Kevin Lee – Search Engine Land News On Search Engines, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) & Search Engine Marketing (SEM) Wed, 25 Apr 2018 15:18:50 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.5.3 How to use good ol’ PPC to support fun and creative branded content /how-to-use-good-ol-ppc-to-support-fun-and-creative-branded-content-296733 Wed, 25 Apr 2018 15:18:00 +0000 /?p=296733 Contributor Kevin Lee looks at creative synergies and the power of collaboration to increase the efficiency of branded content using PPC campaigns.

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Branded content and pay-per-click (PPC) aren’t ordinarily included together in the same section of a digital media plan, but there are definite synergies between these two marketing disciplines.

One way to increase the efficiency and profitability of a PPC budget is to examine how PPC can be used to support really fun and creative branded content.

Branded content is evolving

The category of branded content has exploded online within both business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) marketing, according to data from PQMedia and Polar.

Image courtesy of Polar.me

Branded content goes by many names, but it originated as “advertorial” content (in print) and as “infomercials” (in broadcast TV). This form of content is still very popular, particularly in certain industry segments in which the use of the brand in advertorials can be authentic and compelling.

In the digital domain, branded content has now evolved to more closely resemble the soap opera model of days long past.

The media strategy behind soap operas was brilliant: Unlike product placement within shows (another form of branded content), large soap manufacturers collaborated with the major television (TV) networks to underwrite the production cost of shows they knew their target audience would love and watch religiously.

Of course, the soap brand names were announced prominently at the beginning and end of any particular episode, and sponsorship arrangements also specified the airing of a certain number of regular advertising spots mentioning the brand.

Where PPC comes in

If the stats are any indication, your company (or client) is probably doing some form of digital branded content already, and this content lies somewhere along the continuum of advertorial, digital product placement (influencers) to sponsored content.

Like the soap opera sponsors of yore, the hope is to make sure the content is interesting, too, and resonates with the right audience.

That’s great news for you as search marketers. With the tools at your disposal, you can make sure more people who are interested in the branded content actually have an opportunity to see it.

In nearly every case, the branded content is centered around keywords that are NOT currently in your PPC campaigns.

The team working on that initiative probably isn’t thinking about amplifying the impact of that branded content (much of which is expensive to produce and place) using PPC search. Branded content opens up a whole segment of keywords you can potentially bid on (some might require specific contractual language).

Here are some general buckets of keywords that probably are new to your campaigns (unless you’ve been developing and hosting a lot of informational and educational content on your site):

1. Keywords related to the topic of the article or content your marketing team is sponsoring. A food brand might be paying for inclusion within a section of an online publisher’s pages where recipes are featured (including that brand as an ingredient). Why not bid on keywords relating to each recipe?

For an athletic-wear brand sponsoring the college soccer coverage on a sports publisher site, why not bid on team names and/or team member names (in conjunction with the sport or team name)?

Or (my favorite), if I were on the marketing team of Smith & Forge Hard Cider, I would be using PPC search to support the amazing Thrillist-produced content in which Thrillist disguised competitive athlete Kenneth Leverich as a senior citizen at Muscle Beach to challenge bodybuilders.

In this example, keywords could be included that include the terms “muscle beach” along with each of the lifts, tricks, moves and even equipment names related to this fun video.

2. Keywords related to the problem solved by the content. When Chase, Ritz-Carlton and The Wall Street Journal teamed up for “Inside the Moment,” they could have bid on the cities, neighborhoods and featured places in their virtual reality (VR) tours of notable cities and places.

3. Keywords related to celebrities or other VIPs used in the content. This may require a line in their contracts to allow their names and likenesses to be used to promote the content, so be sure to check that out before getting started.

For example, 1800 Tequila and Billboard Magazine’s features of “Hip-Hop History” by city included mentions and participation of a lot of popular performers. (To further filter this and other alcoholic beverage PPC support campaigns, remember to use “age” as a demographic filter for bid depression and bid boost.)

Bridging across marketing silos

Agencies play an important role in making sure branded content is on-message and on-brand, particularly if it talks about the brand.

If the content being sponsored is more of an audience-focused strategy to get the brand in front of the right people, then the level of editorial control exerted by the agency should be less, particularly if a very important person (VIP) or influencer is being used.

Things need to be authentic.

I’ve always said PPC search doesn’t sit in a silo. Expanding a PPC campaign to support branded content that costs a pretty penny to produce is a great way to get involved in the broader marketing of your brand.

Because I have a strong interest in nonprofit causes, I especially liked a piece of branded content done by Gawker to educate on the risks of smoking, not just to humans, but also to cats that live with humans, in a simple game called “Catmageddon.”

I’ve become such a fan of branded content and the power of collaboration between publishers/broadcaster/influencers with agencies and clients that I’m actually crazy enough to be bidding on Gawker to apply cause marketing best practices to publishing.

Conclusion

Check with your teams and see if they are doing branded content, and take the opportunity to add significant value to the company and expose you to new PPC strategies.

