Diagnosing A Paid Search Strategy

Paid Search strategies can vary widely. There is a different blend of direct response and branding that each company employs. How much does a company value educating new customers as opposed to getting sales from each click? How often are they testing new keywords to reach different and new target segments? How much are they willing to spend for the sale? What is the target ROAS and how willing are they to deviate from it?

These questions can be answered by looking at the amount of money a company invests at the different levels of Return On Ad Spend (or CPA). If you compare time periods you can see how paid search strategies change.

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In this example you can see that a focus on direct response was increased year over year as that sweet spot of ROAS from 1 to 4 was much more heavily invested in – budget was spread much less evenly across higher ROAS levels. There is always a balance between profit and volume the more evenly the cost is spread out the more evenly the company values both metrics

in 2012 there seems to be more experimentation going on as the amount invested that got 0 return was higher.  Interestingly, in 2013 as the amount of money invested on the > 21 ROAS was much higher. Maybe there were a few pet keywords that even though got low return were important from a branding or competitive perspective. Or impression share on those high ROAS keywords was tapped out and additional budget was given to the wrong keywords.

Paid Search Competitive Analysis Report Template (excel download)

This template is a snapshot for a particular month. It doesn’t show trends or give you the context of growth/decline over time. You can pull the Auction Insights report out of AdWords from a campaign or adgroup and then plug in the top 10 competitors to get these results.

Paid Search Competitive Analysis

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Ideally the first bubble chart gives you insight into where you sit in relation to your competitor’s impression share, avg. position and top of page rate. How competitive are you with these other advertisers? If you’re similar size and position expect high costs and aggressive bidding.

The second bubble chart shows the relation of avg. position and top of page rate with the competitors you overlap with the most. The more bubbles of similar size, the more competitive the auction is.

The Top Of Page Rate column chart gives you an idea of how aggressive you are relative to the competition for that data you’re analyzing. Are the competitors that are ranking higher than you also winning out the most when you are in the same auction?

I copied over the colors from the bubble charts to the bar charts so that you can follow one competitor across all comparisons. This way it’s easy to see if a competitor with high overlap rate ranks higher than you when in the same auction.
Is ranking higher than one of your competitors important to you? With the Who Is Ranked Higher chart you can see how often that is happening and with the other column chart you can see how competitive they are overall.

Download the Paid Search Competitive Analysis Template (.xlsx)

Ecommerce Blog Dashboard (Excel Download)

Many ecommerce sites have blogs as a means to drive traffic, help with SEO, drive new visits, engage with customers, make sales, increase credibility and more. All of the goals can fit into two silos: engagement and driving revenue to the site. The two depend on each other – the better the content the more potential people will click through to the site and purchase.<

I built a dashboard for measuring the success of these two silos on a monthly basis. Check it out:

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Measuring engagement has multiple facets. How well does your content attract new visitors, get people to come back, bring in others via social sharing and just be all around worth reading? The top left column pulls in those metrics of measuring how engaging the content is by using comments, shares and likes as a proxy for quality. Likewise the first row of bar charts shows the count of visits, days since last visit and page depth – pulled from Google analytics, over the last 4 months. Seeing these trended out gives you an idea if your content is getting better or worse over time – same with the line social graphs in the bottom row.

Next, how well does the blog get people to buy from your site? The first step to driving a sale is to get people from the blog to the site, so the Visits to Website line graph and the Blog to Site CTR shows how many, and with what frequency people are clicking through. The middle chart on the middle row shows overall revenue and per visit value.

A dashboard is only as good as the actionable insights one can glean from it. This dashboard shows (the numbers are all made up mind you) that last month the content got better – people commented more, shared more and Liked more. The next step here would be to pull the All Pages report for the month and see what kind of content resonated so much, and then make more of it.
Despite less traffic overall the quality of traffic to the site increased as Per Visit Value increased – too bad not more people aren’t clicking through to the site, maybe more links to the site could help that. Were the links to the site product pages, category pages, the homepage?
More questions: Did the new visits this month convert? The count of visits from last month were higher, was there a theme of content that you stopped using this month? Anyway you can add onto the content that drove the spikes in visits from previous months? How does your cadence of posting affect the volume of traffic?

Download the Ecommerce Blog Dashboard in Excel.

Making the Vaguest Marketing Objectives Measurable

Almost every marketing proposal and brief include one or more of the following meaningless goals: drive awareness and increase engagement.

Of course we want to drive awareness and/or increase engagement. What is marketing if not one or both of those things? The point of marketing proposals are to allow the thinkers on the team to collaborate and then give those ideas outlined to the doers on the team. Proposals, like most endeavors, are garbage in – garbage out. The more vague the objectives and strategy the more vague the results will be. So let’s how we can boil down “awareness” and “engagement” into unique actions that we can measure and get better results.

