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.

Omnichannel shoppers collide with Black Friday and Cyber Monday, setting new records

Black Friday and Cyber Monday continue to gain cultural significance across the US and the globe as shoppers and retailers deepen their relationships through enhanced technology, stronger/more personalized deals and a singular online-offline approach. As for 2017, all major metrics trended up, including click volume, mobile purchases, foot traffic and overall sales. Cyber Monday 2017 marked the biggest shopping day in US history, with over $6.59B in sales, including a record-breaking $2B in mobile sales.

Bing (my employer) also saw strong positive trends, with a YOY jump in clicks across Black Friday, Cyber Monday and the entire month of November. In the US, clicks were up 9 percent (cross-device) between Black Friday and Cyber Monday when compared with the same time period in 2016, and we also saw clicks up 12 percent YOY for the month of November. The rise in clicks is likely due to large retailers who extend Black Friday deals earlier and later — a trend US consumers have come to expect as retailers like Walmart and Toyota offered week-long Black Friday deals.

This increase in clicks YOY wasn’t just a trend we saw in the US, but also around the world, as Black Friday and Cyber Monday become a global phenomenon. Bing’s international clicks across all devices were up over 17 percent for Black Friday and 20 percent for Cyber Monday.

The holiday numbers also support a strong omnichannel approach throughout the 2017 season. According to Matt Shay, CEO of the National Retail Federation (NRF), 51 million Americans shopped exclusively in stores throughout the holiday weekend, 58 million Americans shopped exclusively online, and a majority 65 million shopped both, representing the new sweet spot for leading retailers.

The online, mobile and in-store experience needs to work in harmony if retailers are going to continue in the new economy. The NRF reported that over 174 million Americans showed up in stores over the holiday weekend as retailers wooed consumers with free coffee bars, foot massages and cosmetic samples. As the numbers show, these same shoppers went home to buy online, many of them making purchases on their phones. The Home Depot even reported seeing more mobile traffic than desktop.

Black Friday deals also popped up in some new places, such as the Amazon Alexa, where users could find early deals starting November 22 through voice shopping. In classic omnichannel form, Amazon leveraged their Whole Foods brick-and-mortars to promote their Alexa devices. Every retailer should be following suit, combining their online and offline forces for maximum impact.

Bing’s Black Friday to Cyber Monday search trends

I love digging into the query reports post-Black Friday and Cyber Monday to highlight a few trends and see what has changed in consumer behavior as users search for deals this holiday season. Here are the insights I uncovered based on search trend data from the 2017 Black Friday to Cyber Monday shopping period:

Don’t forget to add year-modified keywords

We continued to see the trend where consumers are adding the calendar year to their search queries when looking for specific deals and offers. The top Black Friday and Cyber Monday intent-related keywords can be summarized in the following query combinations:

‘Tis the season for tech and entertainment

As in previous years, we saw a surge in tech-related queries as consumers searched for the latest phones and gaming consoles. It’s no surprise to me that the most-searched-for tech items are the two that are almost impossible to find with a discount: the iPhone X and Xbox One X.

We’re also seeing search trends that point to this year’s hottest toys. Last year, Hatchimals were the toy du jour; this year, Fingerlings have taken over. There was also a surge in searches for Yu-Gi-Oh! Dueling Nexus.

It’s also the time of the year to be entertained, so it wasn’t a surprise to see the movie “Bad Moms Christmas” as one of the top new queries over the holiday weekend.

It’s not too late

There’s still time to make the most of the 2017 holiday season. Here are five quick ways you should be using search to leverage your omnichannel strategy:

