This is a guest post from Dionte Pounds, Account Manager at
Product listing ads, or PLAs, are an incredibly successful strategy for e-commerce companies to promote available product inventory on Google and Bing. Unlike standard search ads, PLAs incorporate a visual image over a text description to show the user the product they’re searching for.
There are plenty of reasons why you should be adding a PLA strategy into your advertising mix. Cost-per-click (CPC) will generally be below what you’ll see across search ads. As a result of showing the user an image of the product they’re searching for, click-through-rate will usually be pretty strong. Once the user clicks the ad, they’re taken directly to the product page, making the user journey simple and leading to a higher conversion rate.
Additionally, it’s quite easy to set up and manage campaigns. Both Google and Bing provide product level reporting, so you can also see how each product is doing individually.
With the holiday season in full swing, let’s take a look at some tips to drive great results from your PLA campaigns.
The first and most important step in improving PLA performance is to have the proper product group segmentation. Product group segmentation is vital to drive traffic efficiently. If all of your products are lumped together in a single product group sharing the same bid, you’re not maximizing your PLA campaign potential. In this case, you’re bidding the same amount for your best performing product group as your worst. This will lead to wasted spend and a poor return on ad spend over time.
A well-managed PLA campaign should have a structure that allows for isolation of product groups. Look to each product’s category, type, or brand to figure out what level of segmentation works best. In some cases, it may be best to separate each product entirely.
After viewing your product category report, you’ll have a good idea of what type of product group segmentation will work best for your campaign. In order to optimize the new structure, look at the average CPC for each product group and the ROAS. If the ROAS is below account target, you should start bidding with a CPC below the average. Likewise, if you have a ROAS that’s well above target, you can start that product group with a bid above the CPC to maximize returns.
Try to make use of your conversion rate, ROAS target, acceptable CPA, and average order value to back your way into a starting bid. Let’s imagine the AOV for an account is $50, conversion rate is 1%, and ROAS target is 200%. For this imaginary product group, a $0.25 bid is suitable.
PLA campaigns are very likely to drive more traffic from mobile devices than desktop or tablet devices. Generally speaking, this increase in traffic comes at a price, meaning lower conversion rates and ROAS. Look at how your campaigns are performing across devices, and be sure to use negative mobile modifiers for mobile devices and tablets if it makes sense.
If you’re already bidding down on mobile devices, be sure to take a look at your desktop CPCs when placing starting bids on your new product group structure. It may be possible that the cheap mobile clicks are driving down your average CPCs. If that’s the case, then base your new bids on the desktop CPC to avoid a loss in traffic.
An often-overlooked aspect of PLA campaign management is mining for negatives. Just like a search campaign, PLA campaigns need to be scrubbed regularly for negative terms to prevent wasted spend.
There’s still time this holiday season to maximize your PLA performance across Google and Bing! See if you can utilize some of these tips to drive great results.
Holiday shopping’s in full swing. If you’re running retargeting campaigns, make sure they’re as prepared for the season as you are. Online sales are forecast to increase between seven and 10 percent over last year to as much as $117 billion.
We made your list, so check it twice, and take these steps to boost campaign performance during the holiday season.
You’re likely going to see a boost in site traffic (especially if you sell anything that can be given as a gift), which means you’ll see a boost in impressions served and in advertising funds spent. Make sure your campaigns have a proper budget set to guarantee you have enough ad money available for the day, so that you don’t miss out on these potential new customers.
We recommend a 25 to 50% budget increase for the holidays, but you know your site traffic best. Whatever percentage of traffic increase you’re expecting, boost your budget about that same percentage.
Almost all advertisers will increase their spend for the holidays, so you’re going to have serious competition.
With so many advertisers fighting for ad space, it’s not uncommon to see your CPM costs rise during this time of year. To prepare for this surge, make sure you increase your CPM bids across your campaigns. Bidding higher will make your campaigns more competitive and will give you a better chance of serving more ads by winning more impressions. We suggest increasing your CPM bid by 50-100% of the current average CPM cost for the campaign.
Holiday-themed advertising only gets people’s attention during one time of the year, and you should join the conversation your customers are having. Using ads that mention specific events like Black Friday, Cyber Monday, or any of the major holidays can grab a visitor’s attention.
