Archive for ‘Trends’

Back-to-School Jumpstarts Click-Through Rates

By September 4th, 2014

Summer is winding down and school is just about ready to start again. Back-to-school supplies and events are already on the minds of students everywhere and this is the perfect time for companies in the retail and education vertical to double down on their products for students. Back-to-school behavior is similar to the holidays, in that retailers begin marketing to consumers earlier and earlier every year – and this year is no different.

Historically, back-to-school begins in mid-August and it’s easy to tell when consumers and advertisers begin searching for back-to-school related topics. We took a look at our clients in the education and retail verticals across 2012 and 2013 to understand just how much this change in consumer behavior affected search. For users in the retail vertical, search clicks grew an average of 6% in August and September, when compared to July and search click-through rates grew 2% during the same period. The effect was even more pronounced in our education vertical, where search clicks jumped an average of 28% and search click-through rates jumped 22% across the same period, signaling the effect of back-to-school hitting consumer awareness. Based on this historical data, we predict we’ll see similar behavior across the back-to-school season this year and have already begun seeing the start of this in the past few weeks.

Search, Meet Display. Display, Meet Search.

By July 28th, 2014

In the last couple of years, we’ve seen the display world become increasingly programmatic and biddable, whilst search marketers have been looking for new ways to optimize campaigns. This has created a crossbreeding of skills and minds in the two areas, resulting in the search world using display tactics, and the display world using search tactics.

Here are four ways we’ve seen tactics crossover in search and display:

  1. 1) Search Marketers Target Using Audience Data – For years keyword targeting has been bread and butter for search marketers, as they targeted keywords relevant to their products or services. This was the beauty of search, as consumers are hit with your advertising at the time at which they demonstrate purchase intent. Meanwhile, display has been purchased based on targeting an audience that is most likely to click and convert. However, search marketers have recently been adding this audience layer to search targeting through integration of data from Data Management Platforms (DMPs) to their search targeting. This enables the targeting of consumers who are searching for particular products or services and are most likely to convert. For example, the team over at MoneySuperMarket have been adding audience targeting to their search optimization by integrating BlueKai with Marin Software.
  2. 2) Search Marketers Using Images in Creative – Search marketers have typically worked with just text in their creative, whilst display advertisers have used a combination of images and text. However, the growth of Google Shopping campaigns has generated an increasing number of images on search engine results pages in the retail industry. This means search marketers are now learning from their display colleagues how to optimize image-based creative. Search Meet Display
  3. 3) Display Advertisers Using Search Intent Data – With search marketers learning how to use audience data to better target search ads, display advertisers have taken search intent data the other way. It’s now possible to take purchase intent consumers show by searching for products and services on search engines like Google and Bing, and use that data to retarget consumers who didn’t purchase through display. For me, this bi-directional shift of data has been the most valuable thing to come out of search and display crossbreeding.
  4. 4) Display Advertisers Using a CPC / Auction-Based Buying Model – Search marketers have grown up buying advertising on a Cost-Per-Click (CPC) basis, whilst display advertisers have predominantly purchased ads on a Cost-Per-Impression (CPM) basis. However, the IAB estimate programmatic trading accounted for £500m of display advertising spend in the UK last year. This means display advertising is increasingly purchased using CPCs in an auction model. This has led to display advertisers having to learn how to purchase media through an auction model on a per-click basis, and it has led to a huge demand for more mathematical skills from search in display advertising.

Overall, this crossbreeding has created huge opportunities for search and display advertising but there are still two challenges this lays down for advertisers. Firstly, how do you structure your search, display and digital teams in this new, more integrated world? Secondly, how do you create the workflows and decide on your technology setup to most efficiently manage across the two merging channels?

Search & Social Score Big at World Cup

By June 30th, 2014

If your office is anything like ours, you’ve been tuning in for some very exciting World Cup games. We’ve seen crazy fans, incredible level of play, and even an unfortunate chomp to the shoulder. Through all this, hopefully you’ve been paying attention to your digital strategy, because it turns out that the World Cup has had a huge impact on consumer behavior. Let’s take a closer look…


  • There are already more social media posts about the 2014 World Cup than the 2010 World Cup. Pretty crazy, considering this milestone was achieved even before the group stage actually began.
  • Facebook CTR increased over 300% when compared to the same period last year, signaling increased engagement and targeted ads.
  • Facebook CPC has also been trending upwards, growing 11% since the beginning of the month when compared to May 2014. During the same period last year, CPC actually fell between May and June.