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Unit economics: The foundation of a good SEM campaign /unit-economics-the-foundation-of-a-good-sem-campaign-293124 Wed, 28 Feb 2018 17:53:07 +0000 /?p=293124 Contributor Kevin Lee outlines how SEM campaigns can benefit from applying smarter business unit economics and asking rational questions.

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A strong understanding of the economics of any business unit is absolutely critical to any digital marketing campaign managed against non-brand key performance indicators (KPIs) in a search engine marketing (SEM) campaign.

One would think any reasonably large and successful business would have a good handle on their unit economics, and that this knowledge will be shared down the chain of command to the mid and lower levels of the marketing team.

But time and time again, I have found this critical foundation is missing, miscommunicated, insufficient or is so outdated as to make it worse than worthless.  “Worthless” in this case means that bad data does no actual harm. “Worse than worthless” means the utilization of the wrong KPI goals resulting in media waste and — more importantly — missed revenue and profit opportunity.

In other words, the company’s health is at actual risk because the marketing team and the business team aren’t on the same page.  In some cases, members of the marketing team may be working at cross-purposes, using incompatible KPIs and metrics.

Silos standing in the way of marketing AI?

I had the privilege of attending a lunch recently with members of the Direct Marketing Club of New York, the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), and other marketers, including MediaMath CEO Joe Zawadzki.

Although we attended the lunch to discuss the power of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to solve marketing problems, the consensus was many brands aren’t ready to empower decision-making with AI.

Their organizations were often so siloed that the inertia of departments and organization charts were a big factor slowing down the adoption of AI and machine learning in terms of optimizing marketing spend. A common theme across the table was the winners and disrupters in many industries are the ones without any legacy departmental structure. These included Tesla, the Dollar Shave Club, Casper & Purple, and even Amazon.

How does this all relate to pay-per-click (PPC) search engine marketing campaigns? Well, the influence of legacy structures affects your ability to grow yourself as a marketer and business person and directly influences your ability to communicate — with rational questions — up the chain of command (while following protocol), even if those communications might decrease your own departmental budget.

Rational questions for marketers to ask

Let’s use some common KPIs as examples of how things are often done now in SEM campaigns and how one might apply smarter business unit economics by asking some rational questions in the following scenarios:

PPC account (typically retail) managed by return on advertising spend (ROAS) with last click attribution

Rational questions to ask include:

  • Do we have any data that would predict which customers order more frequently?
  • Do we have any data on which variables in the PPC campaign tend to attract “new to file” customers vs. returning customers?
  • Do some categories of products have a significantly higher margin where a different ROAS KPI should be applied (so that the same dollar of spending generates more profit)?
  • Do certain products and their associated keywords result in higher lifetime customer value (LTV)? (The same question applies to geography, time of day, mobile vs desktop, etc.)
  • Should we deploy simple tests to understand the impact and attribution of other forms of paid and earned media (display, social, video/audio, etc.)? Any paid media that can be geo-targeted lends itself to such a test of incrementality. These kinds of tests often work better than attribution models that lack data points and are particularly important for search because often another marketing touch-point stimulates search behavior by the consumer. Therefore one can look not only at sales data but also at changes on brand search volume.  For example, if you double display spends in Albany, Denver, and Orlando, and both brand searches and sales happen to rise in those cities, you’ve isolated your interaction effect.  Do the same with any paid media you want to test.

PPC account managed based on last click attribution around cost per action (CPA) or lead gen

Not all businesses make the sale online, so marketing teams running campaigns used to generate leads and are given a cost-per-lead or CPA target to hit. Rational questions to ask include:

  • Are all leads we see equal? This issue goes beyond the “Glengarry Glen Ross” level of good leads and bad leads, encompassing both lead conversion rate to a sale and also the value of the sale (immediate), along with lifetime customer value.  Part of that LTV discussion could revolve around churn rates (think cell phone plans and subscriptions of all types, including product and services subscriptions).
  • Rather than the average cost per lead or CPA, can we be more nuanced in our optimization?

Fixed budget PPC account

Rational questions to ask include:

  • What’s the marginal contribution to the business originating from extra search, social or display media? Despite nearly all online media being auctioned off in near real-time, many larger organizations like to fix their spend by channel or category. This isn’t often the right strategy. To have a conversation about where the media dollars should be allocated, estimate the marginal cost of the next KPI unit in search, social and display.  Yes, you’ll need to address all the intricacies of the interaction effects between other media and search, but PPC search is very inelastic (small changes in bidding often don’t result in position and volume change, whereas in display, depending on whether it’s retargeted or otherwise targeted, the ability to “buy your KPI” may be easier.
  • Should we just add budget or take from another channel when we find opportunities? If you could buy dollar bills for $.90 (including the effort to do the transaction), would you cap your budget?  Of course not.  Neither should any business. Sometimes, when the KPI includes a LTV factor, there may be cash flow constraints that also have a time-value of money (it may take you a year to get your one dollar), but otherwise the more the better for “ninety cent dollar bills!”

There’s probably another column that could be written on the nuances of applying unit economics to marketing, but this should give you a solid start toward a good SEM campaign.

