Happy holidays from Search Engine Watch!

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As the year draws to a close and the Search Engine Watch team begin to sail perilously close to Health & Safety law by roasting chestnuts at their desks, all that’s left is to publish one final update before racing to the post office to send our letters to Santa*.

All of us would like to say a huge thank you to all of you. Whether you are a reader (hi Steve), a contributor, a commenter or a malicious hacker, hell-bent on accessing our database in order to find out the secrets of my unpublished opus “4 and a bit ways to make images load a little bit quicker”, we genuinely appreciate you taking the time and energy to get involved. What can we say – without you we’re nothing.

Hopefully you’ve enjoyed our content this year (and if you’re the kind of Grinch who hasn’t, then let us know, we want to keep getting better at this), and we’re looking forward to a 2017 full of challenges, learning and general SEO-related hi-jinx.

Have a fantastic holiday season, we’ll see you cats in in the new year!

*We know our editor has had his heart set on this “Screaming Vase” for a while now. Unfortunately he’s on the naughty list.

Matt Owen manages global social media at Shell, and is a director at Atomise Marketing. He’s been talking about himself in the third person and filling in as editor for the far more handsome Christopher Ratcliff for the past week or two. Why not say hi on Twitter?

5 #GivingTuesday Campaigns That Won (and 3 That Lost)

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Most people are familiar with Black Friday and Cyber Monday as some of the busiest shopping days of the year; businesses spend months preparing their holiday campaigns in order to make the most of these two days. But each year it seems that more and more companies are also taking advantage of #GivingTuesday by finding ways to entice their audience not only to purchase holiday gifts, but to donate and give back to charities and nonprofits.

In this article, we’ve analyzed 8 of these campaigns from 2016 to find out which ones have what it takes to engage readers and meet their fundraising goals, and which ones unfortunately fall flat. Read on to learn more about what makes a #GivingTuesday campaign a winner or a loser.

The Winners

#1 The San Diego American Marketing Association (AMA)

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The San Diego AMA is a nonprofit, professional organization geared towards providing information, education, resources, and connections for those looking to further their career in marketing. They created this #GivingTuesday campaign in order to encourage people to donate to their 2 scholarship programs: The Social Impact Scholarship and the Diversity Leadership Scholarship. There are quite a few things they did right in this campaign, namely:

  • They explained briefly what #GivingTuesday is all about
  • They included their goal (to raise money for the scholarships) in the beginning of the email
  • They linked the 2 scholarships to pages that give more information about them
  • They included a plug for a future event the organization is hosting
  • They included a section dedicated to teaching readers about how to refuel their content strategy, which is essentially a preview of what the organization does for those who join.
  • Finally, they thanked the groups that sponsor them.

All in all, I consider this a winning #GivingTuesday campaign for the AMA because it was simple, eye-catching, and full of great content.

#2 The San Diego Fleet Week Foundation

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The San Diego Fleet Week Foundation is a nonprofit group that supports Military Veterans by putting on entertaining events during Fleet Week. The event is held annually, and any proceeds raised that exceed the operating expenses for Fleet Week are donated to military charities.

We consider this #GivingTuesday campaign a win because:

  • They included pertinent facts about why Fleet Week is a necessity in San Diego (they have the largest military concentration in the world)
  • They explained their goal clearly and in the beginning of the campaign- to encourage people to donate $20 to provide lunch for a family of 4
  • They explained how this campaign has been a success in the past (they’ve provided over 1200 meals for service members and their families)
  • They included a button to donate right in the email, making it quick and easy to give money
  • They provided a link to their website for those looking to learn more
  • The email is colorful yet easy to read, and it contains real pictures of servicemen and women in the community who will benefit from the donations.

#3 PayPal

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Most people are familiar with PayPal seeing as it’s one of the most popular ways to send money electronically. It only makes sense, then, that they would create a #GivingTuesday campaign devoted to sending money to those who are less fortunate. Their campaign is a little different; for one thing they’re not a nonprofit, and instead of supporting one group, charity, or organization, they let users choose the charity they wish to support. Here are some reasons why we consider this campaign a great one:

  • They created a campaign that compliments their business. PayPal is all about making it easy and simple to send money to others, and that’s the premise behind this fundraiser. They’ve made it easy and simple to donate to thousands of charities around the world.
  • Another major bonus is that they plan to add 1% to each donation made; this adds up to a pretty substantial number, and there aren’t many companies offering to do so.
  • They included 2 separate buttons for people to donate, truly making it quick and easy.
  • They explained the security of their donation process, which also emphasizes the security of PayPal in general.
  • They included a nice photo of a young girl to put a face on the donations.
  • They suggested several big-name charities that people have the option to support, and made it possible to click on their icons to learn more about the charity and as another way to quickly donate money.
  • Note: If you do choose to click on a charity icon, it directs you to a nice page that explains that 101% of your donation will go to the charity, PayPal will cover all the fees, and you’ll immediately receive a tax receipt.
  • Finally, they included a link at the bottom of the email encouraging users to go to their website to purchase a variety of gift cards to meet their holiday shopping needs- a plug we think they deserve considering their offering to add money to others’ donations.

#4 Illinois State University

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The University in Normal, IL hosts a #GivingTuesday campaign every year with the purpose of raising money for various programs and projects across the campus. This campaign is successful because:

  • They are asking readers to break last year’s record of donations, which creates a sense of purpose and urgency in the campaign.
  • They state, in numbers, exactly how much money they’ve already raised and how much more they’d like to raise, making their goal transparent and easy to understand.
  • They provide a link for people to donate right in the email
  • They’ve also created their own special hashtag, #GivingTuesdayISU, to spread the word about their campaign on social media
  • The email is short and sweet but still contains all the pertinent information that readers need to know about the campaign
  • They send readers periodic updates on how the campaign is doing, and if you click on the “donate” link you’re taken to a page that shows exactly how much they still have left to raise.

