The upcoming mobile app Monday: Be prepared

The season is upon us: mobile download season. Christmas falls on Monday, and if history holds true, Christmas and the day after will be the top mobile app download days of the year. With less than a week left, your app store optimization (ASO) activities should be in full swing.

Becky Peterson heads up our app store optimization at Walgreens. Becky was looking to be on the nice list, so she put together some optimization tips for new and existing apps to help you maximize the download season.

Optimization essentials

Title: Choose a title for your app that is creative but concise. If appropriate, take advantage of the character limit to include relevant keywords that describe your app’s core functionality. (Just don’t overdo it — you don’t want to appear spammy!)Icon: Create an eye-catching icon that is clean and easily recognizable. A recognizable icon can make the difference when customers are searching specifically for your app.Keywords & description: Conduct keyword research to determine the most valuable and relevant terms for your app. Utilize the keyword field in iTunes Connect, and use your keywords throughout your description and in your creative assets.Video: Create a preview video (or three for iOS!) that walks through your core features and provides visitors an overview of how to use your app. On iOS 11, your previews will autoplay in search results and on your store page; in Google Play, they will underlay the Feature Graphic. Create videos that are engaging. Test, test, test to determine which video version generates optimal downloads prior to the top download days.Screen shots: Create clean and visually appealing screen shots that capture the essence of your app and encourage visitors to continue scrolling through the gallery.

Additional tips

Take full advantage of free app store intelligence platforms, such as App Annie or Sensor Tower, or invest in an app store analytics platform that will provide you with keyword ranking, competitors, Top Chart and download data.If applicable, seasonalize or incentivize your store listing! Use your description to highlight how your app is seasonally relevant and provide offers (i.e., shopping deals, products and more), and update your creative assets to showcase a holiday theme.Respond to your app reviews. Demonstrate to your users that you appreciate their feedback and are constantly working to improve your app. Some reviewers may even choose to update their original review simply because you responded in a considerate manner. Prospective users are more inclined to download an app when it is clear the app owners take feedback seriously.

Capitalizing on the top download days of the year can be the difference between an average app and a top download. Keep your content fresh, do not over-optimize, and remember that the goal is to assist customers in finding the right app for the right purpose. Put in the effort, set download goals, and allocate plenty of time to respond to the flurry of reviews that occur soon after installation and use.

Remember to document your lessons learned once the season is over. Download season will be back before you know it, and those valuable lessons can be the difference-maker next year.

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

The lowdown on driving app downloads with Universal App campaigns

Universal App campaigns (UAC) help you find new app users across Google’s largest properties: Google Play, Search, YouTube and Gmail, as well as millions of websites and apps across the Google Display Network. Back in August, Google (my employer) announced that all app install campaigns in AdWords are becoming UACs.

Whether you’re starting UACs for the first time or are looking to get the most out of existing UACs, here are some best practices that I’ve discovered from talking with a bunch of other Googlers.

Getting up and running with UAC

The first key step is defining your goal. You’ll need to set a target based on one of these key performance indicators:

If you care about different metrics in different situations, create separate campaigns for each desired outcome.

From there, you’ll need to set up a few more items:

A daily budget. When you’re driving installs, this should be your target CPI multiplied by the number of daily installs you want (shoot for at least 50 to get enough data). When you’re driving in-app actions, it should be your target CPA multiplied by desired daily actions, shooting for at least 10.Your desired user action, which includes stuff like the first install or first open. This could also be your desired in-app action, like making a purchase or completing a game level.Creative assets, which is where you have some real flexibility. If you’re on a smaller budget, AdWords creates those ad assets on your behalf. Bigger advertisers can add a bunch of images and advanced creative assets (we’ll talk about those a bit later).And one final, crucial component: measurement. Do what you need to do to ensure that you’re measuring all of those actions.

How AdWords knows where to serve ads

So, how does AdWords know where to reach those potential new users without keywords, data feeds or any other targeting? Starting with the info about your app itself (its App Store or Play Store description), it examines signals like search queries on Google.com and Google Play, web crawl data and more. This data is mapped across all of the channels where we place ads and updated multiple times per day. That’s how AdWords can quickly pick up on new trending keywords like a sports event or an upcoming holiday and make sure it serves your app in the relevant context, across different properties.

Looking at users who’ve completed your selected action along with those who haven’t, AdWords evaluates a user’s auction signals. This is stuff like device type, the network they’re currently on, which apps they already have, and plenty of other insightful info. From there, patterns from converting users are identified. These patterns are then used to predict future auctions, where and how to bid, and what creatives to serve to other users who fit similar characteristics.

So it’s like DSA + Smart Bidding + similar audiences + a bunch of other stuff, all at the same time, across networks. Plus, it gets better the more it does it.

How you should manage UACs

Although UACs are more automated than other AdWords campaign types, you still have important levers at your disposal.

Update your bids

The target CPI/CPA/ROAS bids you set and modify have a strong influence on how your campaign performs. I definitely recommend staying on top of those targets. As you make any changes, it’s a good idea to adjust targets or budgets up or down 20 percent at most to avoid any drastic changes in performance. Once you’ve made a change, try to wait for at least 100 conversions before making another update. It takes time for automation to respond to new inputs, so be patient. If you’re curious about what impact a bid change might have for you, check out the bid simulator tool.