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Coming to terms with fake reviews /coming-terms-fake-reviews-286775 Fri, 24 Nov 2017 14:00:55 +0000 /?p=286775 In the same way that Google considers some forms of SEO to be unacceptable, they and other review sites dislike any reviews that aren’t organic -- yet fake reviews are still prevalent. Columnist Kevin Lee discusses the scope of the problem and why you should resist the temptation to solicit fake reviews.

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Consumers overwhelmingly expect the reviews they peruse on Amazon, Yelp, Google and other review sites to be trustworthy, neutral and objective. But this reasonable expectation is frequently thwarted by the efforts of aggressive marketers who pay third parties to create phony reviews in exchange for compensation or incentivize existing good customers to leave reviews with discounts or free products or services.

These deceptive practices — termed “opinion spam” or “sock puppetry” — are a form of information pollution with multiple victims. Opinion spam blinds the consumer to the truth and poisons the reputation of the review site where the fake review appears. When detected, it may subject the marketer and/or opinion spammer to criminal and civil penalties.

Unfortunately, opinion spam — despite the best efforts of review sites to control it — appears to be a permanent, intractable feature of the e-commerce and local business information ecosystem.

Not that reviews sites aren’t trying. In 2015, Amazon filed a lawsuit against a company that offered false four- and five-star reviews for product pages. Later that year, Amazon sued over 1,100 sellers of fake reviews who allegedly posted reviews in exchange for money. And in early 2016, it sued three of its own vendors for the same practice.

Later that year, Amazon changed its Community Guidelines to prohibit reviews solicited by marketers in exchange for incentives such as discounts, freebies or other rewards. Such “incentivized reviews” had hitherto been permitted by the service. These steps — plus the development of algorithms targeting fake reviews — are all intended to clean up its messy marketplace.

Google — which for decades has warred against SEO spammers — in 2016 warned product review bloggers to disclose any compensation-based relationships with vendors and to nofollow any links to sites with whom such a relationship exists. These steps were taken to align the company’s practices better with US law, particularly Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act, which outlaws deceptive advertising.

And Yelp — which estimated in 2013 that between 20 percent and 25 percent of its 70 million reviews were “suspicious” — has been forced to resort to undercover sting operations involving “decoy accounts” to keep its legions of opinion spammers at bay.

The siren song of sockpuppetry

As a marketer, you’re fully aware of how critical online reviews are to your business. You may have already been tempted by a consultant or social media agency to “go over to the dark side” and start posting some complimentary reviews about your own stuff on Amazon, Google or Yelp. Here are some typical arguments you might hear — along with reasons you need to resist the temptation:

‘Everybody (including your competition) is doing it.’

Hypercompetitive consumer categories appear to be highly attractive to opinion spam. According to an anonymous former Amazon opinion spammer interviewed by Digiday earlier this year, review requests for “mobile phone accessories, Bluetooth devices, and sometimes baby products” are especially frequent, but any popular product category will likely attract opinion spam because spam “follows the money.”

It’s very difficult to counsel marketers who sincerely believe that they are the target of opinion spam (either positive or negative) that they should not resort to the same tactics used by their competitors, especially those who’ve already listened to the second argument, which is:

‘If you’re smart about it, you’ll never get caught.’

Unfortunately, there’s more truth to this statement than there should be because every move made by the review sites to clean things up is met by increasingly sophisticated workarounds from opinion spammers.

For example, when Amazon forbade compensation-based reviews in 2016, opinion spammers reportedly shifted their tactics to those less easily detectable (e.g., by offering to recompense the reviewer after the purchase of the reviewed item or by telling the reviewer to simply buy the product and return it within Amazon’s 30-day return window).

The truth is that if one carefully studies the weak points of each review site, is exceptionally stealthy and takes care to hide one’s tracks, it’s possible to insert opinion spam into the conversational chain at will without fear of suffering any short-term negative consequences.

The long-term scenario, however, is much less friendly to the prospective opinion spammer. Algorithms — some proprietary to the review sites, others available as third-party tools — are getting better at flagging opinion spam, using a mix of linguistic, behavioral and relational signals to zero in on the offender.

Additionally, federal and state public entities are growing increasingly active in policing bad actors. So while the odds of being caught in 2017 remain low, they’re bound to increase as technology and law enforcement begin to catch up to opinion spammers. Remember, soliciting fake reviews is illegal — are a couple of five-star reviews really worth breaking the law?

What’s a marketer to do?

Opinion spam is a part of life. But as discussed above, it’s foolish and risky to fight it directly by resorting to the same tactics as your opponents. So what can a marketer do?

Make full use of white-hat methods to encourage reviews.

Review quantity and review recency count, and there are many things you can do to increase your flow of reviews from actual customers. Here are some methods for encouraging customers to review your wares that will never get you into trouble:

  1. Emailing recent customers with a request to review the product or service, along with a link to the location where the review should appear.
  2. Including a card in each product you ship that asks the recipient to hop onto Amazon.com to post a review.
  3. Posting signs at your physical place of business notifying consumers that reviews are appreciated (albeit not rewarded/incentivized).