Twitter hashtag flags


  • Search CTR has increased by 22% since the World Cup started. This is in stark contrast to May and June of 2013, when CTR actually dropped.
  • CPC has also gone up 9.5%, with increased competition to capture consumer interest during event. CPC remained constant in May and June of last year.

Google World Cup doodle

Once the tournament moves to the single-elimination stage, there’s no doubt that more and more eyes will be on the screen. We’ll all be searching and posting as we wait to see who will become the next world champion!

Mom or Dad, Who Do We Love More? Paid Search Confirms

By June 20th, 2014

Here’s a fun little analysis we did.

Now that Father’s Day and Mother’s Day are behind us, we thought it would be interesting to take a look at the paid search activity around each of these holidays. While it wasn’t surprising Mother’s Day came out ahead, the disparity was.

Let’s start with ad spend. Advertisers doubled down on Mother’s Day. Literally. During the week leading up to Mother’s Day, ad spend for search was 110% higher than spend for Father’s Day. The story was similar with impressions and clicks. Ad impressions were twice as high for Mother’s Day and clicks were 86% higher. Advertisers clearly put more wood behind the arrow when it came to Mother’s Day.

But not all was hopeless for Father’s Day. Click-through rate (CTR) and cost-per click (CPC) were both better for Father’s Day. The CTR for Father’s Day was 6% higher than Mother’s Day and CPC was 11% lower for Father’s Day. Advertisers got slightly more bang for their buck with Father’s Day.

On a social context, the data does seem to confirm people favor Mother’s Day over Father’s Day. Sorry Dads.

Paid Search Worthless? The Other Side of the Coin.

By June 17th, 2014

There’s been some new stories recently about a report eBay did last year claiming that paid search for large brands was pretty much worthless. Many of these stories are focused on the fact that online advertising is not living up to its promise. Obviously this caught my eye because I oversaw digital marketing for eBay – a team of over 300 people back in the day when we built our own systems. This was a question we constantly studied in a number of different ways during my 5 year tenure in the role. We even tested it more explicitly by completing turning off Google for over 10 days during eBay live back in 2007. :)

This quote stood out from the study: “We find that SEM accounted for a statistically significant increase in new registered users and purchases made by users who bought only one or two items the year before. For consumers who bought more frequently, SEM does not have a significant effect on their purchasing behavior. We calculate that the short-term returns on investment for SEM were negative because more frequent eBay shoppers are accountable for most of paid search sales.”

It is important to keep in mind every advertiser on paid search is not like eBay. In fact, very few businesses in the world enjoy the brand awareness and penetration eBay does. However, there are two other factors to keep in mind when looking at this data.
1) The importance of understanding user acquisition and CLV? Too often search marketers get the value of the transaction and not on the value of the acquired user. Notice the part of the statement above that discusses new users. It is important to understand that paid search is a great acquisition channel. When considering the ROI of your advertising spend it is important to attribute some percentage of the Customer Lifetime Value to the acquisition channel. We did that very early on at eBay and it had a large impact on our ROI. This was the right move. However, a company the size of eBay has less Americans to acquire and more of the paid search activity becomes retention related. It is at this point that pure transaction value may not meet certain ROI hurdles when compared to other channels.

2) Search now has a way to solve the retention vs. acquisition problem? With the recent introduction of Audience buying in search through Google’s RLSA feature, this problem can now be solved. Google and companies like Marin allow you to create audience segments for search and adjust bidding and creative appropriately. In the case mentioned above, create a segment for “frequent ebay shoppers” and bid appropriately. We have customers at Marin who create segments for loyal users and choose to bid them down in search knowing that they will find their site directly or through some other organic channel like SEO. This approach can be applied rather simply to brand terms and then you can expand it from there. I know eBay has the capability to identify these users very easily. If you don’t want to risk abandoning your brand terms for fear of competition, you might want to change the creative to take advantage of an upsell opportunity. In the case of eBay, I know the CLV of an eBay user increases when they buy in more than one category. You could go so far as segment frequent users per category and only show them ads when they are looking for something outside of their normal category of purchase. There are many ways to break down this challenge to drive more efficiency in your advertising spend.

