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Smart Display campaigns have been around for a while now and aren’t really a huge news. However, its perks and rewards still seem unclear to some. During a separate session dedicated to Smart Display at the Unboxing Display conference, a few best practices, useful tips and interesting use-cases were discussed.
To clarify, Smart Display is a separate display campaign type that is 100% automated, meaning that targeting, creative and bidding is all taken care of by the machine. You just need to set up the campaign, assign a budget and upload a number of headlines, descriptions, images and logos for the machine to use and test.
Thanks to its automated solution, Smart Display can help you define new target audiences. As a result of not being able to set any targeting, the automation will work on finding its own criteria. For example, this was the case with the Bastion hotel, that found they had misinterpreted their target group for business travellers whereas it was really young professionals visiting their college mates. They would have not discovered this new audience and possibly a much needed different messaging if they had set the targeting themselves based on their pre-existing assumptions.
Smart Display will find your audience for you
Some best practices for Smart Display include
Have a specific landing page (ideally not just the homepage), relevant to the ad text messaging.
A great tip from the client panel participant BoughtByMany was that they use separate landing pages for display that are also much more visual – containing more imagery than text. Also, for them, landing pages with customer reviews work well with social media ads.
Structure ad groups per product type.
Use tCPA that is 1,5-2x higher than your average non-generic search CPA.
Ideally, set the budget to 10x your tCPA.
Smart Display is somewhere upper- to mid-funnel, but the tCPA you set strongly affects the audiences the campaign will look for. If you set your tCPA too low, it is very likely that you’re actually targeting people who’ve already been to your site (what you’d usually target with remarketing) because these are the people who are more likely to convert with lower CPAs. Thus, an aggressively low tCPA could actually end up cannibalising your Remarketing campaign. Otherwise, if an appropriate tCPA is set, each campaign should work seamlessly along each other and if they don’t you should re-check if your Remarketing campaign is set up correctly.
Optimizing Smart Display campaigns
This also leads us straight to optimizing and keeping an eye on Smart Display performance. My first suggestion would be to go check if the traffic and conversions you’re getting from Smart Display is indeed new to your site. If needed, audience lists can be excluded from Smart Display as well, but this needs to be whitelisted by the Google Account Manager first. However, any exclusions are not recommended by Google as more volume equals also more data to learn from. But if you really want to exclude something, the suggestion is to do it from the beginning, so you wouldn’t set the wrong expectations for the machine.
Tip: Use audience list exclusions to get the right traffic to your Smart Display campaigns.
Overall, when optimizing a Smart Display campaign, the same guidelines as for smart bidding apply. You should keep your bid changes small and rare – around 10% every other week or so. Also, make sure to check asset performance and swap out assets that are not performing well compared to others. By clicking at your ad, you can easily see asset performance per every single asset (headline, description, image) and a score of their performance – low, good, best.
Another Optimizing best practice is checking placements. Even though in Smart Display the placements are also chosen by the machine, if an offensive placement should turn up in the placements report, your Google Account Manager can actually help you exclude it.
Look at placements to optimize your Smart Display campaign
There was a great update also for everyone hesitant of investing more money in Smart Display – Pay for Conversions will become more accessible in the next few months as the eligibility criteria will be relaxed. Instead of current 100 conversions in your Smart Display campaign, you will only need 5 in the last 30 days to be eligible (should take effect in next few months). It’s a great way to ease into testing more of Smart Display while lessening the risks that come with the 100% automated campaign type.
To sum up, if you haven’t given Smart Display a chance just yet, I suggest to consider it. And if you have, the main idea I’d like you to take from here is to check the new vs returning users coming from your Smart Display campaign. Make sure your different campaigns work well and don’t cannibalize each other. And always keep one eye on the placements report.
Machine learning can only work for you if you feed it with the right data.
Reporting from Google’s Dublin HQ from the latest Display oriented conference Unboxing Display, I’d sum it up by saying it’s all about automation. Whether you’re concerned about scaling, showing your messages at the right time or better understanding your audience – automation can help. The secret lays in providing the system with the right data and having the correct strategy in place.
A few things were unboxed within the limited time of two days. We…
were shown a sneak peek behind the automation curtains;
discussed smart bidding and automation at scale;
discovered audiences, inventory and formats on display;
unboxed display through measurement.
Behind the automation curtainsIn 2017, “mute this ad” was used 5 billion times.
It’s time to face the music, in many ways, automation is the way to tackle the constant changes in the industry. Also, it’s just smarter. Mostly, us humans are capable of taking into consideration only one signal (age, gender, location etc.) at a time when optimizing accounts. Fair, more advanced excel users might be able to combine a few datasets. But we’re no match for machine learning that does the calculations faster and has more data points at its hand.
This was discussed a lot during the conference. When using smart bidding, machine learning will start to score, test and evaluate your targeting suggestions from day zero. It will allocate a percentage of the budget to something, test it and if it works well, allocate more. If not, move on. Also, it has the advantage of learning from past performance – if you create a new ad group and attach an existing audience list to it, it will consider what has worked in the past. And if you didn’t know this yet, the targeting and creative history is based on the domain, not Google Ads account level.
Smart bidding learns from every interaction
Ideally, after starting a new bid strategy or a campaign, marketers should give it 2-4 weeks before making any changes to ads, targeting or bidding. And only then start with incremental and rare changes.
