Tag Archives: Google

From algo to aggro: How SEOs really feel about Google algorithm updates

As SEOs working in the weeds with our clients each day, it can sometimes be hard to truly see how major Google algorithm updates affect our industry as a whole. Sure, we can perform test after test to see how our clients are affected, but what about the poor account manager or technical SEO director who has to put in the extra work and placate potentially panicked and frustrated clients? How are they personally affected?

BrightLocal (my employer) anonymously polled 650 SEO professionals recently on this very subject, asking them a host of questions about how algorithm updates impact their workload, their client relationships and their job satisfaction. Below, I’ll go over some of the startling results from our survey, “The Human Impact of Google Algorithm Updates.”

Google update? What Google update?

First, and almost most alarmingly, 36 percent of respondents couldn’t say whether their business or their clients’ businesses have ever been impacted by a Google algorithm update. This should come as a shock — although this isn’t necessarily Day 1 SEO Stuff, it’s certainly Week 1 SEO Stuff.

The high percentage shown here suggests that either Google needs to better communicate the potential effects of an algorithm change (we can dream, right?) and/or SEOs and in-house marketers need to do more to stay on top of updates and investigate whether their clients have been affected by them.

‘And how does that make you feel?’

Of the significant 44 percent who said their business or their clients’ had been affected by algorithm changes, 26 percent say they struggle to know how to react, and 25 percent get stressed when updates happen. (Note: For this question, respondents were able to select multiple answers.) However, on the flip side, an encouraging 58 percent either don’t get worried about updates or are actually excited by the challenge.

It’s perfectly natural for different types of people at different levels of experience to have differing reactions to potentially stressful situations, but 26 percent of respondents say they don’t even know how to react. This means that all the content you put out immediately after a Google update — whether to cash in on suddenly popular “what just happened to the Google algorithm” keywords or to genuinely help SEOs serve their clients better (we’re hoping it’s the latter) — isn’t reaching everyone.

At this point in the Google updates timeline, we should all, as content creators and content readers, be better versed in learning how to react after a Google update.

The penultimate straw

For many, it seems, the camel’s back can very nearly be broken by a surprise Google update. Just over a quarter of respondents said they’d considered leaving the SEO industry because of algorithm updates but ultimately decided to stick around.

It’s worth taking a step back next time an update hits. Take a look around your agency — are your SEO staff or colleagues ready to break? It takes strong leadership and a solid bedrock of skills for an SEO agency to bounce back from a big update, so make sure your best SEOs are made of the right stuff to prepare them for the worst — and, as we’ll see now, it gets bad.

How to lose clients and alienate Google

Nearly a third of respondents who said that Google updates had had an effect on business actually lost clients as a result.

But it’s not all bad news. Twenty-six percent won clients, 23 percent saw the opportunity to grow their work with existing clients, and 29 percent of respondents noticed no change after the update. So there’s quite a lot of positivity to be found here, especially considering respondents were able to choose multiple answers (which could mean that respondents both won and lost clients because of Google updates).

What this ultimately means is that what happens after a Google update is up to you. You can’t point at the above chart and say, “Well, everyone loses clients after a Google update,” because they don’t. The range of responses shows just how much is at stake when an update hits, but it also shows the huge opportunities available to those agencies that communicate with their existing clients quickly and knowledgeably, carefully managing expectations along the way, while also keeping their eye out for businesses who have taken a beating in rankings/traffic and are looking for help.

The client-agency relationship

One final point the survey touched on was the client-agency relationship and how it can be affected by Google updates. A majority agreed that updates make clients more dependent on agencies. (Who knew it? It turns out that every time Google released an algorithm update, they were doing SEOs a favor all along!)

However, with that extra dependency comes extra scrutiny, as seen by the 31 percent of respondents who feel that Google updates lead to clients distrusting agencies. The wisest SEOs in this particular situation are the ones going into client update meetings with clear, transparent overviews of what the client’s money or their time is being spent on, and simplified (but not necessarily simple) explanations of the ramifications of the Google update.

And for the 28 percent who said that Google updates make clients consider changing agency? Well, I hope you do better next time!

What is the first thing you do when an algorithm update happens?

Before I leave you to stew on all that data and start pre-packing your next Google Update Emergency Go-Bag, here are some of the qualitative responses we received to one particular question in the survey, “What is the first thing you do when an algorithm update happens?” May these serve to remind you that whatever happens, no SEO is alone:

The data-divers

“Run ranking reports on all clients.”“Review all the sites that are affected and determine what they have in common. That gives me a starting point as to what has changed.”“Determine which high-volume pages are most impacted, then review existing SEO to try to uncover anything that might be the cause of the traffic from an on-page or technical SEO perspective.”