Emphasize the undeniably valid reviews you’ve got.

One unintended byproduct of the current state of online review unreliability is the increased importance of vetted review sites such as Consumer Reports. Many competitive CPG verticals (e.g., cars, cameras, computers, software and so on) have bona fide review sites associated with them whose reputations are high due to the fact that they are not open – and will never be open — to outside evaluators.

So, don’t leave your product’s reputation in the exclusive (and anonymous) hands of internet reviewers; get it into the hands of pro reviewers whose publications have integrity.

Inform on bad actors.

If you see something, say something. Sure, nobody likes to be thought of as a “snitch,” a “fink” or a “rat,” but if you have reason to believe that your competition is resorting to opinion spam, report them to the review site (Believe me, they’d do the same to you at the drop of a hat).

Remember, you and the review site — be it Amazon, Google or Yelp — are allies in the battle against opinion spam. If you’re going to go this route, it’s ideal to provide the best forensic evidence you can obtain, so make use of sites such as Fakespot.com and ReviewSkeptic.com, which let you paste in a URL from a review site (or the text of the review itself) in order to evaluate the probability that it’s real or fake.

Adopt a responsive consumer relations posture that responds quickly to reviews — both good and bad.

While some online consumers will credulously accept any review they stumble across, many are sophisticated and discerning enough to realize that no business is perfect and not every customer is perfectly happy. If negative reviews appear on your page, acknowledge them and open up a channel to the complainant in order to make things right.

Being active and responsive in the review space will be seen as proof that you’re paying attention, you care, and above all, you’re human. These qualities are important — arguably more important than ever in an information ecosystem in which “real” and “fake” are, even with the best available anti-spam algorithms, often maddeningly difficult to tell apart.

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New Quality Score metrics: What matters most, and how to improve your ads /quality-score-leverage-points-275327 Thu, 25 May 2017 14:05:58 +0000 http:/?p=275327 Looking for ways to gain an advantage in paid search? Columnist Kevin Lee has some ideas to increase Quality Score metrics and surpass your competitors.

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As you are no doubt aware, Google recently added additional reporting and transparency to the Quality Score (QS) metric that’s all-important in terms of calculating Ad Rank. (If you’ve never watched the updated Ad Rank explanation video by Hal Varian, Google’s chief economist, I recommend you take a look.)

Determining the relative importance of Quality Score components

Google has provided advertisers with data on Quality Score for some time; what’s new here is historical trend data visibility into three key QS components: expected click-through rate, ad relevance and landing page experience.

While being able to inspect these new, granular metrics is great, it’s important to realize that all we’re gaining is an estimated importance of each of these QS components. And just as in cooking or baking, the mere fact that you’ve got some ingredients on hand, plus a vague idea of how much of each ingredient to use, doesn’t predict (or result in) the best possible outcome.

Think about these factors and scores as indicating the quality of each ingredient in a given dish (for example, meatloaf). While great ingredients are necessary for a great outcome, knowing the quality of each ingredient alone isn’t sufficient. To create a world-class meatloaf, we also need an understanding of their relative importance. Unfortunately, Google’s latest tweak doesn’t tell us anything about this.

But while we don’t know for certain the rank order of the quality factors that have the highest impact on the final Quality Score, we do have a pretty good (anecdotally derived) idea that predicted CTR is the most important one (the others count as well, but likely less so). Expected CTR is likely to remain the most important for many reasons, not the least of which is that it makes Google the most money per search for them to calculate QS based heavily on that data.

It’s important to remember that — as Varian indicates — it’s in Google’s best interest to incentivize marketers to do things that improve their ads’ relevance (or CTR) while also making the post-click user experience better. (Admit it, there’s still a lot of room for improvement out there — and not just on your site!) We also have to remember that higher CTRs and relevance make Google (and Bing, too) more money in the long run, so these incentives are completely aligned.

TIP: If you’ve seen a historical jump in cost per click (CPC) required to maintain historical position, being able to inspect the historical Quality Score is a great way to determine whether the surge in CPC was based on a QS fluctuation on your end, or if it’s due to increased auction pressure in the AdWords marketplace.

Improving Quality Score and other key metrics

Google continues to make it clear that we should pay attention to improving Quality Score. One of the great things about obtaining Quality Score improvements is that these provide you with an edge in paid search. This edge is key — not just to achieving the high positions for the searches that can drive substantial profitable volume for you, but also because if you don’t have it, your competition does (which means they’ll kick your butt).

