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Merkle Blog

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


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.


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 [...]

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 n[...]