The researchers

“Read the posts on it to find out what happened and how to react.”“Figure out how I need to change my strategy.”“The first thing I do is research to find out what has been impacted. Next, I inform my team of what to expect from incoming client calls. Following that, I write an article for our blog to include our clients in on the updates.”“Read, read, read everything I can get my hands on.”“Read and study. Then work to fix it.”“Check forums/respected sites to find out as much information as possible.”“Get educated.”“Read as much as I can on what happened/what was affected, then find what it did to my websites/keyword rankings, then rebuild and re-conquer.”“Start reading news releases and blogs from highly respected SEO professionals to try to figure out the changes.”

The vice users

“Grab an adult beverage (or two).”“Drink coffee.”“Smoke a cigarette.”“Go for a few beers.”“Take a Xanax.”

The waiters

“Wait a few weeks while watching the SERPs.”“Nothing, I wait for the algorithm to normalize. I take a look at websites that drop, and websites that increase in rankings. I then compare and contrast my clients’ sites to those. Once I have better understanding of how the algorithm affects sites, I will adjust the strategy.”“Just ignore it for a couple weeks then make adjustments.”

The communicators

“Check for confirmation of update. Assess impact. Communicate with affected clients.”“Share the news with my team and engage them in coming up with a plan.”

 The extremes

“Prepare for the s***-storm ahead.”“Freak out.”“Cry.”

The one person who was actually positive about it

“Celebrate the new consulting opportunities that will result.”

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

Eric Schmidt stepping down as Executive Chairman of Google parent company, Alphabet

Alphabet announced today that Eric Schmidt, the top executive at the company since 2001, is moving out of his role as the Executive Chairman of the Board and will instead remain on the board as a technical advisor.

From the press release:

“Since 2001, Eric has provided us with business and engineering expertise and a clear vision about the future of technology,” said Larry Page, CEO of Alphabet. “Continuing his 17 years of service to the company, he’ll now be helping us as a technical advisor on science and technology issues. I’m incredibly excited about the progress our companies are making, and about the strong leaders who are driving that innovation.”

“Larry, Sergey, Sundar and I all believe that the time is right in Alphabet’s evolution for this transition. The Alphabet structure is working well, and Google and the Other Bets are thriving,” said Eric Schmidt. “In recent years, I’ve been spending a lot of my time on science and technology issues, and philanthropy, and I plan to expand that work.”

No indication of who will replace Schmidt, but the release notes that the Board will appoint a non-executive chairman.

What you learn from talking with Google’s largest advertisers all day, every day

There’s a position at Google called “Chief Search Evangelist.” It’s evolved in the years since Fred Vallaeys filled that role, now focusing on meeting with our advertisers in person when they come to visit Google on-site. I think my job is pretty cool, but I must admit that the idea of talking search ads day-in, day-out with people at the cutting edge of their craft makes me more than a bit jealous. Nicolas Darveau-Garneau, who currently fills the role of Chief Search Evangelist, is the man whose job turns me a light shade of green with professional envy.

I learn so much every time I talk with Nick, so I thought it would be fun to sit him down and pick his brain about all of those meetings he gets to have. Here’s an edited transcript of the wide-ranging conversation we had recently about automation, growth, keywords and more.

Nicolas Darveau-Garneau, Chief Search Evangelist at Google

Lawson: What are the biggest trends that you’ve noticed when talking with top AdWords marketers?

Nick Darveau-Garneau (NDG): The best in the business have really figured out how to use automation and machine learning. Managing a search campaign should be partially automated these days, and there’s so much value you can unlock when you’re strategic about using automation. I’ve seen the most success here when people have a clear strategy, focusing on user experience and personalized marketing. Then they leave a lot of the detailed stuff to automation.

I consider this setup to be “semi-automated marketing.” Set the right KPIs, then let the machines do most of the work. You don’t need to worry about the results of individual tactics or specific keywords anymore. In fact, I see automated tools like Dynamic Search Campaigns and Smart Bidding largely outperforming manual optimizations.


Lawson: Semi-automated marketing. I like that. What does that look like in practice?

NDG: A lot of it is straightforward work that I already imagine people are doing. Smart Bidding (Target CPA and Target ROAS, in particular), Data-Driven Attribution, Dynamic Search Ads. And they work well together, so use them all.