Send a happy holiday message, mention that there are only X number of shopping days left, and give them a reason to click your ads. Use the holidays as a chance to create urgency and you could see a boost in clicks and conversions.
We hope these suggestions are helpful and lead to a profitable holiday season for you and your business. As always, please feel free to contact us with any questions or comments.
From our team to yours—happy holidays!
We’re headed into another peak retail season, which runs from now through Christmas Day. Considering not-so-recent trends in Shopping and mobile, many marketers are hedging their bets on this being the biggest online retail season yet. Preparation is key, and understanding what went well and what didn’t last year—and when it did and didn’t—will help guide decision-making in the coming weeks.
When the volume is so high, each day could make or break the quarter. Here are three things you should be doing on a day-to-day basis to increase the likelihood of favorable outcomes.
Your buyers should have a list of products they expect will be major sellers this season. These could be products where inventory is so deep no one can compete, or buyers purchased at a bulk rate and can offer the best pricing.
Work with your buyers to understand what these products are, and optimize them on a per-item basis with SKU-level product groups in a High Priority campaign. Monitor these daily and keep an eye on inventory—when they start to sell out, pull back so that you don’t end up aggressively pushing nearly sold-out products.
In addition to the proactive management of products you’re bullish about, the high volume is going to yield insights of its own. Monitor your broader product groups—defined by Category, Brand, Custom Labels, etc.—for segmentation opportunities.
You’ll start the season with a single bid for a Brand product group. But, as volume dictates, some products or sets of products within the group will warrant segmenting and assigning a new bid based on how they’ve performed to date. This is a crucial step to optimizing and hitting performance goals on an ongoing basis.
As you structured your campaigns, you established the levers and switches you’re going to use to effectively manage your product mix and hit performance goals.
The most important pieces of all this will be to understand how you want to bid these levers and how to stay on top of everything. Be considerate of sales, key dates, top products, and inventory / stock levels. A combination of proactive strategies (e.g., Brand X is 20% off next week) and reactive strategies (e.g., Brand Y is selling amazingly well over the past week) will be necessary to generate the best results.
Be aggressive where you expect the best returns and don’t hesitate to pull back on things that aren’t producing. Good luck!
In PPC, there are two main approaches when it comes to bidding workflow—manual and automated. Over the years, there’s been debate among search marketers on the pros and cons of each approach. Search marketers have differing opinions on which yields the best outcomes.
One of the main arguments in favor of manual bidding focuses on the control that it affords the search marketer, in contrast to the hands-off nature of automated bidding inherent with publisher bidding—like AdWords “Smart” bidding and most (but not all) 3rd party proprietary bidding algorithms.
In nearly all automated bidding approaches, the search marketer sets a goal and the bidding algorithm reviews historical performance, and then calculates a bid with limited transparency from start to finish.
The apprehension some search marketers feel towards automated bidding derives from the opaque nature inherent in most approaches. This fear is realized when a campaign is underperforming, and the search marketer becomes at a loss for what’s amiss, or how to improve it.
Putting that fear aside, let’s reflect on the many benefits of automated bidding, which is the reason for its proliferation.
Here are just a few.
Automated bid management is a huge time saver. Think about it—how long would it take you to manually change a million keyword bids? How confident would you be that each bid is optimized to maximize your return?
If you’re being honest with yourself, the answers to those questions should naturally steer you towards automation as the optimal solution. Automation augments the search marketer by executing repetitive tasks, serving as an ‘enabler’ for the search marketer to focus on growth opportunities or account strategy while keeping tabs on daily performance.
Automated bid management platforms produce accurate bids through regression modeling that looks backwards to predict future outcomes. With millions of dollars at stake, these algorithms are typically built with risk aversion at their core to produce low error rates. By their very nature, they make changes at scale that’s quite literally impossible for any individual, or even team, to compete with.
The reality is, sophisticated marketers with material budget use an algorithm to bid on their media today. If you aren’t, you’re putting yourself at a disadvantage.
Automated bid management platforms allow advertisers to define the goals and milestones for the algorithm to work towards. The marketer remains the operator and the brains of the operation, with the bidding algorithm working as his proxy.
