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)

How to Improve Paid Search Targeting in Higher Education

How to Improve Paid Search Targeting in Higher Education

Search

Institutes in higher education need to manage paid search campaigns carefully just like organizations in any other industry, and targeting is critical to doing so. But what’s the best way for higher education organizations to target by time of day for paid search? Based on KeywordFirst’s experience in this sector, we find that making small adjustments can lead to big improvements in paid search campaigns for higher education.

We’ve managed more than 250 degree programs from more than 50 universities and colleges over the last several years; so we have a lot of data to draw upon as we help higher education organizations improve paid search. We also analyze our data to examine search behavior. Recently, we wondered, do people searching for MBAs differ in behavior from those searching for an MLS or an MSW degree, or any master’s degree programs for that matter? If so, how can we leverage that data so that our higher education clients constantly achieve the most optimal position in search results at the right time when searches occur?

When we examined the search behaviors of students seeking different higher education degrees, we observed the following:

  • We see distinct changes in search behavior depending on time of day. There emerges from our research an understanding of the peak and off-peak hours for search.
  • People seeking different degrees are all searching at the same time of day. The peak and off-peak search hours are very similar for people seeking MBAs, MLS, and all other categories of master’s degrees.

The findings make intuitive sense. There are only so many hours in a day, and our body clocks are, for the most part, fairly similar regardless of what degree we want to pursue.

Based on our findings, we offer the following advice to institutes of higher education:

  • Implement hourly bid rules in order to improve lead volume and efficiencies. Constructing the right hourly bid rules can improve lead volume by up to 10 percent.
  • Your dayparting strategy may look similar regardless of degree. Seekers of MLS degrees, for example, will be similar for those seeking MBAs because both audiences are searching at the same time of day.

How higher education advertisers manage their bids and budgets through a dayparting strategy depends on a number of factors. Schools with restricted budgets may enter an auction exclusively during certain hours, making them more competitive. Other schools may just increase bids simply because they know those are the best hours and there are more advertisers in the auction.

We recommend that higher education organizations look at their average positions by hour and see what happens when modifiers aren’t used. Then, experiment with modifiers by the hour to maintain their optimal position. Since there are just a few hours of the day when the big volume is coming in, it’s important to get it right, which is why it’s important to make finite adjustments. And we can help higher education advertisers do so. Our models predict the optimal position in search results for your keyword bids. We know where to set the cost per click in the bid. And we understand the optimal bid modifiers for each keyword associated with searches for various degrees in higher education. As a result, we have helped our clients achieve greater lead volume at lower cost per lead levels.

Balancing volume with cost has always been a challenge in higher education lead generation. Understanding how to manipulate your bids during a given day can really help with both volume and efficiency. Feel free to contact me (mark@keywordfirst.com) if you want to validate your assumptions against our data.

Image credit: Sidharth Bhatia (https://unsplash.com/@sidharthbhatia)