I’ve also seen plenty of companies have success by buying into automation with their ads. The faster people realize that ad testing is a thing of the past, the better off they’ll be. Optimize your ad rotation, enable as many extensions as you can, and add a bunch of ads to your ad groups. Using optimized rotation uses the most appealing ad at the time of each auction, for each individual customer. I know you wrote about this recently on Search Engine Land, so just add that link and tell people to read it.

Bottom line: Use the entire search machine learning stack together.


Lawson: One of the more controversial things I’ve heard you talk about before is keyword selection. What’s your preferred method?

NDG: I don’t think my opinion should even be considered controversial. Once you believe in machine learning like I do, I think it’s easy to believe in this. And it’s simple, really: Buy all the relevant keywords.


Lawson: All of them?

NDG: Yep. All of them. Look, there’s no need to carefully select our keywords anymore. The machine will automatically figure out which of those work for us. I mean, when you’re using Smart Bidding, you’re already setting bids on a query-by-query basis. If that query sees OK performance, the algorithm will set OK bids. If that query works great, you’ll set very competitive bids. And if one query doesn’t work that often, the bids will be set accordingly. That even includes cases where your bids are so low as to effectively pause that keyword. If things change, think [about] your conversion rates or even the competition on that keyword/query, then you’re eligible to try out that auction again.

Some advertisers are also being more aggressive and use a lot more broad match because Smart Bidding sets bids at the query level, not the ad group level.


Lawson: And Smart Bidding isn’t the only tool to use with your keywords. You’re a big believer in audience targeting, too, right?

NDG: Oh, absolutely. It works really well. You want to power all of that bidding with your most important audience signals. Smart Bidding considers your audience lists, so feed those lists into your campaigns. You can stop worrying about bid modifiers, as Smart Bidding looks at audience along with a ton of other stuff. Just like ad testing is outdated, audience bid adjustments are irrelevant if you’re using Smart Bidding.


Lawson: There’s that semi-automated marketing again. As people get used to handing some control over to the machine, what are the things they should pay special attention to?

NDG: I mentioned the strategic stuff like customer experience already, and that’s incredibly important. Really focus on improving the customer experience. The most successful advertisers have high conversion rates relative to their competitors. Stay ahead of the pack by using tools like AMP for AdWords, parallel tracking, one-click signup and one-click buy. The better your conversion rate, the higher your ceiling as a marketer.

Something else I think is important is KPIs. One of the key issues that differentiates top advertisers is the KPIs they select. It’s almost like an evolutionary scale. You might start with doing what you can on a fixed budget, then you graduate to a CPA target, then you evolve to a sales ROAS and eventually a profit-margin ROAS. And the ideal final state is cash flow based on lifetime value.

Once you’ve got the right KPIs in place, and once you’re measuring those KPIs effectively, there’s really no limit to what you can do.


Lawson: You mentioned measuring KPIs effectively. What does that look like?

NDG: It’s about data. The best way to improve your account is to understand its performance as fully as possible, so share data with your agencies and platforms as much as possible. Smart Bidding gets better as it understands the value and life cycle of your conversions as completely as possible.

Many advertisers start with simple conversion data, and from there they evolve to revenue-based conversions. And that’s true even if you’re selling something with a long sales cycle. The next level up involves sharing your margin-per-conversion. Revenue is great, but revenue doesn’t consider your bottom line. You want to be as profitable as possible, which is why I love when advertisers talk to us about margin. Finally, the cream of the measurement crop has started forecasting lifetime value of their customers. With those forecasts, they can optimize toward profitability farther out in the future than that one short-term sale.


Lawson: I know you’ve talked about profitability with customers a whole lot in the past. What’s the focus of those conversations?

NDG: It’s growth. Focus on growth. Don’t obsess over a low CPA or a high ROAS. Look at your business as a whole and see if you’re more profitable today than you were yesterday. Think of it this way: You can get 10 conversions at a $10 CPA, or you can get 15 conversions at a $20 CPA. You might be making more money at the higher CPA. Can we add a chart to this interview? Is that possible? (Note: here’s a re-creation of what NDG drew on the board.)

CPAConversionsMarketing CostMargin (@$50/conv.)ProfitCPA goal$1010$100$500$400Profit goal$2015$300$750$450

This is a super simple example, but for me, I take the second option every time. It’s only $50 more profit. But if you’re not willing to take that $50, you need to change your approach. Because once you get that extra $50, you’ll get into the mentality of how to get the next $50. And the next and the next.


