Why You Might Be Wasting Money on Bid Modifiers

Why You Might Be Wasting Money on Bid Modifiers

Search

With the holiday shopping season here, it’s time to re-examine how you’re using bid modifiers in your paid search campaigns. You might be wasting your budget by using too many modifiers.

Google continues to introduce more refined targeting features such as gender, income level, audience targeting, and look-alike audiences. Soon you’ll have in-market audiences. Having more targeting options for your campaigns is good. When businesses serve up more relevant ads, everyone wins: the consumer, the advertiser, and Google.

But here’s the problem: it’s too easy for advertisers to pile on the bid modifiers to their campaigns. Just because you can target by device, location, gender, age, and time of day (to cite just a few modifiers) it doesn’t mean you should.

Let’s say you are a brick-and-mortar retailer advertising a personal care product to women of a certain age. Your research shows that your target age range is likely to respond favorably. You launch your campaign and start achieving results. Then you decide that maybe, just maybe, you’ll earn more if you target a higher income bracket at a certain time of day. Then you discover that your company is opening a new store in Orlando, and so you modify your bid to target the location. Well, the more you refine your bid, the more your campaign is going to cost.

Here’s what happens when you pile on too many modifiers:

  • You can waste money. Your costs per click increase with each modifier. The next thing you know, you’re overspending because you’re trying to reach a highly targeted audience when advertising to a more broadly defined set of consumers might have achieved as good or better a result for less money.
  • You dilute your ability to measure performance. You might see improvement in a campaign. But with 10 different bid modifiers in place, how do you know which one is moving the needle?

This issue has persisted for years. In 2013, Erin Sagin of Business2Community warned about using too many modifiers as part of Google’s Enhanced Campaign feature:

In reality, this feature can result in vast overbidding. Here’s the catch—if a search fits the criteria for multiple bid modifiers, all adjustments are “stacked” on the base bid. For example, imagine that a keyword’s base bid is $1 and you’ve set your device modifier to increase bids by 100% on smartphone searches, your geographic modifier to increase bids by 50% for searchers located in Florida, and your time of day modifier to raise bids by 100% from 9 p.m.-11 p.m. If someone in Florida searches this keyword on their phone at 9 p.m., the bid will automatically be bumped to $6.

But advertisers continue to struggle with overbidding, one reason being that they just aren’t aware of the problem or they cannot resist the lure of experimenting with more targeted advertising as AdWords introduces new features.

To guard against the temptation of piling on with too many modifiers, KeywordFirst suggests:

  • Define your marketing strategy and stick to it. A sound strategy encourages a disciplined spend. Your keyword bids should reflect your agreed-upon product development and rollout campaign. Don’t create keyword bids on the fly. But if your marketing strategy changes, then re-examine your keyword strategy and modify accordingly.
  • Limit your bid modifiers. Apply only a few at a time. If you want to experiment with another modifier, consider dropping one. Limiting your modifiers helps you isolate which ones are performing the best.
  • Use negative modifiers instead of positive modifiers. Instead of adding on to your bid to reach an audience, add negative bids to audiences you don’t want to reach. It sounds so simple, but not enough advertisers use this tactic. Doing so makes for a more efficient spend.

Bottom line: be disciplined and strategic about your bid modifiers. Remember the adage: just because you can doesn’t mean you should. For more insight into digital advertising, contact KeywordFirst. We’re here to help.

Google Delivers an October Surprise to Advertisers

Google Delivers an October Surprise to Advertisers

Marketing

Managing your AdWords budget has gotten a lot more complicated.

Recently, Google announced that AdWords campaigns can spend as much as twice their average daily budget – a steep increase from when Google allotted itself only a 20-percent leeway to increase a campaign’s budget.

As a result, as Google noted, “On days with lots of high quality traffic, your costs could be up to 2 times your daily budget. This spending is balanced by days when your spend is below your daily budget.”

