Is holiday paid search more competitive in 2017 than 2016?

The busy 2017 holiday shopping season is now in full swing, and we’ve already witnessed impressive Y/Y sales growth on key shopping days.

As advertisers dig into their own performance, many are taking stock of the competition to get a sense for what other brands are doing. This was a key topic for a #ppcchat Twitter conversation immediately following Cyber Weekend, in which host Kirk Williams posed the following question to chat-goers.

As you can see, most brands felt they saw more competition this year than last year, though 39 percent felt it was about the same. Zero respondents felt that there was less competition this year than last.

Taking a look at Auction Insights reports from Google for a sample of large Merkle retail advertisers, we can get a sense for how many brands were bidding on paid search keywords this year compared to last. As always, the metrics found in these reports and the stories they tell will differ significantly from advertiser to advertiser, but the following gives some quantification of what the paid search competitive landscape looks like this year compared to last.

It also illuminates at least one important 2017 change that advertisers should take into account when comparing these metrics Y/Y.

More shopping competitors than last year

Taking a look at the period from Thanksgiving to Cyber Monday Y/Y, we find that the average number of Google Shopping competitors included in Google Auction Insights increased pretty significantly for each day. The largest increase came on Black Friday, with a 42 percent increase in average numbers of competitors featured.

That’s a lot of additional competitors gobbling up impressions this year compared to last year!

However, one issue that might have increased the number of competitors without any actual change in the number of competitors is Google’s mid-May 2017 update to impression share calculation. With this change, Google increased “the universe of total impressions” it looks at for impression share.

Per Google’s communications, brands might have seen their own impression share decline in May with the increase in total impression volume taken into account in impression share calculations. However, Merkle brands actually saw a modest increase in Shopping impression share beginning in May relative to early 2017 and have continued to see higher impression share.

Taking a look at the number of competitors included in Google Shopping Auction Insights by month since last November, we find that the number increased steadily from November 2016 to April 2017. In May, the number of competitors jumped significantly, and this figure has held roughly steady since late summer.

Thus, it seems like Google’s impression share calculation change might be the culprit of much of the increase we’re seeing in Cyber Weekend competition this year compared to last. It’s possible that the jump in competitors is unrelated to Google’s change and actually does represent an influx of competition in May, but the timing makes me think the two are related.

Looking at competitors by device, phones and tablets saw the biggest jump in the number of competitors Y/Y for most days. Desktop saw its biggest jump on Black Friday and its smallest jump on Cyber Monday.

Number of text ad competitors slightly down

On the text ad side, we actually find that the number of competitors included in Auction Insights declined slightly Y/Y for each day from Thanksgiving to Cyber Monday.

Broken down by device, we find that phones saw the largest declines Y/Y in the number of competitors.

Conclusion

So what does all this mean?

There are definitely more competitors in Shopping Auction Insights this year compared to last. However, we observed a jump in May at a time when Google changed how it measures impression share. Thus, at least some of the increased competition might be the result of reporting changes.

Text ad auction insights show no signs of increased competition over Cyber Weekend this year compared to last on average for the sample studied, and in fact indicate slight declines in the number of brands competing.

Answering the question posed by the title of this post, I think it’s fair to say that Google Shopping is seeing more competition this year than last year, especially since we know at least one massive brand is now involved that wasn’t at this time last year. However, there’s reason to believe that competition might not have heated up quite as much as Auction Insights indicates.

On the text ad side, the decline in the total number of competitors isn’t massive but does seem to be consistent enough to represent a real change from last year to this year. Was the change a real decline in the number of competitors or a shift in something on Google’s end? That’s tough to answer, but the indicators at least point to a conclusion that there was not significantly more competition in text ads this year compared to last over Cyber Weekend.

As mentioned earlier, the competition observed in Auction Insights varies significantly by advertiser, and, as this post shows, also by device and ad format. What is your brand seeing this year?

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

Google Trends now shows data for YouTube search, Google Shopping, News search & Image search

Google is adding new filters to its trends data, making it possible to see search trends beyond web search. Now, you can find real-time search trends on specific search terms within YouTube, News and Image searches, along with Google Shopping.

“We’re opening up more data to show what people in the world are looking for, as they’re looking for it,” writes Google on its The Keyword blog.

To see trends filtered by the specific search trends, first choose the search term you want to research. For example, if want to see search trends for Rihanna on YouTube, select Rihanna the singer on the Trends search bar.

From there, you can select to see search trends for “Rihanna” on Image search, News search, Google Shopping and YouTube search from the drop-down menu under Web Search.

Within each of the search trend filters, there is data for “Interest over time” and “Interest by region,” as well as a list of “Related topics” and “Related queries.”