#5 Workshops for Warriors

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Workshops for Warriors is a nonprofit school that trains and certifies veterans into advanced manufacturing careers. Their #GivingTuesday is a great one- here’s why:

  • The headline clearly states the purpose of the organization- to support military veterans
  • Throughout the campaign they provide videos of veterans explaining why they need assistance and how Workshops for Warriors is able to provide the much-needed help. This gives a very personal touch to the fundraiser.
  • They also included a specific goal for the funds raised- to build a new building that can train 450 veterans as opposed to the current 120.
  • They include an easy-to-see donate button.
  • They use a pull quote to help break up the catch and keep interest
  • They link to social media at the end so you can share the campaign and also access more success stories from veterans.

A Few Campaigns That Could Use Some Work

#1 Pro Kids The First Tee of San Diego

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Pro Kids is a sports program that teaches kids the game of golf while also teaching them life lessons and leadership skills. While the program seems to be full of positive attributes, unfortunately their #GivingTuesday campaign didn’t use this to their advantage. Note that this message did come into my inbox the day before Giving Tuesday, but there were still opportunities missed. They ended up on this list because:

  • The “Be ready to support Pro Kids” headline seems like they’re telling readers to donate as opposed to asking them.
  • Because of this poorly worded tagline, I almost missed the part where the board of directors have agreed to match all donations. This should be a huge part of the email, not just a small line tucked away at the top (still though, wonderful idea!).
  • There are no personal stories, photos, videos, etc. anywhere in the email. While it says you’ll be helping 100 underprivileged kids, I have no idea who these kids are. Where are their photos? Where are the success stories?
  • The email doesn’t say anything about what the Pro Kids organization is; I had to Google it myself in order to learn about their goals and mission statement.

One thing I will say though is that the colors are excellent in this campaign. The designer did a great job, it’s just the content and CTAs that need some improvements.

#2 Monarch School

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The San Diego Monarch School is a K-12 program designed to help San Diego’s homeless youth receive an education. While their website provides a ton of information about the great work the program is doing, their #GivingTuesday campaign email unfortunately didn’t meet the mark. It’s on the list because:

  • It explains very little about what the Monarch program is, their purpose, and their goals. It also doesn’t link to their website, which fortunately does provide this important information.
  • It states that donations will help their literacy program, but it would be nice to have been provided some more information about exactly how the money will be spent- on more books, computers, a nicer building?
  • They came up with the GREAT idea to have a 3rd grade class take over Facebook and explain why reading is important, but we don’t see any of this in the email. Instead, all they provide is the Facebook logo and expect you to click on it and travel to another site. People most likely won’t do this unless they’re already hooked on this campaign. It would have been nice if they included a preview of what some of the students said (and their photos) in the initial email. Then readers might be more inclined to visit another web page to learn more.

#3 Kinship United

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Kinship United is a group that works with underprivileged countries throughout the world, helping widows and orphans get the resources they need to survive through the church and rescue groups. While it certainly is a noble cause they are working for, and their hearts are in the right place, this #GivingTuesday campaign falls a little short. Mainly because:

  • They don’t give any information about the specific #GivingTuesday project they are launching- their goal(s), what group they are targeting, etc.
  • There are no photos or anything else to personalize the campaign.
  • The email is disorganized and hard to follow because it’s missing headings and subheadings. It appears that random phrases and sentences have been bolded without a lot of thought into why.

However, one thing this campaign did great is ask others to share, which is something none of the others on this list can say. A great tactic that simply gets overlooked.

Make sure to check out this article to learn how to make the most of your email marketing strategy. Do you know any more #GivingTuesday campaigns that make good examples? Comment in the section below!

Amanda DiSilvestro is a writer for HigherVisibility, a full service SEO agency, and a contributor to SEW. You can connect with Amanda on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Seven fascinating stats on ecommerce and cart abandonment

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With the end of 2016 fast approaching, we list some of the best ecommerce and cart abandonment stats we’ve seen this year.

1: SMS Remarketing

This year we won at the MOMA Awards for our work with Firefly on SMS Remarketing. The stats below give an idea of just how effective SMS can be.

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2: Which Days Have Most Abandonments?

Based on data from more than 1 billion abandoned carts, we know that Tuesday is the ‘worst’ day of the week for cart abandonment.

Fewest abandonments happen on a Saturday between 8 and 9pm, while abandonment is lowest around Christmas and similar sale periods, as people have less reason to delay purchases.

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3: Add to Cart Rates by Device

Add to cart rates are highest on desktop and tablet devices (10.4% and 10.3% respectively). Overall conversion rates were 2.5% for Q3 2016.

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4: Reasons for Cart Abandonment

Unexpected shipping costs, perhaps revealed late during checkout, are the number one reason cited for cart abandonment.

Other key issues include making customers register before they checkout, concerns about security, and confusing checkout design.

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5: Cart Abandonment Rates by Sector

Abandonment rates vary by sector, with fashion retailers enjoying the lowest abandonment rates.

Relatively easy purchase processes and ease of return help here, and also explain why retail abandonment is lower in general.

Travel and finance abandonment is highest, partly due to the generally longer application processes, and perhaps the relative lack of digital maturity when compared to retail.

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6: Sales by Hour on Black Friday and Cyber Monday

Using data from our clients, we had a look at sales and abandonments on Black Friday and Cyber Monday 2016.

The chart below shows sales patterns compare to a ‘normal’ shopping day, as well as the peak times for during the Black Friday weekend.

The peak period for completed sales was between 8 and 10am on Black Friday morning, while the second peak happened on Monday evening as the sales were coming to a close.

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7: Why People Abandon Travel Bookings

Many travel bookings tend to be more considered purchases, with customers taking 45 days and visiting multiple sites before making a decision.

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So the reasons for abandonment are different from retail. Indeed, the top two reasons are around research and price comparison while retail abandonment tends to be about checkout process issues.

