5 search marketing myths that need to be destroyed

Jay Revels hears all types of myths and theories on search engine marketing that are simply not correct. In this post he breaks the back of fives myths to help you improve financial performance, save time, and make better decisions around search.

 

Search marketing myth #1: Measuring lift from bidding is an easy task that can be done accurately at any point in time.

Truth:

Generally, measuring lift should take place during the first one or two weeks you implement a bidding strategy, and ideally, against some sort of control in order to give a good proxy for overall lift. For best results, search marketers should schedule measurement over the first few days the bidding is launched. Following this measurement should occur on a weekly basis to track whether targets are being met and bids are being placed correctly.

Measuring within the first one to two weeks is a good way to ascertain whether you are setting the right goals, whether you need to change something and whether you’re reaching your objectives. If left longer, it becomes a lot more difficult to find out what’s working as other market metrics may come into play.

Further to this, it is also important to keep things such as cyclical trends in mind. These trends are typically observed as day-of-week or time-of-day fluctuations in performance and can last for time periods shorter or longer than a calendar year (as opposed to seasonal). An example of this is an increase in mobile conversion rate during afternoons and evenings, or a decrease in desktop CPC during weekends. Analysing campaign performance across multiple weeks will help your account for cyclical trends when measuring lift.

 

Search marketing myth #2: Dynamic keyword insertion in AdWords automatically makes ads more relevant and boosts quality score.

Truth:

While dynamic keyword insertion can help boost your click-through rate and therefore boost your keyword’s ad performance and quality score, it doesn’t affect Google’s perceived relevancy of the ad.

The advantage of dynamic keyword insertion is that it allows search marketers to create ads that contain text more closely related to what the user is likely to search. Dynamic keyword insertion is powerful in this sense because people will most likely opt for the headline that most closely reflects what they typed in.

Google’s official position is that AdWord users should have ad groups centred around a specific set of related keywords, but they do not consider dynamic keyword Insertion as a substitute for this. To maximise results and increase the ad’s relevancy, make sure you closely theme your ad groups taking all the different text options related to your ad into consideration. Concentrate your ads on the most powerful set of AdWords and tighten your theme as much as possible.

 

Search marketing myth #3: All my tracking tools should all have the exact same conversion numbers.

Truth:

There are a lot of different factors that contribute to the discrepancy between different tracking solutions – cookie length/type, attribution logic, one-per-click versus many-per-click, date of click versus date of conversion.

When it comes to streamlining the tracking process, it is important a company agrees on the use of one analytic platform that they trust and that is easy to use. Choosing a professional tracking tool that measures conversions accurately is critical.

 

Search marketing myth #4: Your company’s Facebook page should exist as a call-to-action, resembling your website as much as possible.

Truth:

Facebook encourages a company to look quite a bit different from its typical game face. It exists as a space for real-time engagement and for two-way conversation, not sales pitches or directives.

At the risk of stating the obvious, Facebook content should be posted regularly to maintain audience interest, initiate discussion and to keep a brand top of mind. People go on websites to find out more about a company and its products and/or services and while this rings true for Facebook, generally people become followers to receive regular updates, interesting news and announcements, discounts, and to be involved in discussions and competitions.

It comes as no surprise that companies who utilise Facebook best are those who talk to their customers. Thanking customers for their business, responding to customer complaints, and taking part in discussions are simple yet effective ways for companies to engage their audience and build a community of supporters.

 

Search marketing myth #5: As long as your landing page appears at the top in organic results, you are reaching your maximum conversion potential.

Truth: 

Studies have shown that companies who show up in the top organic and paid results obtain more than twice as many conversions than they would if they only focused on SEO. In this case, one plus one does not equal two.

SEO is a crucial part of a digital strategy however at the same time paid ads play an important part in maximising conversions. For highest conversion rates, search marketers should focus on both SEO and paid search equally. A combination of both along with a good website with strong to call to actions that drive conversations is key.

 

 

Jay Revels is managing director of Marin Software APAC.

Google’s latest secure search update, in perspective

In the world of digital, the theme for the past week was all about security, with Google announcing it will extend its Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) encryption to paid searches, something which has previously been in place for organic search. This story broke with the usual mix of sensationalism, excitement and irrational fear. Here is my two cents on what this all means.  

 

What is SSL?

Many internet services use what are known as Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) connections to encrypt information that travels between your computer and their service. This is usually recognisable by a web address starting with ‘https’ or a browser lock icon, and is commonly used by online banking sites and ecommerce websites. Other sites will use it to protect your passwords when you enter your login information and it essentially hides that data from third parties.