The ideal scenario according to Google. However, I’d suggest to take it with a grain of salt. It’s a noble idea to let the machines learn in peace but you don’t always necessarily have the money to just wait it out.
We’ve seen scenarios where giving the smart display campaign time to learn came at a cost. The average CPC (cost-per-click) in smart display campaigns would go beyond €20 while search CPC-s for the same advertiser were considerably less than that. Taking into account the conversion rate and the CPA (cost-per-acquisition) goal it wasn’t feasible to let the campaign run for a month.
Extra tip: We have noticed ourselves that smart display campaigns tend to work particularly well in Eastern Europe but not so well in Scandinavia.
After making changes, you should also wait for the change to take effect, whereas the reaction time depends on the volume of data you have.
So here are some practical tips from Google on how to really deal with automation:
Consider that the machines need time to ramp up
Consolidate ad groups to get more volume
Evaluate success over time – meaning monthly, not daily
Minimize significant changes to 1x week
Track the right conversions! When redefining, what a conversion is, consider creating a new campaign.
Too limited targeting – not being able to test audiences at important times
Ad rotation – failing to choose to optimize for clicks/conversions
Frequency cap – no cap on impressions. This was suggested in the context of automated bidding testing and defining the best frequency cap anyway.
Ad scheduling – all days and hours. As did the previous, they both refer back to the first pitfall, but in reality, should be handled with caution.
So where to start with automation on Display? Use Responsive Image Ads if you still wish to maintain control over targeting but are happy try out automated bidding and ads. Ready to pass over all control? Then choose Smart Display – the 100% automated campaign type.
Smart bidding & automation at scaleBe faster, smarter & win more
Smart bidding is the talk of the town and to make it work, it’s important to find the right bidding strategy that is aligned with your goals.
Use enhanced CPC if you want to maintain control over your CPCs, but also tap into the power of smart bidding.
Choose maximize conversions if your aim is to get the most conversions at your current campaign budget. Maximize conversions is ideal if you don’t have explicit CPA or ROAS goals but aim to spend your budget as efficiently as possible.
Enable target CPA if you have a specific CPA goal and you wish to get more conversions at your target level.
Start with target ROAS if you also consider conversion value and want to optimize for a target return on ad spend.
Use Drafts & Experiments to test a new bidding strategy, as it shows you the right metrics to focus on. After all, there is no point to look for improved CTR when testing tROAS as that is simply not what the bidding strategy is optimizing for.
AudiencesFree and real-time
Audiences are a great way to tap into new customers as they are free and in real-time, meaning it doesn’t cost you any extra to use them and they are constantly updated as signals change. For example, if someone is showing intent to purchase a car, they are moved into the respective in-market audience. However, when the person stops showing intent or makes a purchase, he/she is removed from the audience list.
In addition to demographic targeting, we now also have life-events and consumer patterns (beta in Gmail) to help us navigate who should see our ads. It is well-known that people’s needs, and purchase decisions vary according to what is going on in their life or what their habits are and for such occasions, these are just the tools to help. Consumer patterns helps you target people based on their habits such as ordering takeout or shopping at a department stores.
In addition, in-market and affinity audiences (but also custom intent and affinity) are a great way to expand your reach while still keeping your targeting relevant. Whereas some people were still concerned where the difference lays, I’ll share the easy explanation provided at the conference.
Let’s say we’re talking about customers and cars. Someone browsing different car blogs is likely a user with a passion for cars and belongs to affinity audiences. However, if the person is also looking around for car insurances and loans or comparing some specific models, they’ve shown an intent to buy as these are signals that could be aligned with purchase intent. Thus, these people belong to in-market audiences.
So, what are some best practices for display audiences?
Customize messaging for specific audiences, including targeting affinity vs in-market audiences.
Test 5-10 audiences in ad groups.
Include 5-15 keywords or URLs per custom affinity or custom intent ad group.
So as reminded by BoughtByMany in the client panel at Unboxing Display, make sure you use audiences for targeting, but also for exclusions. It’s important not to bombard your audiences too much, causing faster ad fatigue. It can happen if you’re targeting them with two campaigns with similar creatives.
Let’s say we have the targeting in place, but we still need to capture their attention. Whereas it is up to us to provide eye-catching images and copy, machine learning can help you deliver with Responsive Image Ads or Smart Display campaigns. But again, you need to give it a chance to learn first and not make assumptions about performance based on your personal visual preferences.
Google is always testing and working on new formats, as well as battling the age-old performance vs branding question. An image that appears pleasing to the eye (right ad) is not actually always the one bringing in conversions (left ad).
Responsive image ads should by now have at least some part in your display efforts. Not only is it a great way to tap into machine learning powers, but it also saves you a lot of time and increases your ad coverage as the ad adapts itself to various ad slots as needed.
When optimizing and editing your creatives, the same guidelines of incremental and rare changes apply. Overall, when given a chance by right bidding and ad rotation settings, the system will show the creatives that work best. So when updating ads, change the creatives gradually and run them simultaneously with the old ones to give the machine time to learn. Also, consider changing only a part of a creative with Responsive Image Ads and Smart Display, but keeping the rest the same. E.g., with Smart Display check the asset performance report and swap out low and even well-performing assets, aiming to get more best-performing ones.
Something that also still got asked from the crowd was if you need to change ad rotation settings when uploading new ads to an ad group. The answer was no – when adding a new asset to the ad group, it should over serve it in the beginning anyway to learn from it. There’s no need to change ad rotation settings. Mystery solved.