That’s right: Google has empowered itself to exceed your allotted AdWords budget by twice the amount you had planned. So, let’s say your campaign budget is $300 a day for the month. Conceivably, during spikes in search volume, Google could lift the ceiling on your spend to $600.

Google assured its customers that “you won’t be charged more than your monthly charging limit: the average number of days in a month (30.4) multiplied by your average daily budget.”

But even with Google’s assurance that monthly charging limits would not be exceeded, customers were angry.  Here are three reasons why:

  • Large advertisers running hundreds or thousands of campaigns rely on the ability to constantly adjust their keyword spends daily depending on spikes or drops in demand. They might lower their budgets when spikes in demand occur to protect themselves from their budgets skyrocketing. Now along comes Google disrupting their finely calibrated campaigns and potentially doing the exact opposite of what they intend.
  • Businesses running shorter (less than 30 day) campaigns, such as event-based campaigns, could have their budgets blown within the first few days of their spend. To be sure, Google would cap their budgets, but a spike in demand could cause these customers to essentially end their campaigns sooner than planned if Google were to increase their spend by as much as twice the amount budgeted.
  • The wide budget variance could also hamper anyone performing campaign, keyword or ad copy tests by disrupting their allotted spend levels.

On the other hand, smaller businesses that do not change their budgets often are likely unaffected. In fact, having Google recalibrate its budget could make the business’s spend more consistent throughout the month.

So, what should you do? I suggest three course of action:

  • Pay more attention to the results of your spend on a daily basis (which we do already for our clients). Be ready to adjust spend sooner than you might have planned.
  • For shorter-term campaigns, set your spend levels lower to have some level of protection, especially if you know you’re going to get high volume traffic within that time period. You might want to pull back from the get-go.
  • For existing campaigns, study your performance data carefully to set your budgets more carefully. Many companies that have been actively involved with paid search for years have a lot of data to draw upon in order to calibrate their budgets.

In any case, this change is permanent. It’s not going away. If you are not doing so already, watch your AdWords campaigns more closely and be ready to change them. KeywordFirst can help you. Contact us – managing your online advertising is our business and passion.

Advertiser Q&A: Snapchat Context Cards

Advertiser Q&A: Snapchat Context Cards

Social media

Snap Inc. is finding allies in its ongoing war with Facebook. The latest battlefield is location-based marketing.

Last week, Snap announced the launch of Snapchat Context Cards, a new feature that injects more information into the content that Snapchatters share on the app. The launch has raised questions from businesses, ranging from “What do Context Cards mean to advertisers?” to “What the heck are Context Cards?” Here are some answers to popular questions:

What are Context Cards?

Context Cards consist of optional “more” buttons that Snapchat has embedded into the Snaps that Snapchat users post on their accounts. When you click on the “more” button, the Snap reveals location-based information about a user’s Snap.

For example, let’s say Snapchatter Marcia posts a photo of herself enjoying a breakfast burrito at her favorite café. Her photo, of course, is the Snap, or content that she posts on Snapchat. A Context Card, or “more” button, which appears on Marcia’s Snap, reveals a treasure trove of information about the café, such as its address, map location, and user reviews. In addition, Marcia’s Snapchat friends who receive the Snap can click on ride-sharing services embedded in the Context Card if they want to visit her at the café.

This video gives you more insight into how Context Cards work:

Context Cards have generated a lot of curiosity because Snaps are the language of Snapchat. Context Cards enrich that language with information about the places where Snapchatters share information with each other – sort of like turning Snaps into Swarm check-ins loaded with information about where Snapchatters are and what they’re doing.

The term “context card” is not unique to Snapchat. Facebook uses them, too. As Facebook explained in 2016: “A context card is an added (and optional) tile that pops up after someone clicks on a lead ad but before they get to the form, giving businesses a place to offer more details on the information people are signing up for. So, if a business is using lead ads to find new email subscribers, they may use a context card to explain what type of content they offer in their emails. Context cards help businesses ensure that the leads they receive are high-quality.”

