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Google is Moving Pay Per Click Ads From Right Side to Bottom of Search Results

By | PPC | 3 Comments

As if introducing changes to the search algorithm to favor freshness of content when ranking pages for organic search and blocking keyword tracking in analytics for searches from users signed into their Google account was not enough, Google has announced that it’s going to stop displaying right side ads for paid search and replace them with Yahoo-style ads at the bottom of the page.

It seems the change is being rolled out gradually and at this time shows up mostly for searches done when logged into the account. I first noticed the change a week ago, but decided to dig in and test both logged in and logged out.

My sample search was “bookstores” and I saw the following results.

Search results for keyword “bookstores” when logged out of Google account

Google paid search ads at top and right - Confluence Digital blog







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Search results for keyword “bookstores”  when logged in to Google account

Screenshot of Google ads at bottom of SERPs - Confluence Digital blog







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And that’s not all, folks… A corollary of those changes Google is rolling out other features that will impact search advertisers on their network. I’d like to point out one other element that is now visible and accessible.

When you now look closely at the paid search ad, you’ll notice that you’re being asked “Why this Ad?” and when you click on it, a pop-up appears that encourages you to click a further link to your personalized Ads Preferences Manager.

Screenshot of ad opt out for Google paid search - Confluence Digital blog





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When you follow that link while logged in, you will arrive at a page which explains ad personalization including a link to a video.

Google explains ad personalization - Confluence Digital blog







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Here the user has the option to block all paid search ads or select ads from individual advertisers whose ads were featured in the current search result.

How to opt out or block individual advertisers in Google - Confluence Digital blog





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How will the changes in ad placement impact AdWords advertisers?

So what does it all mean? I frankly think it is premature to jump to conclusions on how all of those changes will impact AdWords advertisers. Yes, Google has changed the game… again, but it is too soon to judge whether the change is good or bad. We need more data before we can make any pronouncements. We can assume that Google has done the homework on this – you would think they would care, since paid search is a big chunk of revenue for them. They suggest advertisers evaluate the “top” vs. “other” performance of their ads in AdWords to start benchmarking ad performance based on position.

That said, one likely outcome is more competition “at the top” leading to advertisers being willing to pay more per click in order to have a shot at the top of the page spots.

There are also fewer slots on the page overall, and that’s likely to push up the cost of being on page #1 of SERPs, since fewer advertisers can show up on the first page with the new page layout.

No matter what, besides more revenue to Google, one outcome of the changes should be a better user experience. That is Google’s stated goal, since the need to compete over fewer spots will force advertisers to work even harder at ensuring their headline is attention grabbing, the ad copy clearly states the offer, and the content on the landing page is relevant. In fact, this development fits right in with Google’s other recent announcement that it would weigh landing pages more heavily when calculating the Quality Score.

No matter, we’re all in this together. We are all being impacted equally, and I look forward to observing and measuring the results of this change in our client campaigns. I’d be interested in hearing from other advertisers on what you learn in the coming weeks and months. Please feel free to contact me via content or on Twitter @DorotaUmeno.

Contact us if you need help with any aspect of your digital strategy. Our inbound marketing solutions cover SEO, social media, paid search, web analytics, conversion rate optimization and more.

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Final 5 Tips for Improving Q4 Performance for Online Retailers

By | PPC | No Comments

Photo: eCommerce shopper - Confluence Digital blogSo you’re back for more. Excellent! We hope the previous 10 tips for getting better pay per click (PPC) results during the holiday eCommerce rush have sparked ideas for you to try. We wrap up our three part series with five more ideas we hope will get you to ask questions of your current program. For our final 5 we tackle more advanced PPC tactics like remarketing as well as strategic activities such as planning your media and post-holiday focus.  We hope you find them valuable.

1. Remarketing: Stalking Browsers Until They Buy

Remarketing or retargeting is one of the more controversial tactics in digital marketing. If you’re unfamiliar with the practice it works like this; visitors who browse but don’t buy get cookied. When these visitors are surfing the web and visit sites that allow remarketing ads, they’ll see ads for sites they’ve visited in the past on which they got cookied. Often these ads are easy to spot as they can be out of context for the site on which they’ve being served. They can also reel back in and convert past browsers to buyers.

Remarketing needs some thought before executing. First you need to develop a large enough database of visitors cookied for retargeting to have a measurable impact. Next you need to develop an approach to audience segmentation. Note: When using Google Remarketing, there is a minimum number of cookied users required (approximately 500). The power of remarketing comes in the ability to segment the audiences based on their on-site behaviors. An approach for eCommerce sites would be segments for visitors to product pages and those who added items to their shopping cart but did not buy. Target this audience with compelling creative with strong calls to action.

Useful link: Remarketing Ideas from Google

2.  Live By Promotions, Die By Promotions

The gravitational pull of promotions is just too tempting to resist. Whether it’s a holiday tie-in or an inventory clearance, there’s always the temptation to use discounts to stimulate sales. BEWARE: you may be training your customers to expect a discount and they won’t buy unless offered one. I’m not suggesting that e-tailers shouldn’t use discounts, but avoid becoming addicted to them and use them strategically. On the flip side, I know of one large e-tailer who did not have a discount lined up during a pivotal week in the holiday season. With shoppers’ minds full of purchase intent a major opportunity was lost, not to mention a significant amount of revenue. Know your customers and what they react to.

Use promotions to increase average order size, attract first time customers and/or take business from competitors. Think about how you want to use PPC ads to bring attention to your promotions. If the promotions are compelling you’ll see increased click through rates, but if the onsite experience is poor there may be no increases at all. It’s critically important to look at the entire customer experience when using promotions.