A common pitfall brought out for Dynamic Remarketing and Responsive Ads was including CTA in ad asset headline or description. It’s an interesting idea to test out in other Responsive Image Ads as well if including a CTA in the description actually improves or hurts the performance. Finally, don’t forget to utilize full character lengths in headlines and descriptions and upload both square and landscape photos for your Responsive Image Ads.
Also, one key change to creative side is the multi-asset update. Responsive image ads will roll out with multi-asset in the next few weeks. This means that you will be able to upload up to 15 images, 5 headlines and 5 descriptions and let the machines work out the best performing combinations for you.
Attribution & data
So let’s say you’re really well equipped with the best know-how on audiences, creatives and bidding strategies, but you still have one big question left – how to attribute conversions and assess the performance of your display campaigns?
Some great points were brought out in the client panel by BoughtByMany. In their case, they noticed that users who have seen display ads tend to have fewer clicks in their overall conversion path. Due to this, they not only focus on click conversions of their display campaigns but also report on view-through conversions.
Some other important data and attribution updates included:
Google attribution (beta) is slowly rolling out. It combines data from Ads, Analytics and DoubleClick and makes it easy to compare attribution models and act on the data right within the same place. It’s free, takes only 10 minutes to set up and combined data for search and display at the moment.
A relatively new thing in GA360 known as user reporting. Use the user explorer to understand how specific users are interacting with your site.
Enable Google signals in Analytics and get access to new Google Analytics cross-device reports.
Taking all the automation information into account, one might question what will the future role of the agency be? It’s in feeding the right data, audiences and strategy. It’s not fair to be afraid of machine learning, but it’s every marketer’s responsibility to learn the ins and outs and make sure they are putting the latest technology to use when managing their clients’ accounts.
Check back next week for the article on Smart Display! I will give an overview of what was discussed in the context of Smart Display campaigns, the tips acquired and changes awaiting in the close future.
In the summer of 2018, for the second year in a row, ePPC decided to open their doors to digital marketing newbies and teach them all the basics over a sunny 6-week period from July 16th till the 24th of August.
If you are interested in how it all happened and just how many things you need to learn to even consider yourself a beginner in the online paid advertising world, keep on reading.
Over 100 hopeful young people from very different backgrounds applied. The academy began with 7 of us, including two business students, an IT student, a PR student, an anthropologist, an economics major and one engineering student with a heavy focus in data science – a truly mixed lot. But we had one thing in common – essentially everyone was starting from scratch in the digital marketing realm.
The Summer Academy had two parts, 2 weeks for the theoretical training and 4 weeks for a practical internship.
Training in progress at ePPC headquarters
The first two more theoretical weeks were organised so that on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, we gathered together from 10 till 5 in the evening to listen to presentations and try to understand the material together. Tuesdays and Thursdays were left for independent study and taking different Google exams. As two the participants were not from Estonia (thanks to AP and Bruno, we were lucky to have an Indian and Brazilian perspective to all our discussions), all of the trainings were held in English.
Week 1 – Search, Display and Performance Marketing
Our first day together started with some rather sweaty introductions, a result of collective excitement and the ongoing heat wave combined. The trainings were mostly conducted by Karl, the founder of ePPC. He started everything off with some encouragement and a motivational story about learning to swim to get us through the sea of information that was about to hit us.
The most common but ever evolving search ad type took a good chunk of our time to understand.We learned how to find keywords, what kind of keywords and match types to choose, how many of them to use in one campaign. Also, how to organize them, and most importantly, how to evaluate their performance and optimize to make everybody happy.
We launched our own first test campaigns and realized very quickly that looking at slides and taking tests is completely different from being in charge of actually creating a decent campaign, even if it’s a fake one at first.
Training at ePPC
Different types of display ads (including the ones you see, when using mobile apps) and Youtube ads also have a lot of nuances to keep in mind. For example, if you are not using specific targeting and exclusions, you are most likely losing half or more of your impressions to bots and another big chunk to scammy websites. This is why remarketing display ads are currently the best bet that actual people who might be interested in your service will see the ads you are paying for.
At the end of the week we also went over how to use Adwords Editor to make different kinds of bulk changes, what type of spreadsheet software tips come in most handy and how to use scripts to make our lives easier when working with Google Ads. We also discussed the difference between performance and branding marketing. One saying that really sums it up well in my opinion, is the following:
“I know that 50% of my ad budget works, but I don’t know which 50%.” – People, who do branding marketing
Week 2 – Google Analytics, Facebook and Bing
During the second week of filling our brains with valuable new information, we dove right into the world of Google Analytics. We were quite amazed just how much it is possible to track nowadays, but an even more surprised how many things can go wrong when setting up all of these complicated tracking systems. As we learned, sorting out tracking issues is a huge part of the job of running successful campaigns.
As important as tracking is when it comes data, making sense of the results after you have been measuring for a while is an even bigger challenge. Building dashboards and reports that don’t “data puke” and not measuring just for the sake of measuring are big challenges for beginners and more experienced marketers alike.
After getting a grasp on one of the most complicated parts of our academy curriculum, it was time for a nice and relaxing team event. And what better place to organize a team event for a team that works right by the port in the middle of a hot summer – oh yes, we went on boat trip. For one glorious afternoon in perfect weather, we sunbathed and hung out on the catamaran “Nordea” (the same one that took the well-known Estonian musician Jaan Tätte literally around the world), quietly cruising around the Tallinn Bay.