Google beefs up mobile shopping results for the holidays, adds more product info & buying guides

Google is beefing up its mobile shopping experience to prepare for the holidays, now showing buying guides for broad categories like “sewing machine” and “coffee grinder” searches and adding more product-related information for specific product searches.

“When you search for a specific product, Google.com now shows you other helpful information, like related items, and allows you to compare reviews, prices and other specs, side by side,” writes Google product management director for Google Shopping, Jennifer Liu on Google’s The Keyword blog.

Google says it has added a “newer model available” label to tech-gadget product listings so searchers know if they’re browsing the most recent version of tech products.

According to the announcement, Google’s recently redesigned mobile shopping experience has helped bring more product information to the forefront with features like a “Quick View” button in Google Shopping ads that lets users preview detailed product information.

Google also noted its recent knowledge panel updates that quickly surface product photos, videos, reviews and descriptions for product-related searches.

For the announcement, Google pulled search trends for product searches happening in advance of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. According to its data, some of the more popular product searches occurring as we head into the biggest shopping weekend of the year include:

apparel brands like Vans, Canada Goose, and Nike Air Jordan Retro 11.celebrity-endorsed products like Kevin Durant’s Nike KD 10, Pharrell x Adidas and Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty makeup line.gamer gifts like Razer phones, Nintendo Switch and Call of Duty WW2.

On the Google Home device, Google says voice searches are trending toward everyday essentials such as paper towels or pet food — things people are likely to add to their grocery lists.

“We’re also seeing people using voice to find other types of products to prep for the holidays,” writes Liu, listing kitchen utensil products, toys “Or fuzzy blankets to keep warm by the fireplace.”

Google expanded on its trends data on the Think with Google blog, confirming that Black Friday-related searches have increased by 80 percent over the past two years.

“Mobile watch time of Black Friday haul videos grew by over 120 percent since 2014,” writes Google’s head of shopping ads, Emily Eberhard.

Google says it begins seeing “generic, non-branded” searches outpacing branded queries attached to Black Friday-related searches early in November. Approximately 2 1/2 weeks out from the Black Friday-Cyber Monday four-day shopping weekend, searches switch to more brand-specific searches.

“There is a switch to searches for Black Friday becoming mostly branded (e.g., “ashley furniture black friday” and “sephora black friday 2016″) as shoppers narrow down their options and begin laser-focusing their research on the specific items they want to buy,” writes Eberhard.

Branded versus non-branded search trends

Google says that in 2016, mobile searches for “black friday” peaked on Thanksgiving Day: “Overall, there were 2.5x as many searches for ‘black friday ads’ as there were for ‘how to cook a turkey.’”

It also notes that many Black Friday-related search queries center around shoppers trying to determine the best time to shop, with top Black Friday-related searches including queries such as: “cyber monday vs black friday,” “which is better black friday or cyber monday” and “is cyber monday as good as black friday.”

Google’s data showed that online conversions remain steady throughout November, with spikes on both Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Google says it sees mobile transaction rates increase 40 percent during the Thanksgiving weekend compared to the rest of the year.

“It’s a sign that mobile researchers [people researching product purchases on their phone] are likely to become mobile buyers over the four-day holiday break,” writes Eberhard.

7 Google tips to supercharge your Shopping ads

Shopping ads are great, and they continue to improve. If you’re looking to get more out of your Shopping campaigns, there are some straightforward actions you can take. Some of these have been true since Shopping campaigns were introduced back in 2013, while others are relatively new.

Regardless of where you are on your Shopping campaign journey, here are the top seven things I’d recommend to take your campaigns to the next level.

1. Establish clear lines of communication with other teams

A Shopping ad assembles a bunch of data to deliver an ad to a user. For larger retailers, it often takes teamwork to ensure that you’re providing Google with the ideal set of data for the best possible ad.

As a search engine marketer, you and your team may be primarily concerned with your Shopping campaigns within AdWords. In addition to that, you may have some control over your Merchant Center account. However, you may have to work with different teams for things like data feeds, your product catalog and pricing on your items. For example, an AdWords practitioner may rely on a feed team to avoid breakages (like unavailable products) and find the best opportunities (like niche products you might not be promoting yet).

Talk to one another. The importance of teamwork can’t be overstated. You all have the same goals, so ensure you’re on the same page with your teammates. Also note that Google recently announced some changes that give marketers more controls to modify and improve their product data directly in Merchant Center.

2. Let your product data do the talking (and shed your search ad mentality)

Like many, I’ve been doing search ads for years. Shopping ads are a much more recent addition to the online marketing landscape. As a result, a bunch of people apply a traditional paid search mentality to their Shopping campaigns. While that can be a good thing, there are some pitfalls to avoid.

