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RKG is a digital marketing agency providing data-driven solutions to online marketing challenges.


Google Introduces Absolute Top Impression Share Metric For Shopping

Fri, 01 Sep 2017 22:31:37 +0000

Google recently launched Absolute Top Impression Share (ATIS) as a competitive metric for Shopping to give advertisers further insight into ad prominence within the product carousel. Advertisers will be able to see how often ads are showing in the most prominent position with the greatest potential for clicks and visibility. The ATIS metric can be found in AdWords Next and viewed for Shopping ads and Local Inventory Ads, across devices, and at the campaign, ad group and product group levels. To add the ATIS metric in AdWords Next, click on the 'modify columns' button in the upper right corner above the designated list of campaigns, ad groups, or product groups. 'Search abs. top IS' is an option under Competitive Metrics and can be applied along with other desired metrics. ATIS is calculated as the number of times an ad shows in the most prominent position out of the total opportunities to show in that prominent position. Similar to impression share and click share, total opportunities for ATIS include auctions where an ad is shown in any position, as well as auctions an ad participated and was competitive in, but did not show. The most prominent position is the position with the highest CTR, which Google currently identifies as the leftmost position on the carousel. Bid pushes for Product Listing Ads (PLAs) and /or Local Inventory Ads (LIAs) should result in a positive, or at least neutral, impact on ATIS as the metric accounts for the increase in eligible auctions that can come with bid pushes. This is different from text ad average position, where bid pushes can result in lower average position in some circumstances by making a keyword eligible for more auctions. ATIS should help advertisers better understand how to bid for top products by giving insight into where there might be room for opportunity within the competitive space. The rapid growth of Amazon’s Google Shopping home goods impression share since last December poses a challenge for retailers’ PLA/LIA visibility on the SERP.  With the introduction of ATIS, retailers now have another avenue to evaluate dominance in the auction in terms of the prominent position. Increasing opportunities to show in the spot with the highest CTR may be another method for advertisers to maintain strength against Amazon and other major competitors. Much like position one for text ads, it is unlikely that advertisers will optimize to show in the top spot of the carousel for all products all the time, as bids are most often set based on the expected value of traffic rather than ad position. While increasing prominence in the top spot will likely increase traffic, the traffic may not necessarily be as qualified.  There are multiple cases where this insight into shopping visibility may be advantageous. Google offered a few different scenarios for ATIS optimization opportunity:  Category & Brand Ownership Whether it be bestsellers or the highest impact categories, the ability to see ATIS at the ad group and product group level provides another benchmark when pushing on the products where high visibility is most important to the retailer. ATIS can give a sense of prominence in categories or subcategories that are beginning to trend based on seasonality. ATIS can also act as a window into the most competitive categories. Ownership on an advertiser's own brand space, when looking at campaigns targeted toward branded queries, is another area in which ATIS could come in handy.   Promotional Periods Since a common strategy is to push bids on products during promotional periods, ATIS will reveal how much of the most valuable PLA space retailers are owning during a time where high visibility can be a priority. For LIAs, ATIS can be implemented as another benchmark for the advertiser to use when looking to support promotions both in-store and online.   Key Shopping Days As we approach the winter holiday season, some advertisers become more willing to increase spend to ensure strong visibility. Whether the goal is to target top pr[...]