Useful link: 3 Brands Using Promotions Effectively

3.  Know Your Key Dates: Green Monday?

Black Friday (11/25) and Cyber Monday (11/28) are terms any online retail marketer is aware of, but how about Green Monday (12/12)? There are several key dates for online retailers during Q4 and your PPC campaigns should be dialed in before these dates arrive. That means you’ve got holiday themed creative queued up ready to go. You’ve done landing page testing and addressed any leaky funnel issues. Perhaps most important, sufficient budget is allocated to capture the opportunity presented. What you might not realize is that sales will happen on these dates, but you can help prime the revenue pump by ramping up your media spend 3-5 days in advance. Doing so helps build top of mind awareness so when browsers turn to buyers; your brand is in their consideration set.

Two other days you need to consider are the last date your audience can receive order and review items by Christmas Eve with standard and expedited. Last but not least of the big days is December 26. That’s Boxing Day, the biggest shopping day in Canada. While the economy is
down globally, Canada has weathered the storm better than most and represents an $18.5B eCommerce market growing at double-digits according to an eMarketer study. Bottom line, your PPC program can do wonders but needs sufficient planning and resources to maximize the opportunity.

Useful link: Shop.org Resources for Ecommerce Marketers

4.  Don’t Forget Post-Holiday Bargain Shoppers

In addition to Boxing Day creative teed up, also have your post-holiday promotions ready to go supported by PPC ad copy. The post-holiday period can be an opportune time to target new customers. Effectively executing a post-holiday sales push can get your new fiscal year off to a strong start. Many will have received cash or gift cards as gifts.  The extra buying power may be just what they needed to get that impulse item. Do you have excess stock of items than encourage the purchase of accessories? Review your website analytics and reallocate your PPC budget taking into consideration data for post-holiday product popularity.

Useful link: Holiday Season 2010 Post-mortem by ComScore

5.  Develop an Attribution Model: It Won’t Be Perfect

The Holy Grail of online retailing is development of an accurate and reliable attribution model. It’s not difficult to determine the touch points but it can be quite challenging to accurately assess the contribution value of each. Keep in mind attribution models get complex very quickly. If you’re a multi-channel retailer with online, store, catalog, call center, there are cross channel influences to be aware of. Then there’s the various media that may be used such as paid search, display, email, organic traffic efforts and traditional which all have an influence. Google has attempted to offer support with their search funnels for PPC campaign attribution. Unless you have a large scale program, the usefulness of the insights is limited. If you’ve not developed an attribution model before, use this year to set a baseline. Start simple adding complexity over time.

Useful links: Adopting Attribution Models in Large Enterprises and Digital Media Campaign Attribution

Make sure to also check out Parts 1 and 2 in Eric Layland’s three-part Q4 Online Retail Performance Tips series:

Part 1: 5 Must-Do Tips for Awesome PPC Results in Q4

Part 2: 5 More Tips for Improving Q4 Performance for Online Retailers

Give us a call if your paid search program is not meeting its potential, you need help optimizing your website for search (SEO) or are interested in social media marketing, conversion funnel optimization, landing page design or any other aspect of digital strategy.

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5 More Tips for Improving Q4 Performance for Online Retailers

By | PPC | No Comments

Chart: How eTailers divvy up the marketing budget - Confluence Digital blog

Click image above to enlarge and view in separate window.

Welcome back! Last week we posted the first 5 ecommerce PPC tips and we continue with 5 more. By sharing these tips in small batches, we hope you can pick a few and implement them. Be sure to note performance before implementing changes so you can determine their impact.

For this batch of tips we again start with a fundamental: use the right metrics! Though all online marketers have challenges, ecommerce seems to have numerous pressures from all directions.  

1.       Use the Right Metrics: CPA vs. ROAS vs. ROI vs. AOS

Years ago I had an interesting client who was truly intimidating. He was a big guy, tough looking with a weathered face who mentioned in a suggestive way that he grew up in New Jersey and worked the waterfront. I couldn’t shake the image of him sending a double-crosser to talk to the fishes. As we discussed launching his campaign he leaned over, looked me dead in the eye and said, “Eric, always remember, if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” I’ve since realized that’s an old business axiom and not an original, but the impression was made.

As a marketer you need to determine which metric is most appropriate for your business. It’s not uncommon to track several key performance indicators. But which is best? Well that depends and why we suggest you track the big three at a minimum: Cost Per Acquisition, Return On Ad Spend, Average Order Size, Return On Investment and get beyond counting conversions. Here’s a quick refresher on these metrics.

Cost Per Acquisition (CPA): Media Cost / Customer Orders. Ideally you can identify first time customers and calculate the metric for new and returning customers. 

Return On Ad Spend (ROAS): Sales Revenue / Media Cost. Can potentially mask the negative impact of low margin sales but handy to assess the impact of your media spends across channels.

Average Order Size (AOS): Sales Revenues / Customer Orders. This is important to help manage promotions, cross/up sell activities, and merchandising. It’s a balance because you need both order volume and high average revenue per item, but more often than not these work against each other.

Return On Investment (ROI): Net Income / Media Cost. This is the bottom line for most e-retailers. In short you know if you were using the right media to sell the right products.

Useful link: Web Analytics Guru Discusses Metrics

2.       Ad Copy: Sell Your Strengths

105 characters plus a display URL is not a lot of space. This precious space needs to be given proper respect to work well. Don’t try and cram every potential benefit into this space. Do have a good understanding of your value proposition to the audience. If you’re a discounter and can compete on price, include prices. If you’re a luxury item marketer, use language that speaks to the unique & exclusive nature of the products. If promotions are a key part of your strategy, regularly test promotional calls to action.

