Two Most Important Steps For Managing Product Listing Ads

Product Listing Ads are currently one of the least transparent, (no avg. position, no impression share, no keywords) yet highest converting products in AdWords. By holiday 2013 I think PLAs will be one of the highest cost sections of any ecommerce paid search account. After you have set up your Product Listing Ads campaign(s) and added an adgroup targeting All Products, it feels like you’re done but there are still a few more things that you can do to improve PLA performance.

1. Create product targets as granularly as you can. Download your Google Merchant Center feed and add attributes per sku to the the AdWords_Label column. You should categorize for type, category, price, margin, style, sku and whatever else you can think of. If you can get all the way down to one product per adgroup, even better. There are two reasons for this: 1. the more specific you can be with your product targets the more specific you can be with your promo text which is set at the adgroup level, 2. you want your cpc bid to match as closely to the value of a click from that product as possible. If you have a very general product target then it will be hard to know what your bid should be when there is a wide range of products that match that target.

2. Use negative keywords to optimize your ads. You can’t bid on keywords with PLAs but you can see the queries that triggered your ads and add them as negatives (under the Auto Targets Tab > See Search Terms > All). Negative keywords are sometimes necessary to make distinctions between product variants. For example, if you sell a small and a big version of the same product you might want to add “small” and “little” as keyword negatives for the big version (and, conversely, add “large” and “big” for the smaller version).

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Marketplaces The Future Of Ecommerce?

Amazon, Ebay, Sears, WalMart and Newegg are a few examples of the stores that offer marketplaces for third parties to sell their products alongside the company’s own inventory (won’t be long until Facebook and Apple are there too). These marketplaces are making huge strides to weeding out competition and consolidating the ecommerce landscape by providing incredible solutions to both retailers and customers. The landscape for future of ecommerce could very well be made up of a handful of huge portals where the majority of transactions take place.

1. Any ecommerce retailer that wants to sell overseas faces translations, currency and payment processing hurdles that require incredible investment to handle. Amazon, Ebay and others are bridging these hurdles for anyone interested in selling online. By the time all the other US retailers figure out how to set up their websites all over the world, Amazon and Ebay will already have huge market share overseas.

2. Mobile shopping is exploding but the user experience for mobile websites continues to be difficult. Every site a visitor goes to is unique, requiring them to relearn where to find their purchase history, store locator or customer service number – if any of those features even exist on the mobile version of the site at all. These big marketplaces give customers a familiar, uniform place to shop.

3. Amazon, Google and Ebay are moving towards crazy fast and efficient shipping models. Google Shopping Express, Ebay Now, and Amazon Lockers are all creating shipping experiences that other ecommerce players are too far behind to ever compete with due to lack of scale. As soon as customers are used to free incredibly fast shipping, they won’t settle for anything else, forcing more retailers to sell through these marketplaces.

4. More on mobile shopping – Any brand who has ever made an app has quickly discovered how hard it is to get people to download it. App discovery is a mess. Not only that but getting someone to download the app is only the beginning of the problem, once it sits on the 3rd or fourth page of their iPhone home screen it rarely gets used. Enter the marketplace: Ebay app users spend 108 minutes within 34 sessions a month on their app. Why go through the expense of creating and marketing an app when you can create a shop within the app everyone is already using?

5. Customers are loyal to these marketplaces. Especially Amazon Prime members. Anyone who has Amazon Prime is going to first look on Amazon for the product they want to buy because they will get it fast and for free (showrooming doesn’t only happen offline, users do research on other sites online and then go to Amazon to buy too). Why bother with loyalty programs from all the other brands out there? If practically everything you want is already on Amazon along with your favorite loyalty program, tied into all the other media you consume, with the device that makes it all super simple – then you’re done.

6. Amazon, Apple, Ebay and Google all have hundreds of millions of credit cards on file and are poised to be the portals that everyone uses to store their credit cards and purchase online – they are secure, offer great fraud protection to sellers and are familiar for customers to use by storing their credentials. Google Wallet, Paypal and Amazon Payments are making big inroads as being purchase options on many big ecommerce sites, increasing conversion rates because they give customers more confidence – furthering the size of their reach.

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It’s Either Social Media Or Nothing

The barriers to entry to publishing a book, or distributing music or any other creative endeavor used to be so high that artists had to spend much of their time trying to get in front of those decision makers.  Now the internet has placed all the tools of distribution and marketing into the hands of the entrepreneur. But there is a catch.

Not only are the tools of marketing and distribution in your hands, they are now your only option. It’s not a matter of choosing between a third party label or publisher or DIY, going DIY is now the only way to go.

