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Merkle Blog

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


Google Q1 Updates Signal Effort to Curtail Ad Blocker Use

Tue, 20 Mar 2018 15:30:07 +0000

Google has been busy so far in 2018 when it comes to changing the advertising landscape to improve users’ relationships with the ads they see. Shortly after Valentine’s Day, the Coalition for Better Ads—an industry group formed with the help of Google that has identified 12 “web experiences” that advertisers and publishers alike should avoid—scored a big win when Google announced that it would enforce the group’s standards and block ads on sites that continue to use those ad formats on the Chrome browser, a decision that has been in the works since last June. This came after a late January change in which the advertising giant announced additions to its Mute This Ad tool designed to give users more power to escape unwanted retargeting ads. Both of these developments—one macro, one micro—are worth keeping an eye on, so let’s look at how they are different and how they will affect advertisers. The macro: Coalition for Better Ads standards come to Chrome The Coalition for Better Ads has drawn significant press for its focus on eliminating disruptive advertising experiences like pop-ups and auto-play video ads with sound. Sites are evaluated for the percentage of their pageviews containing ads that fall into these categories and are notified if they are in danger of failing to meet the threshold, set at 7.5 percent of page views in the program’s first two months and 2.5 percent after six months. If a site fails to fix its non-compliant ad experiences in 30 days, Chrome will begin to block all ads on that site unless users opt in to allow ads anyway. Part of Google’s likely aim here is to limit the extent to which intrusive ad formats cause Chrome users to install ad blockers that would prevent ads on all sites—not just the ones with sub-optimal experiences—which eliminates a key revenue stream for publishers and Google alike. The popularity of ad blocking tools has risen steadily over the last five years, reaching a projected 30.1 percent of all US internet users in 2018 according to eMarketer and surging as high as 54 percent for the 18-24 age group. While the notification that a site is warned or failing goes only to that publisher, advertisers will be able to use Google’s Ad Experience Report API to pull a list of the sites that are in violation. As of March 1, over 1,300 sites were listed, though nearly all were fringe sites that are unlikely to have a significant impact on ad delivery. That said, when the threshold for non-compliant page views drops to 2.5 percent in July, it will be worth revisiting to see if any top websites run afoul of the standards, as that could hurt advertisers’ ability to reach users on quality inventory. The micro: Mute This Ad gets an upgrade Compared to blocking ads on non-compliant sites across Chrome, Google’s strengthening of its ad muting features saw relatively little fanfare, but these changes shouldn’t be ignored. In late January, a blog post from product manager Jon Krafcik announced that users would be able to mute “reminder ads”—also known as product retargeting—from specific advertisers for a 90-day period through their Ads Settings dashboard. Additionally, the Mute This Ad tool, which allows users to dismiss a piece of ad creative that they deem inappropriate, repetitive, or irrelevant, will recognize users’ feedback on any device that is signed into the corresponding Google Account. If you mute an ad from a shoe company on your laptop, that ad will also be muted on your phone and tablet. For comparison, Facebook allows similar power to users who hide ads on its platform, preventing them from seeing that specific ad ever again and hiding all ads from the advertiser for 30 days. The power of Mute This Ad varies significantly by ad type, though. Video and lightbox ads cannot be muted for now, and muting display ads served on the Google Display Network, DoubleClick Bid Manager inventory, or on YouTube will block only that specific creative until a user deletes their cookies. Meanwhile, muting paid search or Gmail ads blocks the s[...]

Has Baidu Cracked the Code of the New Web Ecosystem?