The holiday season is cut-throat. It’s very easy for a web shopper to browse multiple competitors. They’re going to be hit by dozens of great offers. Know where you play in the field and what you do best. Then test away to find which messaging resonates most with your visitors.

At a minimum have 2 variations of ad copy running within each ad group. If volume supports it, add a third. Look at your competitors. What are they doing? Think of ways to stand out and catch the attention of your audience. Test Google’s new long headline option. Most important: your ad should work to get the click, not sell your product. You need to attract the right audience with ads and then optimize your website to convert the browser to a buyer.

Useful link: Writing better Adwords Ads

3.       Get Hard Data from Soft Conversions

Not all conversions are created equal. An online sale is what e-tailers seek but requesting a catalog, doing a store location look-up, visiting a shipping options page, signing up for a newsletter are high value actions that signal visitor buy interest. We call these “soft”, “micro” or “secondary” conversions to the primary conversion which is a sales transaction.

Track these secondary conversions to the keyword level. Google AdWords allows you to set up several conversion actions. Alternately, you can use a web analytics platform to track these actions. Regardless of the method, do it. You may find that broad terms don’t drive sales conversions but they do drive the types of digital “tire-kicking” that precedes a sale. Over time you should be able to build a model and assign values to the secondary conversions.

Understanding what on-site actions may precipitate a sales conversion can help predict behavior and also enable you to value the contributions of keywords more accurately.

Useful link: Using Google Analytics for Secondary Conversions

4.       Test Google Ad Extensions

The  ad product extensions in Google have been rolling out with greater consistency of late. These features enable ads to communicate more data about the product or service being promoted.  Some ad extensions can only be activated by connecting other Google services. For example, Product Extentions requires an existing Google Merchant Center account.  By setting up a Google Merchant Center account, ads can include product attributes in your AdWords ads via a “plusbox” for users to click. Product extensions can show images, titles and prices of products that match searcher’s queries.

Product extensions will not appear on other Search Network sites, or on Display Network sites. This will be the first holiday season where product extensions are widely available although they are technically still in limited beta release. Our experience showed in increase in CTR on such ads last holiday season. Was there a direct correlation to increased sales? No, and for that reason we suggest you test before full adoption. But Google touts their greatness and we suspect that in time they will become a regular addition to ecommerce PPC programs.

A number of other ad extensions are in limited release. One of note is the Seller Rating Extension. You’ve probably seen these already. If a merchant is rated with at least 4 stars (of 5) and a minimum of 30 reviews, the rating will be posted in the ad. Visitors have the option of clicking through to read reviews at no cost to the merchant.  Don’t forget the other extensions such as Sitelinks, Video (in beta), and location extensions. Test them out and see if they improve the quality of visitors to your site.

Useful link: Google Ad Extensions

5.       Multiple Touch Points: Buyers Are Everywhere

You really can’t predict when your ideal customer is going to take action. As a result, you need to deliver your message when the chances for action and influence are highest.  Though PPC will get a lot of credit for sales, other media channels influence the effectiveness of paid search. As all good media planners know, the cumulative effect of a well-developed media plan is more impactful than the individual components. The same can be said for search. I’m not suggesting go out and throw caution to the wind, but rather test your way to a program that includes search engine optimization, social media channels, display advertising, paid and mobile search. Utilize a tool like Google Analytics, Omniture or Coremetrics to measure the on-site behaviors.

Useful link: Multichannel Digital Marketing

Chart: What types of online advertising marketers are using - Confluence Digital blog

Click image above to enlarge and view in separate window.

Please share your thoughts and opinions with us. For as much data as is created in online marketing, there’s still very much room for discourse on the subject. What’s good for one client might not work well with another and we’ve experienced that. And if you have a question where we might be able to provide assistance, don’t hesitate to contact us.

Don’t forget to check out Parts 1 and 3  (coming soon!) in Eric Layland’s three-part Q4 Online Retail Performance Tips series:

Part 1: 5 Must-Do Tips for Awesome PPC Results in Q4

Give us a call if your paid search program is not meeting its potential, you need help optimizing your website for search (SEO) or are interested in social media marketing, conversion funnel optimization, landing page design or any other aspect of digital strategy.

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5 Tips To Boost Your Holiday e-Commerce Sales with Facebook

By | PPC, SEO, Social Media | No Comments

The holiday season is approaching and triggering consumers to start thinking about purchasing.  If you’re an online retailer the next 3 months is your last chance to push and attract sales to finish the year strong.  

You probably already know that it is fundamental to have SEO and PPC campaigns running to increase awareness of your company, products and services.  However things are changing in the digital space as now U.S. Internet users spent 41.1 billion minutes on Facebook, surpassing Google 39.8 billion minutes for the first time (according to comScore) which is why it is important to get your business where the customers are — on social media.    

Here are 5 tips to help you make sure that you are leveraging Facebook to extend your business visibility and pull in more revenue – assuming, of course, that you have already created a Facebook Page, if not, create one now

#1 Offer exclusive offers on your Facebook Page 

People like great products and great deals, once you have that down, run exclusive offers on your business Facebook Page in exchange for “likes” to grow your audience. 

 #2 Keep your Facebook Page fans engaged 

After users “like” your Facebook page, make sure that you keep them engaged by running exclusive offers once in a while through your Facebook Page posts.  If you fail to keep your audience engaged, your network reach or post’s impressions will decrease because of Facebook’s EdgeRank algorithm which determines the edge/popularity of your posted content. In practice this means that if you don’t get your fans to “like” and comment on your posts, your posts will appear less frequently on their personal Facebook Newsfeed. 