But Snapchat has branded the term within a specific context of location-based information.

Does every Snap now contain a Context Card?

No. According to TechCrunch, “[Context Cards won’t appear in every Snap, however, lest you were worried that Snapchat was turning every single post on its platform into a marketing tool. Instead, it’ll include those that have been tagged with the company’s venue-specific Geofilters, or with any Snap that’s been submitted to the public ‘Our Story’ feed and that appears in Snap Map or Search.”

Where does Snapchat get all location information needed to create Context Cards?

Snapchat is not mining all the data on its own. To retrieve and publish location-based information, Snapchat is partnering with companies that collect this kind of information already. As reported in Adweek: “The messaging application teamed up with launch partners TripAdvisorFoursquareMichelinGoopUberLyftOpenTableResy and BookTable to supply information including reviews (from critics and customers), tips, reservations, booking rides, directions, hours of operation, phone numbers, websites and other Snaps from around the area.”

Foursquare provided more insight into how Foursquare partners with Snapchat on Context Cards here.

What does Snapchat get out of Context Cards?

Context Cards could make Snapchat more attractive to businesses, which it must do in order to compete as a revenue-generating advertising platform. Just how Snapchat will benefit remains to be seen, but here are a few ways the company may become more valuable to advertisers:

  • User engagement: If Context Cards cause Snapchat users to spend more time on the app by digging deeper into each other’s Snaps and interacting with the location-based data, Snapchat will be able to report stronger user engagement numbers to advertisers. For instance, conceivably a user could tap into a Context Card, check out customer reviews of a restaurant pictured in a Snap, and use Uber to visit the restaurant all within Snapchat. More time spent on Snapchat means more opportunities for advertisers to interact with users.
  • Data: Snapchat can collect more data about user activity, such as what they are searching for and where they are spending their time, which would make Snapchat a source of more targeted advertising. And targeted ads mean more relevant interactions with users, which is Facebook’s stated competitive advantage.
  • Revenue generation: the Context Cards could create ways for Snapchat to collect more revenue from transactions and advertising. As discussed in Forbes, “The feature could also open up a new revenue stream for Snap, as it could charge its partners a commission for each booking or transaction carried out via its platform. If Snap is able to scale up this opportunity, it could be quite lucrative given the company’s relatively young and affluent user base, which is located primarily in developed markets.”

But Snapchat will have to tread carefully. People won’t use Context Cards that create unwanted advertising popping up on their screens.

What do Context Cards mean to advertisers?

  • If you operate brick-and-mortar storefronts, make sure your location-based data and content are accurately reported to Snapchat’s partners such as Foursquare. A Context Card isn’t going to be very valuable if it sends users to the wrong address of that café where Snapchatter Marcia is enjoying her breakfast burrito. Now, more than ever, you need to manage your data and content closely.
  • Keep your eyes on Snapchat especially if you advertise to a millennial audience. Watch how Context Cards evolve and be ready to capitalize on advertising opportunities as they arise.
  • If you advertise on Facebook, keep an eye on how Facebook responds. Facebook has not capitalized on location-based marketing beyond giving brands real estate to create their own pages. Look for Facebook to answer Snapchat with more effective ways for businesses to embed location-based information into the world’s largest social media platform.

Bottom line: Context Cards give Snapchat a way to combat Facebook in location-based marketing. Facebook offers something akin to Context Cards when users check into places on Facebook and reveal information about the location of the check-in. But they are not very and interesting and useful. Context Cards embed a lot more information. Snapchat has an advantage – for now.

To make your marketing more effective across the digital world, contact KeywordFirst. We’re here to help.

How the NFL.com Handles a Controversial Issue: the NFL

How the NFL.com Handles a Controversial Issue: the NFL

Branding

How do you report on a controversy that strikes your own organization?