Catamaran “Nordea” and ePPC team with the Summer Academy newbies
The second week curriculum also gave us an intro to Facebook ads by our in-house Facebook specialists Ann and Reimo. We also got a great overview of Bing ads by a presenter from Microsoft via Skype. This actually changed a lot of minds about whether or not advertising with Bing would make sense. We also learned what are the differences with Google Ads to keep in mind.
Another very interesting and practical training we participated in during that week was about teamwork from Mats Soomre at KoostööKunstiKool Belbin. We all took a self-evaluation to find out what type of team roles suit us the best and talked through what type of tasks would make sense for each of us to make working together as smooth and efficient as possible.
During the end of the week we started to go over optimizing campaigns in more detail, but everyone was already feeling very excited to start putting things into practice to understand what we were actually being taught.
Week 3-6 – Getting to work
In the beginning of week 3, we had the last of the theoretical presentations. We had a local Google Support representative talk us through what kind of things their teams can support us with. We also went through some more practical training about how to handle customer communication and what kind of productivity tools the ePPC team uses to work smarter. Finally we had a Facebook expert talk to us about different stages of the marketing funnel and how to strategize according to which part you want to focus on.
Marketing funnel basics
And then, finally, the wait was over and it was time for us to get our hands dirty. One thing that had become clear that usually nobody can be a truly masterful and up-to-date expert in all of these fields we had covered. So we were asked what kind of work seemed more interesting to us to try during the academy – Facebook ads, Bing ads, writing scripts, working with Google Analytics, creating accounts from scratch, creating different types of Google Ads campaigns, auditing existing accounts, but mostly optimizing, optimizing, and don’t forget optimizing…
Optimizing skills are something you can truly acquire with practice, and most of the things we had discussed earlier only started making sense once we were working on real accounts. We had a bunch of different materials and recommendations to guide us, but really, every account has its own needs and special circumstances. Although some aspects of optimizing are becoming more easily automated every day, this is one part of the job that boils down to experience.As many of the team members at ePPC expressed, it takes time and persistence to start to understand this hugely complicated system in order to feel confident with every decision.
Time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana
After all was said and done, all of the participants felt very appreciative about their experience. The trainings were centered around concentrated knowledge about what really matters when doing digital performance marketing for real businesses and felt very practical. Speaking of feelings, the free and relaxed atmosphere and flat hierarchy in the office made everyone feel at ease to ask questions and get to know everyone right from the start. The flexibility of the internship working hours and the type of work we wanted to focus on was also something everyone was very grateful for. And when the numbers didn’t seem to make any sense and the spreadsheets were becoming overwhelming, the office puppy Nacho helped everyone chill out and take a well-deserved break.
ePPC office puppy Nacho with newbies AP and Marianne
Even though in the end, we were still newbies, thanks to the Summer Academy, we had some understanding what it means to actually work in digital marketing and how much more we can still learn.
Chief of Napping Department – our office puppy Nacho
Here, I’ll introduce some of the ideas and innovations that I heard about at the Retail at Google 2018 event. The first part gave a wider look on retail trends but coming to the second day of the event, it’s all about putting ideas into practice and improving your Google AdWords marketing strategy.
Google has lately been pushing their AI and automation based features. And for a good reason – In the last year Google’s automated strategies on AdWords have really improved thanks to machine learning. With the right setup, automation can get you more sales right where you need it. It allows you to take advantage of user-signals that only algorithms have access to. If you want to go in depth into AdWords automation, you can read more here. There, you can find some tips on how to implement smart bidding on your campaigns.
P.S. Automation is now available for Shopping campaigns as well!
One offer from Google ties in nicely with the theme of the event – omnichannel marketing. In 2018-2019, they’re releasing the new Google Attribution, which tracks sales across channels. You will be able to see in Analytics, how much different channels have contributed to the final sale. The importance of each channel is calculated based on its impact on conversion rates (how much more likely a sale is when the ad channel is part of the customer journey). This will help you evaluate even better than before, how much you should invest in each category.
Right now, you can track sales across campaigns and keywords in AdWords by choosing a different attribution models (instead of the default “last-click”). It makes sense for those accounts, where it often takes more than one click to decide to buy. By choosing one of these options, you can get a view of not just the last touch-point, but also the earlier moments, where your ads were assisting the customer to find your products.
Data driven attribution (DDA) is part of Google’s automated strategies and uses machine learning to know how much weight is to be given to each keyword on assisting the sale. To use it, the account needs at least 600 conversions/sales per month.
If your account doesn’t have that many conversions, the Google team suggested using these two types of attribution:
Use position-based attribution if you’re expanding (giving the most importance to first and last click).
If you’re an established brand, they advised to use time-decay attribution (which gives the most importance to clicks on ads that are made more recently).
Retail at Google 2018 second day – The practical breakout sessions
Tracking offline store visits
Another thing that was discussed, was how to get your online ads to bring more offline sales. For example, Google AdWords shopping campaigns can be effective in bringing store visits. The most important, though, is to be visible when someone searches for “stores open” or any kind of specific product to buy in a physical location. For this, use location extensions in your Google search ads to make sure that users find you!
Showing location extensions is especially important around the Holiday season, when the Holiday online ordering has calmed down because of the delivery cut off
Why are online ads for offline stores so effective?
