Tag Archives: Paid Search Column

PPC insights: Our top SEM columns of 2017

Though paid search has long since cemented its place as a pillar of digital marketing, changes in technology and consumer behavior have continued to reshape the PPC landscape and keep search marketers on their toes. In 2017, we saw the last of “standard” text ads in AdWords as expanded text ads, introduced in 2016, became the new norm. We also said goodbye to the literal definition of “exact” as Google expanded exact match targeting to include close variants.

Yet, on the whole, search marketers spent more of 2017 looking forward than dwelling on the past. Two of our most widely-read columns, penned by former Googler Frederick Vallaeys, were forward-thinking pieces that focused on how artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are driving innovation and automation in paid search.

This past year also saw a host of new feature releases, and with new capabilities comes the need to try new things — which is why so many of our top columns this year focused on testing. From ad copy testing to landing page testing, search marketers sought out resources to help ensure that their ads are reaching their full potential.

For these topics and more, check out Search Engine Land’s top paid search columns of 2017!

    The best-kept AdWords secret: AMP your landing pages by Frederick Vallaeys, published on 5/10/2017.Seriously, Google, can you just make exact match exact? by Daniel Gilbert, published on 3/21/2017.Attention search marketers: ALL keywords are branded keywords! by Larry Kim, published on 1/23/2017.10 AdWords ad copy testing ideas you can use right now by Jason Puckett, published on 3/14/2017.The AdWords 2017 roadmap is loaded with artificial intelligence by Frederick Vallaeys, published on 6/7/2017.3 free AdWords testing tools to adopt today by Todd Saunders, published on 3/7/2017.Three foolproof steps to excellent AdWords ads by Matt Lawson, published on 3/17/2017.This script creates Google Slides with AdWords data to automate your presentation-making by Frederick Vallaeys, published on 8/2/2017.The great big list of landing page tests to try by Amy Bishop, published on 5/2/2017.How artificial intelligence drives PPC automation by Frederick Vallaeys, published on 1/18/2017.

6 ways ad agencies can thrive in an AI-first world

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning have long been part of PPC — so why are AI and machine learning all of a sudden such hot topics? It is, in part, because exponential advances have now brought technology to the point where it can legitimately compete with the performance and precision of human account managers.

I recently covered the new roles humans should play in PPC as automation takes over. In this post, I’ll offer some ideas for what online marketing agencies should consider doing to remain successful in a world of AI-driven PPC management.

Be a master of process

According to the authors of the book “The Second Machine Age,” chess master Garry Kasparov offered an interesting insight into how humans and computers should work together after he became the first chess champion to be defeated by a computer in 1997. In matches after his loss to Deep Blue, he noticed a few things:

    A human player aided by a machine could beat a computer.When two human players were both assisted by a computer, the weaker human player with a good process could beat the stronger player with an inferior process.

The first point is covered in my previous post, and it is the foundation for why smart PPC managers will learn to collaborate with AI rather than compete against it.

The second point got me thinking about some other scenarios where the winners aren’t necessarily the most skilled. Does the world’s most successful coffee chain have the best baristas? Do the most successful hotels employ staff who innately know how to make guests happy?

No. In almost any scenario where humans are a big part of the experience, success is achieved by having a clear mission that is supported by a really strong process and tools to achieve the mission.

Hence, I believe that in the world of PPC agencies, a primary focus should be on building an amazing process and equipping the team with tools that make that process easy to follow. So as AI takes over some of the tasks in your agency, make sure your staff knows and follows the process for leveraging the technology to deliver results.

Accept that your old value proposition is toast

Consider how you convinced your existing clients to sign up with your agency. If your pitch included that you produce amazing results because you’re really good at bid management (something machines are getting really good at), you may need to tweak your positioning. You don’t want to make your main value proposition something that can be put on autopilot by anyone — and will hence become very difficult to price at a level that makes you successful.

That’s not to say that you should stop thinking about something like bid management altogether. Instead, you should offer skills that are complementary to the AI system rather than skills that compete against it.

Hal Varian, Google’s chief economist, gives the career advice to “become an indispensable complement to something that’s getting cheap and plentiful.” For example, become a data scientist because we’ll need more people to make sense of the data and to figure out how to turn new insights we get from more sophisticated AI into new strategies.

In the context of an ad agency, this makes a lot of sense. You want to be able to say you have great data scientists who can make sense of what the automated systems are doing and make solid recommendations for the next thing to test.

Determine your new value proposition

Do you know California’s largest agricultural export? I guessed wine, but the correct answer is almonds. How did this come to be? It turns out that almonds are easy to harvest mechanically; you basically have a machine that violently shakes the tree so the nuts fall down to be harvested. So farmers figured they could be more productive by using automation, and all of a sudden tomato fields across the state were turned into almond orchards.

But people want more than just almonds on their plates, so despite how automation moved an entire state’s economy in a certain direction, it also created opportunities for farmers who didn’t automate.

We can apply this analogy to paid search agencies. Thanks to advances in AI, it is a given that they will do a good job of managing bids, and it’s also assumed that this service will be cheap because technology has commoditized it.