This post originally appeared on the SaleCycle blog, and is reproduced with permission.

4 ways to get ahead of the marketing personalization curve

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If I had a dollar for every time I heard someone say that we “must personalize the customer journey” I’d probably be on a beach somewhere drinking daiquiris. Instead, I try to help people understand what personalization actually means for in-app marketing.

In the past decade, marketers have made a lot of progress in personalizing shopping experiences in stores and online. But when it comes to apps, the personalization game is still lacking; sure, some apps are doing personalized push notifications, but what happens when your users are in the app?

Apps are increasingly a place where customers spend their time and money, and so we must take hard-learned personalization lessons from other channels and think of how to apply them in apps.

Knowledge is Power

You might already be using in-app marketing, in the form of in-app messages, surveys, videos or banners. But if your strategy is “spray and pray,” and all your users see the same thing at the same time, you’re missing out.

The fact is that mobile apps (and their owners) know more about their users than any other channel. They know about their history of actions, their demographics and what they’re doing RIGHT NOW in the app. Combine all that and you have the perfect opportunity to come up with personalized, contextual offers when the users are most engaged with you.

Suggest a user an upsell offer based on what they just did in your app

Provide Safe Landing

I mentioned push notifications and the fact that you may or may not use them in a personalized manner. Sending different messages to different segments is a of course a good idea, but CTR isn’t everything, you want to consider the where the user lands.

Too often, apps get us excited with their push message, we click away and then land in… right, the app’s homepage.

Which leaves us wandering around, wondering why the app pushed such a promising deal/service/event/you-name-it and we have to figure out how to find it? A good push message will lead you to the most relevant place in the app. Moreover, if your in-app marketing system is well-established, you’ll be able to land the users on a piece of content that is dedicated to the push and enhances the info of the push message.

A push message should link the user to a meaningful page where they can learn more about your offer.

A push message should link the user to a meaningful page where they can learn more about your offer.

Lead the way

Did I just say YOU should lead the way? Isn’t it all about the user choosing her own path and you being attentive, listening to her digital body language and responding at the right mobile moment? All true, but sometimes it makes sense for you to lead your users to where you want them.

This doesn’t mean you have to be intrusive or even explicit when suggesting that your users visit a specific page in your app or see new content. You might know, for example, that in a ticketing app exposure to the review section means a user is more likely to make a purchase. In that case, a little nudge doesn’t hurt.

Directing users in ways that positively affect their journey in the app is doable, but use discretion.

Direct users with a mobile tooltip to enhance their experience and increase your conversion

Direct users with a mobile tooltip to enhance their experience and increase your conversion

Stay Ahead of the Curve

There are a few reasons why apps still don’t go all the way with these in-app marketing strategies. The typical duration of mobile development cycles does not align with the speed and agility you see on other channels like your website or email marketing, and that’s a serious hurdle. The main reason, though, is the relatively immature attitude towards mobile app engagement.

But, mobile usage continues to surge and end users have high expectations for personalized, non-intrusive experiences in the app. This pretty much guarantees that it’s only a matter of time before these strategies will be widely adopted.

polly_a_headshot-1About the Author

Polly Alluf is the VP Marketing at Insert, the first automated in-app marketing platform and the author of the Beginners Playbook to In-App Campaigns.

Has the marketing cloud lived up to the hype?

Graph of main advantages of marketing suite tools

Since cloud computing first gained mainstream attention around 2009, its popularity has exploded.

Promising increased efficiency, flexibility and cost-effectiveness, it was hailed as the ultimate business solution. This year, IDC predicted that CMOs will drive $32.3bn in marketing technology spending by 2018.

According to Sean Grimes, Director of IT services for Agilisys, “there is no denying that Cloud Technology is creating as much disruption as the dotcom boom”. But are users seeing the benefits?

What is a ‘marketing cloud’?

The marketing cloud is made up of a suite of cloud-based marketing tools covering analytics, targeting, social media management, audience management, customer experience and more. It can be used to track and measure customer data, keep tabs on individual users and automate time-consuming tasks.

It seems marketers are now beginning to recognise it as a viable alternative to traditional software. ‘What the hell is a marketing cloud, anyway?’, a new report by ClickZ Intelligence, surveyed nearly 200 marketing professionals to discover their thoughts on the marketing cloud. Over half (52%) of respondents claimed to be using marketing cloud technology, with another 27% saying they were considering using it.

Another 12% claimed not to know what the term ‘marketing cloud’ meant. Although the majority were already using the technology, this suggests there may be some confusion amongst marketers around the term ‘marketing cloud’ – backed up by interviews with senior client-side executives. Many were sceptical that the technology they used could be classed under the term ‘marketing cloud’. However, further investigation revealed that all were using vendors and products that fitted the survey’s definition – ‘an integrated suite of marketing tools which are available to marketers as web-based services offered by a software vendor’.

Does it work?

The question is: does this technology have a tangible effect on productivity and profitability? An overwhelming majority (82%) of respondents in the same survey said the marketing cloud had a positive impact on their organisation’s marketing, and 88% agreed that an integrated suite of marketing tools has a positive effect on business performance. Pete Markey, Director of Brand Communications & Marketing for Aviva, explained:

‘The right use of cloud technologies can transform capabilities in the marketing team. These tools help you get activity out faster and it changes the nature of people’s jobs. You spend a lot less time on grunt work so you can get on and make the most of your skill set.’

In this case, ‘grunt work’ can be massively reduced by marketing automation. Reducing the time spent on tasks which don’t directly contribute towards profitability – like administration and database management – means teams work efficiently and productively. It’s no surprise then, that 76% of marketing professionals in the survey that said marketing automation was either a ‘critical’ or ‘important’ element for a marketing suite.

Integrated or non-integrated?