Amazon Opens Up Headline Search Ads to Third-Party Sellers

Thu, 31 Aug 2017 15:07:40 +0000

Earlier this month, Amazon started allowing select third-party sellers to run Headline Search Ads. Previously, this ad format was only available to vendors, or manufacturers that sell inventory wholesale directly to Amazon. This added capability expands the Amazon Marketing Services available to third-party sellers, which were formerly restricted to advertising on Amazon only through Sponsored Product Ads. What are Headline Search Ads? Headline Search Ads are keyword-targeted banner ads that show on Amazon search results pages above the other product-specific results. The ad format works well for showcasing a product assortment, since it features up to three in-stock products. Several elements, including the headline, image, and landing page, are customizable. If a shopper clicks on one of the three products, they will land directly on that product page; if they click elsewhere on the ad, they will go to an Amazon landing page of the advertiser’s choosing. For vendors, we’ve observed strong sales-per-click numbers on Headline Search Ads that are comparable to those of Sponsored Products campaigns. However, overall volume is lower than Sponsored products since only one ad can show on each SERP. What is the Impact of This Change? Adding third-party sellers to Headline Search Ads will significantly increase competition for this format, driving up Amazon’s ad revenue in turn. Why Amazon decided to open this format up to third-party advertisers now is left to speculation. From a financial standpoint, it’s unclear what Amazon’s motivation might have been for limiting this advertising format to first-party sellers in the first place. On the campaign management side, however, there are clearer reasons that explain why this format has only been available for first-party sellers. The product is still relatively new overall for Amazon. A staged roll-out could have been an effort to tweak and fine-tune the tool before expanding it more broadly. Additionally, there are some reporting attribution challenges that make the value of the ads tough to gauge, especially for third-party sellers. When a shopper clicks and converts through a Headline Search Ad, the advertiser will see an order in their reporting as long as a product from that brand gets purchased within two weeks of the click, regardless of whether it was purchased from the advertiser. Let’s walk through an example of that to more clearly illustrate what’s happening. Let’s say ACME tools is a manufacturer selling on Amazon and they are running a Headline Search Ad for their power drills. A shopper clicks through that ad and is taken to a product page. They browse a few different sizes, and ultimately purchase an ACME drill from a reseller called Tools Supply Plus. The revenue associated with this order would still show up in the ACME tools Headline Search Ad reporting, even though ACME will not receive the money directly for that sale. For vendors, this is not as problematic because, as the manufacturer, they eventually share in some part of the revenue regardless of which seller the shopper chooses. However, for a third-party seller this can be very challenging to navigate. It can cause substantial reporting discrepancies between advertising reports and actual revenue realized. Knowing That, How Do I Wade into Headline Search Ads Effectively as a Third-Party Seller? The above reporting issue also illustrates a second challenge with Headline Search Ads for third-party sellers – if managed haphazardly, many ad dollars can be spent on shoppers clicking through your ad to purchase from a competitor. As such, Headline Search Ads are best used by third-party sellers for two sets of products: 1) Those where you’re consistently winning the Buy Box. The Buy Box “is the box on a product detail page where customers can begin the purchasing process by adding items to their shopping carts”. The seller winning the Buy Box is more prominently displayed than other sellers, giving them a leg up on getting the conversion. H[...]

Translating Insights into Better Marketing Programs

Mon, 21 Aug 2017 23:35:56 +0000

Today, I thought I would talk to you a little bit about leveraging insights and analytics in order to improve your marketing programs.

So whose job is it to ensure insights turn into action? I think a lot of you would probably say, "Well, that's the analytics team." We actually think it's everybody. The entire team should be focused on measurable performance, whatever those KPIs are. That could be from the top of the funnel with awareness, all the way down to the bottom of the funnel when we're thinking about conversion.

We want to make sure we have those KPI frameworks in mind and that we're laddering back up to that for every step that we take. I'm sure you're wondering, "How do you get started?" So first, you establish your customer strategy and map out your KPI framework. Then, we would recommend that you would establish your data framework and create a roadmap in order to support that growth. Then, you want to look at your first-party data that you have available, and then consider any third-party data that you could use in order to enhance that first-party data.

Lastly, it's really important that there's partnership and alignment across all groups. That's internally and externally. So internally, you've got your analytics, strategy, agency services, relationship management; it’s working in concert with each other, and then with your clients, from a marketing product and even a measurement and analytics perspective.

We want to create a culture of curiosity and learning. So we want to constantly be thinking about, "How can we improve response? How can we get more people to respond?"

And if you'd like to learn more, you can explore our website, or you can email me at I look forward to talking to you soon.

Note: Matt Snow and Steve Donohue contributed to the thinking behind this video.


Understanding Fidelity in Marketing

Mon, 21 Aug 2017 11:43:38 +0000

Fidelity is the new battleground in advertising. When we think of fidelity in music terms, we think about the exactness by which a voice or instrument can be replicated or recorded. In advertising, fidelity is the level of exactness by which a person can be persistently identified and tracked across digital and physical brand interactions.

An anonymous visitor to your site would be an example of low fidelity. In this case, the visitor is likely being tracked by a cookie placed on her browser, but we know little about that visitor, nor even who she is. That visitor can also easily wipe out that cookie or switch devices, leaving us no persistent understanding of who she is, her behaviors, interests, or intent. High fidelity definitions look different.