    Get ready for Green Monday. The 2016 comScore data rated the second Monday in December, or Green Monday, as one of the busiest shopping days of the year. Be sure your campaign budgets are high enough to accommodate a likely spike in traffic on Monday, December 11.Watch your budgets: Make sure you account for high-traffic shopping days. 2016 comScore data showed a string of 27 consecutive billion-dollar shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas, up from nine consecutive billion-dollar days in 2015. If this trend continues, it is worth keeping an eye on campaign budgets between Thanksgiving and Christmas, paying special attention to your top traffic days for the 2016 holiday season to make sure you don’t run out of budget before the end of the month.Know your shipping cutoff dates. Make it easy for your customers to understand the deadlines for ground shipping, two-day shipping, next-day shipping, or even same-day shipping, so their gifts can make it on time. I pulled together the dates from USPS, UPS and FedEx for you in the graphic below:
    Use ad extensions to call out shipping cutoffs and promotions. No one likes buying holiday presents only to miss the cutoff by a single day. Be sure to clearly communicate your shipping requirements with customers, including placing it in ad copy and site extensions. It’s not too late to use countdown ads customizers in your ad copy to call out shipping cutoffs or to call attention to those last-minute holiday promotions.If available, advertise free store pickup. Most of today’s leading retailers are offering free store pickup as a solution for busy holiday shoppers. If applicable, advertise free store pickup in ad copy and site extensions, especially after shipping cutoff dates pass.

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

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.

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.

5 surprising paid-search insights to help you win the holidays

Whether you are ready or not, here come the holidays! Black Friday is only three Fridays away, and it — along with the holiday season more generally — is one of the best times of year to get your products in front of the millions of shoppers searching for the right gift at the right price.

Recently, my colleagues at Bing Ads and Merkle led an enlightening presentation on strategies for making the most of your paid search campaigns this holiday season. And they shared a few insights that may surprise you.

1. It’s not all about Black Friday and Cyber Monday

Bing Ads data reveals that many of us are procrastinators (no surprise there). But what you may not know is that Black Friday and Cyber Monday only comprise 17 percent of all holiday sales. Forty percent of gift purchases are made after these big days.

What does this mean for you? While you definitely want to reserve ample budget and bid early to capture Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales, you’ll also want to budget for sales throughout December. And don’t forget to include a little extra budget for those post-Christmas shopping sprees. (That’s when you’ll see me doing my shopping!)

Tips:

Use a campaign planner to benchmark and project your seasonal traffic spikes.Set up automated rules and alerts to track ad spend in real time. That way, you’ll have plenty of budget in place to win sales late in the season.Make sure your titles include all the relevant details like brand, size and color. Be mindful of character limits, and test the order of product attributes to determine what drives the best traffic.

2. Early-bird shoppers account for 39% of holiday sales

Believe it or not, there are lots of early birds searching and buying well before Thanksgiving. In fact, while 30 percent of holiday purchases are made year-round, 9 percent of holiday purchases are made in the weeks before Thanksgiving. This means you need to plan early and have your campaigns ready by early November (Hint: that’s right now)!

November is a prime time for individuals who are researching their upcoming purchases and for those who don’t procrastinate (like me) to get their shopping done early. In the lead-up to Thanksgiving, you’ll want to be sure that you focus on building brand trust by making it easy for searchers to access product reviews and comparisons (and purchase, of course!).

Tips:

Use extensions to link to reviews and product comparisons.Expand keyword coverage to include research-centric terms like “ideas,” ”best,” “kids,” and “women’s.”Don’t forget about remarketing! They already came to look; make sure that they come back when they’re ready to buy.

3. One for you, two for me

Self-gifting is big this time of year. In fact, people shop for themselves 70 percent of the time during the holiday shopping season, especially when it comes to apparel. I know I have a hard time passing up on that amazing sale while shopping for my family. (What we don’t know is how many of these folks actually wrap their gifts to themselves!)

Tip:

Consider testing “treat yourself” ad copy for popular items with self-gifters.

4. There’s more to Thanksgiving Day than feasting and football

Like the turkey, search is hot on Thanksgiving. Shoppers are scouring the internet as they plan their Black Friday shopping sprees. What are they looking for? Deals, of course. The week of Thanksgiving, you’ll want to showcase your upcoming deals — then, on Black Friday, make it easy for customers to find your store and coupons.

Tips:

Adjust copy to include relevant keywords and seasonal attention-grabbers like “special holiday offer” and “Black Friday deals.”Use countdown ads to show the sense of urgency for great limited-time offers and deals.Make it easy for shoppers to click-and-call your business or find your nearest location from their mobile device.

5. Saturdays are popular with the hobby & leisure crowd

And hobby and leisure shoppers also generate more click volume earlier in the season. Think about the days that your audience might be searching. For example, if you sell products in the hobbies and leisure space, Bing data shows that Saturdays are a popular shopping day, although people begin their searches early in the season.