In recent days, the NFL has found itself at the eye of a storm with the #TakeaKnee player protests erupting in stadiums across the country. But on its NFL.com website, the league has not shied away from reporting on the sensitive issue, with stories reporting the protests and player reactions. The NFL’s reaction to #TakeaKnee is an interesting example of how a business uses the discipline of content marketing to address a controversy too big to ignore.

What Exactly Is Content Marketing?

A business practices content marketing by publishing useful information that supports its own brand. The definition breaks down this way:

  • Content marketing builds the credibility of a brand (hence the “marketing” part of content marketing) . . .
  • . . . by sharing useful information (content), such as how-to tips, news, commentary, and visual stories.

Through content marketing, brands act as publishers, sharing news, editorial commentary, and other forms of insight you typically associate with a third-party information source. Content marketing is not “look at me” advertising or PR. Both those forms of marketing are valuable and have their place, but they are not content marketing.

When KeywordFirst publishes blogs commenting on digital marketing, we practice content marketing because we are building our brand by publishing information we believe to be useful to our clients. When we issue a press release announcing a new hire or a client win, we are not practicing content marketing but rather PR, which is why we post press releases elsewhere.

Controversy Hits the NFL

When the #TakeaKnee protests escalated rapidly over the weekend of September 22-24, the league was faced with a challenge: how to deal with the issue. The news section of NFL.com was the natural place to report on the topic. Like other brands serious about content marketing, the NFL acts as a news publisher on its own website. NFL writers cover football topics just like newspaper sports writers do. For instance, in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey ravaging Texas, Houston Texans Quarterback JJ. Watt discussed his commitment to helping Houston recover from the storm – and the NFL was there to report his comments.

The NFL is a news-reporting machine, as it must be to cover a league with 32 teams. News coverages ranges from scores to injuries to topical events such as the example with J.J. Watt. The league also covers college football, wisely understanding that devout NFL fans likely care about college football, the source of most NFL talent.

The NFL has been known to cover news that casts the league in a less-than-flattering light, such as the Miami Dolphins’ suspension of linebacker Lawrence Timmons. But the #TakeaKnee protests have been something different: an issue that thrusts the NFL into the center of a political and social maelstrom, resulting in calls of boycotts and support at the same time.

The league’s handling of the issue on its website has been measured:

  • The league reported a perspective from Commissioner Roger Goodell.
  • The NFL also let pictures do the talking via a photo essay of various team protests and shows of unity.

On the other hand, the NFL complemented the #TakeaKnee coverage with many other articles discussing league news, including, of course, the most obvious: game results. For the period September 24-28, most of the news coverage centered on developments affecting on-the-field play, such as the struggles of the Baltimore Ravens offense.

By balancing coverage of the controversy with news about the game itself, the NFL showed that the contests between the teams do not exist in a vacuum while keeping the focus of its coverage on the reason why people watch football in the first place: to find which team will win or lose. To be sure, you can find more complete, hard-hitting perspectives on the #TakeaKnee controversy elsewhere, including criticisms of owners’ participation. That said, the website’s news section passes the test for being useful – one of the principles of content marketing – while also supporting the NFL by being credible.  Contact KeywordFirst to learn how to build your brand with content marketing. We’re here to help.

Image source: NFL.com

Google Creates a Mobile-First World with Accelerated Mobile Pages

Google Creates a Mobile-First World with Accelerated Mobile Pages

Mobile

Google continues to create a mobile-first future. The company’s 2015 algorithm update known as Mobilegeddon resulted in mobile-optimized websites ranking higher in search results. And recently Google announced it will extend Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) to all AdWords advertisers globally.

AMP is an open-sourced project that Google designed and rolled out in 2016 to make mobile web pages load faster. Recently Google analyzed landing page performance of 900,000 mobile landing pages. As page load time increases from one second to seven seconds, the probability of a mobile site visitor bouncing more than doubles. For every one second delay in page load time, conversions can fall by up to 20 percent.