Clearly, marketers value the marketing cloud, but getting it up and running isn’t always a smooth process. Before investing, businesses must first decide whether to use one vendor for an ‘integrated’ suite of marketing tools, or to rely on several different ones. Both have their pros and cons: integrated services offer more functionality and convenience, but tend to come with a higher cost. On the other hand, a ‘modular’ approach – where a business uses only the services they need, but provided by a variety of vendors – is often complex and difficult to manage.

How do marketing professionals see it? According to the report findings, ‘reducing complexity’ was the most important benefit of an integrated approach, with 44% of respondents citing it as an advantage. Integrated services provide a unified user interface, making data easier to access and interpret. They also enable staff in different departments to create campaigns, share information and collaborate more easily.

Ease of use was also ranked highly, with 24% valuing a single vendor point of contact.

Understandably, juggling multiple systems has the potential to become complex – especially when things go wrong. With an integrated marketing suite, the number of possible causes of any given problem are massively reduced. Nonetheless, a ‘modular’ approach, although more difficult to manage, can be appropriate to smaller companies that don’t require the broad functionality that an integrated service might offer.

The future?

It remains to be seen what the future holds for the marketing cloud. The market is still young, and it’s not clear what innovations are on the horizon. Only time will tell which vendors and services will win out. But the marketing cloud is certainly a growing force – one which marketers everywhere are beginning to consider.

To find out more, fill in the form below to download the full report. You’ll get the full results of ClickZ’s survey, an overview of the major vendors and what they offer, future predictions and key insights from senior marketers at brands including Aviva, Flight Centre and Westfield.

The 10 Best & Biggest New PPC Features of the Year

unicorns versus donkeys

Another crazy year is almost behind us. The year 2016 will be remembered for some huge and unexpected changes, some awesome new PPC features, and welcome changes to both the Google AdWords and Bing Ads platforms.

But some new PPC features stuck out more than the rest this year. This article will separate the unicorns from the donkeys!

Here are my picks for the top 10 new PPC features of 2016.

1. No More Right-Side Ads

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In February, Google killed off right-side text ads on desktop results, bringing the SERPs more in line with Google’s mobile experience. In addition, Google added a fourth ad spot above organic search results for “highly commercial queries.”

This massive change was a shocker to pretty much every PPC marketer.

When people woke up and discovered they were now living in a world in which desktop search results didn’t have text ads where they were supposed to be, many people freaked out. They predicted that PPC would never be the same again. (Spoiler alert: very little has changed.)

As I pointed out at the time, most paid clicks (about 85 percent) came from the top ads, based on WordStream data for 2,000 accounts:

the very best of adwords

In a follow-up post by Mark Irvine, The New Google SERP: 3 Changes & 3 Things That Haven’t Changed… Yet, we discovered that paid traffic and CPCs remained consistent after the change, CTRs were up, and impressions were down. Surprisingly, we discovered Position 3 was the biggest winner for advertisers, as CTRs doubled after the change:

favorite ppc features

This change failed to wipe out advertisers in lower positions. In fact, as I detailed in Google’s Right-Side Adpocalypse: Anatomy of a Loser [New Data], one advertiser lost desktop impressions and saw CPC increase, but also saw their CTR double and average position increase!

2. AdWords Expanded Text Ads

After we lost right-side ads, Google announced some big changes to AdWords. One of those huge changes was Expanded Text Ads.

Google called this the biggest change to text ads since AdWords launched 15 years ago. AdWords will phase out the old text ad format as of Jan. 31.

Designed for today’s “mobile-first” world, Expanded Text Ads are twice the size of the text ads we’ve known and loved for so long. We now have two 30-character headlines and one 80-character description line.

Google told us that in early testing advertisers saw CTRs increase by as much as 20 percent. Well, after transitioning to the new AdWords ETAs, many of WordStream’s clients saw their CTR double!

Note: We created a FREE guide and cheat sheet that has everything you need to know about creating Expanded Text Ads.

3. Bing Expanded Text Ads

expanded text ads best of the year

In an effort to keep pace with AdWords, Bing Ads also introduced Expanded Text Ads. However, unlike Google, it seems like Bing won’t be retiring standard text ads.

ETAs on Google and Bing are pretty much identical, with the same character limits and formatting (but fewer truncation issues, thankfully). You can either create ETAs within the Bing Ads platform, or import your existing ETAs from Google AdWords.

But hold your unicorns! There’s some great news for advertisers. WordStream data indicates that Bing’s Expanded Text Ads outperform Google. Check out this great CTR data:

bing ads etas

If you haven’t yet tested out Bing Expanded Text Ads, make sure to put it on your to-do list in 2017!

4. Local Search Ads, Responsive Display Ads, and In-Store Conversions

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In addition to Google expanded text ads, Google unveiled more exciting new features at the Google Performance Summit in May:

  • New Local Search Ads: Google announced several new Maps ad formats and features designed to drive more foot traffic to business, including Promoted Pins, in-store promotions, customizable business pages, and local inventory search. You can check out all the details in 10 Things You Need to Know About the New Google Maps Local Search Ads.

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  • Responsive Display Ads: With this new type of ad, you provide a URL, headline, description, and image, and Google creates responsive display ads for you. These ads adapt to the content of the websites they’re on and apps in the GDN.
  • Better In-Store Conversion Measurement: OK, this feature isn’t new. But it is new to many types of businesses that gained access to this feature for the first time this year. How it works: Google looks at phone location history to figure out whether someone who clicked on your ad ended up walking into the store.

5. New AdWords Interface

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Speaking of the AdWords Performance Summit, something else notable happened. We got a preview of the new AdWords interface, which rolled out more widely in August (and we can expect more design changes heading into 2017).

The new interface is sleeker, but still pretty familiar. It’s easy enough to figure out where to find the things I was looking for.

Nothing here changed how AdWords works. All these changes were cosmetic and aimed at smartly reorganizing all the AdWords features and functions you know and love.