 

Google’s secure search

By way of background to Google’s latest secure search announcement and a quick history lesson:

In May 2010, Google announce encrypted Google web search as an option on Google.com via https://www.google.com. In Google Analytics, users would be greeted with a ‘(not provided)’ in place of where there used to be keywords for the searchers that used this option.

In October 2011, Google announced that if a user is signed into a Google account, any search performed will be done on an SSL and will no longer pass the search term referrer data.

In September 2013, another announcement from Google that all searches would now be made encrypted using HTTPS. That meant that no keyword data would be passed to site owners or be viewable in analytics platforms, including Google Analytics. Publishers and SEO professionals found it harder to understand which search terms brought users to their sites from organic search (pretty useful information to know).

However, this information was still available for searches that resulted in a paid click on AdWords.

 

Now, in April 2014, rumours started circulating last week that Google was going to restrict access to paid search keyword data for all third-party providers, leaving marketers, analytics platforms and bid-management technologies in the dark on the performance of managed paid keywords. However, this is not the case.

Paid search query data will no longer be appended to referral URLs and won’t be passed to analytics or other software other than AdWords. The important thing to note here is the difference between a query and a keyword. Queries are what a user typed in before clicking on an ad. Keywords are the terms that advertisers select to bid on. The two are not the same thing.

You can still view keyword data as you could before in all analytics and search management platforms. In short, this change is not going to be problematic to those with a vested interest in paid search.

The query data is still available in AdWords and can be passed to trusted third parties via the AdWords API. However, analytics software that was accessing paid search query data without going through the AdWords API will now not be able to view this.

 

Privacy and security are the biggest single threat to Google

Nearly everyone involved in digital media, myself included, saw these updates as a deliberate disruption to the search ecosystem.

SEO professionals lost a major data asset to report and optimise on, making it harder to second-guess how to drive traffic for free on Google and in turn lead to a heavier reliance on paid media on Google – deepening Google’s pockets as a result.

Also, much of Google’s valuable first party data would remain within Google, further strengthening its monopoly.

However, the past week has also revealed the so-called ‘Heartbleed’ security flaw. This potentially crippling security bug for the internet was made public last week, but has been in existence for several years now.

System administrators have been scrambling desperately to patch up one implementation of the TLS/SSL security protocol called ‘OpenSSL’ to ensure that their version is the new and up-to-date one. The flaw puts every piece of communication between a user and a server that uses OpenSSL at the risk of being exposed to a third party. A hacker can act as a server to request data directly from a user, and vice versa.

Two out of every three servers around the world use this encryption technique as their security.

When you consider the potential damage that these types of security breaches can have on ecommerce, the levels of confidence and future investment in online, privacy and security are the biggest single threat to Google – way ahead of free organic clicks over paid ones.

Google has the search market pretty much sewn up with dominant global market share and a wonderfully simple and scalable business model of matching up relevant paid ad placements with user searches. Paid advertising still makes up 97% of Google’s revenue.

If its core offering in search is seen to be a security black hole, then users will think twice about using Google as the default tool to navigate the internet. However, as long as people continue to search on Google, it will always make money here.

To view the secure search updates by Google as a ploy to increase revenues is short-sighted. Search is its core product and the focus will be on ensuring that this continues to be market leading. A secure internet is good for Google and all its users.

 

The right questions to ask your paid search agency

Too often, clients drive their digital agency in a direction that impedes rather than enhances their campaign. Their focus is on driving down the average cost per click (CPC) or increasing click through rates (CTR), targeting multiple goals that are often mutually exclusive (cheap traffic but high ROI) or even directing the overall strategy.

Smart clients, however, pick the right agency and ask the right questions to drive the results they deserve.

Picking the right agency 

People The best people are often not the most confident in front of clients. They are more comfortable in a dark room with a spreadsheet, a black coffee and a copy of Wired. Clients, therefore, need to know that the people working on their campaign have an analytical persuasion and preferably a degree to match. As much as experience counts, tenure in the industry certainly doesn’t mean quality.

Qualifications Google has a series of qualifications (Fundamentals, Advanced and Display) your account team should hold and preferably the agency should be part of Google’s Certified Partner program. If the agency is talking about using a technology to manage your account, it should also be qualified. Again, Google Analytics has a qualification as do most search technologies.

Innovation and training – As a client, I’d want to know how my agency keeps innovating to ensure my campaign is better than my competitor’s. Is it using new technologies and concepts? Is it training its staff? And how does it measure staff performance?