The biggest difference is that you have product data instead of a keyword list. Your site (and your products) connect with user queries like they always did, but the mechanism for that connection is different. Focus on your product data. A focus on product data accounts for different situations — situations where keywords won’t always match the intent. A user’s motivation for searching could be anything from research to getting ready to buy at that moment.

I recognize that people love having control over their accounts (it’s one of those things all search marketers have learned over the years), but that mindset can actually lead you to creating a lot more work for yourself. Overly intricate Shopping campaigns that attempt to replicate a product-level, keyword-like structure are a bad idea. They are a pain to maintain, and they don’t even improve performance (check out slide 6 here for a non-Googler’s POV). I’ve even seen cases where they make things worse. I’d suggest simpler structures like grouping by popular brands, categories or profit margins.

You should use things like campaign priorities to direct traffic, but trying to force Shopping ads into a text ad mentality can do more harm than good.

3. Submit your entire inventory

Submit your entire inventory to Merchant Center. More products means more chances to get in front of customers.

I’ve also heard of advertisers not submitting certain products believing that they will never be profitable. If you’ve ever worried about that yourself, give Target ROAS a shot. With the right target in place, you’ll have a chance to sell that product while still keeping a sharp eye on profitability.

Here’s an important caveat, though: If you’re in a sensitive category — think health care or pharmaceuticals — be careful about what you submit. Those rules can be stricter.

Additionally, the days of frequent account-level suspensions are behind us. Product-level disapprovals are now the preferred approach, so if you make some sort of error, the penalty won’t be nearly as painful as it might have been in the past. Our goal is to deliver the best possible results (including ads) for users, advertisers and Google. The more stuff you give us to work with, the better user experience we can deliver.

4. Use Smart Bidding to set bids at the query level

You can still optimize product-by-product (query-by-query, really) with your Shopping ads. Both enhanced cost-per-click (ECPC) and Target ROAS set bids based on the specific context of each and every query; depending on that context, the same query can have wildly different values. Smart Bidding is the best way to get query-level bidding. It’s the only way to set bids specific to each query, actually.

With ECPC, you set your own bids for the product group, then those bids are tweaked either up or down for each auction to maximize the total conversions you can receive at that bid. Target ROAS does more of the heavy lifting. All you have to do is provide a target return for it to optimize toward, and it will bid toward queries with high purchase intent.

5. Build your brand with Showcase Shopping ads

As you go about finding the ideal pictures to include in your product data, you should also think about presenting a more complete picture of your brand on Shopping. Showcase Shopping ads are more likely to show when people search for general items — think “lighting” instead of “hand blown glass 3-light lantern.”

Showcase Shopping ads are a great way to show off a selection of products that you offer. They’re also a great way to reach people earlier in their purchase journey.

Showcase Shopping ad

Showcase Shopping expanded ad

Showcase Shopping ads are available via the API or the new AdWords experience.

6. Move beyond last-click attribution

Shopping ads can take advantage of data-driven attribution in AdWords. If you’re still waiting to take the non-last-click attribution plunge in AdWords, do it now. Across both your search and Shopping ads, you can see which clicks make a real difference on the way to conversions.

And if you don’t have enough traffic for data-driven attribution, we recommend choosing a rules-based model that values all touch points.

7. Connect your ads to physical stores

Local inventory ads bring the stuff that’s in your store online. And they drive foot traffic to your stores with local information. At Google, we studied this last year and found that consumers who clicked on a retailer’s Google Search ad before visiting the store are over 25 percent more likely to buy something in-store, and they spend 10 percent more on average (Source: Google data, Oct-Nov 2016).

I started off by talking about Shopping ads being a team sport. To that end, don’t neglect your in-store team members. To a consumer, your ads and your store locations are one and the same. Even if you report to different bosses, you and your in-store compatriots should have the same goals.

Conclusion

Shopping ads deliver great results for users and advertisers. Hopefully, you’ve been able to pick up a new tactic or two from this article that you can use to see even better performance from your Shopping campaigns.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

3 last-minute Google Shopping tricks to level up your account for the holidays

We’ve all heard the classic holiday jingle about Kris Kringle’s holiday prep: First, he makes a list, then he checks it twice. (He’s gotta find out who’s naughty or nice!)

Believe it or not, I use a checklist of my own as I review my Google Shopping campaigns for the holiday season.

Unlike Search and Display, Shopping doesn’t give advertisers a ton of control over when ads will show and how much to pay. That’s why it’s so important to check and double-check that you’ve crossed your t’s and dotted your i’s.

Today, I’ll be sharing three Shopping strategies I’ve added to my checklist for the upcoming holiday season.

Take advantage of Showcase Shopping Ads

Google’s experiment with Showcase Shopping Ads and auto-play video are two of many indicators that the company is shifting toward a richer search experience. Long gone are the days of text-only ads!

