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


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

14 Aug 2017 12:41:39

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 changes in product recommendations, site navigation structure, and product categorization. Leveraging matches with promotions If we’r[...]

Google to Soon Update Showcase Shopping Ads Pricing Model

4 Aug 2017 8:34:50

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

28 Jul 2017 10:40:08

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

24 Jul 2017 10:26:55

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

18 Jul 2017 14:05:42

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 category focus. Amazon’s impression share for Google PLAs within the home goods product category jumped roughly 15 points between late Ap[...]

Leveraging New SERP Features to Win in SEO

20 Jun 2017 11:42:20

In this day and age, it seems like the search results change every day. With new tests and SERP features rolling out regularly, it can be hard to keep up! In this session presented at Virtual C3, Melody Petulla walks through some of the most notable new SERP features and what they can do for your website.

Topics include:

  1. What's new in the SERP Today
  2. AMP – What exactly AMP is, how you can leverage it, and what sorts of results it can drive
  3. Featured Snippets – Different types of featured snippets, how to capture them, and how they can impact the bottom line
  4. Rich Results – The evolution of rich results, different types, and potential CTR improvements

Assessing the Impact of Google’s May Ad Rank Changes

12 Jun 2017 10:00:00

In early May, reports surfaced that Google made changes to both how it calculates the minimum ad ranks required for an advertiser to show on the first page and top of page results, as well as how individual advertiser’s ad ranks are calculated. Both updates hinged on adjustments made based on query meaning, though the confirmed details are sufficiently vague that it’s difficult to assess exactly what types of queries will be impacted and in what way. Given Google’s timeline that these updates would roll out over the course of May, here we take a look a look at how some key metrics are trending now that the changes should be fully implemented. Brand Minimum Bid Estimates Down, Non-Brand Minimums Up Google’s first page and top of page minimum bid estimates often shift when Google makes adjustments to the ad auction. Indeed we do see movement for these metrics, as brand estimates are trending lower and non-brand estimates higher for the period following the early May update compared to previous estimates. Brand CPC Trending Down, Non-Brand Holding Steady In turn, brand cost-per-click (CPC) Y/Y change has been trending lower since early May, and it appears that advertisers have some reason to cheer Google’s update at this point. On the non-brand side, Y/Y CPC declines have gotten slightly smaller since the update, though it appears that could be part of a trend that’s been going on over the first few months of 2017. In the case of non-brand keywords, if these updates were to increase the cost of traffic for some keywords, advertisers would be forced to cut spend in at least some areas of their account in order to maintain the same return on ad spend as prior to the change. Thus, it’s not clear that CPC would necessarily go up as a result of these changes. By comparison, brand keywords typically aren’t held to strict return on ad spend goals in the same way non-brand keywords are, since brand terms typically convert at very high rates and part of the goal of these ads is brand protection. However, if advertisers were being forced to reduce non-brand bids in order to keep CPCs in check as a result of these updates, we would expect some sort of impact to traffic as some keywords fell off the top of the page or off the first page entirely. Looking at Y/Y click growth for the median Merkle advertiser, we find that non-brand text ad click growth actually accelerated for both desktop and phones in May relative to earlier in 2017. Declines in tablet traffic did get more severe in May, but tablets accounted for just 10% of paid search clicks in Q1. Phone and desktop traffic is thus much more important for brands, and we haven’t seen any signs of a negative impact to ad clicks on either of these two device types. This is in contrast to what happened to click growth in 2014, when non-brand first page minimum bid estimates skyrocketed beginning in Q3. In turn, click growth stalled out over the back half of 2014 and first two quarters of 2015, until Google changes to increase the number and size of ads on phones in Q3 2015 increased traffic. Obviously first page bid estimates have increased much more modestly following this latest update compared to 2014. That, combined with the fact that first page minimum bids don’t actually affect all auctions since in many cases competitor bids determine the cost per click of non-brand keywords, is likely why the overall impact to performance is relatively minor at this point. By comparison, brand CPC is typically more heavily reliant on top of page minimums and less a result of competition in most cases. Thus, the shifts in brand minimum bids likely have a more direct result on a greater share of auctions than is the case with non-brand. No Shifts in Quality Score While the details of the update that have emerged so far don’t mention anything about quality score being calculated differently[...]