Useful Link:  6 Tips to Increase Your Facebook EdgeRank and Exposure 

#3 Add Like buttons to your products on your site  

Quick Stat:  35% of people are more likely to buy liked items.

Make it easy for your users to find out automatically what their friends have recently shown interest in on your site.  Adding a Like button to your products is a great way to add social proof to your offerings and influence the visitor who is making a buying decision.  This tool is specially effective when visitors are logged on Facebook and one or more of their Facebook  friends has already “liked” the product. The friends’ names will be featured in the button next to the product indicating that they “liked” it.  

Quick Stats:  (1) 90 percent of people trust recommendations of friends above any form of advertising.  (2) 35 million Facebook users have shared a product.

Even if a high counter of product “likes” or visitor’s friend’s previous endorsement is not enough to drive the purchase, if the customer “likes” the product, it will at least have a chance to be featured in the visitor’s Facebook profile.  During this phase, the product will be up for further opinion gathering and recommendations by the customer’s personal network which could positively influence the customer when considering the purchase.  In another scenario the customer may also promote your product by posting an update of his new purchase before checking out. 


#4 Consider selling your products through your Facebook Page 

Why? Because it’s practical, and after all the goal here is to make it simpler for your fans to buy from you.  Install a store front applications on your Facebook Page to display your products within Facebook. If a visitor clicks on the buy option, the system will re-direct the transaction to your site’s shopping cart. 

Useful Link: How to Sell Products Via Your Facebook Page 

 #5 Advertise on Facebook

Quick Stats: (1) US social network ad revenues to reach $3.08 billion this year.  (2) 1 in 4 minutes spent on the Internet in the US is spent on Facebook.  

Spending on social media advertising will be up 55% this year, Why? – Because it’s working and that’s where the customers are spending most of their time online.   

Useful Link: The How To Guide for Facebook Advertising 

Give us a call to learn more about ways that we can help your social media marketing efforts or if  you need help optimizing your website for search (SEO) or are interested in paid search (PPC), conversion funnel optimization, landing page design or any other aspect of digital strategy.

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5 Must-Do Tips for Awesome PPC Results in Q4

By | PPC | 3 Comments

Photo: eCommerce shopping cart - Confluence Digital blogFor most retailers it’s about to be crunch time. October marks the start of the fourth quarter – an intense time when many retailers make or break their revenue goal for the year.  For retailers with online operations the competition over shoppers’ share of wallet is particularly fierce, since – even if it sounds like an overused cliche – the competition really is just a click or two away. Odds are that whether you’re a local boutique or a national big box retailer, you’ve got a pay per click (PPC) program that is contributing to the mix. The question is whether your program is working to its full potential?

In this three part series we’ll cover key areas of PPC program optimization for online retailers. We’ll look beyond the basics to tactics that will help overall management and results. For retailers that have both on- and offline sales channels, management of your program in a holistic manner is crucial for success.

Without further ado, let’s get into our first round of tips…

1. Integrate Shopping Cart Values with Conversion Codes, Analytics

If you sell online you must integrate your shopping cart with your PPC conversion tracking and web analytics. Just tracking counts of conversions, or worse yet, not tracking anything is really unacceptable. It’s not hard and as long as your shopping cart allows access to its item value variables, there’s no reason not to do so. If your shopping cart doesn’t allow access, change it out. It’s the difference between having rough idea of how your campaigns are doing and knowing your specific Return on Ad Spend (ROAS) or Return on Investment (ROI). Knowing these enable you to bid on the keywords that drive not just sales but margin dollars.

 More advanced online retailers will take this further and integrate margin contribution. We’ve worked with a top-50 ecommerce site that managed to margin contribution and it was extremely powerful. Key metrics included Ad Spend/Margin Contribution (A/M) and Ad Spend/Sales (A/S). If you’re restricted by shopping cart data access limitations or technical ability, at minimum determine your average order size and apply the value to your conversion counts.

Useful link: Setting up shopping cart conversions.

2. Stop Revenue Leaks: Shore Up Your Conversion Path

We hope reviewing your conversion path and funnel is an activity that’s reviewed regularly. There aren’t many activities that more important to your program to invest resources and insure performance is optimized. Think about it, you’ve already paid for the visit (ppc charges, seo effort, other means) and the visitor has found a product and started the purchase process. Use everything in your testing arsenal to create an efficient check out experience. Even modest improvements can yield significant improvements in sales dollars. Your site analytics can be set-up to report on how visitors migrate through the funnel and what percentage complete each stage. Identifying steps where a disproportionate percentage fall out of the funnel indicates a problem area. Look into it, test fixes then move on to the stage with the next highest abandonment rate. There’s a very good chance you’re using Google Analytics. If that’s the case then setting up goals and funnels will be a great help to you.

Useful link: Setting up Google Analytics goals & funnels.

3. Keyword Organization: Brand vs. Manufacturer vs. Product Type

Separation of keywords into similar Ad Groups is a no brainer. You’ve probably done this already (I hope). Exactly how it’s executed for your specific product type is going to vary. We recommend separation of your brand from all other keyword types at a minimum. If you have physical stores, consider additional ad groups that include keywords with geographic qualifiers.

I prefer separating manufacturer’s terms into manufacturer + product type and manufacturer + model. The reason for this is a shopper’s behavior is different. When a manufacturer + product type keyword is searched a decision has not yet been made. When a specific model is searched on, it’s likely the shopper has decided on the product and is looking for the best price, terms or shipping options.

Useful link: Keyword organization tips.

