Take our Holiday Retail Survey & let us know how your search marketing strategy changed this year

Did you switch up your holiday digital marketing strategies in 2017? Maybe extend your search ad campaigns? Or sell on more marketplaces? If so, we want to know about it.

Please take five minutes to complete the SMX survey exploring what digital marketing strategies were put in place by search marketers this holiday retail season — the 2017 Holiday Retail Survey.

Responses are kept anonymous, and the data gathered from the survey results will be shared during the Holiday Retail Search Strategies webcast on January 18, featuring panelists Brad Geddes, the co-founder of Adalysis, Marketing Land associate editor Ginny Marvin, Elite SEM’s Aaron Levy and CommerceHub’s Elizabeth Marsten.

Completing the survey will help add to the conversation around this season’s best search marketing strategies and whether strategy shifts were advantageous. Also, survey participants are entered for a chance to win a copy of Brad Geddes’ “Advanced Google Adwords” search marketing guide.

Everyone is invited to register for the January 18 webcast and listen in as the panel digs into the survey results and discusses the search marketing strategies that paid off this year, and what marketers may look to change during next year’s holiday season.

Take the 2017 Holiday Retail Survey.

Register for the Holiday Retail Search Strategies webcast on January 18.

[This article first appeared on Marketing Land.]

How on-site search can drive holiday revenue & help e-commerce sites compete against major retailers

This holiday season is set to break a new record, with online sales reaching beyond $100 billion, according to Adobe’s recent predictions. Following Black Friday and Cyber Monday outcomes, most of that revenue will be divided among Amazon and a handful of large-scale e-commerce sites, including Walmart, Target and Best Buy.

With so many dollars at stake, there is still a sizeable amount of market share available for smaller online retailers. But what can e-commerce sites do to compete with the likes of Amazon or Walmart?

An optimized on-site search platform could very well be the answer to capturing more conversions and driving more sales during the holidays. Unfortunately, many e-commerce sites may be missing the boat by not paying enough attention to their on-site search efforts.

How on-site search impacts revenue

According to SLI Systems, which offers an AI-powered e-commerce solution, visitors who use on-site search make purchases at a 2.7x greater rate than website visitors who only browse products. If searchers have indicated exactly what they want — specifying a color, size or material within their query — SLI Systems says it’s the e-commerce site’s job to quickly deliver the product that best matches their search.

“Don’t make these folks navigate their way to what they want. No extra clicks. You’ll likely lose them even if you have a great price and an amazing free shipping offer,” says Bob Angus, an e-commerce consultant, in a post on SLI System’s company blog.

Eli Finkelshteyn, founder and CEO of on-site search platform Construtor.io, says most of the of the on-site search market is still predominantly made up of companies that have built platforms in-house.

“I think there’s an erroneous belief among a lot of companies that search is really core to what they do,” says Finkelshteyn.

“At the end of the day, I think, for e-commerce websites, they’ve got things they need to build themselves, that no one can help them with — things like merchandising, making sure you have the lowest prices, quick delivery, that you have the product that customers want — but search is adjacent to that.”

Finkelshteyn says companies need to make sure their on-site search is optimized so that consumers find the products they want.

“I think that’s notoriously difficult to do,” says Finkelshteyn.

With an on-site search function, you may only be serving up a limited number of results. If a consumer is searching your site for a specific product, Finkelshteyn says it is imperative your on-site search knows how to deliver the most relevant products.

The technology driving an optimized on-site search experience

Constructor.io’s platform incorporates a number of technologies, including the integration of machine learning to improve personalized auto-suggestion results.

“Typo-tolerance is automatic with us. We do that using phonetic and typo-graphic dissonances,” says Finkelshteyn, “What that means, essentially, is that we’re mapping how a word is pronounced to the canonical word in your data set.”

For example, if someone is searching for a Kohler faucet but enters a search for Koler — they will receive the correct product match.

Finkelshteyn says another fairly common on-site search challenge is typographical misspellings — when someone simply enters a typo. An effective on-site search platform should be able to recognize common misspellings and still surface relevant products.