Provide great ad components

AdWords optimizes what content will show in your ads across channels. It’s best at doing that when it has a bunch of stuff to choose from in your Universal App campaigns.

When it comes to ad text, include a clear call to action. Write standalone sentences. AdWords automatically combines them to create the best text ad. And keep these short, sweet and focused on one unique selling point.

And when it comes to videos and images, don’t be shy. Add what you’ve got. You can (and should) upload 20 images and 20 videos to your campaigns. Plan to add multiple landscape images so AdWords can mix and match different backdrops across different types of users.

I mean what I said about videos, too. Adding videos gives you a lot more opportunity for your app to get noticed. Focus on different video assets in different ratios, like landscape, portrait and square, so AdWords can maximize reach across all properties, including rewarded, YouTube and native ads. After your creatives have time to run, check out the Creative Asset Report in your account to see how each of your creatives is performing.

Steer your automated campaign

Along with bidding and creative options, there are some considerations that might pop up as you get used to managing these campaigns.

Don’t worry about account structure

While countless articles on SEL have been written about how you should structure ad groups and keywords within your campaigns (including by yours truly), don’t worry about that for UAC. Query-level data is leveraged across campaigns and ad groups for search, and impression-level data is leveraged across GDN (Google Display Network) and YouTube.

Protect your brand

I love that Universal App campaigns are about driving conversions. And brand sensitivity is an important consideration as well, which I also love. By default, there are four brand safety filters enabled: not yet labeled (video and content), mature audience (video and content), tragedy and conflict (video) and sensitive social issues (video and content).

On top of those defaults, you can exclude mobile app categories, topics and autodirector videos. And, of course, you can use negative keywords. Negative keywords in UAC apply to all properties, from Google search to YouTube and everything in between. They’re a great way to protect your brand, but they could also blot out some of your traffic. Use negatives with care.

Don’t worry about cannibalization

While your standard search, GDN or YouTube campaigns and UAC will at times be eligible for the same auctions, only one campaign per account (or linked accounts) enters the auction. You aren’t going to bid yourself up with overlap (a common myth in search that I’ve been trying to quash for years).

AdWords chooses which ad to enter into a particular auction based on your active bids and past campaign performance. What’s in your best interest, auction-wise, should be chosen to show. One consideration: If you’re finding that your campaign isn’t getting the traffic you want it to, you might need to raise your bids to make it more competitive in those auctions.

Conclusion

It’s important to understand how to set up Universal App campaigns for success. It’s also important to know what you should be doing to ensure that these campaigns reach their full potential.

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

AMP: A case for websites serving developing countries

Like Taylor Swift, Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) have a reputation. In a not-very-official Twitter poll, 53 percent claimed AMP was “breaking the web.”

What do you think about AMP?

— Maximiliano Firtman (@firt) March 23, 2017

The mobile ecosystem is already complex: choosing a mobile configuration, accounting for mobile-friendliness, preparing for the mobile-first index, implementing app indexation, utilizing Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) and so on. Tossing AMP into the mix, which creates an entirely duplicated experience, is not something your developers will be happy about.

And yet despite the various issues surrounding AMP, this technology has potential use cases that every international brand should pause to consider.

To start, AMP offers potential to efficiently serve content as fast as possible. According to Google, AMP reduces the median load time of webpages to .7 seconds, compared with 22 seconds for non-AMP sites.

And you can also have an AMP without a traditional HTML page. Google Webmaster Trends Analyst John Mueller has mentioned that AMP pages can be considered as a primary, canonical webpage. This has major implications for sites serving content to developing counties.

Yes, AMP is a restrictive framework that rigorously enforces its own best practices and forces one into its world of amphtml. However, within the AMP framework is a lot of freedom (and its capabilities have grown significantly over the last year). It has built-in efficiencies and smart content prioritization, and a site leveraging AMP has access to Google’s worldwide CDN: Google AMP Cache.

Source: “AMP: Above & Beyond” by Adam Greenberg

All of this is to say that if your brand serves the global market, and especially developing economies, AMP is worth the thought exercise of assessing its implications on your business and user experience.

What in the world-wide web would inspire one to consider AMP?

1. The internet is not the same worldwide

Akamai publishes an amazing quarterly report on the State of the Internet, and the numbers are startling — most of the world operates on 10 Mbps or less, with developing countries operating at less than 5 Mbps, on average.

If 10 Mbps doesn’t make your skin crawl, Facebook’s visual of 4G, 3G and 2G networks worldwide from 2016 (below) will.

Source: Facebook

The visuals show a clear picture: Developing countries don’t have the same internet and wireless network infrastructure as developed economies. This means that brands serving developing countries can’t approach them with the same formula.

2. Websites overall are getting chunkier

While all of this is happening, the average size of website is increasing… and rapidly. According to reports by HTTParchive.org, the average total size of a webpage in 2017 is 387 percent larger than in 2010.