Remuneration Pay peanuts and you get limited resource on your account. All businesses have profit margins to retain. I suggest you understand what resource will be applied to your account.

 

Understanding your business        

Your business It amazes me how often people are working on accounts when they have no idea what the business does and in some cases haven’t even visited the website. Ask how your digital agency plans on getting familiar with your business and its nuances. More importantly, ask how it will keep on top of changes to the site and your product offering.

Marketing approach – How will the agency integrate with your other marketing activity? How will it maximise your overall return to ensure you’re capturing potential customers your other marketing activity is pushing online?

Competitors – Ask your agency if it plans to monitor what your competitors are doing, to ensure you take advantage of gaps in their strategies or to learn from their strategies. Will the agency use technology, the free tools Google provides or a human-based approach?

Targets – An informed agency will deliver better results to your bottom line. Work with the agency so that the team working on your business understands your business targets. Ask them how they’ll use those targets to produce paid search targets and forecast – what is their methodology?

 

General optimisation

Too often, optimisation occurs but findings are not recorded or understood. As a result the findings are not expanded on to provide further improvements and the learnings are not passed on to new account managers. Effectively your campaign IP is lost. You need to be asking how the IP for your campaign is being recorded and continually improved upon.

General optimisation Some techniques can be conducted daily and others not for months. Whatever the case, ask what tasks your agency will conduct on a daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly basis. Will it check that your tracking is working and that your media investment is correct on a daily basis? I suggest it should.

Long-term plan Don’t worry about a 12-month strategy but ask for a rolling three-to-six-month plan that consists of test-and-learn strategies around landing pages, creatives, new keyword ideas and new methodologies. (Throw in some crazy long shots.) Ensuring this plan is in place ensures proactivity.

Betas – Search engines are always testing new products and methodologies and are looking for clients to test them. Some betas are successful and same fail spectacularly, but early adopters win and we advise clients to take advantage of any available betas. (Current Google betas include image extensions and search companion adverts).

Match type usage – Do you understand what match types are? If not, I suggest you read this. All match types have a time and place but with a mature campaign you need to ensure your campaign is ‘exact’ match-focused and that your agency has a match type strategy.

Reporting –If a metric has changed anyone can tell you it’s changed, but you need to ask why and how you can take advantage of any changes. Ask your agency for real insights.

 

Here’s what I prepared earlier

I’m not going to divulge all my trade secrets here, but below is a brief list of some advanced optimisation techniques your agency should be using:

Ad scheduling – Target your investment at the time of day and day of the week that provides the best results. Your customers may be conducting research mid-week, with the intention of coming in store to buy on the weekend. Therefore, you need different messaging and landing pages. Consider increasing your investment during TVC spots.

Geo-targeting – The accuracy of geo-targeting is increasing constantly and with the advent of mobile search we can even use Radius Targeting, which “allows you to choose to show your ads to customers within a certain distance from your business”. If you know from direct mail that certain suburbs have a higher propensity to purchase than others, then target them. A mix of radius targeting and ad scheduling is a potent tactic.

Device optimisation – Mobile searchers’ behaviour is very different from that of desktop users. Your campaigns should reflect that difference and they shouldn’t simply be a replica of each other. Again, their geo-targeting and ad scheduling should be different to reflect that difference in user behaviour.

 

Ask the right questions and you will be rewarded. As with any relationship, there needs to be a balance. By all means, push your agency, but do so by asking the right questions that will further your campaign.

 

Bing Ads to take fight to Google in Australia

Mi9 has announced the introduction of Bing Ads to the Australian market, bringing renewed investment in the challenger to Google’s dominant platform and opening up cross-border opportunities for Australian search marketers.

Control of the development and monetisation of Bing, Microsoft’s search engine, will move to Mi9, the local joint venture between Microsoft and Nine Entertainment Co, in July.

Currently, advertising on the Bing platform was offered through the ‘Panama’ platform run out of Yahoo Search Marketing. But a global decision in 2010 by (then) Yahoo chief executive Carol Bartz to focus on its core strength meant getting out of the search business.

As Microsoft’s local venture, Mi9 is attempting to capitalise on the still-fast-growing search advertising market.

It’s about taking the fight to Google, says Steve Sirich, global head of Bing advertising at Microsoft. “For marketers, it’s about giving them a choice. We believe innovation is a function of that choice. We continue to innovate and provide differentiation with our Bing web search experience.”