It’s all about the customer wanting the best possible option. If they have done the research online already, and seen the different options and prices, there is a higher chance of them buying something when they walk into the store.
Still, how can you tell if there has been a positive effect from your online ads – how to measure it?
Set up store visits tracking, you can see how many people who saw the ad visited your store (set-up guide). From the store visits you can then calculate an estimate of how much revenue the ads have brought in. This feature is available for accounts with multiple stores and high traffic volumes.
This year, Google launched an advanced version of store visits tracking called Store Sales Direct. It allows you track real sales that come from ad clicks or impressions and and see how many website visitors went to your offline store. This needs a more advanced setup and validation, and some shops are already using it successfully by combining Google’s measurements with data from their loyalty card uses. Check out here how to set it up!
Google Lens for Shopping
As well as now having automated strategies available for your Google Shopping campaigns, there’s another nifty feature available. Google Lens users have the possibility of taking a picture of a thing they like, let’s say a dress, and use it for looking up similar dresses to buy. If you have your products show up on Google’s Style Match, for now, you don’t even have to pay for someone to click on them.
How to get your Business on Google Assistant
The last presentation I saw at the event was on how to get your brand on Google Assistant. This was maybe the most exciting thing for me because in a few years, I believe, the way people search might look very different. I imagine that we’ll get used to interacting with our devices in a more personal way. Google Assistant uses the data from your online presence, your calendar and whatever else you share, and it answers your questions in a more personal way than regular search. It can also be used to make bookings or buy things.
The cool thing for advertisers is – you can have your own “assistant” as part of Google Assistant, who the users can communicate with directly. By making yourself available in this way, you can increase the chance that a consumer will want to take advantage of what you offer. Also, you can create a personality for your brand and strengthen the personal touch.
Sad news is, this feature is still only available in the US. But this means that us in the rest of the world can already start planning for it and get on the Assistant with a full plan as it’s launched.
Click on “Start Building” or “Go to Actions Console”
You’ll have to sign up with your Google account
From there, the easiest option is to use a template (trivia, personality quiz or flash cards)
If you wish to create something more complex, build your own custom action, using Dialogflow (step-by-step guide)!
Tips and examples:
Think about which voice you want to use – there’s also the possibility of using your own voice actor to have a unique personality for your brand
Some companies have used it to show a selection of products to buy or make a booking more conveniently
Think about which name you choose for your brand. United Airlines, for example, uses “United” and users can connect by saying/typing “Talk to United”. There are still a lot of names up for grabs, so take your spot as soon as you can! (no one can use your registered trademark, though)
Extra: other options for Google Assistant
The second way of getting on Google Assistant (GA) is through Shopping Actions. It’s another U.S.-based feature extended to shopping through GA, Google Express and Google Search results (yep, it’s all U.S. based but might become global one day soon). Users can shop directly through these channels when they have added their credit card details to their Google account. To get on the programme, you need to fill in an interest form – by March 2018 thousands of retailers had applied and 40 were already using it.
There’s a third way as well. In the U.S., once again, there GA connects people with local services such as plumbers, locksmiths and electricians. To get your service up there, you need to be listed as a qualified provider on Local Services by Google, HomeAdvisor or Porch.
As you can see from all the possibilities, Google is developing it’s channels in very varied directions and they’re certainly ready to innovate. The question now is, are you prepared for the future? What can you use that will give you the edge in your specific way and help win more customers?
Reporting from the Retail at Google event: Learn what the experts said and set up your strategy for the future!
The event venue at Google’s Gordon House in Dublin – The Foundry
It’s time to take a step back, look at the big picture and see where digital marketing fits in among future retail industry trends. Here, I’ll take you through 3 parts of what I saw and heard:
The big challenges for retail and how to tackle them
The experts and their ideas for the future of retail
Retail marketing trends in 2018 with examples of what’s happening and inspiration from the event
For a more practical guide to Google’s latest marketing innovations, check out part 2.
Omnichannel and harmonised commerce
The key challenge for retailers is the changing landscape of how people shop. There has been some fear of ecommerce totally taking over and smothering physical shops. But this is not entirely true. As Steve Dennis brought out in his presentation, the growth of physical shops is simply overshadowed by the more rapid growth of digital commerce. True, there are shops closing down, but offline retail is still slowly growing year by year.
The trick here is to make the best of both worlds. Brands that have adapted to changes and embraced whatever channels their customers use, have kept on growing despite fluctuations. Here’s where we come to the term “omni-channel” marketing. This was the central theme of many of the talks at the Retail at Google event. One of the presenters, though, was making the point that omni-channel wasn’t the best term. He preferred to use “harmonised” commerce as the goal isn’t to be “omnipresent” but to choose the right places according to where your customers are.
What is omnichannel:
Not focusing solely on any one channel (digital/physical shops, phone/email/search/display/social marketing), but being “channel agnostic”
Being where your customer is and assisting them in buying your product every step of the way – “the customer is the channel”
Innovating the seminar format – virtual reality instead of PowerPoint
The experts and their ideas for the future of retail
Steve Dennis – President of SageBerry / Forbes retail contributor
Key point: Get out of the middle!
He urged retailers to go either for low-priced and super-convenient or super-lux, customised and/or experiential. And with Amazon dominating prices and convenience, he focused his talk on the latter option.