Despite the number of requests remaining consistent over time, the size of files continues to trend upward at an alarming rate. Creating larger sites may be okay in developed economies with strong networking infrastructures; however, users within developing economies could see a substantial lag in performance (which is especially important considering the price of mobile data).

3. Mobile is especially important for developing economies

The increase in website size and data usage comes at a time when mobile is vital within developing economies, as mobile is a lifeline connection for many countries. This assertion is reaffirmed by data from Google’s Consumer Barometer. For illustration, I’ve pulled device data to compare the US versus the developing economies of India and Kenya. The example clearly shows India and Kenya connect significantly more with mobile devices than desktop or tablet.

Source: Consumer Barometer with Google

4. Like winter, more users are coming

At the same time, the internet doesn’t show any signs of slowing down, especially not in developing countries. A recent eMarketer study on Internet Users Worldwide (August 2017) shows a high level of growth in developing countries, such as India, at 15.2 percent. Even the US saw a +2.2 percent bump in user growth!

User penetration as a percent of a country’s total population shows there is still room for growth as well — especially in developing countries.

5. The divide in speed is growing

In the chart below, I choose nine developing countries (per the United Nations’ World Economic Situation and Prospects report) to compare with the United States’ internet speed (which ranked 10th worldwide in the last report). Despite the overarching trend of growth, there is a clear divide emerging in late 2012 — and it appears to be growing.

[Click to enlarge]

Why is this significant? As internet connection speeds increase, so do page sizes. But as page sizes increase to match the fast speeds expected in developed nations, it means that users in developing nations are having a worse and worse experience with these websites.

So, what should one do about it?

The data above paint a picture: Worldwide internet penetration worldwide continues to grow rapidly, especially in developing nations where mobile devices are the primary way to access the internet. At the same time, webpages are getting larger and larger — potentially leading to a poor user experience for internet users in developing nations, where average connection speeds have fallen far behind those in the US and other developed nations.

How can we address this reality to serve the needs of users in developing economies?

Test your mobile experience.

AMP isn’t necessary if your site leverages mobile web optimization techniques, runs lean and is the picture of efficiency; however, this is challenging (especially given today’s web obesity crisis). Luckily, there are many tools that offer free speed analyses for webpages, including:

Test My Site tool (via Think With Google)Page Speed Insights tool (via Google Developers)Mobile-Friendly Test (via Google Search Console)WebPageTest.org

Develop empathy through experience.

Allow yourself to step into your customers’ shoes and experience your site. As former CEO of Moz, Rand Fishkin, once aptly stated, “Customer empathy > pretty much everything else.”

Regular empathy is hard. Empathy for people you don’t know is nearly impossible. If we don’t see the problem, feel it and internalize the challenge, we can’t hope alleviate it.

Facebook introduced a 2G Tuesdays, where employees logging into the company’s app on Tuesday mornings are offered the option to switch to a simulated 2G connection for an hour to support empathy for users in the developing world. If you’re looking to try something similar, any Chrome/Canary user can simulate any connection experience through Chrome Developer Tools through the Network Panel.

Consider if AMP is right for your site.*

You should entertain the thought of leveraging AMP as a primary experience if your brand meets the following criteria:

Your site struggles with page-speed issues.You’re doing business in a developing economy.You’re doing business with a country with network infrastructure issues.The countries you target leverage browsers and search engines that support AMP.Serving your content to users as efficiently as possible is important to your brand, service and mission.

*Note: AMP’s architecture can also be used to improve your current site and inform your page speed optimization strategy, including:

Paying attention to and limiting heavy third-party JavaScript, complex CSS, and non-system fonts (where impactful to web performance, and not interfering with the UX).Making scripts asynchronous (where possible).For HTTP/1.1 limiting calls preventing round-trip loss via pruning or inlining (this does not apply to HTTP/2 due to multiplexing).Leveraging resource hints (a.k.a. the Pre-* Party), where applicable.Optimizing images (including: using the optimal format, appropriate compression, making sure images are as close to their display size as possible, image SRCSET attribute, lazy loading (when necessary), etc.)Using caching mechanisms appropriately.Leveraging a CDN.Paying attention to and actively evaluating the page’s critical rendering path.

Educate your team about AMP, and develop a strategy that works for your brand.

AMP has a plethora of great resources on the main AMP Project site and AMP by Example.

If you decide to go with AMP as a primary experience in certain countries, don’t forget to leverage the appropriate canonical/amphtml and hreflang tags. And make sure to validate your code!

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

Mobile-first updates from SMX East

As every SEO knows, the rise of mobile searches has prompted Google to prioritize mobile signals in determining search results. To that end, the search giant is in the slow-going process of rolling out its mobile-first index, which is expected to be fully implemented sometime next year.

In the meantime, getting sites ready is a high-priority item on SEOs’ to-do lists, which is why the topic was addressed at this week’s SMX East conference in a panel discussion titled, “SEO For Google’s Mobile-First Index & Mobile-Friendly World.” The speakers included Leslie To, director of SEO for 3Q Digital; Ashley Berman Hale, director of SEO at Local SEO Guide; and Gary Illyes, webmaster trends analyst for Google.

