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.

YouTube Fights to Keep Its Platform Safe

YouTube Fights to Keep Its Platform Safe

Video

YouTube once again finds itself in hot water.

Recently, businesses such as Disney and Nestle pulled their ads from the platform after a concerned YouTuber called attention to the number of predatory comments and videos targeting children. In response, YouTube terminated more than 400 channels and tens of millions of comments and then announced on February 28 that it will ban comments completely for most videos of kids. In addition, YouTube said it is “continuing to grow our team to keep people safe.” But just as it seemed the uproar was beginning to die down, YouTube was hit with more ugly incidents:

  • The resurgence of the Momo Challenge on YouTube – a viral hoax that reportedly encourages self-harm – caused YouTube to demonetize all videos about Momo.

Events of recent days are not the first time YouTube has found itself in the news over the posting of inappropriate content. Two years ago, I blogged about how YouTube’s lax reviewing standards and an easy monetization process resulted in mainstream ads appearing alongside disgusting content such as videos created by extremist groups. Although YouTube has vowed repeatedly to devote more resources to policing its content, obviously the platform is not completely safe.

Of all the firestorms engulfing social media platforms lately, I can’t think of anything that approaches a level of severity than the exploitation of children. But can YouTube stamp out the problem through the measures it has announced?

Meanwhile, as my colleague Kurt Anagnostopoulos noted in a blog post, social media is a messy place for brands to live. No matter what steps YouTube takes, the site will never be free of inappropriate content. I suspect most businesses will tolerate occasional flare-ups so long as they are dealt with swiftly. It’s the pattern of abusive content that causes businesses to pull their ads. For YouTube, gaining and keeping trust will come down to how well the platform stops the flare-ups before a pattern emerges.

For more insight into how to manage your brand in the digital world, contact True Interactive. We’re here to help.

Get Ready for LinkedIn Live

Get Ready for LinkedIn Live

Social media

Live, from Sunnyvale, California: it’s LinkedIn Live!

LinkedIn is rolling out a new feature that makes it possible for businesses and people to create live content. With LinkedIn Live, members of LinkedIn’s 562-million-strong community will be able to livestream content just like they can with Facebook Live. Yes, that’s right: now you can do all the things you do on Facebook to create engagement through live video, such as offering behind-the-scenes glimpses of conferences or trade shows, coverage of news stories in your industry, announcements of your own, launches of new products, thought leadership, and instructional content, depending on the nature of your business.

LinkedIn Users Want Video

And your company’s rock stars will be able to do the same. When the feature becomes available (it’s in beta only right now), live video will humanize your brand by making your thought leaders, brand ambassadors, and company executives more accessible and authentic through the power of live video.

In addition, LinkedIn will work with partners such as Wirecast, Switcher Studio, Wowza Media Systems, Socialive, and Brandlive to make video content more polished than what you’re accustomed to seeing on Facebook Live. Microsoft, LinkedIn’s owner, is supporting LinkedIn Live with the Microsoft cloud-computing business, Azure Media Services.

LinkedIn told TechCrunch that live video is the most requested feature among its members, and the use of recorded video has been booming. Pete Davies, the director of product management at LinkedIn, told TechCrunch, “Video is the fastest growing format on our platform right now, and the one most likely to get people talking.”

Late to the Game?

Some have asked whether LinkedIn is late to the game. I think that’s the wrong question. The real issue is how brands will capitalize on LinkedIn Live to create video content that complements what they’re already sharing on platforms such as Facebook and Instagram. LinkedIn is going to offer options to broadcast across LinkedIn as well as to more targeted groups within LinkedIn, which is important because businesses and people will be able to use live video more strategically. Imagine, for example, using live video as part of drip campaign with prospects, or for colleges to recruit talent.

Questions You Should Ask

It may take some time for LinkedIn Live to achieve a bigger rollout. I suggest that businesses prepare now. Start asking:

  • How might I incorporate LinkedIn Live into my existing marketing and recruitment campaigns?
  • Which of my employees on LinkedIn possesses the magic combination of large followers and video savvy to capitalize on LinkedIn Live?
  • Are my corporate social media guidelines properly reflecting the use of live video? They should be if you’re using other platforms such as Facebook, but now is a good time to do a gut check.
  • What upcoming events and news lend themselves to LinkedIn Live? What does your upcoming calendar look like?

More details, including technical information on how to create live content on LinkedIn, will be forthcoming. For now, get ready. And contact True Interactive to build a stronger digital brand. We’re here to help.

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.

The Super Bowl Is Over — But the Ads Endure

The Super Bowl Is Over — But the Ads Endure

Advertising

The Super Bowl was a super bust.

Super Bowl LIII achieved its lowest ratings since 2008. The game attracted 98.2 million viewers, down from 103 million viewers in 2018 and 111 million in 2017. And the NFL cannot blame a decline in general viewership from the regular season: ratings were up for the 2018-19 NFL season overall. On a positive note, digital viewership of the Super Bowl increased to a record of 2.6 million.

So what happened? Analysts blamed the appearance of two teams that failed to stir strong interest and a defensive struggle that bored viewers (the game was tied 3-3 going into the fourth quarter).

The decline in ratings has caused some to wonder whether it’s worth it for advertisers to spend $5 million on a 30-second Super Bowl ad. Well, I think that’s the wrong question. The real question is how can businesses maximize the lifespan of a Super Bowl ad beyond the big game itself?

If you’ve followed the Super Bowl year after year, you’re probably aware that businesses preview their Super Bowl ads by dropping teaser videos online weeks before the game, thus creating buzz, just like movie trailers do before a movie release. For example, in January Pringles distributed three teaser videos extolling the virtues of stacking different Pringles flavors while watching TV. These videos were accompanied by a PR blitz that resulted in coverage in publications such as Adweek.

And then after the game, companies enjoy a lift from the post-game analysis of Super Bowl ads. Even ads that get panned by critics create attention for their brands. It’s not like viewers are going to read a post-game ad critique in Advertising Age and boycott a 30-seond spot because it got panned. The criticism might pique their interest. Beyond the post-game analysis come opportunities for brands to distribute ads across multiple venues and optimize them for search. And Burger King is using already its socials to maintain public interest in its well-received spot featuring Andy Warhol eating a Whopper.

In a blog post I published February 1, I share how advertisers use digital media to extend the life of Super Bowl spots after the big game. I discuss the importance of brands exercising creative parity, or ensuring consistent messaging across digital and offline channels. As noted above, viewership of the Super Bowl online increased. Does your digital content match what people see on linear TV? Check out my post for more insight. And contact True Interactive to ensure that your digital ads maximize their value.

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.