Mon, 19 Mar 2018 20:25:31 +0000

You may have heard that Baidu launched MIP (Mobile Instant Pages), its own version of AMP, last year. At the time I’m writing this post, the company has already indexed 1.4 billion MIP pages and been sending over 100 million clicks to those pages every day. You may also have read that Baidu is pushing the PWA with its LAVAS framework. And, this doesn’t even account for the artificial intelligence yet. All Baidu’s updates are following Google’s footprints within the mobile internet. AMP Roadshow – Two stops in China You can imagine that Baidu is facing the same challenges Google is facing when rolling these out. If you work in China SEO, you would have this strong feeling that Baidu is now working with webmasters closer than ever. They have roadshows across dozens of cities every year, letting their engineers meet the webmasters and SEOs face to face. On the other hand, Baidu has even started cooperating with Google, who was their direct competitor before Google got censored in 2010. They offered a CDN to Google for its AMP library. Note: There are three forms of AMP URLs. Only the Original AMP URL can utilize this CDN. The Google AMP Viewer version and the AMP Cache version do not work in China. Now you can submit your Original AMP URLs in Baidu Webmaster Tools. Clearly, Baidu has envisioned the roadmap of its next 10 years as a search engine: to rebuild the web ecosystem. Baidu, as a search engine and the world’s fourth most trafficked site, is a major traffic source for brands online. Baidu also drives a significant amount of traffic to its other websites outside of search. However, the competition surrounding the Chinese search giant is much fiercer today than what Google has in the western world. Tencent’s WeChat and Toutiao are prevailing in the war on mobile, which is the preferred way Chinese consumers use the web. They are influencing consumers’ time on mobile away from Baidu. The pressure from new channels urges Baidu to do something different from AMP, MIP or PWA. Those players are not going to be a game changer, because they either require sophisticated implementation or have a lack of flexibility for personalization and customization. Moreover, if you take web analytics into account, those brands are missing a chunk of data with MIP. These are the reasons Baidu ended up with a new product: The Bear Paw (BP). To clarify; the Bear Paw is not a new shiny product from Baidu, it’s a platform. Products grow, yet they don’t scale. Platforms do scale. In the latest Baidu Webmaster VIP Conference in China, Baidu stated firmly that the Bear Paw is the answer to the evolving mobile web ecosystem. Meet the Bear Paw In Chinese, it’s xiong-zhang-hao (熊掌号). Obviously, the name is from Baidu’s logo, which is designed around from the paw of a bear. In Chinese language, the bear paw is a symbol of a “delicacy.” According to Xie Tian, Director of Baidu Search Ecosystem Dept., Baidu will send 50% of its mobile traffic to BP pages in 2018, and 80% in 2019. See a screenshot of the home page of a BP account below. Here are some facts about the Bear Paw platform: Any individual or corporation can register a BP account. The BP account is a container of content your brand generates. The content can be from either the Baidu Baijia (Baidu’s blogging platform) account it connects to, or web pages (must be a HTML5 or MIP page) you submitted through Baidu Webmaster Tools. Baidu users can follow your BP account through Baidu Mobile App with their Baidu account. A verified BP account can broadcast a push message to its followers daily through Baidu APP. The content of the push message can enclose up to 5 articles from one of those sources: BP’s ative CMS Baidu Baijia Web pages you host (must be a HTML5 or MIP page.) How does BP work? For brand marketers, the BP is like your Facebook page — it connects your brand to the audience on one of the major mobile apps in China. It sounds like BP’s push notification feature would be like the push message[...]

Get your Submissions Ready! Baidu Officially Supports AMP in its Webmaster Tools

Thu, 08 Mar 2018 01:16:02 +0000

In his March 2017 article, my colleague Hermes Ma foresaw Baidu broadening its footprint by joining forces with Google Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP). He quoted a source within Baidu who also confirmed that Baidu is undertaking some steps to align its self-developed MIP (mobile instant page) with Google’s AMP project. MIP is Baidu’s own version of AMP. The technical aspects of the MIP project are basically the same as AMP, which is built upon three essential components: MIP-specific HTML markups, MIP JS libraries that manage resource loading, and MIP cache, a proxy-based CDN that delivers valid MIP pages. Though there is no definite answer why Baidu needed to create MIP in the first place, it is fairly obvious that China’s censorships on Google hosted resources is the major cause. The once-blocked AMP Project website can be successfully loaded on mainland China, with a CDN enabled by Baidu, specifically for China to accommodate the regulation. With the first step taken by both parties, it’s been months of waiting to see any further updates. Recently, we spotted a change on the Baidu Webmaster Tool interface. The MIP section has evolved to “MIP & AMP,” pairing the two terms side by side. On that page, there is a brief introduction stating that “AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) is an open source framework developed by Google, which is used to create lightweight pages that load fast on mobile devices. Baidu now supports AMP submissions.” The way that the AMP submission tool works is identical to MIP: you have the option of active push via API or manual submission methods. The submissions of MIP and AMP even share the same API. Although we have yet to find any official documents detailing the change, we’ve already noticed some AMP cached and delivered to Baidu SERP. See below: By inspecting the URL, it makes it clearer that the page is hosted on and delivered by Baidu’s AMP cache. In Baidu Webmaster Tools, there are instructions on how to manually flush AMP caches via API, which is the same method for clearing the MIP cache. Since Baidu has invested lots of resources into promoting its MIP framework to local and global sites, it is not unsurprising to us that Baidu gives AMP the same visual privilege on mobile SERP: a small lightning icon (the one used in the MIP logo) next to site URL that signifies fast loading. Therefore, we may well assume that AMP pages won’t differ much from MIP pages when it comes to the potential competitive edges of SEO ranking, though more observations and testing should be done to substantiate such assumption. For global brands who want to gain a more prominent presence on Baidu, the dominant Chinese search engine, this is really good news. If the site is already implemented with AMP framework, developers no longer need to make extra efforts to create an MIP variant. For sites that have not yet leveraged any of those technologies, the decisions are now a little easier to make since Google’s AMP is being forged into the standardized solution even in this territory it has no presence in. [...]