Back to the promise of online advertising. It’s alive and well. The same tools and techniques that made search advertising such a promising medium have been transferred to other channels. Advertisers now have the ability to combine the intent data of search with the audience data from various sources to move us closer to the goal of true personalization in advertising. While we don’t quite have the ability to fully solve Wannamaker’s conundrum, I feel we are getting closer every day.

Ramping Up for the 2014 FIFA World Cup

By June 10th, 2014

Since Friday, World Cup fever has been in full swing as the qualifier matches kicked off. Football fans around the world are watching as their favorite teams win and lose on the path to Brazil. However, for marketers and advertisers, it’s a race to see who can leverage this massive opportunity to reach their target audience.

Excitement and online conversation about the World Cup has been continually increasing since last year. That interest has peaked in the last month. The number of World Cup social media posts has already surpassed the 2010 World Cup (check out Twitter hashflags and Facebook’s Trending World Cup page), and the second-screen effect is being felt strongly as consumers watch games and advertising. It is evident that there is a large audience just waiting to be tapped through digital marketing channels during this worldwide event.

Google Trends World Cup

Retailers should pay special attention to the World Cup. When studying our retail clients across the European market for the first week June, we saw CTR over double that of the same period last year. And on June 7th alone, CTR spiked dramatically over the rest of the month while CPCs jumped over 500%, signaling increased competition from retailers vying for consumer attention.

This is only the beginning of World Cup fever, so we expect more and more interest as we draw closer to the main event. If you haven’t already, you should begin adjusting your marketing strategy for the World Cup before it passes you by.

4 Tips to Reach the Dual-Screening World Cup Consumer on Facebook

By June 2nd, 2014

As the world discusses the inclusion or non-inclusion of different highly paid footballing superstars in their country’s World Cup squads, marketers and advertisers globally are focused on exploiting one of the biggest advertising opportunities of the year.

In the 4 years since the last World Cup, the proliferation of smartphones and tablets has come a long way.  During the last World Cup in 2010, for example, UK smartphone penetration was 20%, whilst this year it has more than tripled to 66.7%. Similarly, UK tablet penetration has grown from 2.8% in 2010 to 37.9% in 2014. In combination with the rise of mobile devices, eBay research found 61% of Brits admit to dual screening – watching TV whilst browsing tablets and smartphones at the same time – and 77% of Brits admit to being influenced by trends they see on TV.

This dual-screening trend, the big boost in TV viewership during the World Cup, and the fact that over 74% of Facebook users are now using the mobile app all adds up to a significant football-fueled opportunity for advertisers on Facebook. Expect Facebook feeds to be awash with World Cup conversations and discussions during the tournament, and as a marketer you need to consider how you’re going to be a part of that conversation.

Here are 4 tips to consider when setting up your Facebook campaigns for the World Cup:

1) Focus on in-feed Facebook Ads

With lots of eyes on the Facebook News Feed, this is the place to be seen during the World Cup. This is backed up by Marin Software research, which found that News Feed ads on Facebook generate a 44x higher CTR and a 5x higher conversion rate than right-side display ads. This ad format also adds mobile reach, helping to address the dual-screening challenge.

2) Think about the consumer behind the click

There’s an article making the rounds on social media at the moment called “How Football Sounds To People That Don’t Care. This Guy Nails It.” This is a timely reminder to all marketers that some people will be fed up of hearing about football, and won’t want your World Cup advertising message thrown down their throat. As such, think about the audience for your message. The beauty of Facebook targeting is it allows you to target based on interests and demographics so you can focus the message on those people who care. Also, consumers are more likely to engage with brands they already know, so consider using Custom Audiences to retarget consumers who have already engaged with your brand. Our research found that Custom Audiences delivered a 64% lower cost per conversion than standard targeting, so it is worth serious consideration during a busy period like the World Cup.