Vanessa Hartley – Director of Retail and Agency at Google
Key point: Customers don’t want millions of choices
She talked about how our customers want the most personalised solution at the precise moment and context where they need it – and how Google’s solutions can help with that.
Robert Hah – Managing Director at Accenture Strategy
Key point: Keep an eye on the Asia Pacific (APAC)
Hah stressed that APAC is often overlooked by retailers in other regions. But the changes in APAC will influence markets in North-America and Europe as well. It’s especially important as you’re trying to take the next steps in digital marketing: „EMEA can learn from the APAC retail landscape which has undergone drastic digital evolution.“
Melanie Schlegel – Head of Search at Otto
Key point: Be brave and make changes
Otto is an iconic German company that started with selling through catalogues. Now they have been going through big changes and embracing automated strategies that Google offers. Their focus has turned to digital marketing – they finally decided to ditch the iconic catalogue! All that has been helped along by improving the company’s inner culture and considering the opinions of all generations that work in the company.
Aleksander Due-Rasmussen – E-commerce director at Sportmaster
Key point: Omni-channel is the key
Denmark’s Sportsmaster has worked on innovating, taking inspiration from others and embracing brave partnerships. On the panel discussion, the presenters were talking of how sometimes you can’t be too afraid of partnering up with your possible competitors because you can lose out on a great opportunity. Sportsmaster’s partnership with Nike is an example of the complexity of teaming up with a potential future competitor.
Some thought the panel discussion was a bit lacking in discussion – Still, a good recap of the all the presentation topics
Examples of new trends in retail
The coolest part of the event was the plethora of examples given to illustrate the opportunities. I’ll share some of them here with you.
Augmented reality for retail
One way for getting out of the middle in the retail landscape is keeping up with the latest technologies and seizing moments when they could work for you. AR for retail is still in early stages of development and it’s interesting to see where it will be taking us. Here are a few ideas that have been put into practice thus far:
Smart mirror in Neiman Marcus stores records a video while you stand in front of it. You can play back how clothing looks like from the back and also see it in different colours without having to change. There’s also Ebay’s interactive mirror in Rebecca Minkoff’s store, which suggests different accessories to go with clothing that the person has in the fitting room and offers other features that help the customer experience.
Testing out Google’s magic mirror photobooth
You can also see your product in context with special apps. For example, Otto has an app which can be used to point your camera at your room and see how furniture would look like in it.
Google Lens also has a cool feature Style Match where you can point your camera at something you like and it finds you similar items (clothes of furniture) to shop for on Google Shopping.
The most outlandish example they talked about was a Uniqlo shop in Australia, where they set up a system for measuring customers’ brain waves to choose them the perfect T-shirts. It works by attaching a headset to the person and showing them videos and images. The machine measures the person’s brain waves in response to what they’re seeing, trying to assess their mood. Based on this, it recommends a T-shirt!
The benefits: You can use the technologies to assist the customer’s buying process and give them an extra reason to prefer your stores. The downside: It’s expensive and might not work for everyone. You need a good strategy to make the developments worth it and bring enough ROI.
Online retailers creating physical stores
Robert Hah showing us a video of how customers interact with products in Hema
Talking about the APAC as a frontrunner in retail future, let’s look at what the ecommerce giant Alibaba has done. Hema supermarket is the physical location for Alibaba. It’s not just your regular supermarket but offers 3 benefits to the customer:
The AR experience – there, you use China’s most popular app Wechat to buy and scan products to get info & recommendations.
The stores also act as a distribution system, allowing Alibaba’s products to be delivered in 30 minutes
People really spend time and like hanging out in the store with friends and family – there’s also a possibility to hand the freshly bought produce to in-store cooks and have a meal there
Amazon Go stores on the other hand focus solely on efficiency – you don’t even have to check out. You scan a personal QR code at the entrance, and the sophisticated camera system tracks how you shop, charging your credit card automatically at exit.
The question here is: do you want to focus only on efficiency and speed or give the visitors extra enjoyment in the shopping process. I guess it depends on the customer type, but something to consider in any case.
Curated choices in retail
Retailers are realising that a more personal approach works. Just like on Netflix & YouTube, on retail sites such as Zalando or Sportmaster, machine learning helps to show visitors more personalised products each time they visit, based on their previous activity.
Another trick is to offer suggestions of items that fit together. Let’s say a person is looking at a shirt – the site can show them accessories and other clothing to go with it.
Offline shops are evolving as well. Shops like Story show only one collection at a time. This type of shop acts more like an inspiration or magazine, changing displays each few weeks, and offering the products for sale online
Service offers at shops
Another idea is to take advantage of the local aspect of an offline store. Why not give the people an extra reason to come to your shop by partnering up with someone that offers a service that could be complement your products.
The first learning from the event is to take inspiration from what others are doing. There’s a lot of innovation going on and retailers are trying to push the boundaries. But this is still a period of experimentation and there are no rules set in stone when it comes to combining online and offline stores, or the digital and the physical in retail.
Omni-channel marketing has been a buzzword for some time now (one of the presenters honestly said that he’s tired of it) – but that doesn’t mean that it’s fully developed. This is an exciting time when new ideas can lead to business success. All it takes is to:
be attentive and take what you can from others,
be inventive and create something new with the possibilities available and,
be brave and experiment without the certainty of success.