Today’s post will cover the key points presented in this panel.

Leslie To: Is it the year of mobile yet?

Leslie To breaks down the process of preparing for the mobile-first index into two major categories:

    Configuration-agnostic auditingConfiguration-based auditing

Configuration-based auditing would involve those things you need to do that are specific to your mobile configuration (whether that’s a mobile subdomain, dynamic serving or responsive web design).

Configuration-agnostic auditing, on the other hand, involves items you need to address regardless of your mobile configuration, and this is what To covered first.

Configuration-agnostic auditing

Let’s start with a summary look at what matters regardless of mobile configuration:

Tips:

Use HTML for rich media and video content, and use the video element to download and decode the content.Avoid interstitials. If you want to promote your app or email list, use banners rather than full-screen overlays or interstitials. Users don’t like them, and neither does Google.Consistently test your global navigation and mine internal search data to refine that navigation (based on what you see users aren’t finding). Further, remember that mega menus don’t always work well on mobile. Simply put, don’t overwhelm users with menu options when you have limited screen real estate.Do allow content and media to scale to fill device screen size, as that provides a good user experience. To help with this, stay away from absolute declarations in your CSS.Do allow all font sizes to scale, and use 16px as your base font size. Don’t require users to zoom to read, interact with or consume content. No one likes to do that.Make your tap targets at least 48 pixels wide to make them easy to hit. In addition, space your tap targets 32 pixels (or more) apart. Don’t require users to zoom to tap buttons, links or form fields.Allow common gesture features on your e-commerce site, especially pinch/double-tap to zoom. Don’t use low-resolution images that become pixelated when you zoom.Configure internal site search to make content easier to find, and actively harvest site search queries to learn more about what users are looking for on your site so that you can make navigation, layout and content improvements over time.Enable contextual keyboards that change based on required input types. Using one standard keyboard layout for all input can be difficult for users to deal with. Don’t assume the limitations of physical keywords. For example, if you’re looking for someone to enter a domain name or email address, have a “key” that they can tap to enter “.com” — these types of contextual features will save them time.Make it easy for users to convert, whether it’s via a form fill, a phone call or your shopping cart. Enable click-to-call by wrapping phone numbers with telephone schema. Don’t require more than three clicks to complete a conversion.Implement all the basics of page speed. This means things like enabling gzip compression, leveraging browser caching and getting server response time under 2oo milliseconds.Don’t use render-blocking JavaScript, especially for external scripts. Don’t use inline CSS attributes and/or a large CSS file.Don’t make the language on your site too complex. Readability is a big concern (and not just for mobile sites). To give you some perspective, here is a look at how well US adults read:

Leverage readability indexes, such as:

Flesch reading easeFlesch-Kincaid grade levelGunning Fog indexSMOG Readability formula

You can get readability measurements for your content within Microsoft Word. There are two paths to navigate to it, shown below:

Configuration-dependent auditing: Mobile subdomains

If you’re using a mobile subdomain, you will need to implement bidirectional linking, with a rel=alternate tag on your desktop pointing to your mobile site, and a rel=canonical tag pointing from your mobile site back to your desktop site. These are sometimes called switchboard tags.

A common question that many people ask is whether or not Google will want publishers to reverse the direction of those tags with the advent of the mobile-first index. To date, Google’s answer to that has been no, that this is not necessary. They will simply assume the reverse. From Google’s perspective, if they tried to get everyone to switch them, a certain amount of chaos would be likely to result.

Do minimize cross-linking, so that your default links in the mobile experience should be to other pages in the mobile experience. But you should also provide the alternative desktop experience for users who want it. One benefit is that you can monitor clicks and, if there are lots of them, it may indicate problems in your mobile experience that you need to debug.

Do say no to blanket redirects, and try to make them all one-to-one. If you have no corresponding mobile content, leave users on the desktop page.

Configuration dependent auditing: Dynamic serving

For those using dynamic serving, you will need to implement the Vary HTTP header. This will help prevent problems with users being served the wrong versions of your pages due to ISP-caching. Without this header, ISP caching may cause mobile users to get your desktop page, and vice versa.

Watch out for, and avoid, unintended content differentiation between desktop and mobile because both sites are maintained differently.

Configuration dependent auditing: Responsive

With responsive sites, make sure you’re not blocking CSS or JavaScript files from being crawled. Check for the Meta viewport tag, as it gives directions on dimensions and scaling:

Width-device-width: matches content to the physical width of the device.Initial-scale: initial zoom when visiting a page.User-scale: allows for zooming (values are “yes” and “no”).

Use a comma to separate attributes so that older browsers can parse different attributes.

Do make sure that images and videos are also responsive, but don’t allow video to scale beyond the viewport size.

Last but not least, don’t base breakpoints on specific devices. Leverage Google Analytics’ Device Report to determine whether your breakpoints are properly serving your customers most of the time.

View Leslie To’s full presentation here:

Is It the Year of Mobile Yet? By Leslie To from Search Marketing Expo – SMX

Ashley Berman Hale: Mobile Friendly IRL, Beyond Best Practices

Ashley’s focus is on how you deal with the problem if you can’t get the budget or approval to proceed with making a site mobile-friendly.