3) Keep creative fresh

As the number of marketers using Facebook quickly grows, so does the competition for high-value ad placements particularly during a period like the World Cup. As a result, it is critical that advertisers ensure their ads are as compelling and engaging as possible, especially since Facebook does not promote ads in the News Feed unless the ad maintains a high CTR. To maintain a high CTR, marketers must continually optimise, test, and improve ad creative. In particular, advertisers must pay careful attention to frequency, rotating ads to ensure they are not shown too often. When the same ads are shown to the same targets over and over, “ad fatigue” can occur – causing consumers to not only ignore your ads but become irritated by your brand. Create a rotation strategy and consider using automated creative rotation in a platform like Marin to ensure you maintain a high CTR.

4) React quickly to major events to keep creative relevant

Whilst on the theme of creative, it’s also worth considering ad relevancy during the World Cup. Being nimble and having the ability to react quickly to major events during the World Cup tournament will increase ad relevancy, engagement, and ultimately the likelihood of it going viral. Learning from the success of Oreo’s reactive marketing on social media during the Super Bowl blackout in the US in 2013, it’s important to be able to react rapidly. To execute on this strategy it’s important to either have rapid approval processes in place with your brand team or pre-load humorous creative for when the expected events happen such as England getting knocked out on penalties by Germany.

All-in-all, Facebook’s dual-screening potential during the World Cup is huge for brands. If you as a brand want to exploit it focus on the News Feed, targeting the right audience and keeping your creative both fresh and relevant.

All About Ad Types

By May 28th, 2014

Marketers now have a dizzying array of advertising options at their disposal across all channels. There are search ads, Google PLAs, Bing Product Ads, News Feed Ads, Promoted Posts, Sponsored Stories, Promoted Pins, Promoted Tweets and Trends, banner ads, display ads, remarketing, retargeting, mobile, in-game, in-app, Reddit sponsored links, Gmail ads, video ads, and the list goes on…

While some of these are more established and mainstream than others, it’s always a good idea to keep new ad types and formats on your radar. Here’s a quick look at 4 clever types – old and new – that advertisers are currently having success with:

Pinterest - Promoted Pins

Pinterest started testing Promoted Pins in late 2013. They look just like regular pins, but with a special “promoted” label. About a dozen brands are participating in the beta including Old Navy, Target, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, ABC Family, Expedia and more. Pinterest promises Promoted Pins will be tasteful and relevant to users’ interests.

Pinterest Promoted Pins

Tumblr - Sponsored Posts

Tumblr sponsored posts come in many varieties – mobile, web, Radar, and Spotlight. Companies can choose to use static images, GIFs, videos, or audio. These formats are highly engaging with a long shelf life. Sponsored content is noted with a small dollar sign icon at the top right of the post.

Tumblr Promoted Post

Facebook - News Feed

Facebook has provided advertising offerings since 2004, but in late 2012 they introduced a truly effective format – News Feed ads. On average, Facebook News Feed ads have a click-through rate 44x higher and a conversion rate 5x higher than right-side ads. This format has made for a more enjoyable user experience, on both desktop and mobile.

Facebook Mobile News Feed Ad

BuzzFeed - Promotion & Story Units

Advertisers on this social news and entertainment site frequently sponsor fun BuzzFeed stories and lists. Relevance is high and the content is ripe for social sharing. Popular sponsored lists have included “20 Things That Affirm Led Zeppelin Is The Greatest Band To Ever Exist” sponsored by Spotify, and ”10 Reasons To Be Insanely Excited For Season Three of ‘Girls’” sponsored by HBO.

BuzzFeed Advertising

Are you testing out any of these formats? Let us know how it’s going in the comments!

3 Key Trends From SES London 2014

By February 18th, 2014

Last week, the Search Engine Strategies (SES) conference wheeled its way into London. Marin was heavily involved across the three-day conference with Clive Morris, Matt Ackley and Jon Myers speaking in multiple sessions. I just wanted to wrap up three key trends from across the show:

1) The Rise of PLAs

As our white paper The State of Google Shopping found, there is no stopping the growth of Product Listing Ads (PLAs) in the e-commerce industry. Chris Howard, Head of Digital at Shop Direct Group, said that PLAs are one reason why paid search is interesting again. He also mentioned that they generate better ROI for retailers than traditional PPC.