4. Campaign Budgeting: Don’t Restrict Core Terms

Over the course of running a pay per click program you’ll learn which are your core keywords. Those are the terms that consistently deliver the best results in terms of sales, low acquisition cost and ROI. Insure you support these terms with a sufficient allocation of budget such that you are maximizing their contribution to the overall program.

For instance you may be a specialty retailer of athletic shoes. You’ll know which brands and styles are most popular. Be sure to allow terms which have historically worked best not be artificially restricted by having them fight for campaign budget with under-performers.

Frequently the core keywords will be brand terms or the names of manufacturer’s best known products if you’re a reseller. It’s not unusual for such terms to not only bring in traffic and sales, but to be trigger products. That is, products that tend to drive the sales of accessories and supplies increasing the average basket size value of the order.

Useful link: Organizing campaigns and ad groups.

5. Leveraging AdWord’s Geographic Targeting

At the campaign level specific geographies can be targeted. This can be done at the country, state, metro and all the way to customized longitude & latitude coordinates. The value to geo-targeting is pretty obvious: if you can’t service a region, don’t advertise in it. Looking at it another way, if your stores in Southern California sell merchandise that’s different than what moves in NYC, you’ll want to manage your program taking such factors into account.

Step one: understand how geography impacts retail vs. online sales. How far are people willing to travel to visit the store? Do you offer specials (i.e. free shipping) to areas without retail store support? Geographic store density is also a factor. Do you have stores on every corner or a few regionally located? Set up your ad serving to cover the areas your physical stores serve. Doing so enables tailoring of ad copy to in-store promotions or specials that can’t be delivered online. Brand terms will also perform differently.

In a separate campaign, target the geographies that are not supported by physical stores. Also take note of regional nuances in language. An example of this is; pop or soda? Some folks even use “coke” as a generic for any carbonated sweet beverage in a can. Use this knowledge to speak to your audience with the language they use.

Going international is often exciting for advertisers. There’s a sense of accomplishment to get orders from beyond your typical service area. Beware! Separating International markets from your primary market enables better management of your budget. More than half the world’s population is in the middle of their day before the sun rises in Chicago. That means your budget can be exhausted before your key market wakes up. While bids may be less as a result of fewer competitors, there are many concerns when going international. Some of the major issues include localization, cross barrier shipping, taxes, customer & sales support, serviceability and click fraud. Proceed with caution!

Useful link: AdWords Geo-targeting Options

Check out Part 2 in Eric Layland’s three-part Q4 Online Retail Performance Tips series:

5 More Tips for Improving Q4 Performance for Online Retailers

Give us a call if your paid search program is not meeting its potential, you need help optimizing your website for search (SEO) or are interested in social media marketing, conversion funnel optimization, landing page design or any other aspect of digital strategy.

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Media Planning for Lead Generation and Customer Acquisition

By | Analytics, Content Marketing, PPC, SEO, Social Media | No Comments

Photo: Digital media allocation buckets - Confluence Digital blog

The digital media budgeting question comes up often in the course of interacting with prospects and clients. It typicaly leads to an interesting discussion. Clients often assume that we follow a manual with the exact formula for the optimal mix of digital tactics like Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Paid Search (PPC), Social Media Marketing or Display Advertising. I only wish it were that easy! Instead what we find is that even when two clients have closely related products or services, there are always extenuating circumstances and distinctive characteristics that inevitably require a unique digital strategy for lead and customer acquisition. 

With many years in the digital space (did I really start in 1996?!), I figured I’d poll my network and see what they thought. The thought of a survey crossed my mind for a brief second or two. Surveys turn back my mental clock to taking exams in college. (Something I wasn’t particularly good at but that’s another story.) My 2c is that a survey tends to capture what the respondent thinks is the “right” answer, like on an exam. I wanted real-world-cuz-I-have-done-this-many-times types of answers.

I acknowledge there’s no shortage of details that would alter specific recommendations. What emerged were some interesting differences between the groupings of respondents. The methodology for respondents was to allocate 100 points across the options that included: Display, SEO, Social Media, PPC, Usability Improvements, Email, Affiliates, Conversion Optimization and “Other.”

Digital Media Planning: B2B vs. B2C

The two vehicles that had the largest discrepancies were Pay Per Click (PPC) and Email. B2C acquisition marketers favored allocating 24% of budgets to PPC while B2B averaged 16.3%. Perhaps this isn’t much of a surprise when considering the B2C marketers were primarily attempting to capture online sales. The discrepancy between B2B and B2C was more significant with how much budget was allocated to Email marketing. Again not a major surprise, B2B (20%) allocated significantly more than B2C marketers (7%). In the context of B2B marketers generating leads then wanting to nurture those until a conversion occurs, optimizing performance of the house list is understandable.

One big surprise that stood out was the minimal resources available for Conversion Funnel Optimization. Both B2B and B2C allocated about 7% of their budget to the effort. This is a bit of a mind-blower since media has likely been spent to acquire the traffic. Why would you not do everything possible to increase conversion rates? Recommendation: for those putting budget in the “Other” category, move that over to Conversion Optimization efforts.

For all the noise about social media, it ended up in the middle of the pack with B2C marketers more embracing of the channel (12% vs. 7.5%).

Image: Chart 1 - B2B vs B2C digital media budget allocation - Confluence Digital blog


Differences in Agency vs. Client Side

When looking at the results from those on the Agency side vs. the Client side, the differences in approach were more pronounced. There may be some bias as the contacts at agencies who replied were overwhelmingly from agencies that do a lot of search and social business. So maybe it’s not a surprise that SEO (22% vs. 8.3%) and Social Media (21% vs. 7.5%) had recommendations that reflected what they know and are good at? On the flipside, the client side may be veering away from activities that are, in the case of social, still in the experimental phase. Why clients would steer away from SEO is beyond me, but perhaps SEO is considered an expense that falls outside of marketing. Personally I find this to be antiquated thinking.