Lawson: That makes sense, but not every conversion is worth the same.  How do you think about that?

NDG: That’s when forecasting LTV (lifetime value) comes into play.  Companies who can forecast the LTV of each customer they acquire at or near the time of acquisition significantly outperform their peers. Imagine being able to forecast the three-to-five-year cash flow of every new customer you acquire with good accuracy and setting your marketing KPI for customer acquisition as a percentage of that profitability. You’ll be investing something like $100 to acquire a customer worth $1,000 and $300 for a customer worth $3,000. By bidding higher for better customers, these advertisers get a much higher percentage of these top customers.


Lawson: I know you’ve got to take off to a summit. Any parting words for anybody who reads this?

NDG: Relax. Once you get comfortable navigating the world of semi-automation, you have to resist the temptation to micromanage. Hundreds or even thousands of small decisions were just removed from your plate, so you now have more time to think about the big, important items. Strategy, user experience, how to focus on being a marketer.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

PPC 2017: Epic review of the biggest trends & updates in paid search

As 2017 draws to a close, let’s take a moment to catch our breaths and look back at the whirlwind that was PPC in 2017.

There wasn’t a big change that dominated the landscape like enhanced campaigns of 2013 or expanded text ads of 2016, but multiple trends created an atmosphere of constant, incremental change this year. However, if we were to dub 2017 the year of something in search marketing, it would clearly be the year of the machine. While machine learning and other forms of artificial intelligence aren’t new to search marketing, their use became pervasive in 2017.

Here’s a look back at the big developments and key trends that happened in PPC in 2017 that will continue to inform and influence our work in 2018.

Finally past the year of mobile, this was the year of AI in search

Sure, there is still work to do in improving mobile experiences and conversion rates, and we’ll continue to see Google, in particular, push its initiatives in this area: AMP for ads and landing pages, Purchases on Google and more. This year, the big shift was the extent to which machine learning and other forms of artificial intelligence permeated all things search.

Here are eight highlights of ways the search engines ingrained machine learning into their products. They cover everything from keyword matching to ads to audiences to spend pacing to attribution:

In March, Google made putty of the meaning of ‘exact’ in exact match, stretching it to include close variants of a keyword with different word order and/or function words.Ad rank thresholds got a machine learning infusion to take the context of a query into consideration when setting the bid floor.Google’s Smart display campaigns are nearly entirely powered by machine learning.Google’s data-driven attribution methodology is entirely AI-powered. It’s been in AdWords for more than a year, but it gained new attention with the introduction to Google Attribution.Google and Bing released new automated bid strategies: Bing’s Maximize Clicks and Google’s Maximize Conversions.Google’s move to let daily spend exceed up to 2x the budget? Yep, that, too, relies on machine learning to try to predict spend trends throughout the month.One flavor of Google’s custom intent audiences on the GDN uses machine learning to automatically create audiences based in part on inferred characteristics of an advertiser’s target customers.Bing Ads is testing AI-powered chatbot extensions in search ads.Dynamic Search Ads in Bing Ads came to the US and the UK.

Forget A/B testing, because machine learning

Another big, if more subtle, shift was in ad testing methodology. All year, Google has pushed advertisers to move away from the A/B testing model of running two ads per ad group and manually assessing performance.

If there was any doubt Google was serious about this, the move to limit ad rotation options in August put that doubt to rest. The change makes the push for advertisers to choose “optimize,” letting the machines choose the best ad to serve, that much more forceful. Google’s Matt Lawson laid out in a column last month the argument for having at least three ads in an ad group: Overall impressions will increase as Google’s algorithms will serve up the best ad based on the specific query. Advertisers shouldn’t even be evaluating individual ad performance under this new rubric, but rather at the ad-group level of performance, says Google.

To this end, Google rebooted its Ads Added by AdWords pilot in September. The ads suggestions test automatically generates additional text ads (for approval) in some ad groups. Again, the goal is to get more advertisers running more ads in their ad groups, even if Google has to do the work for them.

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Identity & audience targeting

Dovetailing with the rise of machine learning is the steady advance in audience targeting capabilities. Keyword intent may still be the calling card of search marketing, but audience targeting options continued to expand. The popularity of Facebook’s audience-focused, people-based marketing approach largely precipitated this shift over the years as Google has loosened the reigns on its user data and shifted to signed-in data for audience development and targeting.