Brendan Almack and Alan Coleman at Wolfgang Digital ran a great session, diving into detail on PLAs. They shared these useful insights:

  • We process images 60,000 times faster than text (study by 3M), so it makes sense that we now have far more visual search results with image extensions and PLAs.
  • When PLAs and search are run in combination, the performance doubles, possibly because users who see multiple ads view the brand as more established.
  • PLA CPCs increased by 70 percent in Q4 of 2013 due to advertiser competition.
  • If your pricing is not competitive for a particular product, don’t use PLAs for that product.
  • Make use of AdWords labels in your feed to label things like profit margin and sale items. This way you can bid accordingly and target your PLAs to gain competitive advantage.
  • Google introduced PLAs to become more like a comparison engine and, as a result, more product related searches are being conducted. 

2) Audience Data in Search

With SERPs becoming more personalized and advertisers increasingly targeting people – not keywords or positions – we talked a lot about how audiences and audience data can be integrated into both paid and organic search.

Ian Carrington, Director of Performance, Northern and Central Europe at Google introduced Retargeting Lists for Search Ads (RLSAs) into the conversation during the very first session on day one of SES London. Ian recommended using RLSA remarketing if you want cheaper CPAs and increased conversions, which is a no-brainer for most advertisers.

Marin Software’s Matt Ackley and Jon Myers both suggested that audience data is the next frontier in search. In reference to our recent integration with BlueKai, both said it’s essential to understand and utilize audience data, because it will make your PPC more strategic. Matt also speculated that Google could eventually use its own user data to bring audience targeting and analytics even further into paid search. For example, you might have the ability to adjust bids for searchers with different incomes and family sizes.

3) Context Increasingly Plays a Role in Search

With recent algorithm updates across paid and natural search, the impact of context on search was a also hot topic. Matt Ackley talked about how context is going to become more integrated with search, for example by integrating weather forecasts to adjust your bidding strategy.

Allistair Dent, Director of Paid Media at Periscopix, agreed saying that Google AdWords new features will use the enhanced campaigns structure, where context is just as important as keywords and other targeting. He suggested blending contextual items together to make decisions about your audience. For example, if a user is searching for your brand near your store, then you can send them to a special local-focused landing page.

Were you at SES London? If so, let us know what you thought in the comments!

Car Companies Win Super Bowl

By February 4th, 2014

All eyes were on the gridiron this Sunday for Super Bowl XLVIII, although the stiffest competition this weekend wasn’t between the Seahawks and the Broncos, but between auto advertisers.

Even with every 30 seconds of ad-time costing $4 million, car advertisers were lining up to compete for consumer attention during the Super Bowl. Chrysler even spent about $16 million for a two-minute ad!

So how did this translate into the digital advertising arena?

To understand this, we took a look at clicks and paid-search for the auto industry on Super Bowl Sunday and compared it across our US clients. Our findings were pretty incredible. When looking at paid search trends across the auto industry on Super Bowl Sunday versus the previous Sunday, we saw a staggering 35% jump in impressions and a 39% jump in clicks. In addition, auto advertisers spent 79% more on paid search during Super Bowl Sunday. This translated to a CPC increase of 29% for auto advertisers.

Super bowl ad spend, price of super bowl ad

In contrast, across all our US clients from various verticals and industries, we saw 2% growth in ad spend and a 7% increase in cost-per-click on Super Bowl Sunday.

For auto advertisers, this jump in impressions and clicks on Super Bowl Sunday means that they were successful in capturing the minds of the Super Bowl audience, resulting in top-of-mind awareness and increased interest across viewers. Predictably, many auto advertisers also increased ad spend online in conjunction with their TV ads, in order to capture as much view share as possible within the highly-competitive window of time during the Super Bowl.

So even though the Seattle-Denver matchup was quite a blowout, the auto companies came ready to compete!

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