Another lesson is about sharing and partnerships. Google invited their partners – retailers and agencies – to the event to get a chance to exchange knowledge (as well as promote Google’s products). It’s a great environment where the people who work on very specific accounts each day got a real opportunity to step back and discuss. This event is also a great stepping stone for bringing in innovations to your company. The event definitely gave me more courage and ideas to share, and overall a wider outlook. It’s important not to get stuck in one channel, even if it’s your main focus.
On May 8, ePPC took part in a Google automation and scripts workshop in Tallinn. The event was held at a cool startup community space called Lift99. Here, I’ll share some of the ideas that the Google guests encouraged to implement and also comment based on our agency’s experience with machine learning and AdWords scripts. Let’s start with automation.
The first speaker was Sebastian Kerth from Google’s Hamburg office. His talk centered on insights into using automated bidding strategies. He started by saying how Google’s strategy has lately moved on from mobile first to AI first. Talking about his experience with clients in Germany, he drafted ideas of how AdWords agencies’ work focus could change over the coming years – from campaign management to more time spent on strategy and more creative-conceptual work.
Thanks to machine learning, Google’s smart bidding has jumped in efficiency in the past 12 months. Clients are seeing that automation can really boost their performance. At ePPC, we’ve also seen that it has become more efficient recently (for some accounts), but there’s a few downsides and conditions, which I’ll go into later.
How AdWords smart bidding works
The main feature that machine learning can bring to the table is its ability to analyse more data and bid based on each single query. There are about 250 signals with more than 30 million combinations for each search that can be analysed for better performance. Smart bidding takes into account the past performance data for these different signals and finds the patterns that emerge. This way, it can better predict which searches are more likely to bring a conversion.
The data is analysed on a temporal basis, giving the most importance to the last 7 days and less to earlier data. This is useful but can also cause problems. For example, if your campaigns have been paused for more than a week or two, it’s better to start them off again with manual or enhanced CPC bidding. Continuing with target cost-per-acquisition (tCPA) or target return on ad spend (tROAS) can result in higher CPAs and lower performance after the break.
We also met with some dogs at the event (pic by event organisers)
What is changing and how you can use it:
Mobile and generic searches are increasing rapidly – automated strategies and data-driven attribution can help turn these searches into potential conversions.
Google’s automated system for ad optimisation has grown smarter and they advise not to pause low-performing ads any more. The more ads, the better. Ads can vary in efficiency depending on the specific query. As the speaker said: „There is a specific ad for any specific user.“ And AdWords helps you find the optimal combination.
When implementing smart bidding, the account can benefit from a different structure than the manual approach. For machine learning to have more data, a less granular structure is advised. The point is to feed as much info that we can into one campaign or ad group. This means having more ads in an ad group, having more keywords in a campaign, feeding audience list data to all campaigns, using ad customisers, and so on.
Audience lists now automatically bid also based on recency and demographic data. You don’t have to make separate audiences based on these factors any more.
When implementing smart bidding, it’s important to keep in mind that it’s not perfect for all accounts in all campaigns and all situations:
The smart bidding strategy is still vulnerable to unexpected seasonality, and account changes, since it always has a learning period whenever a change is made.
You might have too few conversions for the machine learning to even detect any patterns.
Adding micro-conversions which you think are vital to achieving the final sale can alleviate the lack of conversion data.
Merging low-conversion campaigns into one campaign can also give you more data for the automation to do its thing.
Instead of merging campaigns, you can also try portfolio strategies – all campaigns under the same portfolio can learn from each other. Here, you need to have campaigns with similar performance.
Use AdWords drafts & experiments to test which bidding strategies work best for your campaigns.
The opportunities that automation offers have to be used with care. Skillful analysis of the results is necessary when using any type of bidding strategies. Doubts remain but as the algorithms are getting smarter, we definitely suggest to try out smart bidding, even if it hasn’t worked for you in earlier times. It’s not perfect but it has great potential to get a competitive edge if you learn to make it work for your accounts.
(pic by event organisers)
Part 2: AdWords Scripts
Where to use scripts
The second speaker, also from Google’s Hamburg office, was Urs Enke. He gave an overview of how AdWords scripts can be used to improve the workflow. There are three big advantages: they can save us time, they can provide opportunities that would be too difficult to do manually and they can improve on the possibilities that the AdWords interface offers with more custom solutions.
The speaker brought out the most common uses for AdWords scripts:
Changing target URLs
Customized reporting – Export chosen data straight to Google Sheets, Slides or Docs.
Account alerts – You can customize alerts so that you get the most important things to your email or even sent by SMS.
Automated fixes/sanitisation – Resolve keywords conflicts, for example.
Changes based on external data
The presentation included a table where you can check in which case it’s good to use scripts or other AdWords tools:
Our agency uses scripts mainly for creating custom reports and alerts. For example, we use automatically updated budget sheets. There’re also other solutions, such as getting external data for automated bid adjustments. One favourite example that the presenter brought out was using weather data to change your campaigns. First, it requires a situation where you know that weather affects user behaviour. These kinds of insights are great to put into action and we have done it as well.
Photo by Tobi from Pexels
For advertising windshield repair shop, we used weather based bid modifiers in different cities, to raise the bids up to 30%. Our client knew that when it’s sunny, the windshield cracks become much more visible and people are more likely to come to repair them. And surely, the bid changes improved the account performance overall.
Enke also brought out some of the limitations of scripts and how to overcome them. First, there is a time limit to how long the script can run (1h). This can be annoying if you wish to make changes in a lot of accounts with one script.