Tips:

Know your audience’s habits, and bid accordingly.Pay attention to trends, including the types of devices being searched on and the days of the week (and time of day) shoppers are clicking and buying.

Final thoughts

So, what are you waiting for? The holidays are literally right around the corner, and you’ve got just a few more weeks to get your products in front of holiday shoppers!

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.

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.]

Google proposes a new version of 'rival links' to remedy shopping search antitrust violation

In June, Google was fined $2.7 billion by the EU for “favoring its own content” in shopping search results. The company is reportedly appealing the decision.

In the interim, Google has been compelled to propose an alternative presentation of search results to remedy and respond to the EU decision. According to Reuters, the company “has offered to display rival shopping comparison sites via an auction.”

While we haven’t seen any specific details of Google’s proposal, this approach is conceptually similar to the “rival links” proposal that was proposed and failed to settle the antitrust dispute before the formal Statement of Objections (antitrust case) was filed in 2015.

Reuters reports the Google proposal would permit alternative providers of shopping content “to bid for any spot in its shopping section known as Product Listing Ads . . .  [and Google would also] set a floor price with its own bids minus operating costs.”

Given that the the earlier “rival links” proposal was met with objections from European shopping sites and Google competitors, it’s highly uncertain that this Google proposal will pass muster.

Amazon vs. search: Why you shouldn’t put too many eggs in one shopping basket

No matter where they’re located or what market they serve, retailers around the globe have questions about how consumers use search and Amazon.

At Bing (my employer), we’ve found that retailers — regardless of size — ask us about the same three things:

    Where do consumers look for products online?How do users behave differently on search vs. Amazon?Can my search and Amazon channels benefit each other?

The answers are likely to surprise you.

The consumer decision journey looks incredibly complicated to us marketers with its interweaving between research, comparison, intent and transaction, but it feels far less complicated from the consumer point of view.

As consumers, we follow certain behavior patterns almost subconsciously:

If we have questions around what it is we need, or want more information before we make a selection, then it’s natural to turn to search.If we know what we’re looking to buy, often we have a predefined preference for which retailer website to begin looking for it.

For many customers, Amazon is a place to start. But is it where customers do most of their shopping-related searches? And is it also the place that they end their journey?

Our company’s search market intelligence team sought to find out.

1. Where do consumers look for products online?

The goal of the test was to study how consumers shopped online, and to learn how search and Amazon fit in within the customer decision journey.

Testing methodology

We used a sample of 9 million US users who conducted a retail-related search or visited Amazon on a web browser.We tracked the user activity on Amazon and Bing and categorized users in different retail categories based on their searches.We tracked the user journey, from searching on our site to visiting and searching on Amazon, and vice versa, to understand patterns around user groups that come back to the search engine.We scaled the analysis using comScore data to be representative of mobile and app usage.

The myth

“The majority of retail searches now happen on Amazon.”

This myth has been repeated so many times, it’s often taken as fact just from repetition. It is likely derived from studies that report 56 percent of consumers begin their shopping journey on Amazon. The issue lies in the fact that this number is getting misinterpreted as 55 percent of overall retail searches happen on Amazon — which isn’t true.

The thing to remember is that survey data, while extremely valuable, may not always tell you the full story. Often, the decisions we make are formed by unconscious biases or are very generalized, so we can’t speak to our actions with a 100 percent degree of accuracy.

Think about this: If you’ve ever started your product search on Amazon, does that mean that you would always turn to Amazon to start your search for every single product? Or that you don’t conduct any searches after Amazon?

We know conceptually that is not true, so the researchers used behavioral data to answer that question.

The reality

The reality is, we turn to Amazon for only certain types of searches, mainly the lower-funnel ones. But those are only a small fraction of the overall universe of retail searches — nowhere near the 55 percent that is often cited.

For example, think of queries like “best brand of wedding china,” “how do I cure a migraine” or “what’s better for you propolis or bee pollen.” Would your natural instinct for those queries be to turn to a search engine or to Amazon?

More than likely, your answer would be the former, since at the moment, the latter isn’t really built to answer these questions. Case in point:

Search, on the other hand, is used for queries that span the entire range of the funnel, and that’s where logic would dictate the majority of retail searches occur.

The research agrees.

The results

In reviewing millions of users across our data set and comScore’s panel, the team’s research found that most retail searches don’t happen on Amazon; instead, 70 percent of them happen on top search engines.