Part of the move will see 12 specialists hired within the Mi9 team in sales, operations and product.

Sirich says the most noticeable difference for search marketers will be in the selling channel, with a centralised sales team bringing efficiencies. “The account managers that now represent the Mi9 digital suite will additionally represent the Bing product, so it’s a nice audience extension, especially to the performance products.”

The move also opens up cross-border opportunities, both ways, for Australian and international search marketing campaigns, Sirich says, an aspect Yahoo!7 didn’t push aggressively. “It opens up markets that Australian advertisers can now purchase that traffic in.

“So if advertisers do have an interest to purchase US traffic or UK traffic or India traffic… they’ll now have that ability.”

On the functionality of the platform, Sirich says Bing Ads will function in a similar way to Google’s product. “It is to our advantage the advertising product operates in a similar way to Google Adwords,” he says.

Roland Irwin of advertising platform Marin Software says he’s welcoming of the move, saying that increased competition will be good for the market.

With Bing’s reported 5.5 million monthly unique users in Australia and global numbers suggesting 20% are unique to Bing, that means approximately one million Australian Bing users do not use Google. “They have a unique audience so there are opportunities there,” Irwin says.

“Australian advertisers are not as acquainted with Bing due to less interaction with it compared to Google so will experience a learning curve initially,” he adds. But softening that learning curve are two things. First, the similarities between the systems means platforms such as Marin’s can be updated to incorporate both. Second, Google’s block on copying search campaigns from its platform has now been lifted, making it easier for marketers to duplicate campaigns across both platforms.

The launch of Bing Ads was announced this week and will come into effect in July.

 

Aussie named 8th Biggest Search Geek in the world

Australian agency exec Lawrence Yang has earned himself the title of eighth ‘Biggest Search Geek’ in the world in a global search marketing contest.

The performance director at FirstClick Consulting competed against a global field in Marin Software and Search Marketing Expo’s (SMX) ‘Biggest Search Geek Contest’, placing eighth with a score of 65%.

Yang says he hopes to take out next years’ title. “As a professional marketer, winning the next annual Biggest Search Geek title would truly be a testimonial of my skills in the industry. I think I can bring home the gold for Australia later this year.”

The contest comprised an online quiz of 20 questions about some of the most granular aspects of search marketing. An American, Adlucent account manager Renato Del Vento, took out top honours with a high score of 84%, finishing the quiz in five minutes and 39 seconds.

Marin Australia is calling for more Aussies to enter next years’ competition. “It would be such a coup to see an Aussie take the title out later this year so we are encouraging more Australians to step forward and get their geek on,” managing director at the digital ad management software provider, Nick Gill, says.

As winner, Renato picks up a return trip for two to SMX West and an iPad mini. Second- and third-place getters, Ashley Kennedy of Amplify and Michael Freeman of Shoretel, also received iPad minis.

A record number of competitors entered this year. The quiz is still live for search marketers wanting to test their SEM knowledge.

 

Google’s new ‘Enhanced Campaigns’: what it means for search marketers

Recently Google announced the rollout of ‘Enhanced Campaigns’, a major AdWords product release that attempts to simplify the management of campaigns across devices. With enhanced campaigns, search marketers will be able to target consumers based on device, location, and time of day through a single campaign. However, for search marketers that currently leverage separate desktop, tablet, and mobile campaigns, Google’s enhanced campaigns will remove some of the control and transparency we’re used to having. Additional details on enhanced campaigns can be found here.

What does this mean?

To understand the implications of Google’s enhanced campaigns, let’s review the benefits and concerns.

 

Benefits

  • Mobile-preferred creative: Search marketers will now be able to create mobile-preferred ad creative that is delivered to users based on their device or when they’re searching.
  • Consolidated and simplified bid management: Search marketers can now leverage bid adjustments to manage bids across devices, locations, time of day, and more from within a single campaign.

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  • Enhanced ad extensions management: Search marketers can now assign ad extensions at the ad group level and display ads across devices with the appropriate ad creative, sitelink, app, or extension, without having to manage multiple campaigns for every combination of device, location, and time of day. Furthermore, ad extensions can now be scheduled to turn on and off, such as during times when phone operators are unavailable.
  • Advanced sitelinks management: Search marketers can now report on the performance metrics for individual ad sitelinks and monitor their approval status.
  • New conversion types: Search marketers will now have the ability to track and report on calls and app downloads, enabling the optimisation of campaigns based on these conversion types.

