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Merkle Blog

Merkle is a leading technology-enabled, data-driven performance marketing agency, and part of the Dentsu Aegis Network.


How Much Do Google Minimum Bid Estimates Increase During the Holidays?

Mon, 20 Nov 2017 16:09:39 +0000

The holiday shopping season is the single most important stretch of sales for many retailers in the U.S. As such, brands tend to get a lot more aggressive in marketing channels, including paid search. Naturally this increase in competition has an effect on the bids required to appear in paid search results, whether at the top of the results or on the first page at all. But how expensive does it get? Using Google’s first page and top of page minimum bid estimates, we can get an idea of how pricey reaching these locations in the search results can get during the holidays for the average keyword. Surprisingly, it’s not as big of a jump as you might expect. First Page and Top of Page Minimum Bid Estimates Rise in Late November Google provides advertisers with estimates of how high a keyword’s bid needs to be in order to reach the first page of search results and to appear above the organic results at the top of the first page. These estimates can shift for a given keyword as a result of changes in the level of competition, changes to the layout of the SERP which impact the number of available ad slots, as well as when Google makes backend changes, such as its ad rank calculation change in May of this year. Taking a look at the 2016 holiday season, we find non-brand first page minimum bid estimates began picking up right around Thanksgiving, while brand first page minimum bid estimates actually trended a bit down during the holidays relative to mid-November. The red and orange lines denote Thanksgiving Day and Cyber Monday, respectively. Non-brand estimates fell back below mid-November levels just before Christmas and continued to decline heading into the New Year. Now again, these estimates can shift as a result of a few different types of changes, but in this case we believe it is primarily the result of increased competition during the holidays, both in the form of higher bids from existing advertisers and additional brands entering the space during this time. Google Auction Insights reports, which detail which competitors are showing up in the same auctions as an advertiser and how often, corroborate this assumption. The average number of competitor sites included in Auction Insights increased last year beginning on Thanksgiving, and fell below levels observed in mid-November just ahead of Christmas Day. Still, average first minimum bids topped out at just about 10% higher than mid-November levels last holiday season. That actually seems relatively tame considering how aggressively most advertisers adjust bids during this time. Further, while non-brand top of page bid estimates also increased right around Thanksgiving, they topped out at about 5% higher than mid-November levels, and also weren’t as consistently higher throughout the holiday season. This might mean that most of the influx of competition comes in the form of advertisers that aren’t deep-pocketed enough to really challenge for top spots, resulting in more pressure at the bottom of the page than at the top. It could also be the result of noisy data that should really just be taken directionally, but if the holidays aren’t a good time to draw way too specific conclusions about different data points then I don’t know when is. Regardless, average cost-per-click trends fairly similarly to the waxing and waning of first page minimum bid estimates. The one day in which CPC increases truly far outpaced the shifts in first page and top of page minimum bid estimates was Cyber Monday, naturally a big day for most online retailers and thus cause for aggressive competition. Conclusion Paid search competition is set to heat up significantly in the coming weeks, making it more expensive for advertisers to get ads on the first page and/or the top of page search results. In order to maintain visibility, most brands will have to deploy timely bid pushes in order to hold their position in paid search results. Looking at Google’s own first page and top of page minimum b[...]

Wait for it…Amazon’s Holiday Paid Search Presence Picks Up on Cyber Monday, but Peaks Later

Thu, 16 Nov 2017 13:27:46 +0000

Amazon is a big player in the paid search space, both with its long existent-text ads as well as with its steadily expanding Google Shopping presence. Like any paid search advertiser, it likely has a strategy heading into the big holiday shopping season in order to maximize its efforts during this key time. Assessing Amazon’s presence in Google Auction Insights reports over the last three years, we’ve uncovered some interesting insights into the e-commerce giant’s strategy throughout the holiday season, and how it’s changed over time. Amazon’s Holiday Paid Search Presence through the Years Below are charts depicting Amazon’s text ad paid search presence according to Google Auction Insights Reports for 20 large retailers that see Amazon as a competitor in paid search to some extent. Situations in which advertisers see Amazon impression share of ‘[...]