Some of the big moves in audience targeting this year:

Bing Ads began testing in-market and custom audiences at the beginning of the year. In September, it announced there are now more than 70 in-market audiences available to target.Google introduced in-market audiences and similar audiences to Search and Shopping campaigns in March, and consumer pattern targeting and life events targeting for YouTube and Gmail in May.Google’s custom intent audiences debuted in November for display campaigns.More offline data can now be used for first-party audience targeting as well. Earlier this month, Google expanded its Customer Match offering to include the ability to build retargeting lists based on customer phone numbers and addresses, not just email addresses.Microsoft has begun integrating the LinkedIn Graph with the Microsoft Audience Intelligence Graph. We should expect audience targeting to come out of this effort in 2018.

Attribution & 0nline-offline tracking

With more channels, more devices, more campaigns and more technology in play, attribution isn’t getting any easier.  The biggest news on this front was, of course, the beta launch of Google Attribution. Announced in May, the product could upend the way many search marketers approach attribution, but the real impact won’t be seen until next year when the product rolls out more fully. Google Attribution aims to give users a bigger picture of how their channels and campaigns — at all stages of the funnel — are contributing to the bottom line.

The Google beauty of it is that the data can automatically feed back into AdWords or DoubleClick to inform bidding strategies. That’s the real motivation here; it’s not going to be the silver-bullet answer to everyone’s attribution challenges. From a Google campaign perspective, it will provide more cross-channel insights than AdWords or Google Analytics does currently.

The other big news in attribution this year largely revolved around online-to-offline conversions.

Google’s in-store sales measurement news was the most notable. In one approach, retailers can upload their loyalty or other customer email lists into AdWords. The other approach is powered by Google partnerships with financial vendors. In-store sales conversions will automatically show up in AdWords when enough conversion data is available. Google has said its vendor-supported program gives it coverage of 70 percent of credit card transactions in the US.Google’s store visits measurement extended to YouTube campaigns as of May, giving retailers insights into how effective their videos are at driving viewers to stores.Bing’s support for uploading offline CRM conversion data with a new Offline Conversion Import tool in September.Bing’s integrations with call-tracking systems to enable call conversion imports rolled out this month.

Shopping keeps growing

Across the pond, Google got slapped with a giant antitrust fine by the EU for shutting competing comparison shopping engines (CSEs) out of Google Shopping. Google is contesting the fine, but in the meantime, Google Shopping is operating as a separate business unit and will compete in auctions against other CSEs for spots in the Shopping carousel in Google search results in the EU. (Crealytics’ Andreas Reifen and I each took issue with the ruling.)

Stateside, the influence of Shopping on retail search just continued to grow. At the year’s halfway mark, Merkle reported Google and Bing saw continued growth in shopping ad spend, outpacing that of text ads among retail clients. But there’s an elephant in the room, and its name is Amazon. Amazon loomed in terms of being a head-on competitor with its one-again-off-again presence in Google Shopping, in terms of the rapid and expanding build-out of ad offerings for merchants on its own site, as well as in the realm of product discovery and ordering via digital assistant.

For its part, Google continues to experiment with the way it displays shopping ads. Below is an example of an elusive Purchases on Google ad, but these ads also have a new “Quick view” feature that lets users learn more about the product and seller right from the search results.

Google continues to search for new places to extend Shopping ad inventory. At the end of May, it automatically opted advertisers into a test to show product ads on the Display Network.

Local, driven by mobile

Mobile, voice and digital assistants will continue to spur innovation next year, but perhaps in no area greater than local. Last year, Google said local searches are growing 50 percent faster than mobile search overall and account for one-third of mobile searches. Those habits are driving the development of search ad products aimed at connecting users to local businesses (thus the increase in online-to-offline attribution capabilities covered above). Merkle’s Andy Taylor covered the growing importance of local ad products for brick-and-mortar stores in his recent column.

Though not ad-related, Bing launched bots for local businesses in Bing Places in May that also work with Facebook Messenger and Cortana.Google rebranded and expanded its ad products for local service providers. Local Services by Google will be in 30 cities as of year-end.Google teamed with HomeAdvisor and Porch to offer local services discovery and lead generation through Google Assistant and Google Home.Location extensions and store visits measurement extended to YouTube in October.Text ads and Local inventory ads (LIA) began showing in local knowledge panels in Google search results.

Local inventory ads began showing in local knowledge panels in August.

Honorable mentions

We can’t close out a 2017 wrap-up without mentioning the new AdWords interface. There is a lot of grumbling about the new UI, which is expected to become the de facto interface at some point in 2018. Change isn’t easy, and there still isn’t enough parity or ease of use to have endeared it to many paid search managers who are in it on a daily basis managing campaigns. But every sign indicates Google is leaning into this new “experience,” not backing away. There are many, many features now that are only available in the new UI. That will only continue.