This Year's Digital Bowl Top Performers

Tue, 06 Feb 2018 13:50:28 +0000

Hi. In this video we’re going to talk about 2018 Digital Bowl advertisers, and who won the real game. The reason we started doing this is it’s no secret that there’s a huge investment made on behalf of advertisers around the Super Bowl – from their media buy to their creative development – but if you don’t support that with your digital channels, you can leave opportunity on the table. So to that end, we look at Paid Search, Organic Search, Social Media and Display Media to see how these advertisers are leveraging digital channels to capitalize on that investment. This report comes together at breakneck speed. It’s put together by cross-functional teams that work together through the night. Then we calibrate those scores around 1:30 in the morning and it’s passed to marketing who carries it over the finish line to launch it on Monday morning. Now we’re going to talk about the 2018 winners. First, let’s dive into our second place winner: Groupon. Groupon really nailed Paid and Organic Search, ensuring they were at the top of the SERP for those queries that were relevant to their brand. We saw some room for improvement in Digital Media, but they did excel at Social. So what they were putting out on Twitter wasn’t necessarily breakthrough creative, but they were tweeting out relevant links at each moment in the game to offers that would use a JavaScript to redirect to offers relevant to your location. So for example, I was getting offers relevant to the Charlottesville area. And we also saw Tiffany Haddish, their spokeswoman, posting live from her seat in the Super Bowl Stadium during the game. And so they were able to use an extra channel to capture more audience that may or may not have been on Twitter. Great. So without further ado let’s talk about our winner from the 2018 Digital Bowl Report. This year it was Avocados from Mexico. If you remember actually this time last year we said Avocados from Mexico is the advertiser to watch. They are the only advertiser to be in the top 3 performers for 3 consecutive years. They really have a tight Digital Game. Avocados from Mexico is a veteran of the Digital Bowl. So they have their landing page and their paid search ads dialed to a T – so they were covering Organic and Paid Search queries. They were extremely active all over social. I think their content output was probably the highest volume of the big advertisers and they were also posting across channel. And then we also saw a content partnership with Funny or Die. They were able to extend their message to a new audience in a completely different voice. So what may be considered off-brand for them and maybe not safe for them to do, they were more than comfortable to give Funny or Die more than enough slack in the leash to go out and go wild among its audience. There’s obviously a lot more insights and a lot more findings that we can share, including some of the other big hits and misses that we saw. Download the full Digital Bowl Report to see how other advertisers fared. And, you can register any time to view our Digital Bowl Webinar on-demand for a deeper dive on the report. [...]

2018 Merkle Digital Bowl Released

Mon, 05 Feb 2018 13:48:34 +0000

Today, we are excited to announce the release of the 2018 Merkle Digital Bowl Report for download. Our team of channel experts evaluated each brand that paid for a national television spot during the Super Bowl on its ability to execute on specific and objective visibility standards in the areas of social media, digital media, organic search, and paid search.

Different campaigns enter the Super Bowl with different goals. Some brands scored points for innovative approaches, while others earned high marks for discipline in covering the basics. Some brands clearly prioritzed one or two focus areas, while others were seemingly everywhere in the digital field.         