Concerns

  • Device-specific budgets: In combing all devices into a single campaign, budgets will also be combined, eliminating the ability for search marketers to set separate, device-optimised budgets across desktop-, tablet-, and mobile-only campaigns.
  • Mobile-only campaigns: Without the ability to opt out of desktop/tablet device targeting, search marketers will no longer be able to leverage mobile-only campaigns. This may significantly impact advertisers, like mobile app and gaming companies, who only wish to advertise on mobile devices.
  • Tablet specific optimisation strategies: With tablet device targeting now combined with desktop, search marketers who have specific tablet strategies in place will lose that functionality.
  • Bidding on mobile keywords: Since mobile bids are boosted by a percentage of desktop/tablet bids at the campaign level, search marketers can no longer calculate individual mobile keyword bids based on performance. Furthermore, bidding to a preferred position for specific mobile keywords to combat the limited real estate on search results pages on mobile devices is no longer possible.
  • Bid multipliers: The requirement to layer bid multipliers based on device, location, and time of day introduces significant complexities for calculating optimal keyword bids. Furthermore, since bid adjustments are applied at the campaign level, separate time of day multipliers can’t be set for separate locations. For example: +20% for New York and +50% on Saturdays, and -20% for Chicago and -50% on Saturdays.
  • Targeting mobile operating systems: Search marketers can no longer target campaigns to a specific mobile device or device operating system (eg. iPhone, HTC, iOS, Android).

 

Google plans to roll out enhanced campaigns across advertisers over the next few months. As a result, advertisers may not have immediate access to this feature within their accounts. By mid-2013, all campaigns are expected to have been transitioned to enhanced campaigns.

 

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The search marketer’s ‘return from break’ checklist

With Google’s product listing ads seeing increased adoption and mobile devices continuing to garner the attention of consumers and advertisers, 2013 should prove to be yet another challenging, but rewarding year for search marketers. With the busiest part of the holiday shopping season behind us, it’s time to firm up your paid search programs for success in 2013. This four-point checklist will help search marketers optimise and prioritise their 2013 campaigns.

1. Review keyword bids

To acquire more revenue and in anticipation of increased competition, many retailers boosted their bids during the busy pre and post-Christmas shopping period. These boosts are typically implemented when there are short increases in revenue-per-click (RPC) or conversion rate.

As people continue to head back to work and the peak shopping period comes to an end, RPC and conversion rate are likely to drop. When this happens search marketers should adjust keyword bids to align with the present-day RPC or conversion rate. Waiting too long to dampen these bids can lead to wasted ad spend and poor campaign performance. This strategy also applies to B2B and lead generation companies. At the end of the day, you don’t want to be spending more per click for less relevant or under-performing traffic.

2. Pause holiday-specific promotions

Did you promote any discounts or free shipping offers? Is there any holiday or New Year themed content for your ad creative or landing pages? As holiday promotions end and the period comes to a close, review your active ad creative and landing pages and ensure that they align with your promotional calendar. Nothing hurts the shopping experience more than an outdated content or expired promotional offers. Last year, I recall coming across post-Christmas search ads with expired discounts. Don’t be that search marketer! Pause or schedule any holiday period ad creative and revert landing pages back to their standard theme. In fact, activating default creative can sometime improve overall performance depending on their historical quality scores.

3. Adjust campaign budgets

During the holiday period, most campaign budgets were expanded to support an increase in traffic volume. Review your campaign daily budgets from 2012 and ensure that appropriate budgets have been set for 2013. Be sure to factor in projected spend increases to your paid search program and allocate budgets across your campaigns accordingly. Forgetting to adjust daily budgets to align with seasonality could end up costing you a significant chunk of your budget.

4. Generate reports

Generate keyword level reports to understand how much RPC or conversion rates changed throughout 2012. And compare campaign budgets with their actual spend levels to better allocate budgets in 2013. Make sure you also generate raw search query reports to uncover additional negative keywords or new keyword opportunities. After all, being successful in 2013 means understanding what worked and what didn’t work in 2012, and these reports will undoubtedly aid you in doing exactly that.

 

By following this checklist, you should be able to ensure your paid search program is prosperous in 2013.

 

Did you know: in each issue of the print edition, Marketing includes the very best opinion articles curated from our huge industry blogging community, as well as exclusive columnists writing on the topics that matter? Becoming a subscriber is only AU$45 for a whole year, delivered straight to your door. Find out more »

Call is out for the biggest search geek in Australia (and the world)

Digital ad management software provider Marin Software and Search Marketing Expo (SMX) are calling for search marketing geeks to come forward and prove their SEM chops.