With AMP, Google decided to improve engagement in a mobile world. According to Google, by May 2017,  brands had published more than 2 billion pages with AMP, cutting their page times to less than 1 second. Advertisers such as Johnson & Johnson reported increased engagement to AMP pages.

What Google is doing now is supporting AMP landing pages in AdWords search campaigns globally. Consequently, all advertisers will be able to point mobile search ads to Accelerated Mobile Pages. Eventually AMPs will rank higher in search results as more businesses point to them with their ads.

The spread of AMP is significant because:

  • Google is responding to consumer behavior. More people do mobile searches than desktop searches, and people using mobile devices expect content delivered faster and simpler.
  • AMP demonstrates Google’s influence on advertisers. Google has the scale and reach to enact changes that influence how advertisers act. And Google is willing to do so by making a better user experience: pages that load faster.

I suggest that advertisers get familiar with the Google toolkit for using AMP for AdWords a tactical measure. As a strategic move, understand how your own customers are using mobile – not just with text searches but with voice searches. Optimize your site experience accordingly. Mobile is a behavior influencing how all brands and people interact. Google is responding to that behavior, and so should you. Contact KeywordFirst to ensure that your digital experience is mobile. We can help.

Image source: stateofdigital.com

Five Ways Universities Master Instagram

Five Ways Universities Master Instagram

Social media

For college students, August is a time to pack up, head back to leafy campuses, and settle in for a new semester of fun and adventure. For colleges themselves, school is always in session, especially on social media, where institutes of higher learning share student life through visual storytelling. One of the hottest platforms for universities to express their culture is Instagram, which has grown to 700 million monthly users partly for speaking the visual language of the digital generation. Earlier this year, we provided some tips for how colleges should capitalize on Instagram. Now let’s look at some best practices. Here are a few examples of how colleges master Instagram:

Expressing a Culture

Sometimes colleges can seem like faceless institutions especially for high school students and their families thumbing through piles of literature as they consider their options. Instagram helps universities make their personalities shine. Many colleges do an outstanding job relying on photos and video to give you a taste of student life, events, and their campuses. Penn State is a great example. The university wisely makes liberal use of its photogenic Nittany Lion mascot to commemorate playful events such as #WorldChocolateDay:

Special events such as the #HappyValleyJam concert receive their share of visual love:

Penn State also tells the stories of its students whether during the school year or their summer travels:

And Penn State simply makes its campus a desirable, activity-filled place to be – who wouldn’t enjoy #SandcastleDay on campus?:

For Penn State, Instagram is a treasure trove of images that invite students to learn more about its culture.

Doing Good

Colleges give back to their communities all the time. By sharing their stories on Instagram, they encourage you to do the same. For instance, the University of Illinois has used Instagram to help the University’s Illini 4000 non-profit organization raise money for cancer research by biking coast to coast:

Over a period of 76 days and 4,370 miles, the university chronicled the progress of the Illini 4000 as they bicycled from New York to San Francisco. The university also cross-promoted the Illini 4000’s Instagram account to drive traffic for donors who wished to give as well as follow their journey:

As of August, the Illini 4000 had raised more than $100,000. Well done!

Uplifting People

Colleges love to celebrate their students on Instagram, as well they should. You don’t have to look very hard to find excellent Instagram accounts featuring happy students learning, traveling, working out, hanging out, and generally enjoying life — University of Nebraska, we’re looking at you!

Harvard University demonstrates a best practice by highlighting the accomplishments of its students. For example, the following image gives a shout-out to Jonny Kim, an emergency medicine resident who has been named to NASA’s 2017 Astronaut Candidate Class.

Note that Harvard discusses Jonny’s background and accomplishments with a well written description accompanying the image, and Harvard cross-links to relevant Instagram accounts that are part of his story. This example is but one of many ways Harvard celebrates the accomplishments of current and past students. Harvard is certainly not the only university to do so, but it sets a high bar for many others to emulate.