Agencies, like farmers, can supplement their highly automatable service offerings with something that commands a higher fee. So figure out what will be your niche in things that are harder to automate. And think about why a client would want to hire you if you’re just as good as the next agency at managing bids. Figure out what additional services you are really good at that are harder to automate (for now) and can be used to win new business.

Be the best at testing because testing leads to innovation

Innovative agencies win awards, which makes it easier for them to land new clients and grow their business. But how can an agency be innovative in a world where a lot of the work is done by a handful of automated systems that produce similar results?

I believe economist Martin Weitzman’s recombinant view of innovation offers a possibility. Recombinant Innovation describes innovation as a process through which new ideas emerge as the combination of existing ideas. Thanks to better prediction systems using machine learning, it is now possible for agencies to test new ideas faster and to iterate faster. Hence, an agency that leverages machine learning for testing and has a really strong process will be able to out-innovate its competitors.

Innovation in an agency is to recombine ideas into valuable new ones. The problem with testing new ideas is that it used to take a lot of time. But thanks to technology, you can test more things more quickly, and the winning agencies will be those that are the fastest at finding new winners. And they can achieve this by prioritizing the most likely winners into the fastest process, with the best testing technology.

You need to monitor the tradeoffs between labor and technology

Business is a big optimization problem. As an agency owner, you balance labor (headcount), and capital investment (technology) to achieve outcomes with a target level of speed, quality and cost. As technology takes hold in more aspects of PPC management, knowing how to optimize the equation becomes critical.

What some advertisers fail to see is that there is no perfect technology (just as there is no perfect human employee), but if a technology gets you close enough to the desired result while freeing up your staff’s time to work on other things, that is a win.

We all hire people for our companies, even when we know that ALL humans make mistakes. But we hire the best we can because it gets us closer to our goals, even if not 100 percent of the way. So why should it be any different when we think about capital investments?

A former colleague of mine who is still at Google shared examples where advertisers told him that they would not use broad match because it resulted in some impressions for their ads on irrelevant queries. But when prodded further, they were unable to quantify the impact this had. In many cases, the additional clicks were negligible, while the time they could have saved by letting Google’s AI handle query exploration was significant.

In my view, this is a poor optimization of that account manager’s time. In exchange for a small sacrifice in targeting precision, they could have freed up billable hours worth hundreds of dollars.

Hire one extraordinary (wo)man

American philosopher Elbert Hubbard said that “one machine can do the work of fifty ordinary men. No machine can do the work of one extraordinary man.” And he was on to something. In engineering, a great engineer can do the work of 10 good engineers.

So, as more of an agency’s work gets done by machines and you need fewer humans to do repetitive work, having the smartest possible person to work on the tasks that remain will be more important than ever.

Conclusion

There’s never a boring day when working on PPC, mostly because Google pushes so many changes every year. But this year, AI is going to stir the pot and create some challenges unlike the ones we’ve been used to dealing with. Hopefully, some of the thoughts shared here will get you thinking about strategies for keeping your agency successful in a world of AI-first PPC.

Stay tuned for my next post in this series, where I’ll cover how the technology got us here and what we can automate today.

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

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.

Supercharge your email marketing with Google AdWords

I have a confession to make.

The odds of my instantly deleting one of the many marketing emails I receive each day are about as good as Tom Brady and the Patriots making the playoffs — meaning it’s pretty likely to happen.

Unfortunately for all you email marketers out there, I’m not alone. According to email marketing service MailChimp, the average email open rate across industries is below 25 percent, with a click rate of 2 to 3 percent. That means that, on average, you’d need to send 100 emails to get two or three people to take any action. All that time and energy spent crafting the perfect email marketing campaign will be wasted if you don’t create a complementary strategy to get more sales from your hard-earned email list.

The good news is that you can use Google AdWords as your complementary strategy by simply leveraging the existing data you have on your email subscribers. Let’s dive into the best ways to make that happen.

Learn the ins and outs of Customer Match in AdWords

Customer Match in AdWords might be the greatest secret weapon for email marketers that Google has to offer. It allows you to target or exclude your existing customers on Google Search, Display and YouTube by simply uploading your customer email list to AdWords. Think of it as another way to nurture your sales leads besides sending them more emails.

The best thing about Customer Match is that it’s not that difficult to get up and running. Here’s what you need to do to get started:

Click on the “Wrench” icon in the top right corner of your AdWords Dashboard.Click on “Audience Manager” under the Shared Library section.Click on “Audience Lists” from the Page Menu on the left.Click on the blue “+” button to create a new audience list.Select “Customer List.”Choose the option to upload a plain text data file or a hashed data file.Choose your new file.Check the box that says “This data was collected and is being shared with Google in compliance with Google’s policies.”Set a membership duration (this should be determined by the types of customers that make up the list).Click “Upload and Create List.”

Please note that these instructions are for the “new” version of the AdWords dashboard. If you’re interested in Customer Match but are still using the “old” version of the AdWords dashboard, see here for more instructions.

Segment your email list

Now that you have a better understanding of Customer Match, let’s take a look at how you might want to slice and dice your email list to more effectively target your sales leads on AdWords.

Take a look at the following email audience segments we use at AdHawk (my company) for a moment:

New and engaged email subscribers who have not become customers.Email subscribers who have not opened an email recently.Email subscribers who are existing customers and would be a good fit for an upgraded product or service.

Each of these email audience segments has an entirely different relationship with our business and needs to be messaged to differently. If you have a similar breakdown of your marketing emails, you can repurpose your email list segmentation for your AdWords campaigns via Customer Match. This will allow you to tailor the messaging of your ads for each segment, and as a result, help to nudge your sales leads farther down your funnel.

Create a different AdWords strategy for each segment of your email list

Once you have your email audience segments in place, it’s time to develop a unique AdWords strategy for each segment.

I’m going to use the three email audience segments noted above as examples. Your approach might be different, and that’s okay. Just make sure you’re not using general ads for every email audience segment you have on your list.

Converting new and engaged email subscribers

When a new lead signs up to learn more about AdHawk, our team goes into “educate” mode. The goal is to get them to see the value of our product and services as quickly as possible so we can move them down the funnel.

Our “Welcome” email flow takes the first steps in educating our leads, and it performs pretty well compared to the industry average. But our secret weapon emerges when we take a list of our “new” sales leads and turn it into a Customer Match campaign in AdWords.

Here’s what a typical flow for this segment looks at AdHawk:

Step 1: Potential customer signs up to learn more about AdHawk.Step 2: After signing up, the potential customer receives the first email in the “Welcome” email flow, with a call to action to book a time with our sales team.Step 3: A Customer Match segment is created for all “new” prospective customers that didn’t take action on the first email in the “Welcome” email flow.

By using a Customer Match segment for all new and engaged AdHawk sales leads, we’re able to bid up on more generic keywords that would be too risky to bid up on for a general search campaign. We’re also able to create Gmail Ads with a similar look and feel to our “Welcome” emails series that prompt a strong customer recall.

Converting unengaged email subscribers

Converting unengaged email subscribers can be a huge pain in the butt. They’ve stopped engaging with your emails, so the worst thing you could do is continue to bash them over the head with more emails.

Here’s the flow we use to re-engage leads that have left us hanging:

Step 1: Potential customer signs up to learn more about AdHawk but does not engage with our emails for 30 days.Step 2: A Customer Match segment is created for all “unengaged” prospective customers.Step 3: A Remarketing campaign is created to target prospective customers that have not converted after 30 days.Step 4: We tailor the Customer Match and Remarketing ads to promote a special offer.

This group is the least likely to convert, so any new business scraped up is a huge win! It’s important to educate these stale leads on what we do and remind them why they signed up in the first place.

Upselling existing customers to a new product or service

Most marketers are so intent on attracting new business that they often forget that there is a wealth of opportunity under their noses. Don’t sleep on marketing to those that have bought something from you in the past! We use our existing customer segment to promote new features or products we feel they will be a good fit for.

Here’s the flow we use to target existing customers:

Step 1: A Customer Match segment is created for our “Existing Customers.”Step 2: We further segment this list by renewal date to ensure that customers see our ads when their contract is up.Step 3: Tailor the ads to promote additional services we offer that our customers are not leveraging.

We’ve structured our flow this way because our product runs on a subscription basis. If you’re selling physical goods that can be repurchased often, break down your segment by the products your customers have shown the most interest in. That way, you can tailor your ads to the specific products you believe would resonate most with them.

Final thoughts

Are you leveraging AdWords as part of your email marketing strategy? If you are, I’d love to learn more about what strategies you have used that have been successful.

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

The vicious cycle of ROAS targets is killing your business

Your marketing team is hard at work tweaking ads and landing pages to drive efficiency and hit the targets set for them by the C-suite. And those targets are more than likely ROAS-related.

But, for two reasons, these ROAS targets are actually causing a lot of damage:

    ROAS usually doesn’t take incrementality into account, which incentivizes marketers to turn on retargeting or brand campaigns to meet their targets while hardly generating any tangible results.It sets incentives to sell more low-margin products to mainly existing customers because this type of second-class revenue is cheaper to get.

If, like most companies, you’re focused on growth and new customer acquisition, you need to ditch ROAS-based KPIs, come up with a new metric and include incrementality before it’s too late.

This is what you get if you ignore incrementality

When we talk about “incremental sales” as a digital marketing KPI, we’re talking about how much a specific marketing campaign or channel contributed to increasing sales revenue. So, if a search or shopping ad led to a sale that wouldn’t have happened otherwise, that’s an incremental sale.

Return on ad spend (ROAS) takes into account purchases from users after clicking on an ad. At first glance, that sounds reasonable. It seems like that measure would tell you how good an ad is at driving revenue.

But what ROAS usually doesn’t tell you is whether or to what extent those sales would have happened anyway (without showing ads). In other words, ROAS doesn’t account for incrementality.

Imagine you’re shopping for high-priced luxury products; you put them in the shopping basket, but then decide to wait another few days to think about whether it’s worth spending the money. Then you see your favorite products following you all over the web, and at some point, you’re intrigued to click through. Finally, the day after, you buy. This happens hundreds of thousands of times every day.

Our industry now understands — much better than a couple of years ago, at least — that a significant number of these people would have bought the items anyway, even if they hadn’t seen the ad.

You’re probably thinking, “OK, sure, but how big a deal is incrementality, really?” It turns out it’s quite a big deal. Based on our internal client testing here at crealytics, we’ve found the following:

If you’re a multibrand retailer (e.g., Kohl’s or Staples), brand searches will usually drive no more than 1 percent incremental sales.Display retargeting often hovers around 5 percent incremental sales when tested properly.Search retargeting rarely gets higher than 20 percent incremental sales.

Channels that drive the highest number of incremental sales are also generally more expensive. So, if you set ROAS targets without taking incrementality into account, marketers will have to look for cheaper sources of revenue. Usually, they will see themselves in a situation where “Search Brand” is already split out and treated separately because of the obvious lack of incrementality. So, where do marketers find the revenues they need?

The revenues which are least incremental are usually the cheapest, and therefore, marketers often try to increase the volume of display or Facebook retargeting first. Search retargeting is also a great way to hit targets without really having a substantial impact on the business. And the best part about search retargeting is that it’s hidden in the overall search numbers — you have to really zoom into AdWords to see what percentage of the revenue is coming from people who might have bought without spending ad money.

The vicious circle of ROAS targets

Let’s assume you’ve tested the incrementality of your most important marketing channels, and you’re factoring in the findings when measuring the success of your campaigns. Instead of setting traditional ROAS targets, you now refer to incremental ROAS.

In this case, ROAS should no longer be an issue, right?

Sadly, no. In reality, it’s still a big issue which silently destroys performance even at some of the savviest retailers.

How performance marketing targets are set

In most retail companies, marketing budgets are set by finance looking at the historical performance of past advertising campaigns. They know ROAS is a bad indicator for bottom-line profitability, so they go ultra-granular, take the numbers from some internal tracking system — usually based on last-click attribution — and analyze the profitability of every single order, taking into account contribution margins after COGS, shipping, packaging, payment costs and so on.

If bottom-line profitability differs from the internal financial planning, ROAS targets and budgets are adjusted accordingly. Marketing is then incentivized to hit the new targets while not exceeding the budget constraints.

What marketers will do to hit their targets

In order to hit these ROAS targets (including incremental ones), performance marketers will tend to sell more low-margin products to mainly existing customers because these sales deliver the best ROAS.

One simple way to sell to existing customers is by using Customer Match to target known customers. If revenue is the criterion and not margin, bidding systems will automatically allocate the budget where revenue can be found at the cheapest price. Areas of the assortment which have low margins will look better because there is usually less competition.

So, what happens in the next budgeting cycle? Finance will again zoom down to the most granular level, take all the orders and analyze profitability. They will notice that for some strange reason, profitability and new customer rate are down again. As a result, they will tighten the ROAS target.

If you see ROAS targets in your company, it’s very likely that you could easily do much better. If, in addition, you hear that ROAS is not reflecting incrementality, you’re really missing out on a huge opportunity.

Setting better targets and testing incrementality

In order to set performance marketing targets that are beneficial to the bottom line, you first need to find the exact incrementality levels for each of your marketing channels.

Very quickly, incrementality tests are implemented by defining a test and a control group. The test group sees ads, the control group doesn’t. You then analyze the revenues generated by the two groups over time. Incrementality presumes that the test group that sees the ads will generate more revenue than the control group. How much more defines your incrementality.

Once incrementality levels have been established, marketing and finance can work together to align on which metrics they want to use to measure progress. I always recommend customer lifetime value (CLV) or margin.

By using a profit-driven metric, you remove the ability to hit targets by selling low-margin products; and by taking incrementality into account, you make sure that hitting those targets gets you incremental gains.

The only way to enable marketers to really drive what matters is to give them access to order profitability and margins in such a way that they can use them in their bidding tool. This will undoubtedly require some technical integration, but it will deliver an unparalleled return.

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

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.

The lowdown on driving app downloads with Universal App campaigns

Universal App campaigns (UAC) help you find new app users across Google’s largest properties: Google Play, Search, YouTube and Gmail, as well as millions of websites and apps across the Google Display Network. Back in August, Google (my employer) announced that all app install campaigns in AdWords are becoming UACs.

Whether you’re starting UACs for the first time or are looking to get the most out of existing UACs, here are some best practices that I’ve discovered from talking with a bunch of other Googlers.

Getting up and running with UAC

The first key step is defining your goal. You’ll need to set a target based on one of these key performance indicators:

If you care about different metrics in different situations, create separate campaigns for each desired outcome.

From there, you’ll need to set up a few more items:

A daily budget. When you’re driving installs, this should be your target CPI multiplied by the number of daily installs you want (shoot for at least 50 to get enough data). When you’re driving in-app actions, it should be your target CPA multiplied by desired daily actions, shooting for at least 10.Your desired user action, which includes stuff like the first install or first open. This could also be your desired in-app action, like making a purchase or completing a game level.Creative assets, which is where you have some real flexibility. If you’re on a smaller budget, AdWords creates those ad assets on your behalf. Bigger advertisers can add a bunch of images and advanced creative assets (we’ll talk about those a bit later).And one final, crucial component: measurement. Do what you need to do to ensure that you’re measuring all of those actions.

How AdWords knows where to serve ads

So, how does AdWords know where to reach those potential new users without keywords, data feeds or any other targeting? Starting with the info about your app itself (its App Store or Play Store description), it examines signals like search queries on Google.com and Google Play, web crawl data and more. This data is mapped across all of the channels where we place ads and updated multiple times per day. That’s how AdWords can quickly pick up on new trending keywords like a sports event or an upcoming holiday and make sure it serves your app in the relevant context, across different properties.

Looking at users who’ve completed your selected action along with those who haven’t, AdWords evaluates a user’s auction signals. This is stuff like device type, the network they’re currently on, which apps they already have, and plenty of other insightful info. From there, patterns from converting users are identified. These patterns are then used to predict future auctions, where and how to bid, and what creatives to serve to other users who fit similar characteristics.

So it’s like DSA + Smart Bidding + similar audiences + a bunch of other stuff, all at the same time, across networks. Plus, it gets better the more it does it.

How you should manage UACs

Although UACs are more automated than other AdWords campaign types, you still have important levers at your disposal.

Update your bids

The target CPI/CPA/ROAS bids you set and modify have a strong influence on how your campaign performs. I definitely recommend staying on top of those targets. As you make any changes, it’s a good idea to adjust targets or budgets up or down 20 percent at most to avoid any drastic changes in performance. Once you’ve made a change, try to wait for at least 100 conversions before making another update. It takes time for automation to respond to new inputs, so be patient. If you’re curious about what impact a bid change might have for you, check out the bid simulator tool.

Provide great ad components

AdWords optimizes what content will show in your ads across channels. It’s best at doing that when it has a bunch of stuff to choose from in your Universal App campaigns.

When it comes to ad text, include a clear call to action. Write standalone sentences. AdWords automatically combines them to create the best text ad. And keep these short, sweet and focused on one unique selling point.

And when it comes to videos and images, don’t be shy. Add what you’ve got. You can (and should) upload 20 images and 20 videos to your campaigns. Plan to add multiple landscape images so AdWords can mix and match different backdrops across different types of users.

I mean what I said about videos, too. Adding videos gives you a lot more opportunity for your app to get noticed. Focus on different video assets in different ratios, like landscape, portrait and square, so AdWords can maximize reach across all properties, including rewarded, YouTube and native ads. After your creatives have time to run, check out the Creative Asset Report in your account to see how each of your creatives is performing.

Steer your automated campaign

Along with bidding and creative options, there are some considerations that might pop up as you get used to managing these campaigns.

Don’t worry about account structure

While countless articles on SEL have been written about how you should structure ad groups and keywords within your campaigns (including by yours truly), don’t worry about that for UAC. Query-level data is leveraged across campaigns and ad groups for search, and impression-level data is leveraged across GDN (Google Display Network) and YouTube.

Protect your brand

I love that Universal App campaigns are about driving conversions. And brand sensitivity is an important consideration as well, which I also love. By default, there are four brand safety filters enabled: not yet labeled (video and content), mature audience (video and content), tragedy and conflict (video) and sensitive social issues (video and content).

On top of those defaults, you can exclude mobile app categories, topics and autodirector videos. And, of course, you can use negative keywords. Negative keywords in UAC apply to all properties, from Google search to YouTube and everything in between. They’re a great way to protect your brand, but they could also blot out some of your traffic. Use negatives with care.

Don’t worry about cannibalization

While your standard search, GDN or YouTube campaigns and UAC will at times be eligible for the same auctions, only one campaign per account (or linked accounts) enters the auction. You aren’t going to bid yourself up with overlap (a common myth in search that I’ve been trying to quash for years).

AdWords chooses which ad to enter into a particular auction based on your active bids and past campaign performance. What’s in your best interest, auction-wise, should be chosen to show. One consideration: If you’re finding that your campaign isn’t getting the traffic you want it to, you might need to raise your bids to make it more competitive in those auctions.

Conclusion

It’s important to understand how to set up Universal App campaigns for success. It’s also important to know what you should be doing to ensure that these campaigns reach their full potential.

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

Is holiday paid search more competitive in 2017 than 2016?

The busy 2017 holiday shopping season is now in full swing, and we’ve already witnessed impressive Y/Y sales growth on key shopping days.

As advertisers dig into their own performance, many are taking stock of the competition to get a sense for what other brands are doing. This was a key topic for a #ppcchat Twitter conversation immediately following Cyber Weekend, in which host Kirk Williams posed the following question to chat-goers.

As you can see, most brands felt they saw more competition this year than last year, though 39 percent felt it was about the same. Zero respondents felt that there was less competition this year than last.

Taking a look at Auction Insights reports from Google for a sample of large Merkle retail advertisers, we can get a sense for how many brands were bidding on paid search keywords this year compared to last. As always, the metrics found in these reports and the stories they tell will differ significantly from advertiser to advertiser, but the following gives some quantification of what the paid search competitive landscape looks like this year compared to last.

It also illuminates at least one important 2017 change that advertisers should take into account when comparing these metrics Y/Y.

More shopping competitors than last year

Taking a look at the period from Thanksgiving to Cyber Monday Y/Y, we find that the average number of Google Shopping competitors included in Google Auction Insights increased pretty significantly for each day. The largest increase came on Black Friday, with a 42 percent increase in average numbers of competitors featured.

That’s a lot of additional competitors gobbling up impressions this year compared to last year!

However, one issue that might have increased the number of competitors without any actual change in the number of competitors is Google’s mid-May 2017 update to impression share calculation. With this change, Google increased “the universe of total impressions” it looks at for impression share.

Per Google’s communications, brands might have seen their own impression share decline in May with the increase in total impression volume taken into account in impression share calculations. However, Merkle brands actually saw a modest increase in Shopping impression share beginning in May relative to early 2017 and have continued to see higher impression share.

Taking a look at the number of competitors included in Google Shopping Auction Insights by month since last November, we find that the number increased steadily from November 2016 to April 2017. In May, the number of competitors jumped significantly, and this figure has held roughly steady since late summer.

Thus, it seems like Google’s impression share calculation change might be the culprit of much of the increase we’re seeing in Cyber Weekend competition this year compared to last. It’s possible that the jump in competitors is unrelated to Google’s change and actually does represent an influx of competition in May, but the timing makes me think the two are related.

Looking at competitors by device, phones and tablets saw the biggest jump in the number of competitors Y/Y for most days. Desktop saw its biggest jump on Black Friday and its smallest jump on Cyber Monday.

Number of text ad competitors slightly down

On the text ad side, we actually find that the number of competitors included in Auction Insights declined slightly Y/Y for each day from Thanksgiving to Cyber Monday.

Broken down by device, we find that phones saw the largest declines Y/Y in the number of competitors.

Conclusion

So what does all this mean?

There are definitely more competitors in Shopping Auction Insights this year compared to last. However, we observed a jump in May at a time when Google changed how it measures impression share. Thus, at least some of the increased competition might be the result of reporting changes.

Text ad auction insights show no signs of increased competition over Cyber Weekend this year compared to last on average for the sample studied, and in fact indicate slight declines in the number of brands competing.

Answering the question posed by the title of this post, I think it’s fair to say that Google Shopping is seeing more competition this year than last year, especially since we know at least one massive brand is now involved that wasn’t at this time last year. However, there’s reason to believe that competition might not have heated up quite as much as Auction Insights indicates.

On the text ad side, the decline in the total number of competitors isn’t massive but does seem to be consistent enough to represent a real change from last year to this year. Was the change a real decline in the number of competitors or a shift in something on Google’s end? That’s tough to answer, but the indicators at least point to a conclusion that there was not significantly more competition in text ads this year compared to last over Cyber Weekend.

As mentioned earlier, the competition observed in Auction Insights varies significantly by advertiser, and, as this post shows, also by device and ad format. What is your brand seeing this year?

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

Which PPC metrics matter? Lessons from half a million keywords

Are your AdWords campaigns working… like, really working?

That might be a surprisingly hard question to answer. Anybody with an AdWords account can see if they’re getting clicks, and it’s not too hard to set up conversion tracking — but chances are that the reason you put money into AdWords was that you wanted to get money out.

In other words, you want your ad spend to produce sales.

As obvious as this statement is, actually determining how different factors in your AdWords campaigns affect sales can be fairly difficult. To try to shed more light on the subject, we recently conducted a study on how different variables affect ad performance at Disruptive Advertising (my company). We pulled data from well over half a million keywords and measured return-on-investment against dozens of variables.

In short, we wanted to answer the question: What predicts profitability in an AdWords account? Our findings may surprise you.

1. High CPC = low profitability

With any pay-per-click platform, the more clicks cost, the less profit you’ll make. However, many businesses are quick to argue that if a new sale is worth enough, it’s worth it to bid on keywords with expensive CPCs.

But do things actually work out that way?

In our study, we found that ROI rapidly drops off as your cost-per-click (CPC) increases. For example, take a look at data we pulled from a variety of e-commerce companies:

Now, for these companies, a sale was worth anywhere from tens to thousands of dollars, so you’d think that at least some of their keywords would perform well at a higher CPC. But it didn’t work out that way.

Even for expensive products, higher CPCs were directly linked to low ROI, to the point where paying more than $5 for an e-commerce click is like saying, “No, I don’t want to make money on this product.”

2. Long-tail keywords are a waste of money

Based on the above findings, it seems like long-tail keywords would be the way to go. After all, the longer the keyword, the less competition there is and the cheaper the click will be.

However, that only works up to a point.

When we looked at how keyword length affected ROI, we found that the most profitable keywords typically had 15 to 30 characters.

If you think about it, these findings make sense. Below 15 characters, you face one of two problems:

    The keyword is too non-specific and produces low-quality clicks, orThe keyword has good volume and intent but is way too competitive.

Above 30 characters (and especially above 40 characters), the searches are usually incredibly specific and have low conversion intent. For example, we once saw an AdWords account that had received 127 clicks from the search term “how do I remove the terrible smell from carpet that has been flooded using household ingredients.”

Despite all these clicks, this search term had never produced a single conversion. Why? Well, people who bother to type in a 96-character search term like this are usually looking for a very specific answer — the kind that you get on a forum or answer board, not a landing page.

3. More clicks don’t mean more conversions

If you have a conversion rate (CR) of 5 percent and a click-through rate (CTR) of 5 percent  for a given ad, it’s easy to assume that doubling your CTR will double your conversions. While that may be true in some situations, as a general rule, increasing your CTR actually tends to decrease your conversion rate.

Yes, you read that right.

In our study, higher CTRs were typically associated with lower conversion rates. Let’s take another look at that e-commerce data we were talking about earlier.

(Note: Since this is e-commerce, a single click sometimes leads to multiple sales, which is why a good chunk of our conversion rates fall above the 100 percent mark.)

As you can see in the graph above, as CTR improves, the conversion rate plummets. But why? Since people only click on ads that they think match their intent, wouldn’t a higher CTR lead to a higher conversion rate?

Unfortunately, that only happens if you are targeting the right audience with the right message. In many cases, CTR improves because you are targeting the wrong audience with the wrong message (or at least an unclear message). As a result, they think they’ve found what they’re looking for, only to end up on your landing page and discover that your business isn’t what they really want.

4. There is no silver bullet

Sadly, this is where the clear data ends. Although AdWords experts love to say, “Pull this lever and you’ll make more money,” it doesn’t work out that way in practice.

For example, let’s take a look at how well click conversion rate (percentage of clicks that convert at least once) predicts ROI:

At first glance, this graph looks great! I mean, look at that trend line. Clearly, the higher your conversion rate, the more profitable your campaigns will be, right?

While this graph looks compelling, there’s a problem. If you take a close look at the graph, it’s pretty clear that the dots don’t really follow the line. In other words, the trend line doesn’t do a very good job of predicting real-life results.

In statistics, we describe how well a trend line fits the data using R2 (R squared). In the case of the graph above, the R2 value is 0.31, which essentially means that the trend line is only accurate about 31 percent of the time.

In our study, we found that the best predictors of ROI were the amount of time spent on a page and the number of pages visited. That’s kind of a no-brainer — if you’re converting, you’re going to spend more time on the site and visit more pages. But it’s hard to use that data to improve campaign performance. After all, forcing someone to visit more pages and spend more time on your site isn’t likely to get them to convert.

But what about all the other metrics we love to watch? How does modifying those metrics affect ROI?

As you can see above, the very best predictors of ROI are CTR and CPC. But even those factors only have R2 values of 0.27 and 0.19, respectively. A 27 percent and 19 percent success rate aren’t exactly the kind of wins you want to wager money on.

Now, that being said, these numbers are based on our whole data set. When you group companies with a $0.25 CPC and a $10 product with companies with a $25 CPC and a $1,000 product, your data are not going to be very consistent.

So, let’s try to simplify things. Instead of looking at our whole data set, let’s look at the R2 values for e-commerce keywords with very similar CPCs and see if that provides any additional clarity:

In this chart, I’ve assigned bronze, silver and gold medals to the top predictive factors in each CPC range. As you can see, hashing out the data in this way does improve the predictive value of each of these factors, but our best performer is still only accurate about 50% of the time.

So, regardless of what you may read out there, there is no “silver bullet” for AdWords performance. Improving your CTR, ad position or conversion rate might improve your ROI, but it’s a shot in the dark.

Conclusion

Really, when you get right down to it, every business and market audience is unique, which means that the only true “silver bullet” may be blood, sweat and tears. That being said, these data may be a bit of a relief to you.

After all, if improving these metrics doesn’t reliably improve ROI, that means you can spend less time worrying about your CTR and more time identifying new, creative ways to reach and influence your target audience. If you’re focused on creating profitable ads and campaigns, rather than improving surface metrics like bounce rate, you’ll probably end up with better results.

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

The importance of targeting branded searches

Search experts understand the importance of targeting non-branded search terms: Optimizing for high-volume, non-branded terms can drive a significant amount of traffic to your brand’s site.

While targeting non-branded search terms plays an essential role in your overall search strategy, many brands still underestimate and neglect the power of branded search terms. By relying on the strength of a brand and integrating branded search tactics with current non-branded search strategies, your business can discover more qualified leads — and, as a result, increase conversions.

The role of branded search in consumer behavior

For many established companies, their branded terms make up a majority of their keyword profile. If people are searching for your brand or products by name, they’re likely deeper within the sales funnel. In fact, Google has found that branded keywords have over two times higher conversion rates when compared to non-branded terms. So why would brands shy away from increasing or stepping up their branded search efforts?

Let’s flip the script and put you in the customer’s shoes. Say you’re searching for a fitness tracker your brother would love this holiday season. When you begin your gift hunt, are you more likely to search for “best fitness tracker for men,” or for “best Fitbit for men”?

Data from Google AdWords Keyword Planner

Due to the Fitbit’s brand awareness efforts, the product is iconic enough that consumers search for it more often than non-branded terms. Search engines like Google, Bing and Amazon recognize the strength of the brand — SERP layouts and competitive pricing reflect this.

Brands working to improve their conversions need to work the entire marketing funnel. For brands or products well-known enough for branded search terms to be relevant to audiences, it’s important to know how audiences discover your products so you can target these branded search terms. Otherwise, you’re leaving money on the table for competitors and review sites to take for themselves.

Integrating branded search tactics into marketing strategy

With a strong brand, and thus stronger branded search terms, bread-and-butter search tactics will have some incredible advantages. These advantages span both paid search and organic search tactics, affecting every aspect of search from the page rankings, search boxes, knowledge panel, and even map results. With branded search, search engines will recognize your main site, if optimized for best practices, as the most relevant site for searching by potential customers.

Organic search

Your home page and (if applicable) product category pages should rank the best for high-traffic branded search terms. Your title tags and meta descriptions should clearly display these branded search terms and relevant context that encourages searchers to make the decision to click. Once they do, the site should match the promise the SERP listing made with this copy.

Your goal should always be to dominate the first page and to obtain the highest positions with optimal branded search efforts. Brands should not only focus on their branded terms at the user’s research and consideration phases of the funnel, but also the post-purchase phase.

In the research phase, searchers will find strong, relevant brands first and foremost. Consider that they will also be looking for reviews, pricing and where to buy the product. This information should be available to users prior to their converting.

But the job isn’t done after converting. Post-purchase, many users will search for more information about the product using branded terms — installation instructions, how-to guides, proper cleaning and maintenance techniques, general product help and more — and these searches should lead to your website.

All of the brand-related terms throughout the sales funnel have heightened search term relevance to affect consideration, conversion and continued use.

Paid search

If you plan to own as much real estate on the SERPs as possible, paid search is an essential tactic to earn qualified leads. Even if you have obtained the top ranking in organic search results, research suggests that having an ad can produce incremental clicks. With little competition, it’s pretty easy (and cheap) to own these paid search spaces.

With branded search ads, you should be making use of ad extensions. These will provide more information to searchers, which can make your ad stand out and entice users to click. Certain extensions — such as sitelink, location or price extensions — can also increase your listing’s SERP real estate, particularly on mobile.

Keep in mind that Google factors ad extensions into its Ad Rank calculation, so proper use of extensions can give you an edge over competitors who may be running conquest campaigns on your brand name.

Other branded search considerations

Beyond the basics of SERPs with organic and paid search listings, you should be taking advantage of additional branded search real estate options that should be taken advantage of, including:

Organic sitelinks, the links that are displayed under the top organic search result. They’re important since they occupy a lot of SERP real estate and can function as an outline of your site, helping users to navigate to your other top pages. Google determines whether it will provide sitelinks or not, so you don’t have direct control over this — but you can help Google out by submitting an XML sitemap and having your site set up with a logical hierarchy.

Apple shows six organic sitelinks for a branded search. Note the site search box, too.

You want to make sure map results are showing up for you if your brand or business has physical locations. To do this, you need to ensure that you’ve set up Google My Business listings with the correct NAP (name, address and phone) information.If your site has an internal search function, you then have a solid chance of a search box showing up on Google. If it doesn’t display within the SERPs, you can utilize structured data markup per Google’s guidelines.The Knowledge Graph helps users discover business information quickly and easily. Google will pull this information automatically from trustworthy sites like Wikipedia or WebMD. With the right mix of search tactics, you can obtain a Knowledge Graph result for your brand. Make sure that you have all social channels, a solid description, reviews and accurate information correctly displaying in the eye-catching Knowledge Graph.

Final thoughts

Branded searches are imperative and shouldn’t be overlooked. Many assume that search queries involving your brand will naturally lead to your website, but that’s simply not the case. Without optimizing your paid and organic search efforts to capture branded searches throughout the entire purchase cycle, you’ll be missing out on tons of potential new traffic and conversions. Owning as much real estate as possible for your brand is crucial, especially during high-traffic seasonality.

Oftentimes, branded search terms can be the last channel touch point for consumers who are about ready to convert on one of your products or services. By incorporating branded search into your overall digital marketing strategy, you can quickly accelerate your brand, helping it stand out on the SERPs and provide a better experience to audiences.

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