When trying to get buy-in from stakeholders, Berman Hale suggests leaning on Google documentation and sharing relevant case studies. She also suggests showing desktop vs. mobile traffic over time — even in industries that are slow in moving to mobile, your analytics data is highly likely to show a strong trend in favor of mobile over time. Related to this is the idea of looking at competitor sites in SEMrush and showing their mobile traffic over time.

For some businesses, the issue may be that they only have a small budget. If that’s your situation, consider starting small. For example, you can break down your mobile friendliness action items into more manageable parts, including:

by site section.by product.by customer.by element.

Another practical tip is to focus on getting people on board one at a time. These kinds of approaches can help you build momentum in a positive way.

In other cases, the challenge might be that the code is a hot mess, and everyone is afraid to touch anything. The incremental approach can work well here, too. For example, you can:

compress your images.figure out how to strip some CSS.implement AMP on just a few elements.

Or perhaps your role is such that you only have control over the content on the site, and not the coding side of things. You can still make a difference. You can accomplish this by thoroughly understanding the intent of people who are reading your content on mobile and making it easy for them to find what they want.

This starts with upfront research, including your keyword research. Use this to help you understand the likely user intents, and then form your content around those concepts. Structure your content to make it easy to find, and create snackable, modular elements. In addition, modify your metadata and markup to communicate what users will get by engaging with your content.

You may have people in your business who care only about brick-and-mortar sales. But local search is typically a huge driver for that, and local search often is mobile search.

The key to unraveling this is learning how to track the progression from local searches to your site and business. Setting this up can help you get what you need to show people that local (and mobile) is critical to your business.

Or, if you’re in the right business, you may be able to call in legal. Your industry may have accessibility requirements, and a solid mobile experience may simply be something that you’re required to do.

Lastly, you should always pick your battles and “choose what hill to die on.” Make sure you are making steady progress over time; the path to maximum mobile-friendliness is definitely a marathon, and not a sprint.

View Ashley Berman Hale’s full presentation here:

Mobile Friendly IRL: Beyond Best Practices By Ashely Berman Hale from Search Marketing Expo – SMX

Gary Illyes: Google’s perspective

Illyes explains that, traditionally, the Google index is based on crawls of desktop content. However, the problem Google has had is that on many sites, the desktop site would have more content on its pages than the corresponding mobile pages. This was leading to problems in search because Google would return pages to mobile users based on the content they found on the desktop pages, but the users would then get served the mobile page and the content wasn’t there.

This created frustration with the quality of Google’s results, and this ended up driving the idea of switching to a mobile-first index. What this means is that Google will crawl mobile sites and base their search index off of the content they find from that crawl.

Illyes’ message on this is: “Don’t freak out.” Google is approaching this very carefully, and they don’t yet know when a full mobile-first index will go into effect. They started experimenting with it two years ago, and it did not go well at all.

Currently, they have moved a small number of sites into a mobile-first index, and they have been monitoring those to make sure they’re not being hurt in terms of traffic and ranking as a result.

Eric’s note: Google has to be very careful about these types of changes. While they may be desirable at some level, searchers often have pretty specific things they want and need, including specific brands, and if they’ve been artificially demoted, this will also result in user frustration. This is the same reason that things like HTTPS and page speed are such weak ranking factors.

Illyes next notes that if your site is responsive, you’re good to go! But many of the sites that have other mobile configurations are not good to go.

Common issues with mobile sites are:

Some of the content and links from the desktop site may not be present.Rel=annotations may not be there (e.g., hreflang).Structured data may be missing.Some of the media and images may be missing.

Illyes then shared the example of one site that did not move over their hreflang tags, and they lost 50 percent of their traffic. This is exactly the type of thing that Google wants to avoid.

Here are the things you should do to prepare for the mobile-first index:

    If your site is responsive, you’re already ready to go.Make sure your mobile pages have all the same videos and images as your matching desktop pages.Make sure your mobile site has all the content and all the links that show up on the matching desktop pages.Make sure to implement hreflang tags on the mobile pages.Make sure to carry over the structured data from your desktop pages.

Last, but not least, don’t panic!

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

Apple Search Ads expanding to Canada, Mexico & Switzerland

The Apple App Store has announced it is expanding support for Search Ads into Canada, Mexico and Switzerland.

Apple released Search Ads for the App Store a little over a year ago, with previous support limited to the US, the UK, New Zealand and Australia.

Apple’s Search Ad product is the iOS version of what Google Play has offered in its store for Android devices since 2015. Both are aimed at driving app discovery by users.

Search Ads are generated automatically from app metadata, with advertisers setting a daily or total campaign budget. Ads appear based on keyword searches specified by advertisers, along with demographic segments such as gender, age and location. Advertisers can also separate bids by device: one bid for iPhone users, another for iPad users.

A hands-on review of Apple’s Search Ads upon its release in the UK outlines the pros and cons of the platform, along with some items to look out for.

Apple is still offering a $100 USD credit for first-time advertisers. The newly-added countries will be available on the platform starting October 17.