Learning from massive datasets to create better future outcomes is at the heart of bidding algorithms. Today, this type of mathematical analysis is popularly called “machine learning” and “artificial intelligence.” Most ad tech companies have years of experience with these techniques, but largely fly under the radar in popular press, with newfangled applications like self-driving cars getting the headline coverage.
So, how do you get the best of both worlds? Simple—employ automated bidding with full transparency. That’s not an oxymoron. That’s a real thing offered by a few leading independent marketing partners (not to toot our own horn, but Marin Software is one such example).
Fully transparent bidding solutions (i.e., the bidding system shows you the step-by-step logic of the bidding algorithm) allow users to see all the details behind their bid calculations for each keyword. This includes the bidding model(s) employed, the details of the dataset used, performance bumpers activated, and any other pertinent details behind the decision-making. If automated bidding is fully transparent, many of the arguments opposed to automated bidding lose their heft.
Information Available in a “Fully Transparent” Bidding Solution
The level of information available for each keyword in a “fully transparent” bidding solution varies. That said, at Marin Software, we show the logic of our algorithms “line by line,” which allows users to see a full breakdown of bidding decisions, including:
Contrast this to the information displayed in a “black box” bidding solution:
Fully transparent bidding solutions allow PPC managers to review the logic used to reach a bidding conclusion. In addition, the search manager has the option to overlay bidding rules to ensure the algorithm behavior is consistent with their risk tolerance and strategy to hit certain goals and milestones.
The best fully transparent bidding solutions also allow you to preview bidding calculations before they’re pushed to publishers, and manually override bids on specific keywords if needed. This gives PPC managers the full control of manual bidding with all the time saving, efficiency, and data processing power of automated algorithms.
If automated bidding isn’t currently part of your strategy, we hope this post helps break down the nuances of different approaches. Although it also explains the pros and cons, it advances the argument that if you aren’t using a transparent bidding algorithm in today’s environment, you’re hamstringing yourself, because it’s near-certain that your competitors are employing an automated method of bidding to try and out-compete you. If you’d like to learn more about Marin Software’s approach to bidding, click here.
If you’re an enterprise search marketer, you’re likely managing thousands to millions of keywords. To automatically improve performance, increase brand awareness, get back valuable time, and attain those magic revenue numbers, Marin Search and its bidding folders can help.
If you’re already using Marin Search, follow these tips to make sure you’re maximizing value. Or, if you’re looking for a search platform that makes keyword and account management easier, these tips provide a glimpse of what our leading advertising solution can do.
Marin Search uses a patent-pending algorithm to automatically adjust keyword bids to meet target KPIs. This automated bidding feature optimizes keyword bids within folders. For accounts following PPC best practice structure (organizing groups into targeted themes), bidding folders should fall in line with account structure.
If you’re unsure of which ad groups should go into what folder, think about the KPI you’re trying to achieve. All keywords within a folder should have the same target KPI.
The above bidding strategy will optimize all ad groups and category keywords to one KPI. However, each category could contain sub-categories that might not preform the same.
With dimensions, you can pull reports at the sub-category level. Not only can you use this to create granular reports, but it can also help you improve optimization.
For example, the folder ‘Dining Tables’ is set to achieve a CPL of £75—however, a dimension report reveals the actual category-level performance.
‘Wooden tables’ is performing 20% below the folder CPL, while the ‘folding tables’ CPL is 20% above. Use the percentage difference as bid boosts for keywords in each category, reallocating spend to the better-performing category. The average folder spend and CPL will remain the same, but the conversion volume will increase.
Once you apply dimensions, Marin can analyze the data to calculate bid adjustments for each sub-category dimension.
To automate dimension bid boosts, use Dynamic Actions. With this feature, bid modifiers simply sit on top of bidding folder calculated bids, and folder settings remain unchanged.
Using dimensions to optimize bidding cross sub-categories, our customers have seen some amazing results:
If you’re a Marin customer and would like more information on how to optimize sub-categories within bidding folders, contact our CoE team for a bidding consultation. Or, to see it in action, sign up for a free trial.
This is a guest post from Dionte Pounds, Account Manager at
One of the reasons advertisers choose the Marin platform is for the flexibility it provides. It grants advertisers the ability to track conversions through the standard publishers (Google, Bing, Gemini), via Marin’s own platform tracking, or by importing conversion goals from Google Analytics. Each method of counting conversions has benefits and should be considered when you’re first setting up on the account.
