Digital Strategies to Drive Retail Traffic

Most retailers rely on media to support store openings and store events as well as for lifting sales of struggling retail locations. Drive-to-retail marketing plans have typically consisted of radio, print and TV in order to build awareness, but more recently, digital has become an increasingly important component of the media mix.  What makes digital unique relative to traditional forms of media is the level of targeting and sophistication that the others can’t provide.  Continue reading

What is a Paid Search Restructure, Anyway?

Many paid search advertisers turn over the keys of their campaign to an agency to manage it and don’t typically get under the hood too often to see how the campaign is structured. There is a lot of minutia in the search tools, and if someone is not a regular, taking a look now and again exposes a world that is potentially too complex from which to draw any meaningful, actionable conclusions. However, there is much industry buzz right now around the campaign restructure and the belief that it could be the magic bullet that improves paid search performance. For people who don’t know whether or how to get on board with this, how true is it really in terms of a restructure being a strategic imperative? Continue reading

Troubleshooting Paid Search Performance

When sales from paid search suddenly spike in the wrong direction, it can be a nightmare figuring out how and why. It shouldn’t have to be, though. There is always a reason, and it can be found. If conversions from paid search suddenly fall off, here are some ways to troubleshoot.

Contribution: If the paid search channel typically makes up a steady percentage of total online sales, check web analytics to see if the percentage is the same or has fallen.  If the percentage is even with past performance, this indicates a site-wide issue. If the other online channels are showing sales percentages that are in line with historical performance but paid search has fallen, then the problem likely lies with paid search.

Tracking: Check to see if tracking fell off. Continue reading

Staffing for Digital: More Important Than Ever to Get It Right

Before talking about present-day staffing needs in digital, here is a quick look back at the evolution.  For a time, digital marketing was a sexy new career choice.  People in offline businesses were jumping ship to digital.  Now, though, for any company who sells something, digital marketing is a means to an end:  customers need to be followed and serviced in the channel in which they have chosen to interact with the business.  First it was offline, then it was the internet, and now it is shifting quickly to mobile.  People are choosing digital careers because it is where the jobs are.  Al Gore spoke at Internet Retailer a year ago and said that he seldom addresses audiences who are working in double-digit growth industries.  In spite of the proliferation of jobs in digital marketing, some choose it above all else because it is an intellectually stimulating and fast-paced industry that satisfies a need for challenge. 

Back when people were still jumping ship to digital,  ecomm and marketing departments were largely staffed with the digitally-minded, in-need-of-a-challenge type employee.  They were early adopters, and there were not a lot of digital jobs back then.  Most of these people are now in senior positions elsewhere in digital; whereas, today’s marketing and ecomm departments are fully staffed with lots more digital employees who simply do the work.  Digital careers are mainstream:  today’s staffers  may or may not be intellectually stimulated by their work and chances are, the majority may be in it more for the paycheck.

Herein lies the problem with staffing for digital:  technology is advancing faster than the rank and file can keep up with.  Early adopters dove right in to master new technologies, but today’s talent pool will use the technology mostly to complete assigned tasks.  Most of the best online platforms and technologies are all self-service.  The power of some of these tools is amazing, but the staff is only using a small subset of what they can actually do. 
Continue reading

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