6. Demographic Targeting for Search Campaigns

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Targeting age and gender demographics within your search campaigns? Yes, please!

Google gave advertisers the awesome demographic targeting for search campaigns feature in September.

Now you can see the performance data on how ages and genders within ad groups. Based on this data, you can either create bid adjustments for different demographics or exclude people of a certain age or gender from seeing your paid search ads.

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Demographic targeting worked ridiculously well for our clients, as Mark Irvine detailed in these AdWords demographic targeting case studies.

7. AdWords Message Extensions

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AdWords introduced a new and exciting type of mobile ad extension in October: message extensions.

These extensions let users tap to start texting a business directly from the search results. Advertisers can write a pre-written text message to start the conversion.

In early testing, message extensions boosted mobile CTR by an average of 50 percent for some WordStream clients who got early access to the ad extension.

adwords message extension feature

There is one downside of message extensions, however: no conversion tracking. Hopefully this is in the works!

8. Google Display Keywords Targeting Settings

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In October Google quietly introduced some new display keyword targeting settings that give you more control over how your display ad campaigns are targeted.

Google now gives you the choice to target either:

  • Audience: This is the default option. You can serve display ads to anyone potentially interested in your keywords, regardless of what type of site they’re currently on.
  • Content: Your ads will only be served on websites, apps, and videos that are contextually relevant to your keywords.

9. The AdWords iPhone App

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This year got off to a ridiculously awesome start when @adwords tweeted me to let me know about the release of a new AdWords app for iOS. This app is super-impressive!

The AdWords app is great for managing and monitoring AdWords campaigns when I’m on the go (which is a lot!). It’s beautiful, ridiculously fast, and simple to use.

If you haven’t already, you should download it and try it out.

10. The Return of Device-Level Bidding

best ppc features 2016

In 2013, AdWords introduced enhanced campaigns. But one huge side effect of enhanced campaigns was our loss of device-level bidding. Marketers mourned, loudly and at length.

Well, this year Google gave us all reason to celebrate: device-level bidding is back! You can now set mobile bids, desktop bids, and tablet bids independently or make them dependent on each other.

What’s Next?

Whew! 2016 was a heck of a year, huh? So what does the future hold for PPC? Stay tuned. Whatever happens, WordStream will be here to keep you up to date on all the latest developments!

What’s your favorite new PPC feature of this year? And what PPC features would you like to see added to AdWords and Bing Ads in 2017?

P.S. Be sure to check out my 10 favorite Unicorn Marketing Strategies of 2016!

This article was orginally published on the Wordstream blog and it’s repeated with permission

Heavy discounts and post-Black Friday lull create challenges for retailers

The 2016 holiday shopping season has been one for the record books as far as online sales are concerned, with Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales reaching new heights.

But according to The NPD Group, many retailers could struggle to make the entire holiday shopping season a successful one compared to 2015. The firm, which collects and analyzes sales from leading retailers that provide it with weekly point-of-sale data, says that the fifth week of the holiday shopping season “brought the customary post-Black Friday lull, along with deeper discounts and more abundant week-long deals than in the past.”

As NPD’s Chief Industry Analyst, Marshal Cohen, explained, “Bigger discounts mean deeper holes to climb out of to match last year’s sales numbers.”

The NPD Group says that total dollar sales were down 5% this year in fifth week of the holiday shopping season, which includes Cyber Monday. Only one merchandise category, athletic footwear, registered a gain compared to 2015, with dollar sales rising a modest 2%.

All told, total dollar sales are down 3% this year through the first five weeks of the season. That would seem to mirror data from the U.S. Commerce Department, which says retail sales disappointed in November.

The digital divide

The record-breaking Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales figures are evidence of the fact that more and more of consumer purchasing activity is taking place through digital channels. But it’s important to remember that despite the growing importance of their websites and mobile apps, many retailers still operate as multi-channel businesses, so the online sales figures only tell part of the holiday shopping story.

Put simply, online retail is accounting for more of the pie, but the pie isn’t really growing.

While it looks questionable as to whether retailers will be able to turn the 2016 holiday shopping season into a true success, as CNBC has noted, “six of the 10 busiest days still lie ahead” according to retail analytics firm ShopperTrak.

Some analysts predict that this year’s Super Saturday, the last Saturday before Christmas, has the potential to produce more sales than Black Friday, and with cold weather blanketing much of the country, it would not be surprising if many of those sales take place online instead of offline.

That might help online retail set yet another sales record this year, but even if it does, hefty discounting could still make it hard for retailers to catch up no matter where their sales take place.

What exactly is a marketing cloud, and do you need one?

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The term ‘marketing cloud’ has gained significant traction in the last few years as major software companies have sought to monetise the growing importance of technology for marketing teams.

But what exactly does this sometimes fuzzy term mean, and are companies actually benefiting from the type of all-singing and all-dancing solutions increasingly being developed by the likes of Adobe, IBM, Oracle and Salesforce?

ClickZ Intelligence has published a new piece of research entitled ‘What the Hell is a Marketing Cloud, Anyway?’ which, as the name suggests, seeks answers to these questions.

The report is based on interviews with senior client-side executives across a range of brands and a survey of almost 200 marketing professionals about the extent to which their businesses are capitalising on this technology.

For the purposes of the survey, carried out in September 2016, we defined a marketing cloud as ‘an integrated suite of marketing tools which are available to marketers as web-based services’.

Read on for a summary of the key takeaways from the report.

The marketing cloud is having a positive impact

There is good news for vendors and their clients in that the majority of responding organisations (52%) claimed to be using marketing cloud technology, and a further 27% of companies said they were considering this.

Furthermore, the research found that responding organisations are generally very positive about the marketing cloud, with 82% of respondents saying that marketing cloud technology has had a positive impact on their organisation’s marketing.