Objective #1 Drive Awareness
Awareness to who? Certainly not everyone. Moms with kids? Traveling businessmen? Baby Boomers? Teenager jocks? Go one step further and say “Drive Awareness to ________.” Then the doers can measure themselves against how well they are reaching that desired audience. Age and gender reporting are easily accessible in AdWords from the Google Display Network.
Also by using the myriad ways to overlapping contextual, interests one can measure the CPM and CTR of getting in front of the coveted demographic.Targeting new customers or return customers is also a consideration – how well can you reach past purchasers of product x who might have an affinity for the new product y? Remarketing lists can also be a useful tool to measure awareness. Getting the message in front of visitors who browsed certain categories or similar products can be counted as success. All of these tactics drive awareness and give you ways to measure how well that awareness was achieved.

Objective #2 Increase Engagement
Engagement is subjective and web analytics tools are inherently unable to measure the kind, positive or negative, of engagement and are left to only measure the degree of engagement. Measuring the degree of engagement is going to be unique to the experience of the site. Maybe it’s the amount of contest submissions, tweets, comments, video plays, likes, it all depends. There are a few standbys however: loyalty, recency, length of visit and depth of visit (all located under Audience > Behavior in Google Analytics. With all of these metrics see what the site average is and then use that as a baseline to achieve against.

So instead of being meaningless, an example objective on a marketing proposal could say:
“Drive awareness to our target 25 – 35 mothers with children who are trying to save time and increase the value of quality time spent with their families.”
“Increase engagement by reaching more than X contest submissions while driving X new visits through user generated social shares.”

A Web Analytics Measurement Model Strategy

We no longer live in a world where only last-touch direct response metrics suffice. The web influences both online and offline sales, every customer surveys competing sites and brands, they spend more time researching online and they research across multiple devices. This makes for a very convoluted purchase funnel. As people continue to browse constantly the amount of touchpoints before a purchase will continue to increase. So the question becomes how to quantify the value of all those touch points and create a strategy for growth?

Avinash has multiple great posts on this subject  micro-conversions, net income & goal values.  I’ve tried taking all of this in and meld together an approach to make all of these ideas work together. You should read Avinash’s posts first and then take a look at my conclusion. So I see three steps to putting together a strategy that values all the objectives of a website.

Step 1: Quantify All Actions Taken On The Site.

Look at all the micro-conversions that take place on the site and calculate their worth. This takes some creativity. You end up with something like this:

Micro-Conversion Value

Step 2: Extrapolate Those Value Across All Channels

You’ve deduced how much a new email subscriber is worth, now multiply that value to the amount of email subscribers organic search has driven in the last week. Do this with each metric and each channel and you’ll end up with a report that encompasses the value that each channel has for each micro-conversion. This is a good looking weekly report to show how the site is doing overall. But where should you focus?

Micro Conversion Report

Step 3: Focus Strategy Going Forward Based On Categorization Of Micro-Conversions

At a very simplistic level most businesses work under a pretty basic premise: buy stuff at one price and then sell it for more than you bought it for. There are four main strategies to do this: price strategies – sell at a higher price, cost strategies – sell at the same price but lower your costs, market share strategies – take more customers from your competitors, & market size strategies –  go into new places where you haven’t sold before.
Divide your micro-conversions and other metrics that are important to your business into one of the four buckets.  Now if you want to focus your strategy on volume you know the micro-conversions and metrics that each marketing channel should be driving to.

Micro Conversion Net Income Strategy

Online Marketing Moving Towards Passivity

Online marketing has been positioned from the beginning as a much more interactive marketing medium than TV. As the web becomes more of a constant thing in our lives will our interactions with it become more passive like TV and thus change the way we market online?

Online marketers have always stuck their noses up at TV advertising because they couldn’t believe advertisers would spend so much money on a medium that was not trackable, was interruptive, was not precisely targeted, had no ability to engage the user further once the ad ended, was not shareable. Surely TV ads are inferior.

But when the amount of time people spend online is constant you need new math. The number of sites visited before a purchase as reported by google is growing exponentially – is this because people do more research or is it just because people spend more time online? When browsing is something that never ends, creating attribution models around touch points that weave in and out of constant browsing habits start to look futile. The sheer fact that someone showed up at your ecommerce site used to be a pretty strong signal of purchase intent and every time they didn’t convert was deemed a failure. Now, with mobile usage skyrocketing the value of a visit is dropping fast.

In the end the traditional principles of TV advertising – where you interrupt and grab attention by inserting advertising into an appealing environment and then make that advertising message entertaining, beautiful or interesting is maybe all that may really works after all. The majority of online advertising hasn’t been focused on that as much as it’s been focusing on precise targeting, number of “likes” and optimization.