In further evidence that 2017 was one long year, some updates that feel much older than they actually are. Can you believe Google switched to the green outline Ad Label this year (February)? All Mac users got access to Bing Ads Editor in March. Google added historical Quality Score data in AdWords in May. Oh, and AdWords price extensions rolled out to all devices in March, and Bing merchant promotions in Shopping ads came out of pilot in the US in April.

That does it for 2017. After I wrote this piece, I looked back at how I concluded 2016’s year-end wrap-up: “Expect to see the trends we saw this year — audiences; attribution, including online-to-offline; mobile; and automation — continuing to influence change in the year ahead.”

Looking at that list of trends in terms of next year, I’d swap out mobile for local (mobile is foundational now) and add voice marketing to the mix. We are still in very early days with voice and digital assistants in terms of marketing potential, but I expect we’ll continue to see this area develop rapidly.

Google is testing images in search text ads

Google is running a new image test in search ads.

An image from the landing page appears to the right of the description area of the text ad. Sergey Alakov tweeted a screen shot of the ad test over the weekend.

@GinnyMarvin @rustybrick landing page image pulled into an ad. New? pic.twitter.com/GkQBliAxEl

— Sergey Alakov (@sergey_alakov) December 16, 2017

A Google spokesperson told Search Engine Land, “We’re always testing new ways to improve our experience for our advertisers and users, but don’t have anything specific to announce right now.”

Alakov is based in Toronto, Canada. I have not been able to replicate it, and it’s not clear how widespread the test is or what verticals are included besides automotive.

Google has gone through several iterations of testing images in search ads over the years. Currently, it is beta testing images in Sitelink extensions in a feature called Visual Sitelinks. Last year, Google launched large format mobile ads for automotive makers featuring a carousel of images of car models.

Google Ad Grants policy changes include 5% CTR minimum, up from 1%

Google is making changes to Ad Grants, the AdWords program that provides search advertising grants of up to $10,000 per month to non-profits.

As first reported by Robert Brady on the Clix Marketing blog, advertisers and agencies began receiving email notification this week extolling the fact that more than 35,000 non-profits participate in the Google Grants program and news that it is lifting the $2 bid cap when campaigns use Maximize Conversions bid strategy.

That news was then followed by a set of links to updated policy pages. On those pages Brady discovered several other significant changes.

The biggest update is a new requirement for accounts to maintain a minimum 5 percent click-through rate (CTR). That’s an increase from a 1 percent CTR minimum. Accounts that miss that threshold for two consecutive months will be suspended. Accounts in jeopardy of being canceled will be “alerted through in-product notifications if your account is at risk of falling below 5 percent CTR with educational resources offered to improve.”

Other updates include:

Non-profits cannot buy branded keywords they don’t own.Keywords must have quality scores of 2 or higher.Campaigns must have at least two ad groups with at least two ads running in each.Accounts also must have at least two sitelink extensions active.

The new policies go into effect on January 1, 2018 — just weeks away. Of the short timeline, Brady writes, “…  asking nonprofits to make such significant changes on such short notice (only 17 days from email send before these go into effect) is just bad customer service. And if they try to say that one email and a few notifications in the interface are enough, then they don’t understand how busy nonprofits are.”

Last year, Google wound down the Grantspro program, which was the premium Google Grants offering for non-profits spending between $10,000 and $40,000 per month.

Google bringing the Assistant to tablets and Lollipop Android phones

Google is rolling out the Assistant to more devices. It will soon be available on Android tablets running Nougat and Marshmallow, and smartphones running Lollipop.

Tablets in the US running English will be the first to get access. However, a wide array of Android 5.0 smartphones (Lollipop) will get the Assistant: Those operating in English in major markets and in Spanish in the US, Mexico and Spain; and Lollipop smartphones in Italy, Japan, Germany, Brazil and Korea.

Google is pushing the Assistant out to more devices as the market becomes more competitive and AI development accelerates.

A July 2017 report from Verto Analytics found that 42 percent of US smartphone owners used virtual assistants, in the aggregate, on average 10 times per month. That translated into more than 70 million smartphone owners and almost 1 billion hours per month in the US. The numbers are likely somewhat higher now.

Personal Assistant Usage Numbers & Demographics

Source: Verto Analytics (5/17)

Siri was the most used (largest audience), but Cortana and Alexa were the fastest-growing assistants, according to Verto.