But improving your Quality Score isn’t the only way to ensure your ability to remain in top positions profitably. Improvement in other areas can make a huge difference in your long-term success. My favorites are (starting from the things you can do at the AdWords side of things):

  • Reorganize your accounts. Having poorly structured campaigns and ad groups will depress your Quality Score. This is a change you can make at the AdWords side of the equation.
  • Fix lousy ad copy or creative. When ad copy resonates against the keywords in an ad group, your CTR goes up (and CTR is the biggest component of QS).
  • Improve targeting. This includes anything from using the right negative keywords to eliminating poorly targeted ad impressions to using audiences and dayparting to be there in the SERP when your most targeted customers are itching to click.
  • Improve conversion rate. Whether you’re an e-commerce or multichannel merchant business, B-to-B, lead gen or services business, anything you can do to get a greater percentage of site visitors to take actions you value is a leverage point. If more of your clicks convert, your allowable bid goes up.
  • Strive for mobile-friendliness. This factor is related to improving conversion rate. Remember, the mobile site visitor is increasingly important to Google, and so Google is grading you on mobile-friendliness. (TIP: While using the Google Search Console can identify the more glaring problems, also make sure you walk around the office, grab a bunch of devices and test your site yourself.)
  • Increase average shopping cart size (for retail). This includes getting high gross profit customers to call in and get upsold by reps.
  • Increase social media engagement of clicks that come in through search. Social can have a multiplier effect on marketing.
  • Improve your own response rate or fulfillment rate. Customers like speed. That’s why Amazon Prime rocks. But speed in follow-up is also important in any service business.

Don’t forget that all of the above strategies will help your overall business, not just your performance in search. They will eliminate friction, make your other media more effective and deliver conversions at higher values, thus delivering a win to your company’s top and bottom line.

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How to decide ‘Should I bid?’ /how-to-decide-should-i-bid-271757 Thu, 30 Mar 2017 15:04:12 +0000 http:/?p=271757 Are your paid search ads cannibalizing your organic search traffic? Columnist Kevin Lee explores the problem of determining when it's worth it to bid and when it's better to let organic do the work.

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One age-old question that often comes up when I chat with new prospects or new clients is, “Should I bid on my brand terms or generic terms where I rank in the top three organically?”

This question is hardly trivial. It matters a great deal because PPC search budgets are generally constrained — and now, with other enticing options available from Facebook and other programmatic channels, we need to demonstrate that our search advertising budgets are being allocated optimally.

Six key questions to ask before you begin

The best way to answer this question is by using a multi-stage process of evaluation, followed by experimentation. Let’s start by evaluating brand keywords. Before you start your evaluation or experiment, you need to answer six important questions:

  1. Do you have a distribution channel that also bids on your keywords but carries competitive products or services?
  2. Does your name or product/service lend itself to a lot of broad match terms/phrases which may trigger competitive ads (unless your brand terms are negative-matched)?
  3. Are competitors bidding on your brand required to pay a lot (due to low Quality Scores on their ads)?
  4. Do you typically get organic sitelinks on a brand search?
  5. For paid search brand queries, are you using a landing page that is different from your home page (a popular tactic that is usually undertaken after testing shows higher conversion rates)?
  6. What percentage of your traffic AND impressions are on smartphones (vs. tablet/desktop)?

Three key concepts to understand

Now it’s time to introduce a few economic concepts that directly apply to the “Should I bid?” problem. One is “opportunity cost” — the cost/loss of not doing something. The second is the idea of marginal net profit. That’s about understanding the relative profit of all the search and paid media you are engaged in. (Another way of thinking about marginal net profit is by asking yourself this: if you were to invest another $100 in a particular channel within search, keywords, social, display and so on, which investment would deliver the highest return?)

Finally, there’s the concept of “an inelastic auction.” Inelastic auctions are said to exist when obtaining more volume results in dramatically escalated costs as you battle others for top positions.

That’s it for the economic concepts (whew!). But there’s another factor that applies here: the concept of cannibalization — the primary driver of the “Should I bid?” problem. Cannibalization, in the context of PPC, refers to situations in which marketers’ paid and organic listings compete with each other for search clicks. When this happens, marketers often attempt to pare back PPC spend, reasoning that “they typed in my brand and want to visit my site, so we’ll get them anyway, eventually.” Your own “cannibalization index” can be determined by evaluating your answers to questions 1–6 above.

Okay, you’ve got the concepts. Let’s move on to solving the question. (Note: the methods below aren’t perfect, but chances are that using them can move you closer to a solution.)

Five steps to a solution

Step 1: Calculate CTR (click-through rte) on Organic. Search Console can be used to determine this.

Step 2: Turn on or off paid search nationwide/globally, and then compare organic CTR pre- and post-test.

Step 3: Calculate total cumulative CTR when the paid and organic listings coexist in the SERP. (Cumulative CTR lets us understand the incrementality on total clicks and CTR of paid.)

Step 4: Compare conversion rate on paid vs. organic, including taking PPC and organic sitelinks into account. (Often marketers use different landing pages for their paid primary and sitelink visitors, and those tuned landing pages out-convert the organic pages. If this isn’t true in your case, then your calculations are made easier.)

Step 5: Take the drop in organic clicks as a result of your paid listings getting the clicks, subtract that number from the paid click count, and re-calculate the ROI of the paid advertising, based purely on the incremental clicks that the paid campaign delivered. (You may need to use a “fudge factor” if conversion rates on the organic listings were lower.)

Can I really do this?

“But wait,” you protest, “I can’t just turn off brand keywords during a test. My boss will kill me if sales drop! Besides, where else am I going to put that budget? Most of the other keywords are already close to minimum acceptable ROI, and I can’t use the brand dollars to bid those up!”