Google Merchant Center Updates Make Feed Testing and Other Tasks Simpler

Wed, 18 Oct 2017 13:30:59 +0000

Google introduced a new user experience in the Feeds tab of the Google Merchant Center (GMC) this August.  These new updates bring more functionality to the Feeds tab and overall have been found to be beneficial, though it may take some time to acclimate to the new layout. Key Enhancements to the New Feeds Experience: 1) Streamlined Feed Testing In January 2018, Google will rid the GMC of the ability to upload a test feed.  Historically, in order to run a test feed the user would go through the same process as setting up an actual feed, but would designate it as a test feed.  Rather than creating and running test feeds, users will now run tests of the real feed in a few easy steps: Click the 3-dot icon on the right side of the page on the Feeds tab Select ‘upload input file’ Select the file Check ‘Upload as test’ And, finally, upload the file This is an improvement as the user will not have to ensure the settings are the same across feeds when setting up tests, as was the case prior. 2) More Access to Previous Feed Uploads Google now allows users to access the past ten feed uploads, compared to a previous maximum of five.  The advantage of this new feature is that, in lieu of downloading an old feed and re-uploading it into the GMC, reprocessing a feed is only a click away as long as it is one of the last five feeds uploaded.  Simply select the feed that you want to re-upload, click the 3-dot icon, and click “Re-process feed.” 3) Options for Primary and Supplemental Feeds The addition of the primary and supplemental feeds will be most impactful for advertisers who may not have access to a feed management platform.  While this does not affect us here at Merkle (because of our current capabilities), it allows advertisers the ability to provide supplemental data by joining on the ID to the existing information in the primary feed. For example, it is now possible to add GTIN’s or flag products as ‘best sellers’ by joining a supplemental feed to the primary feed via product ID’s for those brands which cannot create a single feed containing all the necessary information.  With this new addition, it appears that Google is attempting to provide some of the typical features available from a specialized feed management optimizer to the built-in functionality of the merchant center. 4) Ability to Submit One Feed to Multiple Countries Previously, retailers running separate PLA feeds for multiple countries had to upload a separate feed for each locale. The new feed experience allows for a multi-country feed containing multiple languages and countries within one file. For advertisers selling to a variety of countries, this feature will help reduce the number of feeds requiring management and simplify setup in the Merchant Center. For a comprehensive list of the full feeds experience updates, click this link to Google Support.  Additional Changes to be Aware of: Historically, Google would send an email to the technical contact notifying the advertiser when a new feed has uploaded to the GMC.  Now, Google will only send an email if the number of valid items in the feed drops by 5%.  In the past, if the technical contact did not receive an email, it means there was no feed upload.  Today, it could mean there was no feed uploaded, or the feed that was uploaded is within the 5% threshold for valid products not dropping out of the feed.  The only way to ensure a feed ran properly is to log into the GMC daily to check the status of a feed upload. To find the timestamp of when a feed was uploaded to Google, advertisers must click into Product > Feeds > then select the Primary Feed.  The upload time will be listed for the 10 available feeds. Historically the timestamp was visible immediately after clicking into the feeds tab of GMC, but marketers must now select a specific feed in order to see this information. While the overall new feeds experience may be fru[...]

Google’s Opportunities Tab Makes Prioritizing Product Feed Errors a Data-Driven Decision