PPC is equally endorsed (Agency 21% vs. Client 20.8%) but Email more favored by the Client side. This isn’t a big surprise since the in-house email list typically has the highest ROI of the major online marketing channels. Clients understand this and want to insure they’re providing adequate funding to maximize the returns.  That said, a distinction not made in the question posed was whether the budget was for new acquisitions (i.e. net new records to the database) or simply incremental sales or leads.

Another outlier I didn’t expect was that Display was as strong as it was for an acquisition exercise. My explanation for Display getting about 7% of the budget is that these marketers are savvy. (I wouldn’t hang around chumps.) They know that display can have a positive impact building visibility and awareness to fill the top of the funnel in an acquisition model.

 Image: Chart 2 - agency vs client side digital media budget allocation - Confluence Digital blog

The Mysterious “Other” Category

None of the fields were mandatory. Conceivably a strong channel proponent could put their entire budget into a single option. So the responses were not evenly distributed, but when someone did opt for Other, they were committed. When Other was given budget, the average amount was over 20%. The most frequently mentioned “Others” were generic content creation, video content, retargeting/remarketing, mobile marketing and online PR.

The difference between B2B (12.5%) and B2C (11%) was minimal for amount of budget allocated to Other. Yet when comparing Agency to Client side, the Clients were more likely to order off the menu (17.5% vs. 4%).

What’s Does It All Mean?

In my view it’s what makes digital marketing so great and powerful – there’s no “one size fits all” solution. Having been primarily on the agency side during my 15 years in online marketing, even clients in the same vertical end up having sometimes wildly different budget allocations because we find their sweet spot is unique to their offer’s features and benefits. Start with a basic digital media mix recipe and tailor it to please your taste buds. The very best way to uncover the optimum budget mix for your situation is by testing. Take advantage of the data collected through web analytics to arrive at the mix that will enable you to meet your cost per lead (CPL) and cost per customer acquisition (CPA) goals.

Let us help you uncover the optimal digital media mix to reach your lead generation and customer acquisition goals. We are happy to answer questions about any digital tactic from search “basics” like  SEO and PPC to social media, conversion funnel optimization, landing page best practices and more.

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Top Ten Pointers to Spring Cleaning Your Paid Search Campaign

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Spring is finally here. It’s by far my favorite time of year in Seattle. This city of avid gardeners bursts into shades of green and colorful bloom starting in April (but don’t tell anyone, we like our rainy city reputation).

More significantly for those of us in the business of selling goods or services the arrival of Spring signals the start of the second quarter. Following the Holiday madness and three months of “business as usual” (if there’s anything to be considered usual given the current recession) we should take a step back and evaluate our business strategy in light of results from this past quarter or year over year.

We recommend that you take advantage of this brief lull to review the performance of your paid search account and clean out any digital cobwebs you may encounter. Believe us, you’ll feel great when you’re done. Your campaign will be optimized just in time to take advantage of the bumps in commercial activity that happen around Easter and Mother’s Day in April and May. And as a bonus you’ll be better prepared to face the challenge of the Summer Slowdown that follows right behind.

So here are our top ten pointers (OK, top eleven pointers, we like bonuses) to a thorough Spring Cleaning of your paid search campaign.

1.     Reevaluate your overall paid search strategy.

Has the “big picture” changed at all since you designed the campaign? Have there been any significant shifts in the market? Have any new competitors or influential players entered the scene? Is the strategy you’re pursuing still well aligned with your business goals? Paid search can be successfully used to elicit direct response or raise brand awareness, two very different strategies.

2.     Revisit and, if necessary, revise your campaign architecture.

Is your campaign structured to support your stated goals? Are you able to track performance to the level you want given any changes in the “big picture”, as stated above. Should you break up and restructure any campaigns to allow for easier tracking or testing of specific keywords, ads or sub-strategies or tactics?  For e.g., are you balancing search and display advertising appropriately?

3.     Re-calibrate your web analytics settings to capture the right metrics.

When looking at the data from the first quarter, are you capturing the right data? Unless your data can be turned into actionable bits of business intelligence, it’s just a bunch of numbers.  Evaluate what metrics are driving your Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). Poke under the hood in your analytics set-up. Should you be tracking additional data points? Take a hard look at those trends and course-correct, as needed. If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.

4.     Review your keyword list with a fine comb.

Have you observed any changes in your Quality Score (Google) that might have an impact on your ad placement? Identify any keywords for which your ads no longer show up on the first page of search results. Are they worth the higher bid to get your ad back on the first page? Separate top performers from laggards to insure they get sufficient media support. Are there cyclical or seasonal factors that you should be thinking about? Keywords that haven’t received clicks or impressions need to be re-evaluated for inclusion. They may he dragging down the Quality Score for the account, impacting account performance and driving your cost-per-click up.

Are new terms emerging that you should have on your radar? Find out by running a search query report to see which new keywords may be gaining in popularity. Have any terms fallen out of usage that you should no longer be bidding on? What are your competitors bidding on these days? What negative keywords should be added to the account based on what’s happening in your marketplace? For example, is there increased activity in the market around a term you’ve traditionally bid on that was not there a year ago, generating unwanted (misguided) clicks on your ads?