Should You Pay For A Paid Search Bid Management Tool?

Bid management tools (Marin, Kenshoo, Acquisio, DoubleClick For Search) tout productivity, and increased efficiency but not without a hefty cost – charging 3% – 5% of spend. So is it worth it? Here are some of the pros and cons these tools promote and a comparison of what you get for free from AdWords:

  •  Cross-Publisher editing is a big feature. When you see both AdCenter and AdWords in the same place it’s much easier to manage and strategies can be spread seamlessly across the two.
    • No arguments here, obviously Adwords will never give you the ability to edit AdCenter in it’s interface.
  • Doing bulk edits by downloading data into a spreadsheet, making edits, and then re-uploading is essential for increasing productivity across thousands of keywords and ads.
    • AdWords editor does this for free (but not across publishers) and it’s a pretty new feature in AdWords as well.
  • Customizable dashboards allow you to make better reports faster which allow for better analysis.
    • If you’re not content with the charts in the AdWords interface, you’ll need to use spreadsheets which are slower but you can make them exactly how you want and aren’t limited to the features of the dashboard tool.
  • Flexible auto bidding algorithms allow advertisers to manage millions of keywords and ads effectively. Bidding algorithms look at all the possible signals available to decide what to bid so you can reach a desired CPA or ROAS which would be too difficult for any one person to do manually.
    • AdWords Conversion Optimizer is competitive with other tools as it is the only bidding algorithm that makes bids in real time, the rest do so reactionary through the API. Also, AdWords allows adding any keyword to Conversion Optimizer regardless of account structure making it pretty flexible. What it doesn’t have (yet) is options outside using a target CPA to optimize instead of a target ROAS.
  • Dynamic account expansion allows large advertisers to create campaigns, adgroups and ads much faster using their product feeds and smart software.
  • Conversion attribution allows you to give keywords different levels of credit depending on what point they were clicked on in the funnel and use those rules in your bidding strategy.
    • With AdWords you can get insight with the Multi-Channel Funnel reports and more insight if you use Google Analytics but its not easy to incorporate learnings into bids.
  • Customizable alerts that allow you to get an email if a swing in traffic or drop in CPA happen to a specific campaign/keyword/adgroup
    • Automated Rules in AdWords allows you to send emails that get triggered for changes in any metric.
  • Tag any element of your account to easily find and schedule anything.

Also consider:

  • When AdWords comes out with new features it usually releases them in AdWords before making them available in the API so things like Dynamic Search Ads are not available in many of these tools that rely on the API.
  • Enhanced campaigns are taking a lot of the complexity away that justifies these bidding tools – consolidating duplicated and triplicated campaigns for device, time and geography.

You can see that most features are mostly marginally better than what you get for free from Google. In my opinion, a bid management tool only make sense for very large advertisers with small SEM teams. I think their value propositions will continue to run thin as Google ups its investment in AdWords editor and the AdWords interface.

The real reason why many people use these bid management tools is because it takes the responsibility of paid search away from themselves and gives it to an algorithm. A computer can look at many more signals than a person can look at, make thousands a tweaks to bids at a time and learn as it goes – who can argue with a search manager that it’s not a good decision to invest in a tool like that? Besides whatever increases to ROAS it provides it also gives you a justification and an excuse to upper management if the program goes well and if it goes wrong.

Should Affiliates Bid On Your Brand Keywords?

The only affiliates that really want to bid on your brand keywords are coupon sites – Slickdeals, Couponcabin, Retailmenot, etc. because discounts are incredible clickbait, and with the 30 day post-click attribution windows (which most affiliates are set up on), discount ads on brand terms work out to be very lucrative for affiliates. So brand terms are usually out of the question.

The question does come up in regards to “brand + coupon” keywords though. If customers are proactively searching for coupons it can make sense to let affiliates bid on those keywords. The cost is all incurred by them, you only pay if a sale happens and if you were to put an ad up for your site like you would for a typical brand term, customers would likely bounce because they want to find coupons, not your homepage.

Some brands don’t want a coupon page on their site because they don’t want their products associated with discounts, but If you do have a page on your site that feature coupons like this Macy’s page, not letting affiliates bid on your brand + coupon keywords so you can have all that traffic for yourself can be very effective. The problem is this: most visitors don’t believe the brand’s page will have all of the coupons that are really out there. Chances are they will click on your ad and then leave to a coupon site anyway to see if there are any more coupons out there.

I think there are three options:

Affiliates Bid On Brand Terms

Because of the 30 day attribution window in search, most of the “brand + coupon” keywords are not last touch (affiliate is) but are still taking credit, so the paid search marketer loves the coupon keywords in his account because they perform really well and pull up account performance overall. Parting with them would mean doing what is best for the company, not whats best for his channel.

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).

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.