A study conducted by Rand Fishkin at Moz earlier this year, which analyzed clickstream data via Jumpshot, came to a similar conclusion. Fishkin asked Jumpshot to compare 10 distinct web properties, add together all the searches they receive combined, and share the percent distribution.

The data found that Amazon received only 1.85 percent of searches, whereas Bing, Yahoo and Google combined received 64.02 percent of searches.

What does that mean for marketers?

Amazon is a strong retail channel and continues to grow, though marketers should be careful not to overcorrect. Search not only stands strong as a retail channel, but it can also help complement and strengthen an Amazon strategy as well.

2. How do users behave differently on search vs. Amazon?

In looking to identify how user behavior differed across search and Amazon, we found that 27 percent of users (about 38 million people in the US) did not visit Amazon either before or after searching on Bing.

These are valuable audiences that are looking for your product information online and buying them in physical stores or other online channels.

Even more interestingly, the research found that even the audiences that were common between search and Amazon exhibited different behaviors across each platform.

Testing methodology

Exclusive Audience using our search engine:

We collected data from Nov 1-7, 2016, using Web Browser Logs (US only).We tracked the user activity on Amazon and Bing and categorized users based on queries searched.We filtered for users that do retail-related searches on a search engine (combination of various categories such as: Autos; Guns; Sports & Recreation; Office Products; Health & Wellness; Beauty & Fragrance; Clothing & Shoes; Jewelry & Watches; Home Furnishings; Kitchen & Housewares) and computed exclusivity of these search users that don’t visit Amazon.We scaled the users to overall population based on comScore’s panel.Similar distributions of overall exclusive users were found on larger time periods (~1.5-2 months).

The results

In addition to the discovery that 27 percent of users of our search engine did not visit Amazon at all, the research then drilled down within the 73 percent of users who did use both Amazon and Bing. They unearthed something very interesting.

Approximately 80 percent of users (out of that 73 percent) who do a retail search on Bing and also visit Amazon do not perform the same retail category searches on both sites.

That means that Sally could be looking at buying perfume and, when she seeks information on a search engine, she could be directed to many different sites and eventually buy offline. Sally has also visited Amazon during that time period, but her searches could have been for something different, such as a toy for a child’s birthday.

This behavior was seen across several categories, a few of which are listed in the screen shot below. There are definitely cases where there is a continuation of searches from search to Amazon or vice versa, but that represents the minority, or only about 20-25 percent of the users.

The graph below represents the percentage of shopping-oriented users that visit Amazon but do not search within same category on Amazon:

We can see that for categories like Beauty & Fragrance or Toys, the percent of searchers who do not search within the same category are 82 percent and 77 percent, respectively.

And what of those 20-25 percent of searchers who did related subsequent searches between the two sites?

Shoppers use search for top- through bottom-of-funnel activities. For example, let’s look at data from a client who sells cold and flu medicine, whose pattern holds true across multiple categories.

The teal green bars represent the number of searches conducted on search engines. The dark blue bars were the searches conducted on Amazon.

You can see that search spans the spectrum of upper funnel queries, like “flu symptoms,” down to lower funnel queries, like “cold medicine.” Aside from the typing-averse consumers typing in “cold,” most of their searches are for “cold or cough medicine.

When was the last time you asked Amazon for flu symptoms or sore throat remedies?

Higher funnel searches (queries like “flu symptoms,” “sore throat remedies,” “cold symptoms,” “how to get rid of cold” in the Health & Wellness category) are not searched at all on Amazon.

Search is also relevant in cases when users are researching what to buy or where to buy it. Very often, search engines are used as a trusted utility to help people make informed decisions, such as determining the best product or finding the best deal.

You can see the stark popularity of users relying on search engines for this information relative to Amazon in the chart below.

What can marketers do?

The upper-funnel queries serve as a great opportunity to market your brand via search to shoppers who are showing clear and strong intent for product categories or are in situations where your product can help meet their needs.

Search continues to be the most relevant channel for the research phase of most consumer journeys because this is the stage at which users are seeking the background information they need to become more informed on what they are seeking to buy.

As a result, advertisers lacking a presence on the major search engines can lose out on critical stages of the consumer decision journey.