One example is a customer's relationship with a bank. When a consumer visits an ATM, pays a bill via online banking, or walks into a branch, she is identified by a personal ID unique to her, along with various passwords and pins for security. High fidelity is achieved when you understand and reach real people, not proxies.

Learn more about Merkle's 2017 Marketing Imperatives at


What Is the Merkle Innovation Cloud?

Wed, 16 Aug 2017 19:53:00 +0000

Hi, my name is Chris Crichton, Vice President from our Solutions Team.

Almost all of our clients are looking for ways to mature their marketing and move towards people-based marketing, but they're not quite sure how or where to start.

Many of them have already purchased the entire Adobe stack, but maybe aren't getting the value out of it that they expected. Or they have a list of disparate tools and aren't quite sure how to integrate them.

The Merkle Innovation Cloud allows us to demonstrate how Merkle can use data and these marketing cloud technologies to power the cross-channel customer experience in a real lab environment. The Merkle Innovation Cloud brings the art of the possible to life.

To learn more, please contact


Are Your Customers Buying What They’re Clicking On? Four Considerations for Retailers in E-Commerce

Mon, 14 Aug 2017 14:15:43 +0000

When assessing the success of your paid search campaigns, it’s easy to treat ad performance as a proxy for product performance. After all, if your t-shirt ads are performing well, that’s probably a good indication that t-shirts are in high demand, right? Maybe not as much as you think. Using an internally developed click-to-cart report that examines product ad clicks and their attributed orders, Merkle puts a microscope over the order behavior of our retail customers. Google makes it easy to track item IDs associated with Shopping ads using ValueTrack parameters. Additionally, if text ad keywords are granularly categorized, one can simply compare the type of products purchased to the category of the keyword to assess differences. Using this method, we ran the numbers on over 36,000 orders from some of our highest grossing paid search programs to find out how often shoppers were really buying what they clicked on. What we found was surprising; one out of every five users that clicked on an ad of a given product category ended up ordering an item from a different category. Some advertisers find even larger shares of orders attributed to categories other than that of the product clicks, and the implications of this should affect how you’re spending your ad dollars. Taking the right steps to account for these click-to-order discrepancies could help make the difference in taking your paid search accounts to the next level. So, what should we be doing if our customers aren’t buying what they’re clicking on? Bid to the product, not the ad Hypothetical: let’s say you’re an apparel retailer and want to push bathing suit products as you approach the dog days of summer. Sounds easy enough - just push bids for ads tied to bathing suit categories, right? But what if only 60% of bathing suit ads result in a bathing suit order? Should you push bathing suits at that point? This is where Merkle’s advanced approach shows its value. We can selectively push categories based on the frequency they convert on the same category as the click, as well as identify categories of product ads/keywords that are likely to end in conversions for a different, targeted product category. Knowing that 32% of sandals orders, or 46% of intimates orders result in an order for bathing suits introduces other areas of focus and more opportunity to capture demand. Group likes with likes In basic terms, we like to group similar products together for bid calculation because they perform comparably. Obviously if an individual product/keyword has enough data to set a bid specific to just that product then we don’t need to group it with other similar products, but for products/keywords with less data we must aggregate performance in order to set effective bids based on meaningful data. For example, dresses will generally rise in demand during the spring and summer, whereas outerwear gains traction in the fall and winter. So, it follows that we would group and bid the products and keywords with insufficient data tied to these segments separately. That isn’t to say that all dresses perform the same; sweater dresses and sundresses perform differently depending on the time of year, so we opt to house those in separate product groups. Click-to-cart analysis arms us with greater insight into true product performance, and allows us to think critically about how we are structuring campaigns and grouping products and keywords for bidding. You might also like… Retailers will often prompt users with suggestions for other products on their product pages. Being informed about what products customers are buying when they click on ads can help you recommend the right products, and drive additional revenue from the order. Our hypothetical apparel client might not know that their sandals ads are often bringing users to the site to purchase bathing suits. Being equipped with that data opens the door to potential[...]

Google to Soon Update Showcase Shopping Ads Pricing Model

Fri, 04 Aug 2017 16:57:01 +0000

Advertisers taking advantage of Google Showcase Shopping Ads are receiving notifications from AdWords that, beginning in mid-August, Google will update how advertisers are charged for interactions with these ads.