Separate research has found that virtual assistants are used much more frequently on smart speakers, which makes sense because of the general absence of screens: almost three uses per day vs. less than one for smartphones.

AdWords advertisers can use phone numbers & addresses for Google Customer Match targeting

Google has added more ways for businesses to target their known customers with AdWords campaigns. As of this month, advertisers can upload phone numbers and mailing addresses for Customer Match retargeting and similar audiences.

Launched in 2015, Customer Match lets marketers upload lists of customers or other proprietary lists —  newsletter subscribers, for example — into Google AdWords to target (or exclude) search and display ads to those users. Until now, Customer Match only supported email list uploads.

As with email data, Google attempts to match phone number and mailing address information with user-provided data in Google accounts.

Hashed email addresses and phone numbers are matched up with Google’s own hashed strings to find matches. The matches are then added to marketers’ Customer Match lists.

For mailing address matching, Google says it “joins hashed name and address data for Google accounts to construct a matching key. After you’ve uploaded your list with hashed customer names and addresses (don’t hash zip and country data), Google constructs a similar key based on your data and then compares each key on your list with the keys based on Google accounts. If there’s a match, Google adds the corresponding Google account to your customer list.”

Here’s a Google illustration of how Customer Match works from the back end:

Source: Google

Advertisers can use Customer Match for targeting those matched customers across all Google properties, including search text and shopping ads, display, YouTube and Gmail. The lists can also be used to create similar audiences for targeting on YouTube and Gmail campaigns.

Phone and mailing lists can be uploaded via the AdWords API or in the new AdWords interface. The Audience Manager is located in the Shared Library, which is accessed by clicking on the wrench icon in the upper-right navigation.

The addition of phone numbers and mailing addresses opens up more opportunities for marketers that don’t have large sets of email addresses to leverage their own first-party data — from catalog and call center sales, for example — in Google campaigns.

'Purchases on Google' Shopping ads test is running on iOS devices

AmsStudio / Shutterstock.com

Google appears to be testing Purchases on Google ads on iOS devices.

Purchases on Google ads enable consumers to buy products shown in Google Shopping ads right from Google-hosted landing pages when users have payments set up through their Google accounts. The product launched in pilot on Android devices in 2015 and opened up in beta to US advertisers this spring.

Below are a couple of examples of the Purchases on Google ads we spotted this morning on iOS. Each is slugged with “Easy checkout.”

It’s not clear how long these ads have been available on iOS. With the initial pilot launch in 2015, Google said Purchases on Google would come to iOS in the “coming months,” but it appears to have taken much longer than that, perhaps closer to the beta opening up. We’ve asked Google for comment and will update here if and when we get a response. Update: We received confirmation that these ads have been available on iOS for several months. They’ve clearly been flying under the radar, though.

The “Easy checkout” messaging and icon is a change from the previous iteration that showed a blue “Buy on Google” at the top of the ad. We’ll certainly continue to see messaging tests here.

The impression volume for these ads continues to be quite limited on all devices. Additionally, with the advent of so many variations of Shopping ad formats now available — Showcase ads and ads in knowledge panels, for example — it’s not easy to find Purchases on Google ads.

The product is can be seen as part of Google’s broader mission to improve mobile web experiences and conversion rates, including a current test to send mobile search ads to AMP-enabled landing pages.

Quick view

The “Quick view” links at the bottom of the ads shown above is part of a mobile shopping update that Google announced ahead of Black Friday this year. Clicking “Quick view” on any of the product ads brings up a preview showing a bigger image, product description, reviews and seller ratings. Here’s an example from Google showing how it works:

Google introduced “Quick view” previews in Google Shopping ads in November.

The “Quick view” links also seem to be fairly limited and are not showing with most product listing ad results we’re seeing.

Google’s new custom intent audiences and you

In mid-November, pre-empting the hellish holiday shopping season, Google unveiled a slew of new features designed to help advertisers maximize their AdWords budgets. While promotion extensions and ad variations are neat and all, the thing I’m most stoked about is the new custom intent audiences feature on Google Display Network (GDN).

If you haven’t checked out Ginny Marvin’s quick summary of what they are (linked above), here’s the gist: Custom intent audiences offer advertisers the opportunity to use the GDN to find “people who want to buy the specific products you offer — based on data from your campaigns, website and YouTube channel.” They come in two distinct flavors:

Create-your-own. Like a trip to your favorite pizza chain (but for the GDN), you can mash topics and URLs together like mushrooms and pepperoni in order to target net-new prospects who are probably into your product or service.Auto-created. No idea where to start with the Display Network? Let your ol’ pal Google help! Auto-created custom intent audiences use the power of machine learning to infer the traits your prospects possess, then create audiences exclusive to your account.