There are plenty of writers, musicians and entrepreneurs that would rather just do the work of creating their art and not maintain a Facebook and Twitter account, post images to their Instagram, encourage engagement on their website or create a fan club. After all, these people are artists, not social media mavens. But alas, this is the new game that needs to be played. But at the end of the day, I prefer this new normal over the old for a few reasons.

1. People buy the experience not the product. This is now more true than ever. Your art is no longer a simple transaction about money, people want to buy a story. You have a better chance at successfully selling your story than any third party does.

2. If you didn’t have to spend all your time doing social media then you would have to spend all your time doing the demeaning work of trying to be picked anyway – casting calls, headshots, following leads, trying to get in with the tastemakers who could care less about you.

3. When you accept doing the marketing and distribution on your own terms you unlock your ability to make an impact, removing all the excuses between your current place and the art you want to make. You choose to be judged not by the tastemaker who picks you, but by the audience that you will find instead.

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The Two Sides Of Online Marketing

There is the storytelling side of online marketing and the data-driven side of online marketing. Just because its measurable doesn’t make it better.

Storytelling entails all the visual, front-end stuff like email, facebook posts, tweets, custom designed landing pages, commercials, catalogs, sliding images on the home page, etc. There is some analysis of data to make decisions here but most of it is a creative endeavor fueled by gut decisions.

The other side of online marketing is the data-driven optimization side. This side entails optimizing advertising channels based on strict data. Paid search doesn’t tell stories. Writing meta-data for better ranking organically, landing page multivariate optimization, getting better data into product feeds for comparison shopping engines – it’s the evergreen stuff always running behind the scenes that fits into this category.

The data-driven stuff is very measurable so it’s held to a higher standard than the storytelling stuff – much to the chagrin of the direct response marketers, but measurable isn’t always the only thing that matters. The people in the company responsible for doing the storytelling stuff don’t actually want better data. If you’re not sure what’s working, you can’t get blamed. And since you can’t get blamed, you get to decide, to be creative, to create stories that reinforce purpose, instead of nitpicking every last detail.

The truth is you need both. Left to their own devices, the data-driven direct response people will compromise and dumb-down everything to the point of complete blandness with the excuse of “it’s what the visitors want!” You need the storytelling side to balance this out and aim for higher aspirations and lead customers to where you want them to be.

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What Happens When Conversion Rate Is So Low It Doesn’t Matter?

Of course conversion rate will always matter but what happens when your site’s conversion rate is consistently below 1% or .5%? It won’t be long before conversion rates less than 1% are the new normal.

There are two forces at work here: 1. Increased com­pe­ti­tion as peo­ple spend more time shop­ping online—more shop­ping equals more vis­its per pur­chase and con­ver­sion rates will nat­u­rally fall. 2. Increased mobile vis­its where shop­pers seem to pre­fer to use smart­phones to browse, price check, and find store loca­tions – not purchase.

Lower conversion rates aren’t a bad thing since incre­men­tal traf­fic still means more revenue. What will be bad is if the only metric you look at to measure success on your site is your conversion rate. What about the other 99% of traffic? Is that not worth trying to quantify?

No one gets married on the first date, likewise no one buys something the first time they meet your site. How many little interactions, downloads, engagement, likes, views, subscriptions, reviews does it take to add up to a conversion?  Like Avinash says, If you solve for conversion rate are you solving for all your traffic and are you improving the website experience for all your customers?

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Not All Impressions Are Created Equal

The bigger the reach the smaller the individual impact. The higher the frequency the more is wasted. The more people the message is designed for the more generic and uninteresting the message needs to be (the compromises necessary to make something appeal to everyone mean that it will almost certainly not appeal perfectly to anyone).

A message hyper-targeted and relevant, designed for a specific individual gets noticed and acted on every time. Those who receive such direct attention become loyal ambassadors. But you can only make a handful of such interactions at a time.

I think there is a sweet spot between reach/frequency and effort/impact. Too much marketing done today is still too far over on the reach frequency side than it should be with all the social media tools at our disposal.

Frequency reach vs Impact Effort

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No Better Time For Starting Something New

Social Media is a one to one medium that gives brands a unique opportunity to be very customer focused. Not only is individual connection what the web is built for, individual connection is what we as humans most desire.

But many brands still only see online advertising through the lense of scale – using Facebook like a megaphone and Twitter as a mass marketing vehicle, which explains the constant lust for more and more friends and followers. But you can’t blame big brands for this, everything they do is done at scale, the ability to produce and distribute in enormous quantities is part of their essence. They are built to neglect the individual needs of their customers – they only work at scale.