If you’re already running Shopping campaigns, give Showcase Shopping Ads a shot. This new ad format features interactive photo collages that showcase a store’s name and its most relevant products on search.

Showcase Shopping Ads in Google search results

Users who click on a Showcase Shopping Ad will be presented with a full-screen product feed, including details like special sales, average shipping times and contact info.

But before you get started, you have to make sure of a couple of things:

    You’re using the new Google AdWords experience, which is now available to everyone.You have a Google Shopping Campaign set up.

Like any other Shopping Ad, bidding can get a little tricky, because advertisers bid on Max Cost-Per-Engagement instead of keywords. An engagement occurs if someone clicks the Showcase Ad and spends more than 10 seconds on the ad, or if they click on a link within the expanded ad.

Segment your bids using priorities

Google Shopping ads may not work the same as standard text ads, but here’s the problem:

Advertisers aren’t segmenting their bids.

Since advertisers can’t bid on specific keywords, they’ll throw up their hands and let Google handle the rest. Not the smartest way to spend your precious ad dollars! Ideally, you’d want to place higher bids on keywords with higher purchase intent, which are generally more specific, long-tail keywords.

You can actually achieve this with priority settings. You can assign a priority level to each campaign: low, medium or high. If more than one product qualifies to show for an ad, the higher priority will always enter the auction first, regardless of bid.

You can segment your bids by adding negative keywords. Do this by creating three shopping campaigns of the same product, like so:

Campaign #1: GENERIC NON-BRAND

Priority: HIGHNegative keywords: “running,” “basketball,” “nike”Your bids: LOWPossible conversion rate: LOW

Campaign #2: SPECIFIC NON-BRAND

Priority: MEDIUMNegative keywords: “nike”Your bids: MEDIUMPossible conversion rate: MEDIUM

Campaign #3: BRANDED

Priority: LOWNegative keywords: NoneYour bids: HIGHPossible conversion rate: HIGH

Here’s what will go down:

    All three campaigns qualify to enter the auction.Google surveys the highest-priority campaign for entry.The negative keywords “Nike” and “running” force Google to pass and consider the medium-priority campaign.The negative keyword “Nike” prevents the ad from matching and pushes it down to the low-priority campaign.The long-tail keyword with high purchase intent matches with the lowest priority campaign. Now you have a higher chance of winning that valuable conversion because your higher bid is going to place you higher in the search results.

Integrate a feed management tool

All Google Shopping campaigns require a Merchant Center data feed to list all the products you’re selling. If you’ve tried to set that up before, you know how annoying it can get, especially when you’re required to update your data feed once every 30 days.

And if you want optimal results, you might even have to update it daily. Nobody’s got time for that. Data feed tools automate the process and will undoubtedly save you some energy to tackle larger tasks at hand. (Personally, I’ve had good experiences with Go Data Feed, but there are a ton more worth checking out.)

Go forth and make money!

That was easy, right? Now, go ahead and start testing. If you don’t know where to begin, check out the way too early holiday testing guide to get started.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

Four key holiday paid search trends to keep an eye on

During the holidays, there are a million different data points advertisers can look at to see how paid search is performing throughout this crucial shopping period. Depending on business goals and the type of products sold, which of those data points are most important for a particular site can vary widely from one brand to the next.

That said, there are a few overarching trends that apply to many advertisers and which help to set the stage for performance expectations over the coming weeks. Here I’ll outline four interesting paid search trends I’ll be keeping an eye on.

Will Black Friday continue to close the paid search sales gap on Cyber Monday?

Black Friday is for doorbusters. Cyber Monday is for online deals. That’s the way this thing is supposed to go, right?

The lines are blurring on those distinctions, with Black Friday Google paid search sales growth far outpacing that of Cyber Monday last year.

Paid search sales growth from 2015 to 2016 for Merkle advertisers.

Although Black Friday sales nearly equaled Cyber Monday’s in 2016 in aggregate, many smaller/individual sites still see the latter deliver much larger sales due to how they run their promotions. As a result, the median Merkle advertiser saw Google paid search sales 102 percent higher on Cyber Monday than on Black Friday in 2015, a gap that narrowed to 69 percent higher in 2016.

With so many early shoppers searching online rather than/in addition to in-store on Black Friday, paid search marketers must likewise expect to spend big on this historically brick-and-mortar sales holiday. It doesn’t appear that Black Friday will be able to knock off Cyber Monday as biggest paid search sales day of the holiday season for the median brand just yet, but it will be interesting to see just how close it gets.

Does Google Shopping have the juice to keep growing faster?

Online retailers are already well aware of the importance of Google Shopping, but did you also know that Product Listing Ad (PLA) sales between Thanksgiving and Christmas have grown faster year over year for two straight years?