If you have multiple conversion actions, one method I believe is very powerful and should be considered is integrating Google Analytics and Marin.
While this type of account setup could benefit most advertisers, those who judge performance based on the revenue or goal completions reported in Google Analytics—over publisher metrics—will find this setup most useful. The reason is that Google Analytics aligns publisher performance metrics (clicks, impressions, etc.) with the goals that impact your business the most.
I personally manage an ecommerce client that likes to monitor publisher conversions and reported revenue, but primarily cares about driving transactions and revenue as reported in Analytics. So, setting up my Marin account to import this data from Analytics allows me to look at total performance as it matters to my client and build a strategy based on the bottom-line numbers.
As you may have guessed, the biggest benefit to importing this data is in bidding. Revenue and conversions can be tracked from Google Analytics back to the keyword level from each publisher platform. With this data now imported into Marin, any bidding folders you have in place are now able to execute bid adjustments based on the data that’s most valuable to your business. This makes their adjustments more accurate than if they were based on the reported revenue data from any publisher platform alone.
To make Marin integration with Google Analytics simple, a Setup Wizard guides you through the process. To set up the wizard, go to the Admin tab, and click the Revenue sub-tab.
From the Revenue Tracking setting, select Google Analytics.
If you’d like to use the imported goal to be added to the platform, select the Bidding Eligible box. Before moving forward with this option, be sure the Google Analytics goals are reporting correctly.
Granularity and accuracy are key for all advertisers and particularly critical in high season. If you’re an ecommerce advertiser heading into Q4, put this strategy into play ASAP, test, and refine as needed. Good luck!
You’re in a relay race and this is what you have to do—run with a bucket of water to your next team member, without spilling any of the water. The next player does the same, and so on, until the last player finishes the race.
The object of the contest is to not only preserve as much water as possible, but also to know exactly how much water you lost throughout the course of the game. Oh, and another thing—the buckets are different sizes, you’re playing at night, and you’re blindfolded, and so are your team members. And, you’re playing against a lot of other teams.
We call this race “the programmatic supply chain.”
As we mentioned in our first post in this series on programmatic transparency, the programmatic supply chain is made up of intermediaries that may or may not disclose their pricing model. We also mentioned that a recent ANA/Forrester study revealed that 55 percent of marketers are concerned with the opaqueness of the intermediaries along the supply chain. This is up from 21 percent just two years ago.
Like our shot-in-the-dark relay race, advertisers often have to settle for hidden bid prices, secret media value, and even kickbacks. What if the increased concern was translated into clear, actual dollars? How do you get bottom-line clarity? If you haven’t asked your programmatic partners what they’re charging you, now’s the time.
Let’s look at the intermediaries, then assess the average take rates of each one.
Here’s roughly how the typical supply chain flows. Note that there’s lots of bi-directionality, and the model changes dramatically depending on the services included.
In case you need a quick primer on each supply chain partner, read our blog post on the eight main players in the programmatic ecosystem.
We’ve estimated it would take you one to two hours to determine what you pay each of your supply chain intermediaries using IAB’s programmatic calculator. And, that’s if you already know what you’re spending with each partner.
Although it’s challenging to pin down exact cost amounts for each intermediary in the supply chain, it’s not impossible. Knowing the average take rates and ranges allows you to establish benchmarks you can use as a guide. We strongly recommend taking the time to measure what you really spend so you can improve your bottom line. (Click the image to enlarge it.)
The various cost models you might encounter will alter your numbers, so here are some additional aspects to consider as you complete your appraisal.
Digital marketers, and agencies that support them, are on chronic overwhelm with the choices of platforms, programs, vendors, and the consistent pressure to improve return on ad spend (ROAS). But with deeper understanding of the supply chain and an increasing availability of advanced attribution and offline measurement, closing the loop on profitability is a worthy and attainable goal.
True ROI is within reach, so long as media agencies and ad tech vendors evolve to become more transparent and focused on driving business performance, not just advertising performance.
We hope these tips make it easier to achieve greater transparency in your specific programmatic supply chain, and that the path becomes more of an easy route planner than a blind relay race.
Remember, if you already know your partner spend and have the time, you can add it all up with IAB’s Programmatic Fee Transparency Calculator.