A workaround is to parallelise account processing, so that the script runs in different accounts simultaneously. The limit is 50 things in parallel. If there’s over 50 you need to get through, you can label the accounts and do it in different batches (1st script runs the 1st batch and another after that). This will get complicated if you have a large account with thousands of ads and keywords.
There’s also a limit for the over-eager script-maker, which is 250 scripts per user. But that isn’t a big problem, since the limit is pretty high.
An alternative to scripts is doing all of those things through the AdWords API but that’s already more complex and requires more programming skills.
Where to start
We got a quick introduction into how script-creation works, as well. Here’s how it looks in the AdWords interface:
Screenshot of AdWords interface script editor
There are also loads of pre-made scripts available on the web for copy-pasting into your accounts. But you should be careful with this, since the script has to be trustworthy. One way is to make sure that you understand what all the parts of the script actually do. But there are also lists of scripts that you can be sure are reliable (Google pre-made scripts list).
The funny thing is that you can even set up scripts that take external data and use it for reporting that has nothing to do with AdWords. There are so many options to play around with. So, why not try it out!
Many of you will have heard that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg had to give answers in the US senate on April 10. I got curious – is there anything that will change for advertisers now that Facebook is under public scrutiny?
The company has recently announced 2 changes which will affect advertisers and how they can target people with ads. Despite the timing, Facebook said that these changes aren’t caused by the Cambridge Analytica scandal but a continued improvement of their privacy protection efforts. After all, the GDPR regulations are coming into effect this year, as well.
Here are the changes:
When uploading custom audience lists to Facebook, you will have to confirm that you have user consent
This is the first step for Facebook in ensuring that the data for custom audience creation is responsibly sourced. For now, the new tool is still in construction and it remains unknown how complex the confirmation will be for advertisers. However, when uploading an email list to Facebook for ad targeting, make sure the people in the list have confirmed that they are OK with the info being used for advertising purposes.
Users can already see which advertisers upload lists with their contact info
Partner Categories will be phased out from Facebook targeting options
Currently, in the US, the UK, France and a few other countries, about half of the targeting categories are sourced from third-party data-mining companies. These targeting options are based on data gathered outside Facebook and anonymously used for creating certain audiences (such as, people in households likely to buy a type of car in the next 180 days). The phasing out will be completed worldwide on October 1, and May 25 in the EU, making it compliant to the new GDPR regulations. It is still unclear, though, what alternative options Facebook will provide the advertiser community.
Screenshot of Facebook third-party targeting offer
How do third-party targeting criteria work?
Third party data providers such as Datalogix, Epsilon, Acxiom, and BlueKai are also called data brokers. They compile offline and online data about individuals, things available in public records and information they buy from retailers, apps and other sources that people have given their data to.
If a supermarket tracks your shopping habits through a loyalty card, the data can potentially end up at the hands of one of these companies (this can be restricted by the laws and regulations of your region). The company sells the info to Facebook, the data itself being anonymous but still possible to be linked back to individuals in the advertising process. Facebook third party data targeting has so far been available in the US, France, Germany, Brazil, the UK, Australia and Japan.
Advertisers see this as targeting criteria: based on shopping habits, education or even household income. No-one really knows the personal details of who they are targeting, they just use these criteria and see how many people the ad reached, how many engaged with the ad, how many bought the product, etc. The result may be that you see an ad selling you a car just at the moment when you were looking for one, and then wonder “how the hell did they know?”
Making privacy settings more visible
There’s a third change as well, but it affects advertisers indirectly. Facebook is making it easier for users to see what data is collected about them, rolling out a new look for the settings page. This is just a small cosmetic change but it’s part of the company’s response to the concern over privacy.
Lately, there has been a surge of articles on how and which kind of data is collected. Advertisers are affected, as well. As everyone becomes more aware, the overall dynamics of online advertising can evolve. Instead of cultivating passive receivers of info, the online world has always provided ways of engaged interaction. This will continue to challenge advertisers in the future, as they have to build relationships of trust with the users.
Here’s a few tips for managing your personal Facebook data settings:
Go to your settings page.
Under Ad preferences you can manage advertisers who have uploaded lists to Facebook that include your contact info.
There, you can also see your own interests (which can be insightful or inaccurate). My interests include, for example, a small province in Argentina I’ve actually never heard of.
From Ad settings there are 3 options that you can opt in to or out of:
Ads based on your use of websites and apps
Ads on apps and websites off Facebook
Ads with your social actions (if you’ve liked a page, your profile pic and name can appear with the ad)
Also, from the settings page you can check out “apps and websites”. See which apps you’ve agreed to share your data with and manage them.
Since I started work in PPC marketing, I’ve learned a lot about how information is collected, stored and used by online platforms. It has demystified the whole system for me as a user and I’ve chosen to opt out from a few things myself (like Facebook showing my profile picture to my friends when a page I like posts an ad).
That’s why I’m happy for any changes that make the user experience more transparent and give more control over to users. I hope that in light of the recent scandal and the GDPR regulations, Facebook and other companies will work harder to make their users safe. I think that as advertisers, we can benefit from users gaining more knowledge and control, as it helps us build better relationships with our clients through ads.
*Update 26.04.2018: Facebook has also suspended the creation of new chatbots on their site while they are reviewing their policies and making changes
For a more detailed account of the upcoming Facebook changes, read these articles: