Tag Archives: Search Ads

Take our Holiday Retail Survey & let us know how your search marketing strategy changed this year

Did you switch up your holiday digital marketing strategies in 2017? Maybe extend your search ad campaigns? Or sell on more marketplaces? If so, we want to know about it.

Please take five minutes to complete the SMX survey exploring what digital marketing strategies were put in place by search marketers this holiday retail season — the 2017 Holiday Retail Survey.

Responses are kept anonymous, and the data gathered from the survey results will be shared during the Holiday Retail Search Strategies webcast on January 18, featuring panelists Brad Geddes, the co-founder of Adalysis, Marketing Land associate editor Ginny Marvin, Elite SEM’s Aaron Levy and CommerceHub’s Elizabeth Marsten.

Completing the survey will help add to the conversation around this season’s best search marketing strategies and whether strategy shifts were advantageous. Also, survey participants are entered for a chance to win a copy of Brad Geddes’ “Advanced Google Adwords” search marketing guide.

Everyone is invited to register for the January 18 webcast and listen in as the panel digs into the survey results and discusses the search marketing strategies that paid off this year, and what marketers may look to change during next year’s holiday season.

Take the 2017 Holiday Retail Survey.

Register for the Holiday Retail Search Strategies webcast on January 18.

[This article first appeared on Marketing Land.]

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.

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.

Bing Ads now supports call conversion imports

Marketers running Bing Ads campaigns can now import call conversion data so they can tie calls back to campaign efforts for attribution.

Third-party call-tracking systems can integrate directly with Bing Ads via the Offline Conversion Import tool or APIs.

CallTrackingMetrics is among the first call-tracking services to participate in the program. The system can automatically send session and conversion data to Bing Ads campaigns.

Bing Ads first began supporting offline conversion imports in September of this year, enabling advertisers to attribute offline conversion events captured in their CRM systems.

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.