The Biggest Search Geek Contest is an online quiz to test marketers’ industry knowledge, and this year expands to include Australia and the UK, after last year attracting 2000 participants.

The contest is open to anyone willing to test their mettle, and includes 20 questions on search marketing topics from ad bidding, quality score, the history of search, SEO, Facebook, mobile and retargeting.

But be warned, search marketers, the contest gets harder every year, reflecting the increased competitiveness, growth and complexity of the industry.

“Marin have made no exceptions to the toughness of this year’s SMX Biggest Search Geek contest. We hope that Australian search marketers get onboard and have some fun with this competition. We would love the winner to be an Australian so we can put Australia on the map as the stomping ground of the world’s Biggest Search Geek,” says Nick Gill, managing director of Marin Software Australia.

And despite the global expansion, reigning champion Tomislav Maric, director of performance marketing at Beeby, Clark + Meyler is confident of holding onto his title, after scoring 90% last year in 24 minutes: “I’m aiming to do something never done before and repeat my win of the Biggest Search Geek contest… I’ve been brushing up on my Adwords and adCenter knowledge, my algorithms, and campaign management tricks. I look forward to setting the bar once again.”

The winner will receive an all-expenses-paid trip to SMX West 2013 and an iPad mini, with the contest open from now until 16 February 2013.

 

Forrester: Social media ‘barely negligible’ as a sales lead

Social media has a “barely negligible” impact on sales for online retailers, according to a study conducted in the US by Forrester.

The analyst firm’s ‘Purchase Path Of Online Buyers’ report, which tracked 77,000 purchases to identify the most fruitful sources of sales, found that only 1% of sales came from links placed in social media.

The value in social media is more in its slow burn effect, the report’s author, senior analyst Sucharita Mulpuru, writes: “While the hype around social networks as a driver of influence in ecommerce continues to capture the attention of online executives, the truth is that social continues to struggle and registers as a barely negligible source of sales for either new or repeat buyers.

“The reality is that even the most popular social image-sharing sites (like Pinterest) have failed to move the needle with respect to sales for most retail sites.”

Social media and other ‘top-of-the-funnel’ methods, such as display advertising, are more likely to play a role in the influence chain when it involves multiple touchpoints, which Forrester estimates occurs for 33% of transactions from new customers and 48% of the time for repeat customers.

As a direct source of sales, web marketing mainstays of search and email continue to be the most fruitful despite changes to the interactive marketing landscape and the growing number of shoppers, the report says.

For new customers, the most common single source of sales were direct visits at 20%, organic search at 16% and paid search at 11%. For repeat customers, direct visits at 20%, email at 13% and organic search at 6% brought in the most sales in a single touchpoint interaction. In multiple touchpoint transactions, they remained the most influential with the addition of display ads.

social media forrester

Mulpuru recommends perfecting email marketing techniques, a continual focus on search engine marketing, caution in overestimating the impact of social media and actively promoting simple URLs across a range of channels in order to play to today’s online influence model.

 

Five questions to ask when selecting a paid search agency

Search has become an incredibly complex and competitive industry, where the slightest of mistakes can lead to significant revenue losses. Companies will spend in excess of $35 billion on paid search marketing this year alone, and many advertisers spend hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars every month on keyword campaigns.

With so much at risk, marketers often turn to agencies to help them manage their paid search programs. These agencies range from small shops that do simple keyword bidding and campaign management to integrated digital agencies who manage all aspects of multimillion-dollar online advertising programs for brands.

If you don’t find an agency that’s right for your brand’s needs – on an operational, technical and philosophical level – your paid search programs will suffer. Selecting the right agency is critical and working with the wrong agency could potentially result in lost sales opportunities, long-term damage for your brand, and wasted resources.

Before you begin to search for a new paid search agency, I would always suggest you ask yourself whether you need an agency to run your entire search program – from strategy, to set up, management, bidding, optimisation, measurement and reporting, and ongoing services – or whether you want an agency to run only a piece of your paid search program, such as managing bidding and optimisation.

If you’re looking for a strategic agency partner to run a large-scale paid search program for your brand or brands, however, then you’ll need to conduct a thorough search to find the right partner. You need to ask each contender the tough questions – and if they can’t answer, they will clearly not be up to the task of running a large-scale search program. The five questions I would suggest asking agency prospects are:

How will you enhance my existing programs? This question will reveal how well an agency understands your business, current efforts, and the industry you operate in. As I previously mentioned, you will want to make sure your agency partner is aligned with your objectives and seeking their perspective upfront should give you an indication of their expertise, potential fit and how much effort you’ll need to expend in getting them up to speed on your business.