Ultimately, one brand rose to the top. The Super Bowl LII winner for excellence in digital marketing is:


Download the 2018 Digital Bowl Report to see how Avocados from Mexico bested the field, who found creative ways to extend their reach, and which brands took key plays off.


Delayed Growth of Close Variants Following Google Changes Now Becoming Clear

Wed, 31 Jan 2018 15:01:32 +0000

Last June I wrote about what the early data was telling us following Google’s March 2017 adjustment to the definition of close variants. This change made the addition, subtraction, and change of function words acceptable adjustments for a query to be deemed an exact match close variant, and also allowed for the words in a keyword to be reordered and still count as an exact match close variant. At the time, it appeared that there were no meaningful shifts in the types of match types that were driving traffic, and that Google’s adjustment to the definition of a close variant might not be of much importance at all. However, beginning in Q3 we began to see an increase in the amount of traffic coming from close variants. Let’s take a look at how much traffic is now being attributed to exact match close variants, as well as how that traffic is performing relative to pure exact match. Note on Method: In determining close variant share and relevant performance, I use Google’s match type designation in the search term report. This does not reflect the match type of the keyword but rather the relationship of the query to the keyword. This isn’t the only way to look at such match type comparisons, and each method of comparison will be impacted to some extent by advertiser strategy, such as the deployment of negative keywords and the extent of keyword coverage. Still, it gives some idea of what the close variant update has done to traffic mix. I also focus on non-brand traffic, as close variants account for only a very small share of traffic for brand keywords and perform much more similarly to pure exact matches than is the case with non-brand. Close Variants Now Account for 20% of Desktop Exact Match Traffic As you can see from the chart below, the share of exact match non-brand text ad traffic coming from close variant queries went up meaningfully in Q3 across all three device types and stayed at heightened levels through Q4. For desktop, this surge resulted in 20% of all exact match traffic coming from close variants in Q4, up from just 12% in Q2 2017. Phones, which have long seen lower share than the other two device types, saw 14% of exact match traffic coming from close variants in Q4 2017, compared to 11% in Q2 2017. This is important to advertisers because close variants typically convert at a lower rate than true exact match traffic. While an influx of newly minted close variant queries might have caused relative conversion rate to shift, we find that close variant conversion rate relative to pure exact match has remained about the same since the uptick in traffic. [...]

Merkle Q4 2017 Digital Marketing Report Released

Thu, 25 Jan 2018 17:20:55 +0000

Today, we are pleased to announce the release of the Q4 2017 Merkle Digital Marketing Report for download. Included in the report are key metrics across a variety of digital marketing channels, including SEO, paid search, traditional display advertising, paid social, and more.

Featured below are just a few of the notable highlights from this edition of the report, drawn from the executive summary. For additional insights on what advertisers should be focusing on for major platforms like Instagram, Facebook, Google, and Amazon, download the full Q4 2017 Digital Marketing Report today.

As the largest digital marketing investment for most brands, Google search ads helped drive strong year over year (Y/Y) online ad spending growth in Q4 2017. Search ad spending on Google grew 23% Y/Y, as retail and consumer goods spending rose 24% during the busy holiday shopping season.


Google search ad click growth did slow sharply, however, while average cost per click (CPC) growth spiked to 14%. To the benefit of advertisers, though, this trend shift was met by an improvement in the quality of traffic that Google search ads delivered.

In line with Facebook’s stated expectations that ad load would play a lesser role in the growth of its ad business beginning in the back half of 2017, impressions for Facebook advertisers declined 27% Y/Y in Q4. Spend growth decelerated sharply from 40%+ the first three quarters of the year to 20% in Q4, as increased pricing and higher click-through rate (CTR) both helped to make up for declining impressions, but not enough to maintain previous spending growth rates.

Instagram grew much faster, with significant increases in both inventory and pricing leading to a 122% increase in spend Y/Y. With strong targeting capabilities and the potential to roll out advertising to features such as hashtag follows (which were launched in December), Instagram spend will likely continue to grow meaningfully for the foreseeable future.


Investment in Amazon’s two biggest ad formats, Sponsored Product Ads and Headline Search Ads, increased 64% and 75% from Q3 to Q4 2017, respectively. Those figures represent an acceleration for both ad formats compared to Q3 Q/Q growth, as well as a higher growth than that of Google Shopping.