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

Google releases a variety of Accelerated Mobile Pages Project (AMP) updates: scrolling animations, video analytics, fluid ad support

Yesterday, Google announced several Accelerated Mobile Pages Project (AMP), technical updates. These included scrolling animations, an improved responsive-navigation sidebar, support for video analytics, fluid ad support and other features to improve ad targeting.

Here’s a little more color on the list of new capabilities:

Scrolling animations: enables “parallax effects, subtle zoom or fade-in of images, and starting or stopping animations”
Responsive sidebar: “improvements to amp-sidebar enable changing display format based on the width of the viewport”
Native video analytics support in AMPImproved Client ID information to enable consistent ID recognition as users migrate between AMP and non-AMP pages Fluid-ad support for publishers: enables publishers to request ads where the ad size is unknown

The post that goes into more technical detail about each of these updates is here.

The open-source AMP project was announced by Google in 2015 to speed up the mobile web. Specifically, AMP was aimed at improving the rendering of content pages on mobile devices. Since that time, AMP has been greatly expanded to include ads and analytics. AMP for Ads (and landing pages) was introduced in mid-2016. Meanwhile, AMP-enabled content pages moved out of the “top stories” section — where news results are displayed — and into main search results in August of 2016.

AMP pages load roughly four times faster and use one-tenth the data of pages and objects not built in AMP, according to Google research. The company also says that AMP-powered mobile display ads load up to five seconds faster than traditional display ads. Many publishers on the DoubleClick exchange reported higher eCPMs on AMP pages as well.

The project is not without controversy, though, regarding the AMP URLs vs. publisher URLs. However, in iOS 11, Apple attempts to remedy that: Safari changes AMP URLs back to publisher URLs when shared.

How the Russian search market looks now

As Search Engine Land first reported in October of 2015, Russia’s Federal Antimonopoly Service (FAS) determined that Google violated Russian competition laws by banning phone manufacturers from preinstalling competitors’ apps, and requiring those same phone manufacturers to preinstall selected Google apps on Android in exchange for access to the Google Play Store.

Well, after nearly 20 months of negotiations, a voluntary settlement was reached on April 17 of this year. According to the FAS press release:

Google will no longer demand exclusivity of its applications on Android-based devices in Russia; Google will be obliged not to restrict pre-installation of any competing search engines and applications (including on the default home screen); Google will refrain from stimulating pre-installation of the Google search as the only general search engine[…].

Additionally — and probably more applicable to the present-day international digital marketer — the FAS release also states, “Google will develop an active ‘choice window’ (example below) for the Chrome Browser which at the time of the next update will provide the user with the opportunity to choose their default search engine.” That updated Chrome Browser arrived in August 2017, and the impact on the marketplace is already visible.

Because Russia is home to one of the world’s largest internet audiences, any shift in search market share can have a significant impact on an advertiser’s strategy. Recent years have seen a substantial increase in Western companies advertising in Russia, so let’s take a peek at the current market dynamics.

According to tracking platform Yandex.Radar, Google owns a 56 percent share on Android devices, three percentage points down from the day the “choice window” was introduced. Not coincidentally, Yandex has gained roughly three points since the “choice window” introduction.

Russia is considered by many to be a desktop-first market, but as noted in Greg Sterling’s original article on the topic, Android is the heavy market leader in mobile operating systems. So, the impact of a shift in search share on Android devices affects total search share as well.

Here’s a look at the overall market trends since the August 1 update:

We can see that Yandex had the majority share of 54 percent for the total combined desktop and mobile market prior to the “choice window” introduction, and it has already climbed to 56 percent since the introduction of the “choice window.”

In a country with 100 million internet users, a two-point swing has a significant impact on consumer reach.

The digital ecosystem in Russia is evolving, but smartphone penetration remains considerably less than in more mature markets like the US. Not surprisingly, internet penetration in Russia is strongest in the 12-17 age demographic, and as the younger users age, smartphone penetration is expected to skyrocket.

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

Google Analytics adds feature to unify users to Google AMP Cache pages & non-AMP pages

As more site owners have adopted AMP for speeding up mobile pages, measurement has lagged. That’s quickly changing.

A visitor who went to an AMP-enabled page and a non-AMP page of a site was being counted as two separate people in Google Analytics. In May, Google fixed the double-counting issue for visitors to publisher domain pages, but visitors to AMP Cache pages have still been counted separately in Analytics. On Tuesday, Google announced a fix for AMP pages served via Google AMP Cache, including from Google search results.

Google’s new AMP Client ID API, coupled with Google Analytics, allows pages that are partially served on Google platforms like search and partially on site owner domains to communicate with each other. Google Analytics “can understand if a user on your non-AMP pages had ever visited an AMP page displayed by Google. When true, Google Analytics can help you understand user behavior across these two page types as a single cohesive experience,” according to the blog post.

Users will need to opt in to the new solution, and a small code change is required on both AMP and non-AMP websites to enable it. Instructions for setting up the Google AMP Client ID API are here.