Are you focused on the strategy or the execution of plans? Your agency isn’t just there to execute; they should be partners in devising, progressing and achieving your core goals. Make sure your agency will be able to help you agree on and reach key revenue and business objectives – instead of just focusing on the nitty-gritty of bidding.

How do you measure long-term customer value? Your chosen partner should think of your customers and potential customers as their own – they should have the technical, marketing, and messaging expertise to use paid search to cultivate a long-term, revenue-generating relationship with each individual customer. Make sure you establish if the agency focuses on a single transaction model to acquire new customers via paid search, or instead creates value with each new acquisition over the long term? Your partner should have a strategy to build customer lifetime value from the very first click through to repeat sales.

Which technology platforms do you use? There are heaps of sophisticated, robust advertising management solutions in the market today – some capable of only an ad-hoc paid search program, while others are highly optimised to meet or exceed ROI goals, and continue to achieve acquisition, sales, and branding targets. Find out the tools an agency uses, but also make sure they are adept at leveraging them to get optimal results. You want to make sure your agency’s teams aren’t wasting too much time on execution, and are instead focused on building your business through strategic campaign planning and optimisation.

Can we see some references? Always contact a few clients that the agency works with to ask them specific questions about their experience. Find out what it’s like to work with the agency on an everyday basis, and what value they add on a strategic level. Ask them outright if they would recommend you use the agency and if there are any ‘watch outs’ you should be aware of.

Don’t leave finding the right paid search agency to chance. Make sure your decision to work with an agency isn’t just based on an initial chemistry with the team who attend the pitch, and instead that they can provide thought-provoking, innovative responses to each of these five questions.

 

ACCC wins appeal against Google for deceptive paid search results

Advertisers who used competitors’ names as keywords in Google AdWords campaign landed the search giant in hot water with the Federal Court five years ago, where it was cleared, but the case raised questions about the role of search engines and their responsibilities around paid content.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) appealed that decision and this week announced it had done so successfully, with the Full Court declaring that Google, by creating and serving the advertisements on result pages of the Google Australia website, engaged in conduct that was misleading or deceptive, or likely to mislead or deceive, in breach of the Competition and Consumer Act (formerly known as the Trade Practices Act).

The advertising in question involved the use of competitors’ names in keywords and in the actual advertisement headlines served to users. The ACCC alleged these advertisements contained representations that by clicking them the user would find information on the competitor, rather than the advertiser.

The original case went in Google’s favour because the judge found Google did not ‘make’ the representations but merely communicated them, even though some of the advertisements were misleading or deceptive.

ACCC chairman Rod Sims says the ACCC appealed because, “it raises very important issues as to the role of search engine providers as publishers of paid content in the online age.

“This is an important outcome because it makes it clear that Google and other search engine providers which use similar technology to Google will be directly accountable for misleading or deceptive paid search results,” Sims says.

The Full Court upheld the ACCC’s appeal, concluding that Google is responsible as it created the messages in question: “Google’s search engine calls up and displays the response to the user’s query. It is Google’s technology which creates that which is displayed. Google did not merely repeat or pass on a statement by the advertiser: what is displayed in response to the user’s search query is not the equivalent of Google saying here is a statement by an advertiser which is passed on for what it is worth.”

The Full Court also stated that, “the enquiry is made of Google and it is Google’s response which is misleading… Although the key words are selected by the advertiser, perhaps with input by Google, what is critical to the process is the triggering of the link by Google using its algorithms.”

Google will now possibly have to pay civil pecuniary penalties and the ACCC’s appeal costs and introduce a consumer law compliance program. It’s next avenue of response would be an appeal to the High Court.

 

E*TRADE’s mid-GFC search marketing campaign

Campaign: E*TRADE Australia mid-GFC search marketing campaign

Client: E*TRADE

Agency: dgm Australia

 

Background

Online share trading site E*TRADE Australia emerged post-GFC into a flat market in 2010. The marketing team realised that a brand refresh was in order, which included a renewed campaign for online customer acquisition.

The business had seen a dramatic drop in new leads coming from the online channels, including search and display. As part of the refresh E*TRADE asked its online marketing agency, dgm Australia, to review the target audience segmentation. It was revealed that the ‘mums and dads’ approach was alienating the brand’s active users.

The decision was made to refine the audience segments to target both active users and people new to investing. This was combined with a more targeted pay-per-click (PPC) campaign that was to kick-start with the brand relaunch in November 2010.