There have been a lot of changes over the years to help spur on this growth, including:

Google roughly doubling the size of PLAs on mobile devices in Q3 2015.Rapid impression growth beginning in early 2016.Yahoo’s move to begin showing Google PLAs on its domain in Q1 2016.The official rollout of PLAs to Google image search in Q2 2016 after months of low-volume testing.

Even with year-over-year growth numbers recently running up against stronger year-ago comparisons created by the early 2016 changes, Shopping has continued to grow impressively. Q3 PLA spend was up 37 percent, according to the latest Merkle Digital Marketing Report.

With Google’s recent release of Showcase Shopping Ads out of beta testing and the steady rise of Local Inventory Ads for brick-and-mortar advertisers, it’s not out of the question that advertisers could once again see holiday sales from these ads grow even faster.

One factor that’s likely to assist in that growth is that the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year is the longest it’s been since 2012 at 32 days. The number of days in this stretch has steadily increased since 2013, when there were just 26 days, and 2017 will be longer than 2016 by two days.

Will phones and tablets top 60% paid search traffic share?

Over the past few years, we’ve consistently seen the share of paid search clicks coming from phones and tablets rise in Q4 relative to Q3.

Most years, this increase is fairly modest, such as last year, when share went from 57.3 percent to 57.6 percent. Our data shows that 2015 had the largest growth in phone and tablet click share from Q3 to Q4. We believe this is because Google made several changes in the latter half of 2015 that significantly increased phone ad traffic, including adding a third text ad above organic links where there used to be only two and doubling the size of PLAs.

There haven’t been any major updates along the lines of what occurred in 2015 to suggest a big jump this year, but there are subtle trends that might help to increase mobile share nonetheless.

As I outlined last month, Google Local Inventory Ads and Maps ads play a bigger role during the holidays, and they are particularly important on mobile. With these ad units now accounting for much more traffic than last year, seasonal Q4 growth might help to boost overall mobile traffic share.

Could we see phones and tablets account for more than 60 percent of all paid search clicks in Q4? Perhaps. Google is already well over 60 percent, with Bing and Yahoo bringing overall mobile share down.

How big will Maps ads get on key days?

Last holiday season, brick-and-mortar brands saw a steady increase in traffic coming from the “Get location details” click type leading up to Christmas Day. This click type is attributed to text ads featured in Google Maps for any brand with active location extensions added to AdWords campaigns, and it accounts for the highest traffic share for brand text ads on phones.

In 2016, the highest share of brand phone text ad traffic coming from these ads all year was 8 percent on Christmas Eve, as shoppers were looking to head in-store for last-minute purchases. Since then, “Get location details” click share has, on average, risen significantly.

As such, it’s fair to expect that we may see a significant increase this Christmas Eve from the 8 percent figure observed last year. I think there’s a chance that up to 15 percent of all phone brand traffic for brick-and-mortar brands will come from “Get location details” clicks on Christmas Eve — a pretty big chunk of clicks on an important day for a format that was only announced in mid-2016.

Conclusion

These predictions fall into four key themes that have played a huge role in the evolution of paid search over the past couple of years:

    The rise of online shopping in general has blurred the role of Black Friday, a historically brick-and-mortar sales holiday that’s now closing the gap on Cyber Monday in terms of paid search sales volume.Google Shopping has long outpaced text ads in terms of year-over-year growth (clicks, spend, sales, orders and so on) for online retailers, with holiday PLA sales growth accelerating relative to the year prior in both 2015 and 2016.Phones and tablets now account for more paid search traffic than desktop, and the click share of these devices will likely continue to grow this Q4, when we typically see a quarter-over-quarter lift in share.Lastly, users are increasingly turning to navigational tools like Google Maps for both brand and non-brand searches, and Google’s monetization of this traffic has likewise grown over the past year. These ads stand to be even more important for brick-and-mortar brands during the final days of the holiday shopping season.

So, those are four data points I’ll be keeping an eye on this coming shopping season and the broader themes each relates to. We’ll have to wait and see if my predictions come true, as well as to find out if any new and unexpected developments unfold.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

7 tips to ramp up your holiday advertising

It’s never too early to start thinking about holiday advertising, as Q4 is the biggest quarter for many retailers. Naturally, many of our clients have their holiday advertising plans in place for the Christmas holiday season.

But it’s not too late if you haven’t already started. In this article, I’ll cover some quick and not-so-quick ways you can prepare yourself for the holidays. Depending on your business, you can use many of the same ideas for Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

1. Label all key holiday brands

I label all Christmas campaigns but highlight key products and/or strategic brands we’re focused on for the holiday season. This provides sanity in accounts with a very broad Christmas focus.