Google Quietly Shutters AdWords Targeting for Airports and Universities

6 Jun 2017 12:23:55

In April, Google quietly removed the ability for advertisers to add new Places of Interest location targets for airports and universities, and in May completely eliminated these targets from AdWords. We’ve confirmed this timeline with representatives from Google, which did not issue a public announcement of the change, despite the location target type help page continuing to include information or airport and university targeting. It’s unclear why Google eliminated these targeting options, but it’s possible that there simply weren’t enough advertisers using them. While there are certainly use cases for targeting campaigns to universities and airports, the use of these targets was very low among Merkle advertisers in general. That said, it’s still possible to target users in close proximity to airports and universities using other Google targeting options. Hat tip to Merkle Associate Director Egle Mazonaite for discovering the sunset. Workaround for Targeting Airports and Universities Update: Advertisers can still search for universities and airports one by one in the UI, or add them via bulk upload. The process just isn't as simple as it once was with Places of Interest. Additionally, Google still allows for radius targeting. This allows brands to target areas within a radius as small as one kilometer around landmarks, addresses and coordinates. By plugging in the address of an airport or building in the center of a university, advertisers can then select an appropriate radius around these addresses to attempt to capture individuals searching from airports and universities. Here I’ve plugged in the address of Charlottesville, Virginia’s airport with a radius of five kilometers selected. And here’s an example using the address of the Rotunda, a historic building at the University of Virginia, in order to target individuals close to the school. Conclusion It’s interesting that Google would bother eliminating a targeting option, particularly without any public announcement to advertisers. However, it’s not a big deal for most advertisers as these geographic targets were rarely used for the most part, a fact that likely played into Google’s decision to do away with them quietly. Still, for those brands that want to target ads to college-goers and airport travelers, there are still workarounds to get at such audiences. These should more or less achieve the same goals as university and airport specific targets. [...]

Are Your AdWords Campaigns Taking Advantage of Separate Desktop and Tablet Bids?

30 May 2017 9:30:12

Google began rolling out a huge update to its device bidding in Q3 2016, as advertisers became allowed to set separate desktop and tablet bids for the first time since the migration to Enhanced Campaigns in 2013. While tablet performance for most advertisers wasn’t as good as desktop even when Enhanced Campaigns launched, the gap between tablet and desktop performance grew over the years, and Google’s argument that these two device types should be lumped together for their similarities steadily lost credibility. As such, the 2016 update was cheered by most marketers, who had long bemoaned the lack of control afforded in the Enhanced Campaigns set up. But are brands really taking advantage of this new control like they should? Here we’ll show how separate desktop and tablet bids have impacted Merkle data, as well as share evidence of what we believe might show that a lot of advertisers aren’t quite flexing these new bidding options like they should be. Moving Tablet Cost-Per-Click in Line with Revenue-Per-Click The big reason we wanted greater control over tablet is that the revenue-per-click (RPC) of tablet devices was steadily getting worse and worse relative to desktop, down to about 35% lower in Q2 2016. Without bidding controls, however, advertisers were forced to bid the same for tablets as desktop, resulting in only 5% lower cost-per-click (CPC) in Q2 2016. Looking at how relative cost-per-click (CPC) and revenue-per-click (RPC) have moved since Google’s Q3 update, tablet return on ad spend is now nearly identical to desktop. Not only has relative CPC declined with advertisers making bidding adjustments, relative RPC also increased as the worst performing keywords on tablet have been bid down out of the results. This significantly affected overall trends, sending desktop spend up with an increase in CPC and RPC and tablet spend down with declines in traffic and CPC. While we predicted that desktop CPC would go up as advertisers shook off tablet performance from bid calculations, what’s been a bit more surprising is how big the improvement in desktop click growth has been. After desktop paid search traffic declined 10% Y/Y in Q2 2016, click growth has since rebounded and sat at positive six percent growth in Q1 2017. If all advertisers were bidding up on desktop in unison with the new bidding controls, it seems that desktop traffic gains shouldn’t be this big as everyone would just end up paying slightly more and not moving in terms of average position. But what if all advertisers aren’t bidding desktop up with the new controls? Merkle Desktop Average Position on the Rise For the median advertiser at Merkle, average position moved up the page significantly beginning in Q4 2016 (remember, negative change in average position indicates movement up the page). While the jump in average position in early 2016 can be attributed to the removal of right rail text ads at the same time, the additional movement which began in Q4 aligns with our observed increase in desktop click growth. This suggests that our ads are pushing past other ads on the page as we bid up desktop using the new controls. Thus, we think that other advertisers out there might not be bidding up desktop as aggressively as the value of the traffic might warrant. As such, it’s possible that Merkle advertisers are benefiting from early adoption and implementation of separate desktop and tablet controls. Most bidding systems, including Merkle’s own proprietary bidding, required significant changes in order to fully take advantage of the new bidding controls, thus the small delay between Google rolling out the changes in Q3 and our own data reflecting the new capabilities in Q4. It’s probably safe to assume that all brands will eventually catch up in taking advantage of the changes, but for now there [...]