This is a guest post from Sarah Burns, Content Manager
at Boost Media.
Google’s Expanded Text Ads are officially live. The new, longer ad format is rolling out across all devices alongside the existing standard ad format. But as of October 26, 2016, advertisers will no longer be able to create or upload standard text ads.
While Google has not yet released an official date when standard ads will no longer run with ETAs, eventually standard ads will be phased out from the search results page entirely. If you haven’t already begun making changes to your account, you should start. The key to implementing ETAs is a thoughtful testing strategy.
As the top testing platform for search marketers, Boost Media has analyzed hundreds of ads in the new, longer format. Our data suggests that simply expanding ads without a well-thought-out testing plan or detailed creative strategy in place won’t guarantee success.
In one test Boost ran for a large travel advertiser, we compared standard text ads versus custom and template ETAs across 34,000 impressions. Here’s what we saw.
What did we learn from testing?
It’s impossible to apply custom copy across your entire account made up of hundreds of thousands of ad groups. Instead, segment your account strategically into areas that can use a template-based approach, and areas that need custom copy.
Adding copy to the end of a headline doesn’t guarantee that the entire ad will make sense or drive clicks. As Google’s Director of Performance Ads Marketing Matt Lawson said, “Use this update as a chance to re-evaluate your entire creative. This is a chance to craft something new and more compelling than ever before.”
Don’t miss out.
Focus on testing one variable at a time to have a better chance of understanding the results and deciding what to do next. If you run too many tests at once, you risk passing up clear, actionable results.
To learn more or start creating ETA ads today, get in touch with us.
Sarah manages Content Marketing at Boost Media and leads a team of marketing professionals to drive revenue through complex B2B marketing campaigns in the ad tech industry. Prior to joining Boost, Sarah developed marketing and sales strategy at BNY Mellon, a top 10 private wealth management firm. In a former life, Sarah worked in journalism writing for magazines including Boston Magazine, The Improper Bostonian, and Luxury Travel. When she’s not writing engaging content, Sarah enjoys cooking, running, and yoga.
Boost Media increases advertiser profitability by using a combination of humans and a proprietary software platform to drive increased ad relevance at scale. The Boost marketplace comprises over 1,000 expert copywriters and image optimizers who compete to provide a diverse array of perspectives. Boost’s proprietary software identifies opportunities for creative optimization and drives performance using a combination of workflow tools and algorithms. Headquartered in San Francisco, the Boost Media optimization platform provides fresh, performance-driven creative in 12 localized languages worldwide.
This is a guest post from Dionte Pounds, Account Manager at
Digital marketers love automation. No secret there. With as many different target markets and key metrics as we have to monitor, any rules or reports that we can automate to save a few minutes here and there add up over time and help us breath easier.
Bidding is one area that’s seen great improvements in automated technology. There are tons of new strategies and technologies to implement automated bidding (with Marin’s bidding folders being a fantastic option).
That said, there are times when you still need to roll up your sleeves, get a little dirty, and crank out some manual adjustments. To make that process less stressful, here are four tips for getting the most out of your manual bid adjustments.
Generally speaking, I make adjustments once a week using a seven-day lookback period. This allows me to view keyword performance since the last time I made adjustments and see if the adjustment had the desired effect. If I happen to make large-scale adjustments in between those two seven-day periods, I pull my data from the date of the last adjustment.
The purpose of using consistent date ranges and pulling from the date of the last adjustment is to keep your data “clean.” If you’re making multiple adjustments and using inconsistent date ranges, it makes it much more difficult, if not impossible, to understand how certain adjustments affect keyword performance.
This is because you’re viewing data from both before and after the last keyword adjustments. Ultimately, you could end up pushing your bids too far up or down and not achieve the CPA you want. So, for simplicity, keep your date ranges consistent and make sure there’s little overlap.
This is very simple: don’t boost bids for keywords in the top position. When bidding, it’s better to boost keywords in lower positions than keywords at the top, because only the former will lead to increased impression volume. Raising the bids for top positions will only increase costs, not improve performance.
Once, I worked with an ecommerce client who had struggled for some time to get non-brand search CPA and conversion volume. Their account wasn’t helped by the multiple budget-capped, non-brand campaigns this client had active.