5.     Reevaluate your ad copy.

Is your ad copy still relevant? Do you see signs of fatigue – such as click-through-rate trending down, cost-per-conversion trending up – for your winning ads? Consider pausing your losers and introducing some new, fresh ad copy to challenge your current winners. And as with keyword changes, changes to ad copy might be needed to align with seasonality. Make sure to take some time to check on what your competition is doing.

6.     Take a critical look at your landing pages.

Make sure your landing page layout and content follows current best practices and that the core message, call to action and copy remain relevant to your target audience. Adjust as necessary by revising copy, calls to action and offers.

7.     Familiarize yourself with the latest crop of efficiency and optimization tools and start using them.

Our friends at Google have been very busy lately, rolling out new management features in AdWords on a monthly and sometimes weekly basis.  One recent Automated Rules to provide advertisers more efficiently and precisely manage bid and budget management. It’s good to stay on top of those developments as the ever-finer controls allow for better budget optimization for a higher ROI, and who doesn’t want that?

8.     Are you targeting the right audience, at the right time, in the right place?

While all those new AdWords features are super exciting, it’s nice to revisit all those “old” ones, like ad timing, geo-targeting and remarketing. If your analytics data shows you 95 percent of your high margin buyers live in the major metro areas and shop between 6:00 pm and midnight, focus your ad spend at those locations and times. Remarketing lets you serve up an ad to those visitors who came to your website but for some reason didn’t complete the purchase. You know they have some interest in your offering – why not target them while they’re interested to close the deal?

9.     Identify any contextual placement opportunities you may be missing.

Now that you’ve considered your target market and evaluated their behavior relative to your offering, think of any opportunities you may be missing. Where are your best customers going online? What do they like to read? Are they reading articles or blogs? Are they watching videos on YouTube? Where do they like to congregate? If you are not doing this already, use the power of Google’s ever growing Display Network to target ads at your audience in those spaces.

10. Don’t forget to look at natural search data.

At Confluence we love to get on our soapbox and talk about the need for proper integration – and yes, confluence – of various digital and non-digital marketing channels to generate efficiencies and maximize impact and ROI. This applies to all marketing channels, but it is in fact impossible to consider paid search in isolation from natural search and SEO. To truly optimize your PPC campaign you should incorporate insights from natural search.  For example, take time to review your natural rankings and examine your analytics for keywords coming from natural search that may not be converting but that drive deep engagement metrics, such as high number of pages per visit, low bounce rate, long time on site and secondary conversions within 30+ days of original visit. Those that drive traffic to your website via natural search may provide additional ideas for keywords to test (see point 11, below about testing).

11. Reevaluate your testing strategy, revise (or develop) your testing plan, and set aside a testing budget.

As the market evolves, your strategy should be evolving along with it. The best (only) way to stay on top of changes and ensure your paid search effort is performing up to snuff is by looking at the data and continually testing new keywords, concepts, ideas (ABT). Review your testing strategy and develop a plan of concepts, keywords, display ads you may want to test during the second quarter.

So, get on it. We promise that you’ll feel really great once you’ve gone through this process and you’ll be ready to face the months ahead knowing that your account is optimized and that you are managing your paid search spend for maximum ROI.

Dynamic Keyword Insertion and Trademark Infringement

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Recently two of our clients became “victims” of trademark infringement by direct competitors. We noticed competitive ads on Google and Display Network partners Business.com and Alexa.com that followed the following format:


This ad format features the use of a trademarked term in a competitive manner, a practice Google explicitly forbids:

In the U.S., we allow some ads to show with a trademark in ad text if the ad is from a reseller or from an informational site. However, if our investigation finds that the advertiser is using the trademark in the ad text in a manner which is competitive, critical, or negative, we will require the advertiser to remove the trademark and prevent them from using it in similar ad text in the future.

The ad is also potentially misleading to users who may not notice that the headline and destination URL do not match until after the click they land on the competitor’s website. They may be mistaken into thinking that the competitor is the owner or reseller of the trademarked product.

In both instances we dispatched polite, yet firm “cease and desist” requests directly to the marketing departments of both companies, and in both cases the matter was immediately resolved.

So why (and how) did this happen? In mid-2009 Google revised its policy on the use of trademarked terms as keywords and in ad text. The company essentially espoused a universal policy on non-involvement in disputes over the use of trademarked terms as keywords and, under specific circumstances, authorized the displaying of trademarked terms in ad text. Naturally, many advertisers took advantage of the policy shift, and judging just by the number of Google AdWords forum posts reporting a similar scenario to the one I described above, “mistakes were made”.

While it would be easy to assume that all those advertisers were purposefully behaving in an unethical manner, the more plausible explanation is that the culprit was Google’s handy Dynamic Keyword Insertion feature. When used correctly, Dynamic Keyword Insertion is a very useful tool that helps AdWords advertisers make their text ads more relevant to searchers. To activate the feature, the advertiser simply needs to place a snipped of code in the ad text. Each time the ad is shown in search results, AdWords inserts the exact query that triggered the ad in its place.

The tool offers great flexibility. The keyword can be inserted into the headline, the first or second line of text, post “slash” in the display URL and at the end of the destination URL and even appear more than once in the same ad (for e.g., headline and destination URL).

So let’s say you’re selling women’s shoes and you want to move your summer inventory, you could create an ad group with the following group of keywords:
women’s sandals, women’s flip-flops, women’s peep-toes, women’s clogs, women’s espadrilles, women’s summer shoe styles, brand women’s summer shoes, etc. and configure your ad as follows:

Buy {KeyWord: Women’s Summer Shoes}
We Carry All Your Favorite Brands.
Satisfaction Guaranteed!

destination URL: http://www.Example.com/?kw={keyword:nil}

The default display term is Women’s Summer Shoes, and it will be shown in case the keyword that triggers the causes the line of text to go over character limit (25 in headline, 35 in first, second and display URL).