The overwhelming majority of respondents (84%) also agreed that an integrated suite of marketing tools has a positive impact on customer experience compared to only 5% who disagree. Similarly, 88% agreed that an integrated suite of marketing tools has a positive effect on business performance compared to only 3% who disagreed.

As the chart below shows, the reasons most commonly cited for using marketing cloud software are ‘reduced complexity’ (44%), a ‘single data source’ (40%), ‘better customer experience’ (38%), a ‘unified user interface’ (36%), ‘better visibility of return on investment’ (32%) and ‘improved ROI’ (30%).

Methodology note: respondents could check up to three options

Analytics are the bedrock of an effective marketing technology suite

Within the marketing cloud, a number of capabilities were considered by respondents to be critical, including CRM (59%), marketing automation (49%) and personalisation/targeting tools (46%).

However, the largest percentage (68%) felt that customer and digital analytics were the most critical core product within a unified suite of marketing tools, underscoring the importance of consistent and insightful data for underpinning the best marketing cloud offerings in the market.

Is there a downside to a marketing cloud?

The research also sought to understand whether there were disadvantages of using a single technology supplier.

While aiming to solve many of the current challenges marketers face, marketing clouds aren’t always the answer to everything. Few would expect a single, largely generic (though modifiable to varying degrees) technology solution to solve every single individual problem specific to each brand. As a result, executives felt its biggest failing was not to be ‘best of breed’ in all areas (36%).

adobe-disadvantage-fig

You can download the report now to read in more detail about the essence of the marketing cloud, and also which vendors are most commonly being deployed.

The research also found that many marketers believe that vendors were not as transparent as they could be, despite educational efforts by vendors purporting to shed some light on the chaotic world of marketing technology. Over a third (35%) ‘somewhat’ disagreed that vendors were open about the pros and cons of the marketing cloud, and a further 5% ‘strongly’ disagreed.

Despite some suspicion of the way software companies are marketing their cloud offerings, giant strides have undoubtedly been taken by vendors to create more joined-up platforms following a string of acquisitions – some of which have taken longer than others to be truly integrated.

Senior executives interviewed for this research were keen to stress that marketing technology is not a panacea, although it can certainly make businesses more efficient.

Pete Markey, Brand Communications & Marketing Director at Aviva said he welcomed the ongoing use of automation in marketing, but warned against marketers hitting autopilot as the technologists take over.

“We’re all thinking about future-proofing. It’s not bad having a single provider as long as you have a sense of how technology is going to develop into the future. You don’t want to outsource your intellectual property. You don’t want technology to do the thinking for you to the point where you’re not keeping up with how you do what you do. Technology is a tool. It’s down to the marketer to protect the strength of their organisation.”

Fill in the form below to download your free copy of the marketing cloud report.

Why brands should care about brand safety in mobile advertising

dna39_brand_safety_1

Easily spotted on the mobile web: holiday ad next to plane crash story; Muslim dating ad next to KKK story; beauty ad next to domestic violence story; car ad next to emissions scandal story…

[This post originally appeared on our sister site ClickZ.com, but we thought it was so useful we wanted to share it here as well]

Let’s admit it we’ve all had an occasional giggle when we spot an ad prominently displayed next to inappropriate content on the web. But for advertisers this is no laughing matter.

An ad that is not displayed in a contextually appropriate environment is not only a waste of marketing budget, but is a potential embarrassment (if shared on social media) or, at worst, damaging to the brand’s reputation.

Research by inMobi (via eMarketer), July 2016, highlighted in this column on mobile ad fraud reveals that 26% of advertisers state that concerns over brand safety is preventing the take up of programmatic purchasing (buying ads on the fly via an ad exchange) of mobile inventory.

While this is considerably less than the 48% concerned about fraud/viewability, this is surely a matter the industry needs to address.

The examples pictured in this column were easily found on the mobile web. Try it yourself by selecting potentially controversial stories and waiting to see what ad loads (often ads load slower than the content).

The sites we have featured are not implicitly “toxic”, such as pornography or gambling, but prominent news outlets where some stories will deal with unpleasant matters from time to time.

No one would want these news stories to go unreported. But that doesn’t mean that a holiday company wants its ad next to a plane crash story; a baby food brand ad next to a child sex abuse story; a Muslim dating service ad next to a KKK story; a beauty ad next to a domestic violence story or a car ad next to a story on the emissions scandal.

The ad business calls this brand safety or content adjacency. The issue is a real one.

But preventing brand safety issues has become increasingly complicated because:

  • Direct relationships between advertiser and publisher have increasingly been replaced by a web of intermediaries including ad exchanges and ad networks companies.
  • Many sites are implicitly safe, but publish eclectic content that could any subject – i.e. news sites or news stories/user generated content (UGC) on social media sites.
  • Keeping track of ads displayed on mobile sites and – particularly – mobile apps presents a unique set of challenges, compared with desktop web.

As Kurt Hawks, SVP of cross device and video at digital ad targeting specialist Conversant, explains:

Mobile ad tech is still maturing and while the mobile web operates similarly to desktop display, the in-app environment is a very different and more complex tech ecosystem. A rise in the intermediaries needed to execute in-app has resulted in a more fragmented digital supply chain that is more difficult to monitor.

Text, image and video-based analysis have gotten more adept at assessing brand fit within webpages, but a lack of mobile standardization, particularly in the in-app environment, can hinder the effectiveness of these tools. For example, the VPAID (Video Player Ad-Serving Interface Definition) standard is still not universally supported within in-app environments yet.

This is the forth in our series of columns on mobile ad quality: see also:

  • Mobile ad fraud
  • Combatting mobile ad fraud
  • Mobile ad viewability
  • Brand safety issues easily found on the mobile web

    Let’s take a look at some examples of what appears to be untargeted ads appearing next to stories on three mainstream news sites: Inquisitr, Washington Post and The Mirror; and/or via Google’s AMP (accelerated mobile pages) search results.