Mon, 09 Oct 2017 12:41:03 +0000

As Google Product Listing Ads continue to grow in importance for retailers, it’s important that product feeds are as data-rich and accurate as possible to provide the best experience for customers as well as maximize ad performance. With all the other competing priorities in managing a Google Shopping and broader PPC program, seemingly low-priority warnings and errors in the Google Merchant Center can potentially fall to the wayside as other more important and pressing matters take center stage. Those low-priority errors can sometimes remain unattended to, mostly because it has never been abundantly clear what the impact of certain warnings or errors had on actual ad performance for advertisers. That is, until now. In an attempt to help advertisers diagnose and prioritize product feed issues, Google released a new Opportunities report in the Merchant Center three weeks ago after several months of closed Beta testing. The new tab details the impact on traffic that a given disapproval has, making it easier to prioritize which feed errors to tackle first. As Google continues placing further emphasis on Google product identifiers (GTINs) and tightens restrictions on data-rich fields like product images, it’s important to know which Merchant Center issues are worth prioritizing. Using the Opportunities tab, you can get insight into exactly which disapproved or warned products are impacting performance and deserve attention. Taking Advantage of Opportunities So how do we use it? The Opportunities offering lives under the Products tab in the Merchant Center, coexisting alongside the Diagnostics, Feeds, and List tabs. When a user clicks into the tab, they are greeted by curated suggestions (or “opportunities”) that correspond to the current errors in the Diagnostics tab. At first glance, Google displays the number of products that are affected by a given error, and the estimated weekly Shopping click impact that the error is causing. When clicking into an opportunity, the user is directed to an expanded view of the top 25 products receiving the error, and the estimated weekly clicks missed by each product due to its disapproval. This is where the true value of the Opportunity beta shows. If you are having trouble fighting back product errors and warnings, fixing the problems at hand can be daunting and sometimes seem to be more trouble than they are worth. This view allows us to prioritize products that drive meaningful levels of traffic, while working on a broader solution to cover the rest of the products. This insight is especially helpful for those who manually edit their feed whenever a change is needed, because it establishes a list of priorities and expectations. But those with feed editing and optimization tools shouldn’t turn a blind eye here, either. Knowing the value and cost of leaving errors unresolved makes communicating necessary changes to clients much easier. That additional performance context may be the necessary push that’s needed to drive changes in the feed. Okay, so it’s clear this tool will be a big help in prioritizing errors, but how is Google calculating weekly clicks for a product that’s not currently running ads? Well, there are several factors that Google is basing its estimation on. How Does Google Calculate Estimated Weekly Clicks? First, Google takes into account past performance of the affected item and base the estimation on historical data. In addition, Google looks at performance of similar items that are currently live in Shopping. According to Google, similarity is determined by a number of things, but most notably: titles, descriptions, GTINs, and Google Product Categories. Google admits that, of course, seasonality, bid changes, and budget constraints are all less predictable, and could skew estimation. Keeping that in mind, the Opportunities tab is most valuable for insight into directional imp[...]

Preparing Your Amazon Account for the Holidays

Fri, 06 Oct 2017 14:37:45 +0000

According to the National Retail Federation, 54% of consumers begin researching holiday purchases in October or earlier. The time to optimize accounts for the holidays is now! More customers are starting their product searches on Amazon than anywhere else on the web; we’ve compiled our top tips to help you capture those customers.

Work put in over the next couple of weeks will pay dividends deep into the holiday season in helping to ensure strong performance. Start with a solid backbone of product data, layer on smart campaign optimizations, and incorporate insights from last year’s performance to fully recognize the potential of Amazon. A few key areas of focus include:

  • Product page optimization
  • Budget and bidding considerations
  • Campaign and keyword strategies
  • Promotions

Are your accounts ready for holiday? Use our checklist as a comprehensive guide to prepare.


Product Data Tips for a Successful Holiday Shopping Season on Google PLAs

Wed, 04 Oct 2017 13:03:24 +0000

As the 2017 holiday season draws near, it is imperative for advertisers to make sure their product data is in the best shape possible to capitalize on the anticipated lift in Google Shopping Campaign traffic. We’ve seen an uptick in Google auditing of Merchant Centers in the last two months or so which can lead to product disapprovals and possible account suspension if issues are not addressed. Here are four things for advertisers to address to set themselves up for success during the coming months. Localize Your PLAs to Prevent Unwarranted Disapproval Several Merkle clients have encountered an issue with how Google checks ads for correct currency from countries outside the U.S. An example illustrates this problem best: Big Box Clothing has set up their website to dynamically change the currency depending on where a user is searching from (ex: a shopper in France would see prices in Euros while a shopper in Canada would see prices in Canadian dollars). This is generally a best practice for site design because it creates a positive user experience for shoppers in different countries. However, when a Google employee in another country like India clicks through on a PLA to check the landing page, they expect to see the price in USD because that is what is passed in the feed. Instead, they are served a price in INR, and perceive this as a violation and issue a suspension warning even though the advertiser hasn’t really done anything wrong. This suspension warning can occur even if the advertiser is only running PLAs targeting the US. To counteract this issue, you will most likely need to have your technical team localize all product listing ads by appending country and currency information to the URL of each item. This may be the most immediately critical step on this list as most companies go into a code freeze leading up to the holiday season. If this suspension warning is handed down after that occurs, you may be stuck on the outside looking in when it comes to Google Shopping. Check and Update Sales Tax Information Google’s bots crawl your site for tax information on items and compare what they find to the information stored in the Google Merchant Center (GMC). If a bot finds the two values don’t match, then Google will issue a suspension warning to the account. You can set and update this information at the state level in the Tax tab of the GMC. Here’s a helpful table to help you decide which setup is best for you: Source: According to Google, if accurate tax information cannot be submitted, the best course of action would be to overestimate the tax amount; this will, at the very least, prevent products from being disapproved. Match GMC Shipping Information to What Is On-Site Incorrect shipping information is another suspension-worthy offense that can easily be avoided. Rates are set at the account level with plenty of options to make sure your GMC reflects how you charge for shipping on-site. If your site is using something more complex than or in addition to a simple tiered cost structure (ex: orders < $50 = $3.99 shipping, orders > $50 = free shipping) you will want to populate the shipping label attribute column in the feed. This will allow you to set shipping using item weight, carrier rates, customer location, etc. The key here is to pay attention to the small details, like setting accurate pricing thresholds and making sure products are tagged correctly in the 'shipping label' column. If you have recently made changes to shipping rates on site in preparation for the holiday shopping season, it is especially pertinent that you double-check this section of your GMC. Google offers a very detailed help page to assist advertisers with shipping settings. Perform a Merchant Center “Check-Up” Now is also the perfect time to[...]