OK, fair point. In many cases, it still makes sense to bid on branded keywords, even after taking cannibalization into account. If you don’t want to send too many ripples through your current campaigns at one time, limit the scope of your experiment, for example, by testing results in five mid-sized cities. (You’ll have to use location bid modifiers/adjustments to do this. See
About bid adjustments from the AdWords Help documentation.)

If you choose to run your test in specific geographies instead of nationally or globally, you’ll have the added advantage of conversion data that isn’t subject to seasonality or other factors that might show up in a purely longitudinal test (test over time with one time period being the control group).

Internal company politics also play a role. You may want to add a fudge factor to your calculations based on a Marketing Mix model calculation, or if you are still building a brand and want to be recognized as a market leader.

If you’re like most marketers who run this test, you likely will find that bidding on your brand keywords still makes sense from an ROI, net search profit and budget allocation analysis. Others, however, may find that paring back spend — or increasing it — increases net search profit (profit after deducting all costs). For high organic positions, the answers are more dependent on landing page variations and head or tail terms.

One thing is for sure: if your boss is questioning brand spend or spend on high-ranking organic keywords, run a test like the one above. You’ll gain the confidence that you’re doing the right thing or, at the very least, are on the right track.

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Methbot, fake news and five other reasons SEM/SEO interest will surge /methbot-fake-news-five-reasons-semseo-interest-will-surge-265907 Thu, 02 Feb 2017 16:22:51 +0000 http:/?p=265907 Columnist Kevin Lee is predicting that 2017 will be another great year for paid search, due in part to events both within and outside of the industry.

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Based on what I’ve seen across my diverse set of clients, and talking to others in the industry, I’m predicting 2017 will be another great year for paid search. One of the reasons is a bit unusual: a flight to quality online media driven in part by “fake news,” “Methbot” and advertisers’ realization that they prefer not to have their advertising associated with those sites, don’t want their advertising positioned with that content, and in some cases have ethical concerns about supporting the publishers.

So, let’s look a bit further into this flight to quality. I’ve spoken to a number of advertisers who are concerned about being associated with, or seen as supporting, fake news sites with their display media buys. To some extent, the explosion of fake news has created a flight to quality within not only display advertising, but across the overall digital budget.

Meanwhile, Facebook has eroded the perception of data accuracy for any of its reporting. This may have a chilling effect on Facebook spend growth. (Although most direct response advertisers rely more on their post-impression and post-click metrics than they do the suspect data coming out of the FB interface. Brand advertisers may be more sensitive to the measurement issues and push for third-party measurement or perhaps for MRC certification/audit. Therefore, I think any deceleration in ad spend growth at Facebook is probably temporary.)

That’s great news for paid search — because when we think about trustworthy sites and publishers, where the context of the page won’t reflect poorly on the advertiser, there’s nothing better than SEM. I’ve even spoken to advertisers who proactively raised SEM budgets while cutting back on display surgically (with an eye to low-quality and fake news sites).

Therefore, while SEM and SEO have been around for a long time, and at this point it’s hard to imagine a surge of interest in SEM and SEO, I believe that the flight to quality is just one of a variety of factors that have aligned to renew interest in search marketing in 2017 and beyond.

Let’s look at the additional interest acceleration factors I’ve identified.

  1. Better bot filtering and more humans. Despite the challenges that Google has had fighting bots, particularly within the Google Display Network, the lion’s share of search traffic against which Google sells advertising originates from Google itself. That gives Google much more control over identification of bots or other suspicious search activity. Just recently within the digital video and display sector, White Ops discovered a Russian bot farm defrauding advertisers of billions.
  2. Mobile search growth continues to rise domestically and internationally. Further growth may come from consumer satisfaction with voice search results (displaying a SERP). At some point, Google is probably going to roll out some kind of audio ad that consumers can select within voice search and as part of the call extensions/click-to-call functionality.
  3. Mid-sized marketers have finally gotten their mobile-friendly websites relaunched and are ready to spend. Sure, the top sites went adaptive/responsive, and perhaps even implemented AMP within a short time frame. But there are thousands of sites that are only recently adaptive and responsive, and those marketers can’t afford to ignore the mobile searcher.
  4. Increasing use of engaging ad formats. PLA ads for retailers are just the beginning, and the level of customizability with PLA extensions keeps escalating. Local inventory availability will further drive investment into PLAs, and I fully expect there to be some new ad unit announcements by Google within the next eight months. But that’s a guess and a prediction based purely on prior behavior and the changing landscape.
  5. Search covers the bottom and top of the marketing funnel (if you still believe in funnels). Even though the classic marketing funnel has leaks, it’s clear that not everyone is in the “ready to buy” mode — even when they have engaged in search behavior, which is a great barometer of intent. Each keyword has its own success metrics, easily observable — as well as a halo effect on your overall campaign — as those who did not buy or engage with you based on your primary marketing objective.
  6. Better retargeting within the digital marketing channel. Search is a great way to build an audience, and that audience, when retargeted, exhibits great eventual conversion metrics in nearly every case. So, retargeting adds value to the original search click, justifying increased spend on search as well as retargeting.