On-site search from a brand’s point of view

Dennis Goedegebuure serves as the VP of growth and SEO for sporting apparel company Fanatics. The company operates more than 300 online and offline partner stores. A portion of those stores handle the e-commerce business for all major professional and sports leagues.

“I work very closely with the on-site search teams to make sure the sites differentiate themselves with the offers we give our users,” says Goedegebuure.

The VP of growth says on-site search plays a crucial role in Fanatics’ e-commerce business.

“When you capture a visit, you would like to offer your customer the best selection. So making sure they get the best selection at the best price for the best value to make the sale is obviously top priority,” says Goedegebuure.

According to Goedegebuure, it’s not only about product competition, but the competition among online retailers for share of wallet.

“The customer only has a certain amount of money to spend, you would like to make sure they spend it with you.”

Goedegebuure’s teams are constantly running tests to fine-tune their sites’ on-site search functions.

“We’re running a bunch of experiments all the time, from sizing of the pictures to the little icons that we add to the search, to sort-order, to the number of items in the search result page,” says Goedegebuure. “We’re running constant experiments to find an optimal configuration of our search and to improve the conversions we get out of the traffic.”

According to Goedegebuure, the on-site search tests his teams are running have helped identify a definite sweet-spot for the number of items displayed in search results, as well as determining how the sizing of a picture can impact conversion rates.

On-site search for the holidays

In terms of holiday preparation, Goedegebuure says Fanatics on-site search algorithms may be tweaked to align with holiday promotions.

“If we have a brand on sale — like our own Fanatics brand — these might be pushed up to the top because there are better pricing points,” says Goedegebuure, “If an item goes off sale, you need to adjust for that.”

Finkelshteyn says one of the major on-site search mistakes he sees companies making this time of year is failing to refresh their index rankings.

“If you have a search index with rankings you’ve built over the last year, you still might be optimizing for searches that are not really seasonal right now,” says Finkelshteyn, “For example, if somebody searches for the word ‘blanket’ during the summer, you probably want to give them a beach blanket. If somebody searches for the word ‘blanket’ during the winter, you probably want to give them a warm blanket.”

Whether your company has built its on-site search platform in-house or is using a vendor platform, making sure it is optimized for the holiday e-commerce surge should be a top priority. As we enter the final days of the shopping season, there is still much revenue up for grabs.

Adobe’s latest reports found that holiday e-commerce had reached $50 billion by the end of November, leaving more than $50 billion of its predicted $100 billion in revenue to be claimed by the year’s end.

For many e-commerce companies, fine-tuning their on-site search algorithms may be the most profitable move they could make this holiday season — and beyond.

[This article first appeared on Marketing Land.]

'Purchases on Google' Shopping ads test is running on iOS devices

AmsStudio / Shutterstock.com

Google appears to be testing Purchases on Google ads on iOS devices.

Purchases on Google ads enable consumers to buy products shown in Google Shopping ads right from Google-hosted landing pages when users have payments set up through their Google accounts. The product launched in pilot on Android devices in 2015 and opened up in beta to US advertisers this spring.

Below are a couple of examples of the Purchases on Google ads we spotted this morning on iOS. Each is slugged with “Easy checkout.”

It’s not clear how long these ads have been available on iOS. With the initial pilot launch in 2015, Google said Purchases on Google would come to iOS in the “coming months,” but it appears to have taken much longer than that, perhaps closer to the beta opening up. We’ve asked Google for comment and will update here if and when we get a response. Update: We received confirmation that these ads have been available on iOS for several months. They’ve clearly been flying under the radar, though.

The “Easy checkout” messaging and icon is a change from the previous iteration that showed a blue “Buy on Google” at the top of the ad. We’ll certainly continue to see messaging tests here.

The impression volume for these ads continues to be quite limited on all devices. Additionally, with the advent of so many variations of Shopping ad formats now available — Showcase ads and ads in knowledge panels, for example — it’s not easy to find Purchases on Google ads.

The product is can be seen as part of Google’s broader mission to improve mobile web experiences and conversion rates, including a current test to send mobile search ads to AMP-enabled landing pages.

Quick view

The “Quick view” links at the bottom of the ads shown above is part of a mobile shopping update that Google announced ahead of Black Friday this year. Clicking “Quick view” on any of the product ads brings up a preview showing a bigger image, product description, reviews and seller ratings. Here’s an example from Google showing how it works:

Google introduced “Quick view” previews in Google Shopping ads in November.