Brands will still be charged if a user clicks onto a Showcase Shopping Ad and then clicks on a product to head to the advertiser’s website, as has always been the case with these ad units. However, advertisers will soon also have to pay whenever a user clicks through a Showcase ad and then remains on the expanded ad for at least 10 seconds.

The following depicts Showcase ads on the Google SERP on the left, while the image on the right is an example of the expanded ad a user sees after clicking through a Showcase ad. Users can scroll through the expanded ad to view products from the advertiser.


Google has quietly stated since the beginning of Showcase ads that pricing for the premium version of the format might include a charge for time spent on the expanded ad, so this update doesn't come as a huge shock to brands and agencies that have been working with the format over the past year. Still, it does stand to impact ad spend and engagements for any brand currently deploying Showcase ad campaigns. How much is a bit hard to say, as we don’t currently have any data on what share of visits to Showcase expanded ad pages don’t result in an ad click but do result in a user staying on the page for ten seconds.

Additionally, conversion rates will likely decline, since a user who never makes it to the website from an ad click is unlikely to convert (though they could still come to the website later).

Below is a screenshot of the email sent to advertisers:



Google Testing Price Slashes in Shopping

Fri, 28 Jul 2017 14:40:08 +0000

Beginning in early July our team started spotting a new extension test on Google Shopping in which discount prices are presented with their full price slashed out directly to the right. It appears that Google is testing this out for certain users, as we see it showing while logged into a specific Google account but not while logged into others. As with most tests, Google reps reiterated that they are always testing different formats to provide users with the best information possible.

This recent test offers a new variation of Google’s attempts to make it clear to users that a product is discounted, similar to price drop alerts which have been around for a couple of years.

Shoppers Get Additional Visual Cue to Identify Bargains

These eye-catching extensions highlight the promotion an advertiser is running on a product. We’ve seen them on both mobile and desktop across a variety of advertisers.

The location of the extensions still allows for other existing extensions to show including free shipping, product ratings, and special offer merchant promotions. The image on the left shows the shopping block containing several ads with price slash extensions, while the image on the right shows several of the same products without the price slash extension.


While Google hasn't confirmed it, it appears this data is pulled from the price and sale price columns within the feed. It is possible that Google is testing this format as an alternative to price drop extensions which often use up more space on the SERP and feature percentages. However, it seems these two extensions are pulling from different data points.

Potential Effects

Moving forward, these price-slash extensions could certainly impact CTR, especially since they can be featured alongside other extensions. They could provide an advantage to advertisers who employ discount pricing strategies and help differentiate those ads from competitors. As always, advertisers should ensure the price and sale price columns are updated in their feeds and sent to Google daily, and even more so in the event that Google shifts from test phase to launch.


Post Prime Day, Amazon Sustains Increased Paid Search Advertising Efforts

Mon, 24 Jul 2017 14:26:55 +0000

While much of the paid search community is focused on Amazon’s recent push into Google Shopping ads, it did not slip past our radar that the retail giant recently expanded its efforts in the already established text ad portion of their ppc program. Amazon Ramps Up Mobile Impression Share on Google Text Ads Across the Merkle client set, there was a significant increase in Amazon’s Google text ad Impression Share beginning on July 8 of this year, heading into the weekend before their annual Amazon Prime Day event (July 11). This change is most notable on mobile, where impression share topped out at 36% for the median advertiser on Prime Day compared to a daily average of 25% in June. Desktop and tablet impression shares also increased modestly, and on Prime Day both were five percentage points higher than their June average. Increased efforts on mobile for text ads reflect a change in device strategy for the retailer, one that more closely aligns with their mobile focus on Google Shopping ads. Mobile Helps Drive New Customers From the company’s press release following this year’s performance it was noted that, “More new customers joined Prime on July 11 [2017] than on any single day in Amazon history.” As such, it seems new customer acquisition was a central focus for Prime Day, which would make sense given Amazon’s particularly strong push on mobile. Merkle data indicates that many advertisers see a higher percentage of new customers come in on mobile ads than from other device types. Amazon Sustains Increased Impression Share Following Prime Day While pushing text ads more on mobile may have been a short-term promotional strategy in the lead up to Prime Day, Amazon has maintained an increased presence on the SERP following the success of this year’s event. With the media coverage around this sale growing every year, it is difficult to estimate the impact that paid search had on the overall company’s success compared to other channels. However, if the positive side-effects that Merkle clients saw on Prime Day in mobile non-brand CR increases are any indication, paid search may have played a significant role in Amazon’s new customer acquisition achievements, leading the eCommerce giant to continue its expanded paid search efforts. Combat Increased Competition by Measuring the Full Value of Paid Search Cross-device conversions and in-store measurements have helped many advertisers make the case for investing more into paid search, particularly for mobile traffic which is traditionally more likely to drive cross-device and in-store transactions. Advertisers which limit ROI measurements to single-device, direct response interactions may fail to properly invest in paid search given the full impact of ads. For advertisers looking to combat lost impression share as Amazon gets more aggressive, we recommend ensuring that you are fully valuing new customer acquisition and lifetime value driven by paid search marketing dollars. Doing so may help justify increased investment in the space for particular product categories, ad formats, and/or device types that drive a higher percentage of new customers or a larger lifetime value than paid search on the whole. [...]