Advertisers can even select various capitalization options by modifying the code, for e.g.:


In the trademark infringement case, the ad format was most likely as follows:

{Keyword:default text}
It does it all. It’s cool. Get it here.

Bidding on your competitor’s trademarks is a great way to ensure your ads are displayed alongside your competitor’s and if you’re an authorized reseller of a brand, it makes sense for you to say so in your ad copy. Both those uses of trademarked terms are allowed under Google’s revised AdWords policy. So in order to stay within the limits of what’s allowed (and play nice), if you’re bidding on competitive trademarks, stick to straightforward ad copy and leave them out of the keyword list for your Dynamic Keyword Insertion ads.

Beware the Sellers of Paid Search Snake Oil

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Photo: Unscrupulous salesman example

I have been assisting a friend of mine with her digital marketing needs. She’s a therapist and in the process of having a website developed for her practice. She knows she needs to have a presence online. She understands that she needs a website that is user friendly, follows SEO best practices and can be easily found through keyword search queries on Google, Yahoo and Bing. Even knowing all that, she is self-admittedly generally uncomfortable around all things technology related, online or off. And given the sorry state of most therapists’ websites (and I looked at many), this lack of tech savvy is something she shares with many in her field.

So, last week my friend shared with me a letter, in PDF format, that she’d received via email from Shady SEM* (Shady) a company offering paid search services. She told me that the letter was a follow-up to a cold call from the company. The letter states that Shady would guarantee my friend a top spot in paid search advertising on Google and Yahoo. It goes on to say that set-up in Google will cost my friend a mere $50 unlike the $79.95 the “competition” charges. Google’s name in rainbow colors is sprinkled throughout the text. Nowhere does the letter mention cost of media. Not a word about cost per click or strategy or keyword research or anything substantial. Just the guarantee of a top placement, the promise of adjustments (management?) if necessary, and a $50 fee.

My friend actually asked me whether the letter was from Google, seeing that Google’s logo was in the heading. Don’t laugh. Your mom would probably ask the same question. Mine would. Really. Like I suspected, my friend was nearly misled into thinking that the $50 would buy her a high-ranking ad on Google. She was only nearly misled because we had talked about paid search and the associated costs, and so she thought the offer sounded too good to be true. But had she not known me, she admitted that she probably would have gone for it.

It is obvious to me that Shady is deliberately targeting non-tech-savvy verticals, fishing for naïve business owners who want to advertise their services or products on Google, know that a high placement is desirable, but the process of getting there is a mystery to them. When they bite, what happens next? Yes, we all know that it’s possible to pay one’s way to the top, but at what price? And how come Shady is not upfront about those costs? I wonder, how does Shady handle it when the unsuspecting business owner gets that invoice from Google? I can imagine a telephone call to Shady answered with “Oh, we’re sorry, obviously media cost is extra… Really, you didn’t know? Oh… No, we’re not charging that fee, Google charges that fee…”

At this very minute I’m wondering how many business owners like my friend may have been duped by Shady, and how many companies like Shady are out there. Hundreds? Thousands? And why should I (we) even worry about this? After all, it’s all buyer beware out there, no matter what the good or service is, right? So why should we all, as online marketers, be concerned about a few (I hope) bad apples among us? Well, to me it’s obvious. Unscrupulous and unethical members of our community (yes, sadly, they will be viewed as members of OUR community) damage our collective reputation. A business owner burned by Shady or a similar outfit is likely to have negative feelings about digital marketers in general and malign us all as a result. So WE get a bad name because of THEM.

So what should we as an industry, as a community of online marketing professionals do to address this? Form our own Better Business Bureau? Report companies like Shady to the existing BBB? Should we blog about them openly instead of covertly, legal repercussions be damned? Should we create a “Black List” or a Digital Marketing Code of Ethics we can all publicize and sign on to? Or should we just educate the public as much as possible about what we do, making sure that business owners like my friend become informed consumers? What do you think I should do right now? What would you do?

P.S. When I searched for Shady on Google, they don’t show up. Go figure…

*Not their real name, but it should be.

PPC Quick Tip – Test Ad Copy for Improved ROI

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ABT – Always Be Testing

ABT is requirement for all digital marketing. If you want to improve you need to test. Pay Per Click is an ideal low cost test platform. I typically see two opposing methods of running ad copy; only having one ad running per ad group or having too many. Ultimately it depends on the conversion volume your campaigns drive but at minimum run two ads simultaneously.

In your campaign settings select ads to rotate evenly. Do not set to optimize if you’ve not tested previously. Google optimizes on the click through rate (CTR) not conversions. Clicks earn Google money, conversions earn you money. When you know what an acceptable cost per acquisition is and your program predictably hits it, then have the better ad served more frequently.

Develop ad copy that is closely aligned with the keyword theme in your ad group, but test different ideas. For example if you run an ecommerce program test free shipping versus a percentage off. If you have a lead generation program, test different types of offers.

Over time a winning ad will emerge. Now remember, the time it takes will vary depending on the volume of conversions your program drives. To be statistically significant you should have a minimum of 30 conversions for each ad variation.

When the winning ad has been determined it’s time to kick back and relax, right? NO! It’s time to develop new ad copy to challenge the current champ. Testing ad copy should be a continuous effort in your PPC management routine.

Developing good test habits is vital to optimizing your program over time. Small incremental improvements lead to large jumps in ROI.