The “Quick view” links also seem to be fairly limited and are not showing with most product listing ad results we’re seeing.

Google Manufacturer Center for product data expands scope, launches API

With the growing importance of Google Shopping campaigns in paid search results for brands and manufacturers, getting product data correct and consistent has become an increasingly urgent task. It’s been a somewhat sleepy product, but this week, Google announced new features and an expansion of Manufacturer Center.

Launched in 2015, Google Manufacturer Center was designed to be a central repository for the product data that powers Google Shopping campaigns. Now, Google is using that data in knowledge panels in the US, including product features, images and descriptions. Earlier this month, Google began showing much more content in knowledge panels on mobile, including product features as shown in the example below.

Google Manufacturer Center is now available in more countries: Australia, Brazil, France, Germany, the Netherlands and the UK.

With the launch of a new Manufacturer Center API, brands and third-party data partners can add, update and delete products without having to rely on manual feed uploads.

In addition to streamlining product data quality management, Manufacturer Center offers analytics about how individual products perform on Google within their broader categories. The analytics show overall impressions for the category, the product’s share of category impressions, total clicks and how the click-through rate compares to the category benchmark click-through rate on a week-by-week basis over a four-week period.

Google updates mobile product knowledge panels to show even more info in one spot

Google is updating the look of of its product-oriented knowledge panels on mobile to show even more details about specific products in the search results.

In an example spotted by Vlad Rappoport, shown below, the shopping knowledge panel has a blue header and a new carousel featuring third-party editorial reviews and separate tabs for stores in addition to reviews along with several other features, like videos, to provide a one-stop resource for product information. 

In the example above, there is one Shopping ad in the “Shop on Google” section. In other cases, the knowledge panel will feature a carousel of Shopping ads.  The example below also features several product images in a carousel, as well as an additional “Details” tab.

Google pulls in user reviews from various sources, including merchants, manufacturers and brands that participate in the Product Ratings program and from platforms like Influenster.com. The editorial reviews about specific products are surfaced algorithmically.

Google first began showing ads in knowledge panels at the end of 2013. The update comes right before the holiday shopping season, a time when Google competes heavily with Amazon and others for product search volume. It also reflects Google’s move to provide more information about products in the search results themselves with features like side-by-side product comparisons, for example.

Google tweeted a GIF showing the new shopping panel experience:

Get shopping information in a snap. Now with a single search, you can quickly find product photos, videos, reviews, descriptions and more. pic.twitter.com/4w0OXyvAJ2

— Google (@Google) November 14, 2017

Salesforce’s Einstein boosts search in its Commerce Cloud

Bit by bit, Salesforce is bringing its Einstein AI layer to all parts of its clouds.

This week, the company is launching Einstein Search for Commerce in its Commerce Cloud so that stores using its e-commerce platform can make it easier for visitors to find stuff on their websites. The company says its platform is used by 2,400 sites in about 50 countries, handling over 350 million online shoppers monthly.

In May, Einstein-powered enhancements were made to Commerce Cloud’s Predictive Sort, Order Management and other features. The company built its Commerce Cloud around its purchase last year of Demandware. Last month, Salesforce’s Sales Cloud got several new Einsteined features.

[Read the full article on MarTech Today.]

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?

Can Google Express help traditional retail level the playing field with Amazon?

Google Express has kicked off a new ad campaign called “Need anything from the store?” which promotes it as a delivery service for “all your stores in one place,” according to an Advertising Age report. The effort shows people of all ages and walks of life in the often-painful process of describing a product for a largely offscreen friend or family member who has offered to pick the items up at the store.

Among the stores offering products through Google Express are Walmart, Costco and Target. The effort aims to level the playing field with Amazon — for both the retailers and Google — offering consumers both the immediacy and choice to which they’ve grown accustomed.

For the retailers, it’s a bit of the old “enemy of my enemy is my friend” concept. Ad Age characterized the campaign and the collection of Google Express partners (37 in all) as an “anti-Amazon alliance,” which was sort of announced during Advertising Week in New York. Whole Foods is currently available on Google Express, but the Amazon-owned grocery chain probably won’t remain there over time.