Apply a quick filter, and you can be looking at exactly what you want without getting bogged down and/or distracted by other account details like generic categories.

2. Use ad extensions

Naturally, ad extensions are a great way to incorporate holiday messaging and get searchers right to information they’re looking for. Here are some examples of how one can use the various extension products for the holiday season.

We like to include sitelink extensions for all holiday pages. Here’s an example of sitelink wording we’ve been using to promote specific pages: Stocking Stuffers, Baby’s First Christmas, Gift Guide, Gourmet Treats, Home Entertaining & Hostess.

We also incorporate visual sitelinks, as the images are effective in drawing attention to ads. Though not holiday-themed, here’s an example of visual sitelinks on a mobile phone:

We use callout extensions to highlight delivery around the holiday season, as it’s one of the biggest concerns of shoppers during the holidays. Here’s some sample wording we’ve used: “Guaranteed Christmas Delivery,” “Dec 18 Last Shipping Date.”

We use promotion extensions. We include the date range when the offer is valid and have found that shorter date ranges tend to convert better than longer ones. Try percentage discounts, especially if the discount is significant (e.g., above 30 percent). Numerical value discounts can be effective for larger-ticket items if the discount is a larger number (e.g., $150 off). The promo code is useful to track sales.

We use structured snippet extensions. Under the header “types,” you can try Christmas Deals, Late Deals, Last-Minute Deals and so forth to get extra Christmas verbiage into ads.

3. Build out generic terms

During the holidays, we like to build out generic terms, as there are more opportunities for ads to be seen and for people to purchase products. In the New Year, we examine data and figure out what makes sense to further expand. Here are some examples:

Gifts for age/boy/girl/child.Toys for age/boy/girl/child.Types of toys (wooden, educational, building/construction, dolls, plush, etc.).

We also try giving generic terms a holiday angle. Be creative and dig deep to find permutations and combinations that you think make sense. The keyword tool can be a great way to find opportunities here. We recently came across “secret Santa gift ideas.” Here are some other examples:

Baby’s first Christmas.Christmas toys, holiday toy stores, holiday toy shop.Christmas gifts for her, best gifts for her, etc.Christmas gifts for him, best gifts for him, etc.Gifts for pets.

4. Revamp ad copy!

Of course, adding Christmas terms to ad copy is an effective strategy, so go Christmas-crazy in your ads. Here are some ideas you can try:

Buy Today & Receive Before ChristmasShop Now For Stress-Free Holidays!

The countdown feature is also very effective when incorporated into ad copy. Here are some ideas:

Holiday Shipping Ends in {countdown} days. Shop Now!Hurry, Only {countdown} days to order for Christmas!

Many people buy for themselves during the holiday season, so don’t forget to target this group, too. Personally, if I see something I like, I buy one for me and one for someone I’m shopping for. In ad copy, something as simple as “Treat Yourself” can be an effective strategy to target these shoppers.

5. Shopping campaigns

In particular, we find that adding Merchant Promotions to Shopping campaigns is very effective. The “special offer” link makes ads stand out from competitors. Shoppers are always looking for a deal, so these promotions are immediately appealing to many searchers.

We’ve compared deal verbiage in headlines, sitelinks, Shopping ads with no Merchant Promotion and Shopping ads with Merchant Promotions. From the latter, we’ve seen hands-down the best increases in conversions and decreases in CPA from using this strategy.

6. Remarketing

For the holidays, we like to retarget visitors who visit holiday pages. Using Google Analytics (GA) custom audiences is powerful because they can be tied to data available in GA like particular behaviors, time on site and so on.

We also like Smart Lists. They are remarketing lists that Google creates for you based on your conversion data in Google Analytics. With this, Google considers various signals like location, device type and browser and gauges if a user is likely to convert. The list includes users they think will convert relatively soon. The data used is recent and can really help holiday sales. (For more info on different audiences, take a look at this article.)

Of course, using Dynamic Remarketing (based on items people have previously searched for) is an effective strategy, too.

7. Don’t forget Bing!

In some accounts, Bing accounts for 30+ percent of our overall search traffic. So don’t forget to target Bing! We complete work in Google (like new holiday buildouts) and import campaigns fairly easily over to Bing.

The holiday season begins now

Many shoppers have already begun their holiday shopping, so don’t delay! What tactics are you employing to boost your paid search campaign performance this holiday season?

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

5 ways to sell more this holiday season with Google’s updates to shopping ads

With the biggest e-commerce days of the year just around the corner, it’s not too late to take advantage of some of Google’s newest ways to help you sell more stuff online.

Attract users earlier in the buying process with showcase ads

For consumers who are further along the path to an online purchase, Google is good for finding the best price and doing more in-depth research, but it traditionally hasn’t been the best place to help consumers make choices earlier in their decision process.