Merkle Q2 2017 Digital Marketing Report Released

Wed, 19 Jul 2017 02:13:05 +0000

We are happy to announce today's release of the Q2 2017 Merkle DIgital Marketing Report, our quarterly barometer of key digital marketing channels with in-depth stats and analyses on paid search, SEO, display advertising, paid social, and more. Below are some of the notable highlights from this quarter's DMR drawn from its executive summary. Please download the full Q2 2017 Digital Marketing Report today for over 50 charts and trends covering Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Microsoft and more. Q2 2017 saw continued strength for the two major digital marketing platforms as Google search spending growth accelerated to 23% year-over-year (Y/Y) and Facebook budgets continued to grow much more rapidly than the online ad industry as a whole. The news hasn’t been all good for Google, as it faced a massive €2.42 billion fine levied by the European Commission in June after a years-long investigation found that Google breached EU antitrust rules for its practices around Google Shopping, which has been a key growth driver for Google in recent years. Google Shopping and the Product Listing Ad (PLA) format accounted for 51% of Google UK search ad clicks among retailers in Q2 2017, up from 40% a year earlier. In the US, PLAs produced 53% of retailers’ Google search ad clicks, with PLA spend growing 31% Y/Y, compared to 16% for text search ads. The strength of PLAs has helped retail and consumer goods advertisers outpace those in most other major industries in increasing their investment in Google search ads, despite an environment where brick-and-mortar store closures appear to be on a record-setting pace. Retail and consumer goods advertiser search spending rose 25% Y/Y in Q2 2017. Interestingly, a mid-quarter change that Google made to its Ad Rank calculation appears to have depressed its cost-per-click (CPC) growth, specifically for keywords containing an advertiser’s own brand name. Brand keyword CPCs, which shot up 30-40% two years ago following a similar change that had a very different outcome, fell 8% Y/Y for the full quarter, with 14% declines in June. While mobile continues to be the main engine of spending growth across digital ad platforms, desktop has been pulling more weight for Google in recent quarters. This resurgence began soon after Google began allowing search advertisers to bid separately for tablet traffic and the better performing desktop segment in Q3 2016. Desktop spending growth, which was just 6% Y/Y that quarter, shot up in Q4, rose further in Q1 2017, and then again in Q2, where it stood at 22% Y/Y. For Facebook, there were no signs of similar renewed strength for desktop traffic, but it didn’t hurt, as overall Facebook spending still grew 56% Y/Y. Mobile accounted for 82% of advertiser investment on Facebook in Q2 2017, up from 76% just a quarter earlier. Facebook acknowledged the mobile-heavy nature of its usage last year with the sunset of its desktop-specific ad platform, FBX, to focus on newer ad formats and mobile devices. Some ad formats, such as Messenger Ads, only target mobile devices. Though hit hard in recent years by increased ad loads, organic search visit growth continued to rebound in Q2 2017, growing 1% Y/Y, up from a 4% decline a quarter earlier. Google produced 93% of US mobile organic search site visits in Q2 2017 and 89% of all organic search visits. At the same time, Google continues to outpace its rivals in monetizing search, as it generates 97% of mobile paid search clicks in the US. Amazon’s Sponsored Products ad format continues to generate more interest over time, but adoption remains relatively limited compared to Google PLAs. Among those participating in Sponsored Products, though, ad spend rose 43% from Q1 to Q2 2017. Amazon itself appears to be increasing its spend on Google PLAs, but maintaining a narrow [...]