Close Variant Match Type: Time to Benchmark is Now!

With the recent announcement that at the end of September Google will remove the ability for search marketers to opt out of close variant matching for exact and phrase keywords, there is less than a month away to benchmark the impact of this change before it is gone for good.

When Google first implemented the close variant match type feature in 2012, which enables search queries that contain plurals, abbreviations and misspellings to trigger exact match or phrase match ads, 80% of search advertisers began using it (granted, using it by default since they have to manually opt out to disable it).  As a result, the permanent move toward eliminating the close variant opt-out feature will only affect about a fifth of search marketers.    

However, for the 20% who are currently opted out of it, there are clearly reasons why.  It is likely that this group contains the more sophisticated search marketers who rely on every tool at their disposal to optimize search campaigns.  When it comes to exact match, in particular, moving high volume keywords to this match type has always been a core tactic to bring ROI in line.  For advertisers who are currently struggling to get non-brand text ads to work, taking away any optimization tactic that impairs their ability to do so means losing an element of control. This is similar to when enhanced campaigns was rolled out and marketers lost the ability to target tablets separately from desktops.  While this change to close variant matching is not as significant, the premise is similar in that another optimization lever will shortly be gone.  Another similarity of the close variant change to enhanced campaigns is actually a benefit in terms of streamlining the workload.  Enhanced campaigns eliminated the need to triplicate search campaigns to target all devices separately, and with close variant matching, the size of the keyword list can now be reduced since plurals, misspellings, etc. are no longer needed. Time previously spent building out keyword lists can now be put toward other optimizations which will likely have more of an impact on performance, anyway, such as landing page testing, copy testing, sitelinks at the adgroup level, building out negatives, etc.   

Google estimates that there will be a 7% increase in traffic with close variant matching vs. that which advertisers are seeing now in their exact and phrase match campaigns.  Lifts in traffic are good, of course, provided the traffic converts.  Search marketers need to be mindful of this, especially as it relates to holiday planning, and with a solid month to go in order to understand the impact on performance before this feature becomes permanent, the time to start benchmarking is now.   If an advertiser has an open budget for holiday and is currently running a lot of exact and phrase match terms, a 7% increase in traffic may be fine to absorb.  However, for those advertisers with capped budgets for holiday, the investment needed for a 7% increase in paid traffic may be better spent elsewhere if it is proven that conversion falls off.  A key thing to look out for while benchmarking includes watching the budgeting by match type: volume will surely go up for exact and phrase match terms.   CPCs will likely go up slightly and conversion may dip.  Search query reports will reveal which were close variant matched vs. matched for exact and phrase, which is an opportunity to add negatives, where needed.   

Since Google will continue to serve a keyword in current exact match form if it is a dead on match to the search term queried, all the current exact match terms in a keyword portfolio should help keep cpcs in line.  It is the new variations that will begin to trigger exact and phrase match terms to show which will definitely lift spend and probably cpcs in the current configuration of exact match and phrase match campaigns.  

Real-Time Marketing: How to Leverage a Sudden Surge in Impressions

One of the hottest trends in digital right now is real-time marketing.   The goal of real-time marketing is to leverage an abberationally high level of impressions in order to yield sales.

We are in the midst of one of those moments in which back-to-school searches and social impressions are at their peak for the year.  By now, most retailers for whom back to school matters have already built strategies and are executing against them in an attempt to win the highest impression share possible on key terms.  Other important retail events that drive huge impression volume throughout the year are Holiday, Mother’s Day, and to a lesser extent, Valentine’s Day. Most online retailers are all over these events, trying to secure maximum impressions share.

However, there are other more obscure events that happen throughout the year that also drive high levels of searches and Continue reading

The Role of Non-Brand Text Ads in an Evolving SERP

The Google SERP now presents three types of formats when someone searches for a product:  Organic, PLAs, and Non-Brand Text Ads.  These same three options have existed for a few years, but the PLAs used to be buried below the fold and were called Product Search (and Froogle, a really long time ago).  All search marketers know that visibility drives volume, and with PLAs now showing at the top of the page and non-brand text pushed below the fold, clicks to the image-friendly PLAs have soared; whereas, clicks to non-brand text ads are on the decline. 

What’s happening with non-brand text ads is similar to recent evolutions on the SERP causing volume shifts with organic.  All of this has to do with the placement of the formats.  Note that on the following screenshot, there are only 2 organic listings above the fold vs. 12 paid ads (4 non-brand text and 8 PLAs).  Continue reading

Finding New Customers Online (Part 2)

Part 1 of “Finding New Customers” addressed why new customers are important to a brand or retailer.

Part 2 will cover how to find new customers from among the choices of online media programs that are in widespread use.  Note that all of these channels are effective at yielding sales, but some drive more new customers than others.  Here is a rundown:

Comparison Shopping Engines (CSEs):  Consistently one of the top media sources for yielding new customers – often in the 80%+ range.  CSEs are somewhat on the decline, but they can still represent up to 5% of online sales.  The datafeed work needed to participate in the CSEs can be unwieldy, but there are some good, inexpensive sources that can not only maintain the feed on an ongoing basis, but also create it, if needed.  The best feed management companies also optimize the feeds for all of the CSEs (and PLAs), so picking a feed partner whose capabilities match to a retailer’s needs is important. Continue reading

Mobile Display: The Key Ingredients to Success

I truly love what’s new and emerging in digital marketing. I want to learn about it, evangelize it and get tests out in the market right away.  That said, my role as an agency president for the past 12 years has required me to vet new digital prospects, separating the opportunity from the hype.  We need to know where to invest:  no matter how cool and interesting something sounds or seems, I have to consider how viable it might really be.

I like to think I have had more hits than misses when it comes to recognizing the hype.  An example here is the QR Code, which I passed on from the gitgo.  I never thought people would take the time to scan them (if they even knew how to which in my non-scientific research of asking lay people how to do it, nobody ever actually knew).  I doubted they would then watch a video about the product or service if there was one.  I saw QR codes on subways, airplanes (pre wifi), taxis, and sliding glass doors at Duane Reade – in places and on things that were physically impossible to scan.

Mobile, though, is definitely not hype.  Up to half of some retailers’ traffic originates from mobile, and per eMarketer, 19% of US eCommerce sales now come through it, too.  Continue reading

Finding New Customers Online (Part 1)

Except for a new brand looking for repeat buyers, most online retailers want new customers.  As a consumer, this can be frustrating since for people wo are loyal to specific brands and/or retailers, they know they are not as valued as a new people are.  New people are offered better deals.  When I used to work in magazine circulation, we printed two versions of insert cards (ie: those slips of paper that fall out of a magazine when you drop or shake it). The newsstand version offered a lower price to subscribe than the subscriber version did since they knew that the people buying on newsstand would likely be new-to-file.  This is one of many examples of better deals given to new vs. prior customers.  Another example is the great deals cell phone and cable companies offer to new customers only. Continue reading