There are probably more factors that will occur to me after this article publishes, so please share your own opinions on which other factors (or which of the ones I’ve listed) will have the greatest impact via social media.

Will search be the beneficiary of all the bad news out of the rest of the digital ad sector? I think so. What do you think?

The post Methbot, fake news and five other reasons SEM/SEO interest will surge appeared first on Search Engine Land.

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Why good SEO is strategic /good-seo-strategic-263607 Thu, 08 Dec 2016 16:09:07 +0000 http:/?p=263607 To many on the upper rungs of the corporate ladder, “SEO” is still a geeky term whose effects are considered to be marginal, rather than central to the company's marketing efforts. Columnist Kevin Lee explains why this view needs to change.

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From its inception as a marketing discipline nearly a decade ago, SEO has generally had a tactical focus. And that’s fine. After all, the specific tactics used to gain links, mentions, rankings, traffic and other KPIs are amazingly interesting subjects in their own right. (I’ve long been fascinated by the exact position of the demarcation line between White Hat and Black Hat SEO).

But SEO is much more than tactics, hacks and tools. Today, in many organizations, SEO’s role as a strategic business driver is becoming more deeply felt.

Let’s itemize five ways that SEO has strategic impact.

  1. Lowering digital media costs. In many verticals, PPC costs range well beyond $10 a click. (In the legal field, paid clicks can exceed $200.) Favorable organic positions materially reduce these costs, freeing up digital ad dollars to deploy against segments that would otherwise be unaffordable. That’s an important, material and strategic impact of SEO that’s often discounted in the C-suite.
  2. Market share defense. Organic listings in the SERP don’t only increase your traffic and revenue; they take revenue from the competition. In B2B, where customer lifetime value is high, investing in high-quality content optimized for search should be a strategic goal. Any time you miss an acquisition opportunity in search (paid or organic), chances are that opportunity is going to the competition. SEO, in other words, is a strategic asset — with offensive and defensive value — in the battle for market share.
  3. Branding impact. SEO and public relations aren’t the same thing, but they share a convergent goal: to increase the general visibility and favorable public impression of clients (which is why so many SEO agencies have added “PR” to their service offerings, while PR agencies have added “SEO” to theirs). Increasing awareness is a high-level strategic marketing goal. Today, online reputation management (ORM) always includes a tangible SEO component. SEO isn’t the only piece of the influence puzzle (paid media is especially vital when dealing with reputation management crises), but it represents a key component of any influence-building campaign.
  4. More efficient (non-search) media campaigns. Searchers often are compelled to begin query sessions because of exposure to some other marketing touch point (for example, a mention in a news story, in a TV drama, a remark of a friend or other offline event). Search traffic can therefore be used as a barometer of other media’s effectiveness. Search behavior can also reveal patterns in one’s targeted audience that provide unique, unexpected and strategic marketing insights.
  5. New product/service development. Search (both paid and organic) is a real-time, massively scaled focus group in which one can (with enough data) perform an accurate predictive analysis of what customers are looking for — and, in some cases, invent products for which there’s search demand (but no product yet). There’s huge potential upside in this kind of “virtual focus group” research, which in some cases has the potential to be more valuable to the organization than old-style qualitative consumer research studies.

How strategic is SEO in your organization?

Ask yourself this: Who does your SEO team leader report to?

  • The digital marketing director?
  • VP of Content/SEO?
  • The tech team (CIO)?
  • SEM Manager?
  • VP of Acquisition Marketing?
  • Director of Marketing (or CMO)?
  • The CEO?

Obviously, the higher the report, the more likely that SEO insights will be heard, appreciated and shared across the organization.

But the org structure rarely tells the complete tale. So ask yourself this:

Are SEO concepts and insights brought in at the conceptual stage of any new project or at the implementation stage? The earlier these concerns can be introduced, the greater the likelihood that web projects will not have to be re-engineered post-launch. SEO, as has often been said, is not a condiment to be sprinkled on a dish after it’s been cooked; it needs to be baked in from get-go.

How does one bring this about? In a Search Engine Land column posted back in 2012, Eric Enge quotes Adobe’s Warren Lee, who recommends a systematic, multi-step approach for kick-starting strategic SEO in the organization, including:

  1. enterprise-wide training on the importance of SEO, with specific training on a departmental basis.
  2. institution of integrated processes with cross-functional workflows.
  3. consistent meetings that ensure that search visibility is always top of mind in any marketing decisions made.

There’s much work to be done. To many on the upper rungs of the corporate ladder, “SEO” is still a geeky term whose effects are considered to be marginal/ignorable, not central/essential. SEO knowledge is often confined to impenetrable marketing silos.

Even the language often used in meetings — especially the not-so-innocent term, “from an SEO perspective” — puts SEO in a conceptual cage it doesn’t deserve to be in. The result is that the contributions by SEO teams are systematically undervalued, specific recommendations are often ignored and opportunities are lost.