    Please note that brand safety is subjective, we can only guess that the brand, the viewer and the publisher would deem these contexts inappropriate.

  • It is hard to imagine many mainstream advertisers wishing to be associated with a story about a man being arrested for murder, a KKK march in favor of Donald Trump’s victory, or pictured above a picture of a KKK ceremony. There were plenty of examples spotted on various journals – but this was the most controversial: a Muslim dating site alongside this INQUISITR story.
  • Are stories of funerals or air crashes ever a good context for advertisers? But surely no travel brand would wish to be pushing overseas holidays against the backdrop of a funeral of the president of a football club wiped out in an air disaster as spotted alongside this Washington Post story.
  • Child sex abuse is also a topic that most advertisers would consider toxic, but a brand, particularly one of the magnitude of Heinz is will be questioning how an ad for baby meals ended up topping this Daily Mirror story about alleged child sex abuse at Chelsea Football Club.
  • Just to be certain, we checked the stories pictured in this column with Melody Gambino, director of marketing at brand safety expert, Grapeshot:

    Every one of these examples is poignant. The key to brand safety is not only ensuring you don’t put your advertisement in front of bots or on spam sites, but also that the content surrounding your ad is not offensive. This can be in a broad sense (terrorism) or something specific to your brand (emissions testing for VW, for example).

    But no one can say for certain what is considered brand safe or not except the advertiser, explains Melody Gambino

    Brand safety means different things for every brand and every campaign, so clarity about what it means for you is imperative to ensure you are getting the most from your brand safety partners.

    Defining brand safety

    In the useful New Rules of Brand Safety, Grapeshot gives the following definition for brand safety:

    The term “brand safety” is notionally understood. It represents an environment that is fundamentally not hostile, will not cause perceptions of uncomfortable association or, worse, spur unwelcome sharing or commenting.

    The costs of an error in this arena can mount quickly, from the need to craft defensive counter-messaging to lost sales. Only after the fact does the degree of damage become clear.

    Dirty dozen of toxic content categories:

    There are 12 different content categories which, according to the report, tend to be considered toxic and are routinely excluded by agencies and brand safety tools. These are adult, arms, crime, death or injury, online privacy, hate speech, military conflict, obscenity, illegal drugs, spam or harmful site, terrorism and tobacco.

    CASE STUDY

    Based on these criteria, the three stories pictured above – the KKK organizer’s arrest, the Chapeco funeral and the Chelsea abuse allegations – all appear to fail the toxic test.

    Presumably a rape story, even when associated a classic film such as Last Tango in Paris, is deemed toxic content. But should it be considered universally inappropriate for all brands?

    The following ads have no contextual relevance to the film or the news story, but is this an association that charities or luxury brands should avoid? N.B. if you perform a mobile or online search on this story, you will find plenty of other examples, these are not isolated cases:

    • World Food Program ad on the Chicago Tribune.
    • Rado Swiss watches ad on the com.
    • Mercedes A-Class ad on Sky News.

    dna39_brand_safety_2-2_tango

    Targeted or untargeted?

    Advertisers attempt to improve the impact of ads by targeting the ads at visitors based on the publisher, the visitor, their location, and contextual relevance of the story using keywords, images and metatags.

    There is little evidence targeting in the Last Tango rape story, but the following three examples suggest contextual targeting at its most unfortunate.

    dna39_brand_safety_3_targetted

  • The Volkswagen emissions story isn’t a universally toxic topic – but it is one that auto manufacturers, such as VW, should and do seek to avoid. The ad targeting software appears to have picked up on the keyword “Volkswagen” on this Chicago Tribune story to serve up ads for a VW leasing service. Unfortunately the ad targeting failed to pick out the word “emissions”, so did not put the break on the ad.
  • In the second example, the ad targeting seems to pick out the keywords “makeup tutorial” in this Mediaite story to serve up an ad for a Beauty app and a recruitment ad for models. To a computer this will look like a good opportunity, but no beauty brand will want to be associated with the use of makeup to hide domestic violence.
  • It is unlikely that the CBC house ad “Holiday like you mean it” is contextually targeted at this story 3 about drug use by Hitler and Nazi Army, but a reader would be forgiven for thinking so.
  • How brand safety works

    There are two key methods for avoiding brand safety issues:

    • Blocking websites/URLs that are known to contain contentious material.
    • Detecting context from keywords either a) pre-bid, preventing the ad space being purchased at the exchange) or, where not possible, b) post-bid, where the ad is blocked from appearing on the page.

    The first approach relies on agencies maintaining vast blacklists (and whitelists) of websites. Ad technology then blocks the ads from displaying on these blacklisted sites. The problem with this method is that it assumes that all content on blacklisted sites is bad for business and all content on whitelisted sites is good for business – which as we have seen above is not the case.

    The second approach is more complicated. Ad quality/verification software, from vendors such as Integral Ad Science and Meetrics scan websites for possible issues for advertisers.

    Jason Cooper, general manager, mobile at Integral Ad Science, tells how it works:

    When web pages load they are requesting content from all across the Internet; text, copy, images, advertising content, tracking and analytics pixels among others. In each one of these requests, a little tout runs ahead declaring the page that is making the request; by intercepting that call, a verification vendor can decide whether that page meets the brand safety threshold of an advertiser before allowing the ad to serve.

    However, apps don’t send URL’s, in fact identifying the app name requires a number of different strategies and is something that will be solved incrementally over time.

    Issues with mobile (apps)

    One advantage of native apps, is that they are scanned – particularly with the Apple Store – for malicious code and inappropriate content, before being admitted to the apps stores. However this does not take account of individual stories, user generated content or content pulled in from third party sites. Unfortunately, as native apps use proprietary code, rather than the web technologies, the web-based (JavaScript) scanning techniques used by the verification vendors is ineffective.

