alexa more knowledgeable than ever, developers doubled the number of Alexa skills to over 80,000, and customers spoke to Alexa tens of billions more times in 2018 compared to 2017.”

Normally CEOs comment on high-level, visionary messages in earnings releases, such as top-line growth, major product launches, and corporate strategy. I find it interesting that Jeff Bezos decided to talk about Alexa’s accuracy, and the number of Alexa skills developed. What does this tell you? That Alexa is strategic to Amazon. Jeff Bezos already saw the voice-first world coming, and he decided to help shape it.

So what does all this mean to businesses that advertise online? It means that before you know it, we’re going to turn the corner with voice accuracy. Consumers will use their voices for e-commerce. So it’s important to prepare. For example, as noted previously by my colleague Taylor, advertisers should evaluate their search queries and look for conversional text (“Who,” “What,” “Where,” “When,” “Why,” and “How” are great phrases to focus on). Also, pay attention to any long-tail queries that include a natural phrase such as “near me” or “can I get the number for . . . ”

The above advice applies not only to optimizing content on your websites but also preparing your paid media, such as paid search campaigns. Thinking like a customer might be the most effective way of ensuring your digital marketing efforts are visible to RankBrain – part of Google’s core algorithm that employs machine learning to draw the most relevant results from a search query. RankBrain collects multiple data points like keywords and the searcher’s location in an attempt to identify the intent of a search to then pair the query with the most relevant and valuable result.

Remember, voice isn’t just about using Echo or Google Home. It’s also about doing voice searches on devices where ads appear.

If you sell products on Amazon, the sense of urgency to adapt to voice is even greater. Amazon is clearly using its own retail platform to sell more Echo speakers, and more Echo speakers means more people using their voices to find and eventually buy things on Amazon.

You don’t want to be a laggard in that world. Contact True Interactive to make your online advertising flourish.

 

CES 2019 Reminds Advertisers about the Power of Voice

CES 2019 Reminds Advertisers about the Power of Voice

Marketing

In 2019, more than 74 million Americans will own smart speakers, up 15 percent from 2018. So it’s no surprise that the annual CES, occurring this week, has been showcasing products powered by voice interfaces. Within the first few days of CES, Google alone made a slew of announcements intended to show why Google Assistant is catching up with Amazon’s Alexa as a leading voice assistant. For instance, Google Maps now incorporates Google Assistant, and Google is working with Lenovo on a voice-activated alarm clock/visual display. Not to be outdone, Amazon announced a relationship with technology firm Telenav to make Alexa a more useful voice-based navigation tool in automobiles.

So where do these developments leave advertisers? After all, it’s not as if people are using their voices to buy products and services online. For the most part, consumers use voice as a way to find music and get weather forecasts. And most people do not use voice to search for anything online. But here’s the thing: people are using voice, and more than ever. They might not be using their voices to interact with your brand just yet, but the day is coming when they will. For a number of businesses, that day is here.

For quite some time, we’ve been advocating that advertisers prepare for a voice-first world. As I noted in a 2017 blog post, advertisers can do a number of things now to be savvy about the rise of voice. For instance, advertisers should evaluate your search queries and look for conversional text. (“Who,” “What,” “Where,” “When,” “Why,” and “How” are great phrases to focus on.) Also, pay attention to any long-tail queries that include a natural phrase such as “near me” or “can I get the number for . . . ” Use these queries to understand what consumers want to know about your products or services. That’s because consumers exercise a more natural and conversational language when they use their voices, thus altering their search behavior. You can then gather those learnings to strategize a personal user experience for voice searchers.

CES should serve as a reminder that a voice-first world is coming. You don’t want to be a laggard in that world. Contact True Interactive to make your online advertising flourish.

 

Get Ready for AI Everywhere

Get Ready for AI Everywhere

Artificial Intelligence

In 2019, artificial intelligence (AI) will make digital advertising more targeted, thanks in part to the efforts of Google. But marketers will need to invest more time and effort to make AI pay off.

It’s clear that AI is essential to Google’s growth. In February 2018, CEO Sundar Pichai said AI is more profound than electricity or fire. A few months later, he published a statement of AI principles in which he outlined seven ways Google will use AI (and ways that Google will not). The post focused on the importance of using AI for social good. Pichai did not mention using AI for advertising, but Google is certainly applying AI to make advertising smarter.

For instance, in 2018, Google launched a number of products that use machine learning (a form of AI) to improve online advertising performance. I recently blogged about one such product, responsive search ads. As I noted, responsive search ads make it possible for advertisers to enter multiple headlines (up to 15) and descriptions (up to four) when creating a search ad. Then Google Ads applies machine learning to automatically test different combinations and learn which combinations perform best. In addition, per Google, advertisers can add a third headline and second description to your text ads, and your descriptions can have up to 90 characters.