Just as with the earlier fix, site owners will likely see user and session metrics drop, and new user counts may rise after enabling the API as visitors are consolidated and counted more accurately. The effect will continue until all past visitors to AMP pages return to the site.

AdWords app-install campaigns to sunset as Universal App Campaigns take over

Google launched Universal App Campaigns (UAC) roughly two years ago to help developers drive app downloads. UAC has co-existed with AdWords app-install campaigns since that time.

Now the company is moving all app-install ads under the umbrella of UAC. Google said that as of October 16, all app-install campaigns will run as UAC ads. All current app-install campaigns will stop running on November 15; so developers and publishers need to convert their campaigns accordingly. (Google’s blog post has instructions on how to do this.)

The two types of mobile-app campaigns offered different features and capabilities, with some distribution overlap. AdWords app-install ads offered more direct control over placements (single channel, multichannel) and bidding (CPC, CPI and so on) but were also more complex to create and manage.

UAC ads are automatically distributed across multiple Google channels (search, GDN, YouTube, AdMob and Google Play) and use a CPA model. UAC radically simplifies ad creation and optimization with automation and machine learning. From Google’s discussion of how UAC works:

[Y]ou don’t design individual ads for universal app campaigns. Instead, we’ll use your ad text ideas and assets from your app’s store listing to design a variety of ads across several formats and networks. All you need to do is provide some text, a starting bid and budget, and let us know the languages and locations for your ads. Our systems will test different combinations and show ads that are performing the best more often, with no extra work needed from you.

Google said that 50 percent of all app downloads across its network are now being driven by UAC. One factor behind UAC’s performance is the ability to bid and optimize against a range of goals: CPI, CPA or ROAS and set up automated Smart Bidding based on those goals.

Google is also seeing a shift from pure install-driven campaigns (download) to those that focus on engagement or specific in-app actions (hotel booking, first ride and so on). The company said that marketers who “optimize for in-app actions with UAC, on average, drive 140 percent more conversions per dollar than other Google app promotion products.” This is at least in part because ad creatives and CTAs are likely more compelling than plain-vanilla download campaigns.

Google indicated that one in four mobile-app-related ad dollars is now focused on promoting in-app events/conversions. The company has 2 billion active Android users globally, and Google Play is live in 190 countries.

Beyond the migration itself, what’s also significant about the shift to UAC is what it represents about the future of Google’s ad business. It shows that the company plans to infuse more automation, goal-based bidding, machine learning and auto-optimization across its various channels to simplify ad creation and improve performance — for advertisers and itself.

Postscript: 

Google offered Zynga as a case study of success with UAC ads. The latter delivered the following from Kimberly Corbett, VP of User Acquisition. I’ve slightly edited her longer statement, provided in email:

UAC campaigns have allowed us to trim down time spent optimizing while increasing our time advancing our media buying strategies by focusing on larger growth opportunities. We have titles where we’ve run large numbers of stand-alone campaigns without notable traction for scale and performance, but by transitioning to UAC event optimization, we’ve been able to increase performance with event optimization by 97% in one month.

Initially, we ran a UAC Target ROAS alpha campaign with Google, where we gave the campaign a revenue goal to hit. After running the campaign for about a month, we noticed that not only were goals being hit, but some were exceeded by as much as 54%. As a result, we expanded UAC Target ROAS to more games in our portfolio to achieve increased scale and performance.

Apple Search Ads: Still tapping after 6 months of testing

It’s been five months since Apple expanded their Apple Search Ads program to advertisers in three additional countries (UK, New Zealand and Australia). After its initial, US-only launch in October 2016, I was really excited to finally get to test out this brand-new platform when it finally launched in the UK.

Now that I’ve had some time to experiment with it, I’m going to discuss what I like, dislike and hope to see in the future across this new and exciting platform. I want to share my own experiences here in the hope that anyone looking to test some Apple Search Ads campaigns in the future can get started as soon as possible.

One of the reasons I was so interested in Apple Search Ads is how booming the app market is globally, with 2.2 million apps available in the App Store alone as of March 2017. Furthermore, according to research by Flurry, the mobile browser is effectively dead — on average, 90 percent of time on mobile devices is spent within apps. So, what does this mean for advertisers? They need to find effective and efficient ways of reaching these potential app users that are growing in value in an ever-increasing competitive market.

Over the past few years, recognizing this clear shift in user behavior, various app install and promotion campaigns have been launched. Universal App campaigns in AdWords and App Cards in Twitter are only a couple. However, the elephant in the room here was the absence of an Apple-specific platform.

Luckily, thanks to the launch of Apple Search Ads back in Q4 2016, advertisers can now serve ads to relevant users at the top of the App Store search results page. They can bid on keywords that will allow their app to be advertised to potential users to increase the number of app installs and app engagement over time. Initial performance looks promising, with AppsFlyer confirming that praise for the platform is justified, coming third in the overall app platform ranking. Not too shabby for a new player in the market!

What I like

Following are some aspects of the Apple Search Ads platform that I felt were intuitive and well-done.