    Felix Badura, director product development at Meetrics, explains:

    It is not possible to apply state-of-the-art brand safety technology to the in-app environment due to technical limitations with regard to the interplay of native code (e.g. Java, Swift) and web code (HTML, JavaScript) inside the webview container that actually displays the ad.

    Due to the fact, that native apps and content loaded via a webview cannot exchange information, JavaScript based ad verification for instance cannot scan the content of the app on the fly.

    Tips and common mistakes with brand safety

    • Don’t assume that because you are buying ad space on a known app it will be safe for your brand. Apps don’t need to be porn free to tick the box of ‘safe’. An article about performance enhancing drug scandals next to Reebok or Nike ads can be equally as damaging. – Melody Gambino, Grapeshot.
    • Brands must be especially vigilant and engage vendors that have robust brand safety capabilities (semantic analysis of text; tags; imagery and tonality of web pages and apps; video-level data), but must also ensure these partners are capable of handling the nuances of brand safety in-app. – Kurt Hawks,
    • Only serve ads via the big marketers like AdMob or MoPub and keeping the pressure high on insisting to have a third party measuring the data. – Felix Badura,
    • While it is a good idea, to retrieve and analyse the Package names of the apps where an ad is running, one should be aware that even problematic apps might be uploaded using inconspicuous names to stay below the radar. – Felix Badura, Meetrics.

    This is Part 39 of the ClickZ ‘DNA of mobile-friendly web’ series.

    Here are the recent ones:

    • Mobile ad viewability: what is it and does it matter?
    • How agencies and advertisers can spot and combat mobile ad fraud
    • Mobile advertising accounts for nearly half of digital spend, but it comes at a price: ad fraud
    • Where is Google heading with mobile local search?
    • Is Google killing mobile organic search

    Andy Favell is ClickZ columnist on mobile. He is a London-based freelance mobile/digital consultant, journalist and web editor.

    Contact him via LinkedIn or Twitter @Andy_Favell.

    Five most interesting search marketing news stories of the week

    google user ratings

    Welcome to our weekly round-up of all the latest news and research from the world of search marketing and beyond.

    This week, Google has been spotted testing a new user ratings feature in film and television search results; the National Football League has rowed back its heavy-handed social media policy; and a new report has revealed the distance that still remains between the marketing and IT sides of a business in the digital age.

    Google tests user ratings for films and TV shows

    Google was spotted testing a new user rating feature in its search results for films and TV shows with a small sample of users this week. Searchers in Google’s test sample found ‘Like’ and ‘Dislike’ buttons appearing above the Knowledge Graph on the right-hand side, which pulls information from sites such as Wikipedia to provide a quick answer to search queries.

    Tereza Litsa reported on the change for Search Engine Watch, observing that the new feature “is a quick way for Google to build user ratings depending on its own audience.

    “Even if Google hasn’t revealed its plans yet [for the feature], it could be an interesting addition to its database which may even lead to further plans on building users’ reviews and gather more features on its own site.”

    Digital to receive the lion’s share of new ad spending in 2017

    Some good news for digital advertising business: according to GroupM, the world’s largest media investment group, digital is due to receive 77 cents for every new dollar spent on advertising in 2017.

    Al Roberts reported for Search Engine Watch’s sister site, ClickZ, that “All told, GroupM predicts that global ad spend will top $547 billion next year, up from $524 billion this year. While television will still capture the biggest share of that 12-figure pie (41%), digital’s share will grow from 31% to 33%.”

    But the picture for digital advertisers isn’t all rosy, as by some estimates, as much as 80% of this new revenue is being captured by Google and Facebook. According to Kirk McDonald, president of PubMatic, this overwhelming market dominance is set to “reach critical mass” in 2017, while competition heats up between other marketing organisations for the remaining 20% of new ad spending.

    CMOs and CTOs need to be more aligned

    A survey of more than 500 senior marketing and IT professionals has revealed the differences in perspective between marketing and IT when it comes to communications infrastructure.

    The survey’s findings are explored in a new report, ‘Communications Infrastructure: The Backbone of Digital‘, published this week by ClickZ Intelligence and Zayo, a provider of communications infrastructure services. In an article for ClickZ this week, Linus Gregoriadis dived into some highlights of the research, which sheds light on the obstacles that marketing and IT need to overcome in order to truly work hand-in-hand towards the same goals.

    National Football League revises its restrictive social media policy

    Last October, the U.S. National Football League (NFL) implemented a heavy-handed social media policy aimed at discouraging the posting of video content during games on social media, with fines of up to $100,000 levied at anyone who violated the policy.

    The NFL has seen a worrying drop in its ratings throughout 2016 which threatens its television revenue, the League’s main cash cow. Videos posted to social networks like Twitter and Facebook are thought to be the main culprit, as they allow fans to catch the most exciting moments of the game at their own convenience, without needing to tune in to entire games on television.

    But a number of NFL teams took badly to the NFL’s new restrictive policy, and took to Twitter to troll the League. Now, as Al Roberts reported for ClickZ this week, the NFL has seen fit to relax its policy two months on. Roberts wrote for ClickZ about the new flexibility that the NFL has afforded to its teams, including allowances for live video and Snapchat.

    AMP results are appearing in Google Image Search

    Search Engine Roundtable reported this week that Accelerated Mobile Pages, Google’s lightning-fast mobile webpages, are now showing up in search results for Google Image Search.

    Accelerated Mobile Pages, or AMP, were first launched in the Top Stories carousel in February before being expanded to the core mobile search results in August. Now, a number of search results with an AMP logo are appearing in Google Image Search, which when selected, will take you to the AMP version of the page in question.

    AMP image search

    Image: Search Engine Roundtable

    With Google’s search index set to go ‘mobile-first’ in the new year, searchers can expect to be seeing a lot more of mobile-first webpages very shortly. To get ahead of the game, check out Amanda DiSilvestro’s guide on how to prepare your business for Google’s mobile-first index.