2018 was just a warm-up for what’s to come in 2019. Businesses demand more accountability and ROI from their online ad spend, and AI does just that. I expect Google will focus more on using AI to make YouTube more effective. Google has already injected AI into YouTube with features such as maximize lift, which is a smart bidding tool that automatically adjusts bids at auction time to maximize the impact a company’s video ads have on brand perception. Maximize lift is supposed to help businesses reach people who are most likely to consider their brand after seeing a video ad.

One concern we often hear from advertisers is that YouTube is not as useful for direct-response campaigns as it is for brand building. In 2019, we’ll see the emergence of tools that do a better job targeting video ad content to people who are in shopping mode and ready to buy as Google makes YouTube more of a lower-funnel platform.

AI will make online advertising better. But AI will also require marketers to invest more time and energy to make it pay off, as I discussed in my post about responsive search ads. It’s important that businesses understand its uses and requirements. For more insight, contact True Interactive. We help businesses maximize the value of their online advertising and understand where the industry is headed.

Image source: https://pixabay.com/en/artificial-intelligence-robot-ai-ki-2167835/

Advertiser Q&A: Google Showcase Shopping Ads

Advertiser Q&A: Google Showcase Shopping Ads

Google Uncategorized

Google has been beefing up its showcase shopping ads product to help retailers spice up their holiday advertisements. Showcase shopping ads make it possible for businesses to group together related products to merchandise them more effectively. The format is tailored for mobile viewing. Recently Google added new features such as video to make these ads more powerful. At True Interactive, we’ve been applying showcase shopping ads with favorable results. One of our clients running showcase shopping ads has seen an 80-percent higher click-through rate over standard shopping ads. This blog post explains showcase shopping ads based on questions we’ve received.

What exactly are showcase shopping ads?

Showcase shopping ads appear as a collection of shoppable images displaying different products offered by an advertiser. The ads are built to capitalize on broad keyword searches such as “winter sweaters.” The showcase shopping ads work this way:

  • Someone making a non-brand search for, say, winter sweaters will see in their search results display ads from different retailers with winter sweaters and promotional ad copy.
  • When the shopper clicks on the ad, they are taken to a landing page with a merchant’s line of winter sweaters. The shopping ad display, or showcase, resembles a brand page to the user, consisting of products the advertiser wants the user to see.

A shopper may click on an inventory and complete a purchase.

A business can create multiple showcase shopping ads. The header image can be different based on what is uploaded into each showcase shopping ad. In the above example of winter sweaters, a retailer could run a header image that focuses on sweaters but have another header image that focuses on outerwear for a “winter coat” search. The Google algorithm chooses which products appear based on variables such as the product titles, description, and type.

Who is this a good fit for?

It is highly recommended that you have at least 1,000 products in your inventory. There is no minimum budget. The format is effective for anyone who wants to get their products in front of a large audience because it’s based on broad keywords. It’s not for people competing for specific keywords. For bigger advertisers, showcase shopping ads are a good way to display multiple products for broad keywords. You can create an engaging photo and additional messaging that smaller businesses may not be able to afford.

Why is Google beefing up showcase ads?

The main reason Google is pushing showcase ads is that they are optimized for mobile. Salesforce recently predicted that mobile devices would dominate both traffic and orders for the entire 2018 holiday shopping season (68 percent of traffic and 46 percent of orders). On Black Friday alone, retailers saw $2.1 billion in sales from smartphones, accounting for 33.5 percent of Black Friday sales. The rise of mobile reflects broader shopping trends, and Google wants to capture a share of ad revenue associated with mobile shopping by offering a shoppable ad format.

What is the pay model?

The pay format is cost per engagement, not cost per click. The user has to be on the ad for 10 seconds or more, at which time the advertiser is charged. This approach can be a drawback. A click is a specific action. But having a page open for 10 seconds is a passive way to measure user intent. A person may not be really engaged with a product while a screen is open.

Any tips for getting the most out of Google showcase shopping ads?

Yes. Advertisers need to do two things:

  • Ensure all your products are grouped together in an easily findable way.
  • Have your products accurately labeled in each ad group.

Bottom line: Google showcase shopping ads give multiple advertisers a way to showcase multiple products for generic keywords that can otherwise be very expensive. If you compete for generic keywords in a mobile centric world – and who isn’t? – then you should consider Google showcase shopping ads. If you need help getting started or if you are running Google showcase shopping ads and want to take your game to the next level, contact True Interactive. We’re here to help.