Platform & setup

It’s clear from the moment that you sign up that Apple’s ethos underpins Apple Search Ads, too. Like anything that Apple does, the interface itself is simple and easy to navigate, and it looks crisp and clear. As Apple itself highlights, Search Ads is “designed to be smart, effortless and flexible.” I’ve certainly found this to be true with campaign setup — if you have a confirmed budget and an existing app, you could launch a campaign within a few minutes.

Your ad groups are keyword-focused, with a brand and generic split highly recommended based on our experience at Merkle | Periscopix (my employer).

Another exciting feature is the Search Match option that is selected by default. With this function enabled, your ad will be matched to relevant search terms, without your actively selecting them in the Search Ads interface. Another time-saver. As with brand and generic, you can split this out from your other campaigns so you can closely monitor performance and searches that you are matching against. Similar to the classic Dynamic Search Ads campaigns in AdWords, you can use the Search Match feature to scope out potential new keywords to add manually into your campaigns, giving you more control.

For a client sitting within the retail vertical, we have seen performance differ across the different keyword areas, with generic and Search Match naturally generating a higher cost-per-install (CPI) than brand. Competitor brand targeting has been especially strong, with high tap-through rates (TTR), a low CPI and the second-highest volume of installs.

Average Cost-per-Tap (CPT)Tap-through rate (TTR)InstallsAverage CPIInstall rateBrand£0.1625%6,462£0.2180%Generic£0.8110%26£1.1968%Competitors£0.416%2,170£0.6465%Search Match£0.504%489£1.2739%

Performance

As I touched on earlier, from a performance perspective, the numbers are particularly pleasing. At Merkle | Periscopix, we have seen astoundingly low cost-per-install figures, especially when compared to similar campaigns on other platforms like Google, Twitter and Facebook.

For a client within the recruitment vertical (below), the “tap through rate” (Apple’s version of click-through rate) has been regularly over 11 percent across all areas of the account, naturally much higher for brand areas, compared to under 2 percent across Twitter and AdWords.

Apple Search AdsTwitterAdWords (UAC)CTR/TTR11.3%0.4%1.3%Install rate67%2.7%6.5%CPI£0.9£5.5£3.4

One of the things we have noticed is that there is fierce competition for the one available ad slot at the top of the results page:

Daily bid adjustments and monitoring are needed to ensure you aren’t missing out on installs, so don’t forget to keep a close eye on performance metrics. Considering the low CPIs that we have seen to date, especially compared to more well-established platforms, I expect them to increase over time as more and more advertisers begin to utilize the platform.

Integration

According to Business Insider, around 30 percent of apps get uninstalled, with companies missing out on potential revenue and future engagement from a large pool of people. Another feature that is particularly important in the world of app promotion is the ability to integrate with other platforms to ensure value is being driven and measured post-install.

Thankfully, third-party tracking tools can connect to the Search Ads API to assist in optimization and reporting and offer more visibility on post-download value and actions, leading to increased user retention and engagement. It’s not just the install that is important but how you keep the user re-opening your app.

iTunes Connect

For those advertisers with multiple apps, the ability to sync with your iTunes Connect hub is pretty great, too. You can market to users that have already installed a linked app of yours, as long as they are all housed under the one iTunes Connect account. For retailers with multiple brands or products that are housed within different apps, this gives you an incredibly simple way of upselling or cross-selling to an already brand-aware user base.

What I dislike

Now, on to the aspects of the platform that didn’t thrill me.

Reporting

When you consider how pleased we have been with performance to date across this platform, it’s a shame that it’s not easy to actually report back on the metrics. The whole reporting aspect is fairly cumbersome, with no account-level graphs or even a “total” row/column available in the interface. In order to report on performance, you need to download and manipulate the data manually, which is not ideal.

There is always the option of connecting via the Search Ads API for a more advanced reporting option; however, this is not going to be possible for many advertisers for a variety of reasons, so the in-platform capabilities should be addressed as a priority here.

Optimization

There are quite a few features to which we have grown accustomed through other platforms like Google AdWords and Bing Ads that are not available currently within the Search Ads interface. These include:

segmentation for day parting, device type and location.inability to “select all” at keyword level for bulk bid changes.phrase match keywords — at the moment, it is only possible to use broad or exact match, which can be limiting here.visibility of competitor activity through Auction Insights — as an increasing number of advertisers use this platform, more insight into auction performance is key.more granular location targeting (e.g., ZIP codes) — for those advertisers with tighter location restrictions, this would be fundamental to their campaign setup.

I’m sure these are common feature requests from a large number of advertisers, so I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see these added (plus other more advanced features) over the coming months, as platform usage continues to grow.

Final thoughts

It’s still very early days for this new and exciting platform!

With less than a year since the initial launch in the US, it’s not surprising that there is a lot of room for improvement. For one, I’d like to see Apple Search Ads continue to maintain its strength as a simple and flexible platform, allowing advertisers to continue to see strong performance through campaigns.

As time progresses, I’d like to see the interface become more sophisticated, drawing on the strengths of some of the more well-established platforms to facilitate more advanced optimization and much easier reporting. This will allow agencies to continue to drive value for clients, and advertisers themselves to continue to drive their app promotion activity forward. Watch this space.

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