3. How can search complement your Amazon strategy?

Finally, our search market intelligence team wanted to understand the impact of search ads on subsequent shopper behavior on Amazon. After all, why would you invest in upper- and lower-funnel terms if they didn’t result in higher consumer engagement?

The team looked at users over a period of seven months, with the criteria being that these users searched for a non-brand/category term. They then segmented them into two cohorts. One was exposed to an ad for that product brand, and the other group was not. Both groups visited Amazon subsequently.

Testing methodology

Case study on brand exposure and behavior on Amazon:

We collected data over seven nonconsecutive months (June-Aug. 2016; Nov. 2016-Feb. 2017) using Web Browser Logs (US only).We tracked the user activity on Amazon and Bing.We filtered for users that do searches related to a particular product on Bing (some product examples include diapers, laptops and detergent); we categorized users based on whether or not they were exposed to a particular brand ad for those terms.We tracked the activity of the two groups on Amazon and identified the proportion of users that visited that particular brand’s product page on Amazon.We expanded the terms to then include other top online retailers.

The results

Users exposed to product brands via search ads are two to four times more likely to visit the same brand product page when they subsequently visit Amazon. You can see a few of the categories measured in the screen shot below.

This test was also run on other major online retailers, such as Walmart and Target, and lift was an average 20 percent higher than that observed on Amazon.

What can marketers do?

Search enables the user to discover brands, thus creating brand awareness, which leads to better conversions on multiple channels.

In addition to product listing ads via shopping campaigns, be sure to run text ads for direct and indirect brand terms, as well as top products, across both Bing and Google. Take advantage of new ad product releases to make the text ads even more compelling.

For example, Bing has recently updated its Sitelink Extensions policy to allow advertisers who don’t have their own retail capability to link directly to their Amazon product page:

This can even be combined with the Price Extension available on Google AdWords, and currently in pilot on Bing Ads, to include the price in the ad copy, sending valuable users to the retail channels of your choice.

On Google AdWords, an interesting new ad extension to try out would be their Promotion Extension.

In summary

Amazon is incredibly important — and so is search. Don’t overcorrect, in either direction, the spend and efforts between the two channels.

The bulk of retail searches still happen on search engines, and behavior is different across search and Amazon. The kinds of searches consumers do on search span upper funnel and lower funnel, while Amazon is mainly for very low-funnel queries.

Advertisers would benefit from using both platforms together to expand customer reach and create additional synergies and enjoy an overall lift in conversions and profit.

The research has proven just how effective that can be.

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

How important is Google Shopping for retailers?

With the recent decision by the European Commission (EC) to levy a massive $2.7B fine on Google for unfair practices, a light was shined on the comparison shopping engines that have lost out over the past few years as searchers have increasingly used Google alone for product browsing.

The EC determined that Google’s placement of Shopping Ads, also known as Product Listing Ads (PLAs), unfairly prevents competing comparison shopping options from getting click traffic, and that Google must make the search results fairer for those competitors.

In discussing the ruling, much has been made of the potential harm to comparison shopping engines and searchers from Google’s current page layout. However, little attention has been paid to the advertisers who pay for Google Shopping listings, which now drive a significant share of all website orders for most brands.

While Google will likely appeal the decision, here we’ll walk through what the impacts of the current decision might be to retailers.

Google Shopping share of retailer all-site orders growing steadily

The median retailer taking advantage of Google Shopping saw the highest share of all site orders attributed to PLAs ever in June 2017, at just over 14 percent.

Compare that to just 5 percent share at the beginning of 2015, and it’s clear Google Shopping is more important now than ever before. And while this data is specific to the United States, it’s representative of the type of growth also observed in Europe.

This rise has been the key driver in the growth of the total share of all site orders coming from non-brand paid search, which includes both text ads and PLAs.

As such, advertisers now rely heavily on Google Shopping to drive searchers to their products, and they have put significant effort into optimizing Google Shopping campaigns over the years.

If Google were forced to do away with Shopping ads on its search results, advertisers would immediately lose a significant share of site orders as a result — and it’s not a guarantee they’d be able to get them back through greater prominence of other comparison shopping engines (CSEs).

Other CSEs might gain traffic with Google changes, but how would advertisers fare?