Both have the potential to fill the top of your funnel with relatively enthused prospects, whether you’re a veteran account manager or the owner of a small to medium-sized business who’s looking to leave the comfort of the search engine results page (SERP).

Today, I’m going to speculate as to why custom intent audiences exist before diving into how they work and, more importantly, how you can leverage these shiny new toys for Display Network success.

Why do custom intent audiences exist?

Custom intent audiences allow advertisers of any skill level to leave the confines of the Display Network’s limited (though occasionally useful) predefined audience categories. Instead, you can use information specific to your business (not some tangential searcher’s inferred affinities) to introduce your brand to new prospects with a proclivity for what you’re peddling. If you’ve been funneling leads into nurture programs for a decade, custom intent audiences give you a fairly long leash when it comes to audience definition; if you’re a newbie, Google will do it for you.

Why?

My rampant speculation: Paid search is expensive. There’s a whole mess of competition on almost every ad-bearing SERP you’ll stumble on. As such, many advertisers are shifting sizable chunks of their budgets over to Facebook, where audience definition — not searcher intent — rules the roost.

Previously, outside of remarketing, the Display Network lacked the granular targeting options necessary to keep ad spend on Google properties. Custom intent audiences (along with life-event targeting and the like) are Google’s attempt to retain and recapture advertisers’ top-of-funnel initiatives.

With that, let’s dig into where you — or Google — can build custom intent audiences in your AdWords account.

Where do custom intent audiences live?

Custom intent audiences — of either variety — live on the audiences page provided you’re looking at a Display campaign. (In trying to take screen shots for this column, I nearly drove myself batty looking for the intent tab, only to realize I’d been looking in search campaigns.)

Once you’re in the Audiences interface, and you’ve assigned an ad group or campaign (or created a brand-new one), select the “Target” radio button and choose “Intent,” which should be nestled between “Affinity” and “Remarketing.”

From here, you can either choose from auto-generated custom intent audiences (the love-children of your existing account data and some machine learning) or make your own from scratch.

Create your own custom intent audiences

If you selected the latter, constructing custom intent audiences goes something like this.

From the aforementioned interface, click “Intent.” From there, you’ll see a big, shiny blue “+” next to the words “New Custom Intent Audience.” Click it.

This will open a pop-up in which you’ll create your new custom intent audience. Here you’ll be prompted to name your new audience:

Then, enter a set of keywords and URLs that pertain to the general theme you’d like to use to target potential prospects on the Display network.

Once you’ve selected your desired target keywords and URLs, hit the “Create” button to return to the previous interface, where you can view estimated reach metrics for your new custom intent audience.

Or let Google do it for you

If that looked like Greek to you, let Google use its unimaginable wealth of searcher data to create your custom intent audiences.

When you enter the auto-create interface, you’ll see a ton of potential audiences, each of which is labeled with a single phrase.

To find out what your account’s auto-created custom intent audiences are made of, hover over the name of one. You’ll see a pop-up that looks something like this:

Here you can identify key characteristics of a given audience, including:

what it’s based on.associated keywords from your account.common keywords and URLs evident in content related to a given product or service.

Despite being super hands-off, the auto-created custom intent audiences tend to be super tightly knit (at least in terms of relevance). This is what separates custom intent audiences from the topic- and placement-based Display audiences you’ve leaned on to date. The granularity makes it seem less like you’re plastering ads on random corners of the internet for uninterested searchers to see and more like you’re getting some bang for your buck at the top of the funnel.

Final thoughts

That wasn’t too difficult, right?

To learn more about how custom intent audiences perform in the wild, I reached out to the director of paid acquisition at WordStream (my employer), Aaron Doherty, who implemented them the day they went live.

Aaron said, “Intent and predictive audiences are tough. There’s a lot of math that goes into creating them and not always a lot of results that come out. However, Google’s custom intent audiences seem to be different — they’re narrow and specific, offering segments of users highly relevant to our business. And so far, in limited impressions, we’re seeing good results.”

While custom intent audiences still lack the laser precision of search or the demographic and psychographic trove of Facebook, digital marketers should be emphatic about Google’s first legit foray into defining business-specific audiences on the Display Network.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.