Objectives

Online customer acquisition is a central strategy for E*TRADE, and the new campaign had to build the numbers back to pre-GFC volumes. The keywords in the PPC campaign also had to reflect the new audience segmentation strategy.

In addition, the campaign had to take into account the competition from other players such as CommSec, Westpac and NAB, which were all facing the same market conditions.

Strategy

The E*TRADE marketing team refined their target audiences to better reflect the segments that new customers were coming from, and instructed dgm to adjust the PPC strategy to align with the new targets.

The new target segments were ‘active online investors’, ‘dormant investors (no trading for 12 months)’ and ‘non-share owners who intend to buy shares’.

While the client had previously bid on non-brand keywords on an ad hoc basis, the new strategy was to use aggressive bidding on these keywords. The keywords were identified as giving the client the ability to dominate its competitors.

To coincide with the brand relaunch in November 2010, dgm commenced a program of new copy and keyword testing to establish a baseline for the campaign, to determine the necessary budget, and to allow for continual optimisation of the campaign.

The tests outperformed expectations and encouraged the client to increase the budget for the PPC campaign.

dgm worked with E*TRADE on specially developed landing pages that were designed to take the PPC activity a step further – from the search engine sites onto the client’s website.

The agency recommended a range of different landing pages with each one featuring copy and other elements to align directly with the search terms. Two main target audiences were identified for the landing pages – active traders and new traders.

Seven different landing pages were created with headlines, price information, awards won by E*TRADE (the inclusion of awards has been demonstrated to increase consumer trust in the brand), the company’s new offer, and a prominent call-to-action button. Each page used the same language and search terms that the user input into the search engine.

Execution 

With the baseline results of the November 2010 testing phase as the starting point, dgm devised a three-part campaign of expanding and refining keywords. This process of continual optimisation of keywords took place in January/February 2011, April/May 2011 and July/August 2011.

The keyword expansion and refinement process was designed to reflect the new target audiences. Refinement was based on isolating the high-converting search queries. It’s important to note that the optimisation was focused on search queries, not keywords, which means it was based on users’ behaviour, what they are inputting into the search query box, to convert. This isolation allowed the agency to use specific, highly optimised copy in the campaign.

Throughout the campaign period, the keyword list was refined with up to 10,000 negative keywords added to control to which search queries the ad was served.

New ad copy was applied to emphasise the new brand messaging and to respond to the searcher’s intent. This helped to drive customer self-segmentation according to the new target audiences.

Site links were optimised to focus on the client’s core strengths. All new creative was tested and refined, and the structure of the campaign was continually revised to ensure relevant copy was served to each ad group.

This process was helpful when the client was determining the budget allocation as well as reporting on the campaign.

The copy was tailored to landing pages for ‘About the Markets’, ‘Beginner to Pro’, ‘Buy Shares Online’ and ‘First Trade’.

Results

While the world was slowly recovering from the GFC, the E*TRADE brand refresh and new customer acquisition strategies exceeded targets both in terms of new customers to the service and a significant reduction in cost to acquire those customers.

The key results were:

  • 40% increase in conversion rates year on year – visitors to the site that became customers,
  • 64% increase in total conversions year on year,
  • 30% decrease in the cost per acquisition (CPA) for new customers – a significant achievement given the extra investment made during the campaign, and
  • 267% improvement in conversion rate for non-brand keywords – specifically, the keywords that were targeted in the relaunch and strategy.

   Graphs: Improvement in CPA year on year. CPA improved by 29% despite spend increasing by 35%.

A key challenge arose in March/April 2011, in the form of some aggressive paid search activity from leading competitors such as CommSec, Westpac and NAB.

The effect of the competition was a period of higher cost for E*TRADE, in cost-per-clicks and thus CPA. The agency responded to this competition with creative changes to include more aggressive and stronger calls to action which allowed the client to achieve higher click-through rates.

The conversion rate was almost 50% above targets, and the CPA was 14% better than the target. The PPC channel outperformed other channels, including online display advertising, and was the key channel that helped the client buck the trend in a flat market.

Matthew Loughnan, head of retail at E*TRADE Australia, said, “E*TRADE executed a brand relaunch in November 2010. Our online agency, dgm, integrated the new brand with our existing paid search campaign and showed excellence in understanding our marketing objectives. Off the back of this launch, our paid search campaign has delivered results above and beyond the targets we had set at the beginning of our financial year and are continuing to improve in a flat market.”