Most of the retailers working with Google Express have their own e-commerce initiatives, including Walmart, Target and other major retailers, but Google Express provides them with next-day delivery. A robust omnichannel capability is critical for success, and having stores still offers an advantage. Indeed, somewhat paradoxically, the presence of physical retail stores actually helps drive e-commerce transactions.

Data also show that so-called “Centennials” or “Generation Z” actually prefer to shop in stores vs. online in larger numbers than their aging millennial brethren.

What’s very interesting in all of this is what might be called the dance of the brands. In the ad, Google is positioned as subservient to the retail brands; after all, Google isn’t “one of your stores.” However, for the initiative to succeed, Google Express needs to become a branded shopping destination that is top of mind for consumers — just like Amazon.

Google must thus walk something of a tightrope, promoting consumer awareness while not subordinating and relegating its retail partners to simple providers of commodities. The effort also raises the issue of the relationship between Google Shopping and Google Express going forward. Shopping is primarily online with offline inventory information; Express is primarily about offline stores but with e-commerce functionality. But that analysis doesn’t really provide an answer.

Despite the fact that roughly 92 percent of retail purchases happen in stores, comScore and others have been hyping the growth of e-commerce — at the expense of traditional retail — for years. As indicated, however, e-commerce and offline stores are “synergistic.”

Yet e-commerce is clearly dominated by Amazon. So much so that it’s Amazon . . . and everyone else.

According to a recent report from Slice Intelligence, Amazon drove 41 percent of online shopping in Q1 2017. In 2016, it was responsible for more than 50 percent of e-commerce sales growth.

The remaining nine sites on the Slice online top 10, including Best Buy, Target, Walmart, Macy’s and Nordstrom, each had less than 3 percent of Q1 online retail sales. In other words, the remaining retailers, most of which are traditional stores, collectively generated only a little more than what Amazon brought in on its own.

This illustrates the daunting challenge for the anti-Amazon Alliance.

Report: Google beats Amazon for product-search reach, but rival sees greater loyalty

Another survey has highlighted Amazon’s outsized role in shopping and product discovery. This one comes from performance marketing platform Kenshoo.

The company commissioned a survey of 3,100 consumers in the US, the UK, Germany and France. The survey findings echo others before it that show Amazon is either the starting point for product research or plays a prominent role in the customer purchase process.

According to the survey, more people across these markets actually use Google in shopping and product discovery, however, Amazon is consulted by 56 percent as their starting point. That’s the highest percentage I’ve seen to date.

The numbers were fairly consistent across markets. However, in the US, Facebook played a larger role than in the other countries, with 36 percent saying they use it before making a purchase. Bing, Pinterest, Instagram, blogs and Twitter were also consulted by shoppers in smaller numbers.

The survey found that 26 percent check Amazon in retail stores. This “showrooming” behavior is not a new finding, but it’s a significant figure. Perhaps more striking than any of the above were the following, however:

22 percent “won’t look anywhere else if they see a product that looks suitable on Amazon.”51 percent say that “even if they find something that seems right on another site, they will usually look on Amazon to find alternative ideas, compare prices or gather more information before making a purchase.”

These numbers show consumer loyalty and the gravitational pull that Amazon has during the purchase process. And while the data show there are multiple consumer touch points and shopping tools, for a growing number of people, Amazon has become the Alpha and Omega of product search.

Google Shopping gets top spot impression share & product diagnostics reporting

Each year, Google rolls out several new features ahead of the holidays for retail advertisers. This year’s updates have started coming out.

The company introduced a new metric and new reporting for Shopping campaign advertisers — only in the new AdWords interface.

The new metric, called absolute top impression share, reports how often Shopping ads and Local Inventory ads appear in the first spot on mobile and desktop. Google says that during Q4 last year, the first Shopping ad on mobile saw up to three times more engagement than the other spots.

On the Products page, a new diagnostics report lets advertisers dig deeper into product status issues in AdWords.

These features can be added to the list of features exclusive to the new AdWords interface — what Google calls the new AdWords experience — that’s rolling out to advertisers through this year.