Google Addresses One of the Flaws in Its Paid & Organic Report, Others Remain

23 May 2017 10:01:16

Google announced yesterday that its paid and organic report can now be downloaded by device, a marked upgrade in allowing marketers to analyze ad and organic link performance by query more granularly. Both paid and organic ranking and peformance can vary by device type, making this segmentation crucial for understanding both channels’ performance as well as assessing results of tests such as brand ad holdouts. However, the report is still limited in a couple of critical ways in that it does not include data from Google Shopping campaigns and the data still cannot be segmented by geographic region. Here’s why those two points matter. Google Shopping Ads Are a Huge Source of Traffic for Retailers and Crucial to Understanding Ad Visibility Google Product Listing Ads (PLA) accounted for 52% of all retailer Google paid search clicks in Q1 2017 and 75% of all non-brand clicks, according to Merkle’s Q1 Digital Marketing Report. As such, leaving these ad units out of the paid and organic report greatly limits how much insight advertisers can draw from it. For example, having a PLA unit as well as a text ad and organic link for a particular search might impact expected performance compared to when just a text ad and organic link are present. At present, the report would deem these two situations as identical. Obviously moving forward, retailers would greatly appreciate an update to include Google Shopping in the paid and organic report. Global Organic Data Inhibits Valuable Analysis The other major limitation of the paid and organic report that has yet to be addressed is the lack of geographic segmentation. This is important for a couple of reasons. One is that even if a brand were completely global and relevant in every country that uses Google search, its competitive position is likely different for different regions. Aggregate global trends might hide valuable regional insights, and advertisers currently have no ability to account for this. Another big reason this is an issue is that paid search data is obviously limited to the regions targeted in AdWords, while organic performance represents the entire world. That means that while the ‘ad only’ and ‘both’ categories of query performance are limited to regions targeted by AdWords, the ‘organic only' performance is mixed between regions targeted in AdWords and any other regions which accounted for organic impressions. This isn’t an issue if AdWords campaigns target the entire world equally with ads, but that would be an incredibly rare if not non-existent scenario. At a basic level, this makes it nearly impossible to make comparisons of aggregate click-through-rate when an organic link is present by itself versus when an ad is shown alongside an organic link, since the global data makes for an apples-to-oranges scenario. This can be accounted for in holdout testing when ad impression share for a query is at or near 100%, but it’s a headache and marketers are out of luck for any query without near-100% ad impression share. Conclusion This is the first major update to the paid and organic report since its release in terms of real additional functionality, and represents a strong step forward in making the report more nimble for advertisers to actually use in analysis. Unfortunately, there are still a couple of other areas that need to be patched up in order to make the paid and organic report all it could be. If you’re reading this, Google, inclusion of Google Shopping ad performance and geographic segmentation are next on our wish list for this evolving report. [...]