Sharing the Curriculum

How do you visualize your curriculum? Doing so is easy on Instagram! Many colleges give you a taste of their classes by zeroing in on field research and lab work. The University of Rochester is a case in point. The university prides itself in its research program, and its Instagram account reflects that pride. In the following example, the university describes how student Meghan Patrick is working as a summer intern in the mechanical engineering lab of Douglas Kelley as part of her research into developing sustainable energy:

Meanwhile, student Madison Carter is researching how public art influences social interactions in the city of Rochester:

The university’s Instagram account abounds with examples like these. As is the case with Harvard, the University of Rochester shares insightful narrative behind the images, too. The university sends a strong message: learning takes place everywhere, well beyond the campus classroom setting.

Celebrating Place

Universities hustle to show you how beautiful their campuses are. The University of Minnesota doesn’t shy away from showing off its Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum, designed by Frank Gehry:

Boston University frequently reminds you of its distinctive location:

Stanford University is a standout for using Instagram to give you a visual glimpse of different aspects of its renowned campus and deserves kudos for experimenting with black-and-white photography:

As we discussed earlier this year, Instagram provides plenty of tools for institutes of higher learning to maximize their visual appeal. To learn more about how to use visual storytelling on social media to build your collegiate brand, contact KeywordFirst – we’re happy to help.

Are Bid Tools Pulling Their Weight in Higher Education?

Are Bid Tools Pulling Their Weight in Higher Education?

Search

Advertisers in higher education spend a lot of money on paid search, and they want the best possible bid tools to drive leads and keep costs in check. But are advertisers in higher education getting their money’s worth with bid tools?

Branded keywords typically drive the most volume, and they’re usually pretty easy to manage. Put another way, staying in Position One in search results doesn’t take a lot of technology horsepower to accomplish. Now, if you are an advertiser in higher education, you typically buy a lot of degree-related keywords — both branded and non-branded, and both long- and short-tail. Naturally, you want to be able to set up some rules and let your bid tool do the work. Your bid tool is smarter than you — so you should turn it on and be amazed by the results, right?

Wrong.

Here’s the problem with bid management tools in the higher education space for a lot of advertisers: lack of volume (clicks and leads) on non-branded keywords, or even branded keywords combined with a degree type. Higher education isn’t retail, where the sheer volume and complexity of an account makes it a perfect fit for a bid management tool.

We find that up to 85 percent of your keywords don’t generate enough click volume in a week or in a month to justify adjusting your bids for non-branded keywords. Yes, you can set up click or lead thresholds and parameters to dictate when the bid management tool should adjust the bid. You can establish position rules as well. But the point is this: if the bid management tool doesn’t have enough click volume to make sound decisions, is it worth the monthly fee?

Furthermore, you know how expensive some of these cost per clicks are. If you advertise for an MBA program you know what I mean! What you don’t need is a bid tool moving you out of a Top Four position just because you didn’t get enough volume in a particular week.

So for higher education advertisers, bid tools may be ineffective because there isn’t enough volume in those keywords for bid tools to to use their algorithms to adjust bids. (The exception occurs with branded keywords and a handful of tried-and-true program/degree keywords.)

Is this the case for all .Edu advertisers? No. But my advice to higher education advertisers is to look carefully at what you’re spending on bid management tools and what you’re getting from them – especially when you get outside of top performers.

So what should you use to manage your keyword bidding? Search engines have come a long way with their (free) bidding capabilities, and my recommendation to several clients has been to start with the free bidding capabilities available from search engines such as Google and evaluate their performance after three months. We’ve used that approach and combined some scripts that we’ve created to eliminate not only cost, but also many of the headaches associated with plugging low-volume keywords into bid tools that need high volume to work well.

Meanwhile, feel free to contact me (mark@keywordfirst.com) to share your insights.

Lead image source: Dave Meier (https://stocksnap.io/author/480)