The good news is that organizations able to build SEO into their marketing projects and processes — as an integral part, not an add-on — can do very well in the future.

Marketers should demand that their agencies and SEO consultants include training and SEO best practices integration into the organization’s workflows as part of their services. The better agencies are already recommending it, and many others will do it if asked, even though it sometimes means more SEO is done in-house.

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Dear Google, how about OS targeting? Programmatic search? /dear-google-os-targeting-programmatic-search-260557 Mon, 17 Oct 2016 15:31:17 +0000 http:/?p=260557 In light of the recent updates to device bidding in AdWords, columnist Kevin Lee suggests ways in which Google might build on these changes to make the platform even more valuable to advertisers.

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Hey, Google — thanks for giving us bid modifiers for tablets and smartphones (mobile devices with full browsers). It’s great that we can once again set bids intelligently based on the data around the relative value of the searcher and the relative relevance of our offer to the searcher.

Make no mistake: returning this measure of control to us is a huge deal. For many advertisers — particularly larger ones spending in excess of $100,000 per month — it’s well worth the hassle to calculate and re-calculate the bid modifiers by device type. I’m guessing you knew already that larger advertisers like extra control (because they have data sets large enough to mine information about bid modifiers).

Of course, you also know that this will increase yields (you’ll make more revenue per SERP [search engine results page]), so it’s a win-win. Plus, many of the more sophisticated marketers also use bid modifiers based on location, time of day and audience.

Here’s the problem, Google. I don’t think you went far enough. So please hear two additional, modest requests on behalf of the marketers buying clicks from you.

1. Please bring back operating system (OS) as an additional bid modifier

With operating system available as a bid modifier, device control won’t be needed. Why? Because there are major situational differences between the smartphone, tablet and desktop searchers — and that’s just the beginning of audience differentiators. For tablet, smartphone or desktop, audience differences are often characterized as being due to where the search is located in the “buying funnel” (which is a bit of an over-simplification, even if the buying funnel still exists in its original form).

For many marketers, the differences by operating system are far more useful given that the demographics and psychographics of iOS smartphone or tablet users vary quite significantly from those of Android smartphone or tablet users.

For example, at my company, before the implementation of Enhanced Campaigns, we could target both by OS and device (before there were hundreds of choices). For some of our largest advertisers, we cloned high-volume ad groups into two separate campaigns (since bid boosts weren’t available) and set bids separately by OS. The bid management system almost always bid more for iOS than Android because conversion rates and — in retail — average shopping cart sizes were larger.

So Google, please consider returning this targeting lever to us.

2. Real-time bidding (RTB) for SEM (search engine marketing)

With header bidding and the launch of “native” ad formats within programmatic media, now may be the time to revisit SEM as an RTB (Real-Time Bidding)-based marketplace. We understand that fast SERPs are really important; several years ago, the lag time in programmatic display was far too long to seriously consider RTB.

But a lot has changed in the last five years, even within AdX. With RTB for native ad formats, advertisers — though their DSPs (demand-side platforms)– could use any targeting you provided (e.g., keyword, geography) and combine that with both first- and third-party data to make the most informed choices about bids.

Not ready to make a change of that magnitude? Then why not create a new ad unit in the SERP, particularly in desktop, where the percentage of white space is huge (especially after your right rail elimination earlier this year).

There are several things Google could do on desktop and tablet SERPs that would monetize that space, with all sorts of fun ad formats that consumers would also love (or at least tolerate). After all, Google still uses that space for entertainment and travel queries, for example:

My guess  is that Google might well be thinking about video ads, carousel ads, and perhaps even ghosted brand backgrounds as candidates to appear in that white space.

More control for advertisers is key

Advertisers will appreciate getting as much control as you can give them. After all, access to each and every one of the segmentation levers is something all search marketing teams should at least think about. Do the analysis and you might be surprised: when the device type bid modifiers are combined with location, time-of-day and audience, you’ll have a lot of control over who sees your ads in their SERPs.

Of course, not all surfers and searchers are equally important. As a marketer, all you need to do is know where to look for the data, and you can confirm that fact. Your business intelligence data will likely tell you that you have a “Pareto Distribution” (otherwise known as the 80-20 rule or “Power Law”) when you measure the value of all your customers based on many different segment comparisons.  The same holds true when you buy media.

How do we justify this extra hassle in analysis mathematically? Well, think of it this way: many marketers are given a fixed budget and some marketing KPIs to hit (conversions, calls, store visits, sales ans so on). With a fixed budget, you always want to buy the most valuable clicks (as defined by your KPIs), and as budget increases, you’ll find that the new clicks you’re buying (if you focused on the best clicks first) have a lower value to you.

But by adding additional targeting levers, you have an opportunity to cherry-pick the best from any audience. The bigger you are as a marketer, the faster you can accumulate data about the various targeting segments (device type, location, time of day and audience) and apply this data toward your campaigns. This can provide an unbeatable advantage in the dynamic, always-changing battle for SERP visibility when it matters most.

OK, Google. I’m done. The ball is now in your court — and I hope that you’ll return it soon!

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