Your 2017 Holiday Win List for Paid Search and Media

Mon, 02 Oct 2017 17:05:29 +0000

A few weeks ago, we hosted a webinar that dove into important aspects of paid search and digital media planning necessary to execute for the quickly approaching holiday season. In the webinar, which is available on demand, we elaborated on a few key areas of management, including how to build an effective holiday calendar, ways to target audiences using cutting-edge methods, and how to use digital to drive in-store purchases. Here, we’ll briefly touch on some of the points covered within these topics; for a more extensive discussion of these and other strategic areas of focus you should watch the webinar. Building an effective holiday calendar Each holiday period’s scheduling is a little different than the last due to the nature of the shifting number of days between Thanksgiving, when holiday shopping demand traditionally begins in earnest, and Christmas. Thus, variables like the number of Mondays (when online shopping tends to pick up relative to other days of the week) and what day of the week a final shipping cutoff might occur are always changing from year to year. There are, however, some overarching trends that can help inform holiday planning. For example, while Cyber Monday is still the largest online sales day of the holiday season, Black Friday is the fastest growing, as shoppers are increasingly logging on instead of lining up for Black Friday deals. This means your digital strategy needs to account for increased demand ahead of Cyber Monday. Particularly in the areas of display advertising, video, and paid social, brands should be planning the breakdown of spend between remarketing and prospecting well ahead of Thanksgiving. One popular strategy is to consider prospecting more aggressively ahead of the holidays — to retargeting to those users once holiday shopping starts in earnest. Finally, be sure to look at your historical holiday performance overall but also by category/channel/device/etc., so that you can create this year’s holiday plan with any desired improvements and with your brand’s nuances in mind. Cutting-edge audience targeting methods Marketers have more audience levers available now than ever before across the different digital marketing channels, and sound holiday strategy requires a smart plan on how to use these audiences effectively. If you read Merkle’s blog last holiday season, you know that we advocate for creating Google Remarketing Lists for Search Ads (RLSA) specifically for holiday shoppers. Because these lists don’t backfill at all, advertisers have to create lists ahead of the days that they’re intended to capture users. Along with creating lists during this year’s holiday season, consider what CRM data you can leverage to re-engage customers that have purchased from you in the past during the holiday season. These lists can easily be pushed to both paid social and display channels for targeting or look-alike modeling, or used in the same fashion on Google through RLSA. Hopefully you planned ahead last year and have these lists to call on this year. If not, certainly consider building out holiday-focused lists ahead of Thanksgiving, or collect this first-party data within your CRM system this year for use next year. In paid social and display media, it’s key to implement platform pixels and begin building audiences well ahead of the holidays, as well as to consider extending audience duration. One advertiser found that 55 percent of Cyber Weekend sales had a first touch prior to Thanksgiving, so it’s important to ensure that remarketing efforts during the holidays are reaching users who may have clicked far in advance. Use digital to drive in-store purchases It’s no secret that shoppers often look online before heading to a brick-and-mortar location for purchases, so advertisers with physical stor[...]