But with Showcase Shopping ads, Google is delivering a better discovery process for these shoppers. This ad format was introduced in limited beta in 2016 and is now available to every retailer. The idea behind it is that it allows advertisers to use a mix of lifestyle images and products to showcase its brand for generic e-commerce searches where ads for specific products wouldn’t be relevant.

Showcase Shopping ads allow retailers to promote their brand to users who are earlier in their decision process.

Showcase Shopping Ads are a cost-per-engagement format, which means the CPC is charged when a user expands the ad and spends 10 seconds within it or clicks a product or link. Automated bidding doesn’t work with these ads yet, so you’ll need to keep a close eye on their performance.

These ads can be set up programmatically through the API or by creating a new Showcase Shopping ad group through the new AdWords interface. Since this is among the newer capabilities of AdWords, it can only be set up through the new interface (or using the latest version of the AdWords Editor).

Undercut competition on price with price benchmarks

Consumers care a lot about getting the lowest price, so when all other factors are the same, they tend to click more on shopping ads with lower prices. Google cares about this, too, because they make more money when there are more clicks, incentivizing them to serve more impressions of ads with lower prices for the same products.

This concept was documented by Andreas Reiffen from Crealytics in a presentation he’s given multiple times.

Research from Crealytics presented at SMX shows that product ads with lower prices get more impressions.

Since promoting lower prices in ads will lead to more impressions, and hence more opportunity to generate sales, advertisers can use pricing strategies to their advantage. For instance, rather than using the CPC to control how much your ads get shown, you can experiment with product pricing to achieve a similar outcome — instead of raising bids, lowering prices may achieve the same effect.

And that’s where the new Price Benchmark report comes in. Google has now made it really easy to find out if your price is the lowest or if there is an opportunity to boost your results by lowering your prices to be more competitive.

The Google Merchant Center has a Price Benchmarks report that shows prices from competitors for products you also sell.

For example, look at the fourth row of data above. Rather than increasing the bid to try and outrank a competitor whose price is $0.01 lower, it could be possible to boost impressions by setting your price to be the lowest. It would cost only $0.01 per purchase and has the potential to dramatically improve the number of impressions, ad rank and sales. Achieving similar results by increasing the bid would undoubtedly cost more.

Drive more ROI with the GRIP structure and better bids

The typical PPC expert wants a lot of control over how they manage ads, so they like creating granularly structured accounts. But these granular structures can make it hard to get enough data to be able to make smart bidding decisions, so advertisers often group products together to get more data. They sacrifice the control that comes with granularity to simplify account management.

Luckily, with the types of reports Google makes available for Shopping Ads, it is possible to get both granular control and sufficient data to make informed bidding decisions.

To achieve this bidding freedom, you have to implement a granular structure that we’ve named the GRIP structure (which stands for Groups of Individual Products). By putting each SKU or Item ID in a biddable product group, you can use attribute-level commonalities to deploy different bid strategies as needed.

An example of the GRIP structure applied to a retailer selling sporting goods. Each product group is subdivided further until there is exactly one product ID per product group.

Here’s an example of the limits you run into when you don’t use a GRIP structure. Say you’re selling electronics, and you make a product group for all digital cameras. This is problematic because, while it helps you set bids based on aggregated product group data for low volume cameras, it doesn’t give you the flexibility to set smarter bids for high-volume cameras, nor does it allow you to set different bids for full-frame DSLRs if you discover that this type of camera outperforms point-and-shoot cameras.

Even if you structure things fairly granularly, with two or three items in a product group, you will still run into bid limitations because you can’t set different bids for each of these items individually once you get a new insight.

You can use third-party tools to implement the GRIP structure and manage bids based on product attributes, or you can pull the data from AdWords in the Dimensions reports for Shopping campaigns and then make the corresponding bid changes through the campaign management section in AdWords.

Once you have a new insight, the GRIP structure will let you take action to turn the insight into better performance.

Optimize the merchant feed with supplemental feeds

One interesting application we’ve seen used in conjunction with the GRIP structure explained above is to set bids based on product price range or margin. But for that to work, you need to first add those attributes into the feed, something that can be done with custom labels.

Setting that up can be a challenge for marketers because the merchant feeds are usually automatically generated, often on a daily basis. This means that to add a new custom label, you need access to the tool that generates the merchant feed, and not everyone has this level of access.

The tool used to generate the feed may also lack the flexibility to easily make the optimizations that the marketing team wants to test. And, until now, making changes to the feed manually was also not a viable option because these changes would be lost every time the automatic system refreshed the feed.

But now there is a way that marketers can easily test changes to the feed, with Google’s introduction of Supplemental Feeds. A supplemental feed is easy to set up from the Merchant Center and can be something as basic as a manually created and maintained Google Sheet.