As big brands are trying to fit into a one to one connection marketing world, smaller companies have an inherent competitive advantage online. We as consumers have pretty much everything we need but the one thing that never decreases in demand is attention, appreciation and belonging.

Increasingly the way we derive attention is through the content we share. The content we share is a reflection of our identity. Instead of someone deciding to share content about a product or experience after they have purchased it, the reason for purchasing something is to share it to friends (the point of going to that concert is so that I can tell everyone that I went).

Combine that longing to belong with creating identity through sharing along with our newly found weird niche passions (thanks to the long tail) and the money and resources to make use of the abundance of choice that now exists, and the environment is ripe for a small business making niche products hyper targeted to excited and neglected (by big brands) customers via social media that gives each customer the feeling of belonging.

Small Business Comparative Advantage

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How To Choose The Right Vendor, Agency or Consultant

I think the rule of thumb for choosing a vendor, agency or consultant, is whether or not they will leave you off better than when they found you. And this is not just in terms of increased sales or other KPIs. As they increase sales are they also increasing the competency of your organization so that one day the vendor/agency/consultant will work themselves out of a job?

This is an unselfish stance for a partner to take that requires:

  • Transparency. The client needs to see exactly how their partner is doing what they are doing. Too often agencies pull the wool over the eyes and make what they are doing look like magic so that the client feels like they could never leave. Vendors that use superior algorithms as their core competency maintain their clients by selling a threat that if they ever leave they will be worse off.
  • Aligned Interests. When the consultant or agency is “open kimono “ it becomes very easy to see if they are on your side or if they want to do just enough to stay employed.
  • Constant improvement. Due to transparency and aligned interests, as the client becomes more capable to handle the things the agency was initially hired to do, the agency needs to provide more value and take on other deficiencies that the organization has.

Too many agencies keep their processes secret for fear of losing their job but when the partner has reached a point where their services are no longer needed due to their transparency and aligned interests they can gracefully bow out and send the improved client on their way. Of course any client who has ever hired a partner with this level of commitment is rarely ever let go.

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In Defense Of Being Tracked Online

Are you ultimately responsible for your purchase decisions? In other words, are you powerless to resist the most hyper-targeted and relevant sales pitch? Hopefully the answer is of course not – if you don’t want to buy something, no advertising, no matter how well designed can convince you otherwise.

That frame of mind is important to keep when articles come out that get people fired up about their lack of privacy online. Recently there was a New York Times Magazine article where Target’s data mining was described as being able to detect when a teenage customer was pregnant, before even her own father knew. I don’t think the negative outweighs the positive. At its worst Target is trying to make their catalogs more relevant in hopes someone will be influenced to buy, at their best Target is removing spam and junk advertising and delighting people by helping them find the products they need.

The perceived threat out there is that there’s so much data collection going on that users don’t know about, but so what? Offline tracking has been intrusive for a long time and no one has ever been hurt.

The steps being taken in congress with The Privacy Bill Of Rights will require the net’s biggest online ad networks to respect a “Do Not Track” setting in browsers. Ok, thats fine – giving people a consistent and clear way to not be tracked is not a bad idea. But those people who choose to not be tracked will have an inferior experience on the web as a result.  Taken to extremes, policies like this could lead to damaging the web for everyone.

Personalization is where online retailers predict what you’ll want to buy using all the data they have on you – showing mens jeans on their home page instead of kids socks because they know you’re male, looked at jeans last time you were on the site and don’t have kids. This is what makes TV ads so intolerable is that they have no clue who is on the other side of the TV so they can’t help but be irrelevant. I will only be better off if I never see another commercial for tampons.

Do you want your barber to forget what kind of haircut you like each time you show up? These are the value adding benefits that tracking has. Content online is funded with ads so less relevant ads means there are less advertisers who want to advertise because the returns go down, which means less quality content being produced on the web.

I like being tracked. So far for me its all been upside – more relevant ads and personalized website experiences.

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Visualize SEO Potential

One way to do this is to export your top 20 organic keywords sorted by visits from Google Analytics. Then take that list and copy it into the AdWords Keyword Tool to see what the local search volume is for each of those keywords. Then you can easily find the percent of the Local Monthly Search Volume that your keywords are getting.

One step further is to see what would happen to revenue if you increased those keyword visits by something like 5%. Using the Per Visit Value from Google Analytics you can take the difference between the amount of visits you are currently getting and how many you would get if visits were 5% higher and then multiply that by the Per Visit Value to see what the gains in total revenue would be.

The prospect of taking a keyword from less than 1% of total Local Search Volume and getting just a few percentage points more seems very doable especially when the increased revenue looks so high.

Visualize SEO Potential

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