Any meaningful adjustment to the search results to make it more likely that searchers will go to a traditional CSE than use Google Shopping will likely immediately help CSEs make more money, since most CSEs themselves are just ad aggregators. Advertisers pay CSEs for clicks on their product ads, which are featured on CSE websites.

This means that ad revenue would transfer from Google to CSEs, with advertisers continuing to pay the bill. But would advertisers continue to get as much value out of traditional CSEs as they currently get out of Google Shopping?

Google offers advertisers a clean interface, editor and API for creating and managing Google Shopping ads, with bid levers for attributes like geographic region, device type, past site visitors and a number of other different possibilities. This means that brands are able to hit return on ad spend goals very effectively in Google Shopping, allowing them to maximize ad spend and their presence in PLA ad packs.

Traditional CSEs, on the other hand, lag Google significantly in terms of the management and reporting tools they can provide advertisers. Bidding systems for eBay and Connexity, the two largest traditional CSEs still operating in the United States, have made progress over the past few years, but they still pale in comparison to what’s offered in AdWords.

This means that advertisers aren’t always able to maximize spend as effectively with these platforms as they can on Google. It’s possible that CSEs will be able to upgrade their platforms in the event that traffic begins pouring in, but it’s not a guarantee.

It’s also far from certain that Google changes will revive CSE site traffic, as users may turn to a far more established shopping option: Amazon.

Will searchers turn from Google to Amazon if Shopping Ads go away?

The European Commission seemed to issue its ruling with the understanding that Google click traffic would head back to CSEs, but would users really want to click to a separate website (which may or may not have a great user experience) to browse products after searching on Google? Or would they perhaps become even more likely to start their search on a site like Amazon? At the very least, this is the argument Google made in response to the EC ruling.

Amazon isn’t currently as dominant in Europe as it is in the United States, but it is making strides to grow its presence there. Given how quickly the e-commerce giant grew in the US, it’s not unreasonable to believe that it will be a significant force in Europe in a few years. There’s a good chance Amazon will succeed — unless it, too, draws the wrath of the EC.

Studies have shown that more than half of U.S. shoppers start their product searches on Amazon. Google currently provides meaningful competition in terms of attracting product-focused searches, and as shown earlier, Google Shopping in particular drives a significant share of online orders for retailers.

If that traffic heads directly to a site like Amazon instead, the EC’s decision could unintentionally harm both Google and online retailers and still not grow traffic to traditional comparison shopping engines.

Such a result wouldn’t be the first time a court decision against Google has inadvertently harmed other businesses.

Lessons learned from past German publisher woes

In 2013, the ancillary copyright for press publishers law was passed in Germany to give publishers more control over how their content is used, including on search engines. Publisher groups had lobbied for the legislation, viewing it as a means to force Google to pay publishers for use of content beyond headlines and small “text excerpts.”

After publishers refused to opt into allowing Google to surface content in search results beyond what the law allowed for free, Google reduced publisher search listings to feature only article headlines and nothing more. This starkly reduced publisher site traffic, and publishers quickly agreed to give Google the ability to feature snippets for free.

This is a good example of how difficult it can be to create specific outcomes from government intervention. Publishers got the bill they wanted passed and believed it would allow them to cash in on Google’s use of their content, but they didn’t understand that they needed Google more than it needed them.

Similarly, Google competitors such as Microsoft have long pushed the EC, as well as American authorities, to impede Google to what these competitors believe will be their own advantage. Perhaps they’re correct, but given how the ancillary copyright law worked out in Germany, it’s far from a safe assumption.

To be clear, it’s fair to believe that Google wields too much power, but regulation can easily lead to unforeseen, and sometimes worse, outcomes.

Conclusion

Google Shopping is a huge source of traffic and online orders for many retailers. These retailers may suffer in the wake of the EC’s decision for two reasons.

The first is that traditional comparison shopping engines don’t provide the same optimization tools as Google, and there will be some inefficiency that comes from traffic shifting over to those sites and away from the finely tuned AdWords auction.

Additionally, this ruling might end up pushing users to visit sites like Amazon and skip the traditional search experience altogether, harming retailers. User behavior is tricky to predict, and forcing change on Google might not work out quite like the EC thinks it will.

The retailers that rely on Google ad traffic are important stakeholders in the Google Shopping ecosystem and will hopefully not be inadvertently harmed by the EC’s decision.

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