Set up a supplemental feed in the Google Merchant Center to take control over your feed optimization.

Here’s how you could use that. Set up a new supplemental feed and copy over the columns for Item ID and Price from your main feed. Then add a new column called “Price Range” and create a formula in the sheet to assign the product price to a price range. Ideally, you’ll choose price ranges that allow your products to be evenly distributed across the different options.

Once the supplemental feed is set up, you can instruct Google to grab this data on a schedule and use it to append or modify the data that is in the main merchant feed. So in our example, we’d use the supplemental feed to append a new Custom Label 0 column.

The reason this is a significant new capability is that it allows you to maintain a feed of supplemental data without the need to stay in perfect sync with the automated generation of the primary feed. The primary feed will still be updated as required to keep Google apprised of prices, availability and so on, while marketers can play with fields that don’t require constant updates, like custom labels, titles and descriptions.

Whenever the new feed is fetched, the feed rule can update it with the marketer’s fields. This gives you time and flexibility to run experiments that will hopefully bring you new insights into ways to improve performance.

Use ValueTrack to better understand your clicks

What I’ve covered so far are tools that should help you achieve more shopping ad success. But AdWords often produces the best results for those who deploy new tests using new tools and strategies, measure the results and continuously optimize based on the findings.

So let me cover a tool to help with the measurement part that’s almost as old as AdWords but is often overlooked. It’s called ValueTrack, and it has some new options related to shopping ads.

ValueTrack is like dynamic keyword insertion for your destination URL. It lets you append a wide variety of data to the URL, which you can use to do creative things with your landing pages. It can also help you enrich your own tracking system with more data about the clicks you’re getting from AdWords.

There are eight ValueTrack parameters specifically for use with Shopping ads and three more for Showcase Shopping ads.

Google has eight ValueTrack parameters available specifically to help with better click tracking for shopping ads.

A full explanation of how to use ValueTrack for Shopping ad tracking is beyond the scope of this article, but let me share an example to illustrate its power.

You could use the {adtype} parameter to track whether a click was on a regular shopping ad (=pla) or a shopping ad shown in conjunction with a promotion from the promotion feed (=pla_with_promotion). This could help you measure the impact of the various promotions you’re running for your shopping ads.

Conclusion

Shopping ads continue to be a great way for retailers to get more visits from interested buyers, and Google keeps adding new capabilities that make this unique ad format easier to work with and experiment with. It’s not too late to start using some of these techniques to boost your sales this holiday season.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

Target expands voice-commerce relationship with Google to battle Amazon

Google announced nationwide expansion of its Google Express relationship with Target. Users in the Continental US will now be able to buy from Target through the Google Assistant and receive Google Express delivery. The voice-commerce relationship extends to Google Home devices.

Features and capabilities are nearly identical to those announced in August with Walmart. And while the deal isn’t yet fully operational, ultimately you’ll be able to:

order and reorder from Target with free shipping on orders exceeding $35.opt in for personalized recommendations (as an existing Target customer) and a “quick re-order experience based on past Target purchases.”shop on any device (including Android TV) where the Google Assistant is available.

Google is doing battle with Amazon on multiple fronts, and so are its Google Express retail partners. Google sees voice-based shopping from an array of branded retailers as a point of differentiation vs. Amazon. By the same token, retailers need to make themselves accessible through virtual assistants and smart speakers. There’s an alignment of interests, creating an anti-Amazon alliance of sorts.

A recent ad campaign for Google Express promotes the notion of “all your favorite stores in one place.” In addition to Target and Walmart, the service offers access to Kohl’s, Joann, Sur la Table, Walgreens, Staples, Toys R Us and numerous others.

Target is a top 10 e-commerce site, but it badly lags Amazon, and it has no voice-commerce capability today. It’s wise for Target to work with Google to leverage the latter’s distribution. However, the question in my mind is: Will Google retail partners like Target benefit in a meaningful way from these deals, or will they eventually turn into little more than suppliers for Google Express?

AdWords Editor update supports Shopping Showcase Ads

Shopping Showcase ads on a desktop search result.

AdWords Editor version 12.1 is now available, with support added for several features, including Shopping showcase ads and expanded dynamic search ads.

Showcase ads feature three product images from a retailer that are related to the search query and link to a Google-hosted landing page of products the advertiser groups together. Google first introduced showcase ads in July 2016, but they continue to gain visibility.

To set up Showcase ads in Shopping campaign ad group, select “Showcase” from the “Ad group type” drop-down.

Showcase ads is available as an ad type option in the left navigation. Advertisers can upload a header image (the main image that represents the product category or brand) right in Editor.

The latest version of AdWords Editor is now available for download.