After some thought, I decided to increase all non-brand keywords with quality scores (QS) of 9 or 10 while pausing low-QS keywords. I especially pushed those keywords that had been struggling with below-first-page bids. As a result of the adjustments, non-brand conversion volume took off.
Why? Well, Google wants to serve keywords with high QS. Therefore, when I pushed up the bids for my top QS keywords, impressions greatly increased even though I paused a ton of poor keywords that were eating up spend. Not every top QS keyword will be a home run, but make sure the bids for these terms are always competitive and that low QS terms don’t make up the bulk of your spend.
Bleeders are keywords that have little spend on a day-to-day or week-to-week basis, but add up to large costs over time. Because of this limited spend, the bids for these keywords are often left unchanged during normal bid adjustments. If left unchecked, these can cause CPC/CPA to stagnate. Every so often, use an extended lookback period to identify and bid down or pause bleeders.
With just a few adjustments, you can be on your way to improved performance and more clicks. Happy manual bidding!
What’s the saying? There is no rest for the weary? Just when it feels like summer’s just begun, it’s already time to switch up your marketing campaigns for back-to-school shoppers.
According to Google Trends, interest in “Back to school” is on the rise since early June. But summer isn’t over yet, which makes this the perfect time to take advantage of this level of interest before we hit peak season.
Here are the top 6 things to make sure you check off your list to ensure you’re prepared for this year’s back-to-school season:
Don’t be so quick to start changing bids. A little research on your competitors goes a long way. Identify the gaps and move quickly on those opportunities. Look for top and direct competitor ads, and don’t forget online tools that can assist in finding out what competitors are doing with keyword bids. We recommend arming yourself with competitive information now so that your account is prepared for the next big retail shopping season.
Most back-to-school shoppers include parents and college students—as they prepare for back to school, they’re also searching online for deals. Marketers can benefit from this by creating campaigns that are focused specifically on back-to-school keywords and deal searches. Some examples of this are:
Be sure to give these campaigns a healthy budget, plus either an end date or a scheduled pause to ensure they don’t continue to run post-season.
Parents and college students are often price conscious, but also want the products they purchase to last. Also, shoppers are often looking for sales to save money. Marketers should focus their ad copy around these consumer needs to incentivize shoppers to click their ads.
If a consumer doesn’t see a phrase that indicates there may be a good deal on the landing page that comes after their click, they may select a competitor instead. Helpful phrases include the obvious “back to school,” but also things like:
And more. We suggest using discount-focused terms for smaller ticket items like colored pencils, and durability-focused terms for larger ticket items like backpacks and athletic shoes.
Make sure your strategy is informed by previous years’ data and this year’s goals. This also goes in line with understanding your competition, as we mentioned earlier. Take note of when the cost-per-click in your campaigns rose last year, and by how much, and adjust bids accordingly to ensure you’re pacing well with market demands throughout the season.
Don’t forget to include your shopping campaigns in your bidding strategy planning as well, especially for larger ticket items. Many consumers do a lot of research on items such as backpacks prior to making a decision, and may choose to purchase these items online in order to get exactly what they want.
Retargeting is another area where you may be able to better keep the attention of consumers who do a lot of price comparison shopping before making a purchase. Create a separate retargeting campaign specific to, again, higher-dollar items such as backpacks and athletic shoes, targeting users for several days after viewing your product.
When creating these retargeting ads, we recommend showing the products viewed previously in the ad, and potentially offering a coupon code to incentivize the consumer to purchase this product from your business specifically.
Parent and student purchase decisions are heavily influenced by mobile. According to Google, in 2014 over 40% of back-to-school searches were done via mobile devices. These searches are typically performed on the go by busy parents and students trying to get back-to-school shopping done in between all the other things they need to do.
What are these roving shoppers doing? They’re performing price comparisons, checking product availability, and searching for the closest store to their current location to sneak in a quick trip and check items off their list. You can capitalize on this by using location extensions and prominently displaying inventory availability for products at nearby stores on their easy-to-navigate mobile site.
If you’re strapped for time and can’t roll out a new back-to-school strategy, keep this checklist on hand, since these best practices are also applicable during the holiday shopping season. Want to learn more? Join the Center of Excellence for our back-to-school webinar on Thursday, July 21st!