Google Shopping

Google Shopping Tips & Tricks Part 3: Bidding & Strategy

After you’ve optimized your shopping feed and configured your campaigns, it’s time to move on to bidding and strategy. This process can be easy or difficult, depending on the type of campaigns you’re running and the internal capabilities of your team. Remember that none of this is finite. If performance isn’t good or you’re struggling to utilize budget wisely, you can always pause everything and get help from an agency or try something that requires less management.

Smart Shopping

If you decide to try running a Smart Shopping campaign, you’re in luck! Almost every single facet of this campaign is automated by Google. There are only four areas where you have control:

  • Daily budget
  • Target ROAS
  • Products in the feed
  • Creative assets

 

It’s hard to advise on budget, because all merchants are unique and have different goals. Typically, I recommend allocating 30-40% of the overall paid search budget to Google Shopping as a starting point. Some merchants may spend up to 60% of their budget on shopping initiatives; it all depends on your goals and what works well during the testing phase.

Once you’ve set a budget, Google will automatically maximize your bids in order to spend the full amount. After running your campaigns for 3-4 weeks, assess your average ROAS. Let’s say that it’s hovering right around 3.6x after the fourth week. At this point, you should go back to your bid settings and configure a target ROAS goal. I typically set this slightly higher than my average return. For a 3.6x average ROAS, I would set my initial goal to 4x. After doing this, you might notice that Google no longer spends your full daily budget. If spending the entire daily budget is a priority, simply lower your target ROAS goal.

As previously mentioned in part II of this series, it is possible to run multiple Smart Shopping campaigns that contain different products, or a mix of Smart and Traditional campaigns. You don’t have to run this type of campaign for your entire product catalog. To figure out what works best, test as much as possible and be sure to document your results each week.

The final area where some control exists is with creative assets. Unlike Traditional Google Shopping, Smart Shopping shows your products in a variety of placements and allows a wider range of asset types (static images and logos, along with product images). Adding and testing different assets is always recommended.

If this type of campaign sounds a bit too basic, Traditional Google Shopping might be more your speed. The primary reason we see clients shy away from Smart Shopping is concern over ad placements. It is very possible that ads could show on off-brand websites, and since Google doesn’t provide good information about any of this, retailers would never know for sure. If brand integrity is a major concern, stick with Traditional Shopping.

Traditional Shopping

Traditional shopping is far more complex and requires significantly more planning and management. Unless you have an in-house expert or plan to work with a very small budget, SD recommends hiring an agency to take on this initiative as it can be very time-consuming.

Managing bidding and strategy for Traditional Shopping could easily be its own three-part blog series, but here is a brief overview of the most important insights I’ve learned over the years:

  • Organize campaigns by high, medium, and low priority settings. These campaigns should use different negative keyword lists and match with different types of queries:
    • High – generic queries that don’t contain your brand name.
    • Medium – queries that contain your brand name.
    • Low – queries that contain specific product names or SKU searches.
  • Utilize a mix of automated and rule-based bidding. After identifying products that don’t have a great return, SD recommends separating them and testing each automated strategy to figure out which works best – maximize clicks, enhanced CPC, and target ROAS.
  • Adjust bids based on audience type and take advantage of lookalike groups. If a user is more likely to buy something, bid up and increase visibility in order to win their business.
  • Test geo-targeted campaigns. If certain cities perform better for you, break them out into a separate campaign with a more aggressive bidding strategy.
  • Test new features. For example, showcase ads contain multiple products and often have a higher CTR. Try running these to see if they work for your business.

 

  • Take advantage of promotions, customer and store reviews, and competitive pricing/shipping. These features all increase CTR and drive customers to convert.

 

With Traditional Shopping, the best advice I can give you is to test everything, carefully document results, and slowly optimize. Success takes time and there will certainly be some pitfalls along the way. What works for another retailer may not work for you and you’ll never find out unless you try.

As always, don’t hesitate to contact us if you need assistance or have questions. Good luck!

Written by: Lindsay Pugh, Senior Digital Strategist

The Third-Generation of Paid Search is Here  

Like many of you, I started my career in the dotcom era, when ecommerce was first becoming “a thing.” Retail sites were launching fast and furiously, and Wall Street couldn’t invest in them quickly enough. E-tailers had it easy back then. Customer acquisition costs were low, and paid search was like an ATM that kept dispensing money without ever requiring a deposit. Every one dollar spent on paid search delivered seven or ten dollars in sales. Those were the days!

Back then paid search meant buying text ads in Google, which, by default, was the place that all users began their purchasing journeys. Soon enough, all e-tailers learned that paid search was essentially a gravy train and so they jumped in, which of course, drove up customer acquisition costs and lowered ROI. It was the end of an era.

Then in 2007 Google acquired DoubleClick, along with a bunch of search and display networks, and ushered in the second generation of paid search, which centered on banner ads placed on relevant sites. The theory is that if I’m reading an article on Italian cooking, I would be open to seeing an ad for olive oil. These ads, purchased on a CPM basis, didn’t deliver great ROI, but in aggregate made money for the advertiser. Some retailers did extraordinarily well.

Second-generation paid search led to some important innovations in ad technology. First and foremost is retargeting, aka lead-back campaigns, which has been the gold standard in ecommerce for the past eight or so years. Here’s how it works: users visit your site, perhaps look at items, and you site drops cookies into their browsers. Once they leave your site, they see ads for your brand or the items they viewed wherever they go next, whether that’s the New York Times or Instagram.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that digitally native and D2C brands owe their success to this tactic. By spending a relatively small amount of money, tiny startups with no name recognition, — Hims and Hers, for example — can elevate their brands by simply being ubiquitous. Let that sink in: for consumers who visit a site once, Hims or Hers takes on the same prominence that brands like P&G spent decades and billions of dollars building. This marked the end of the second-generation of paid search, in my mind.

We’re now deep into the third-generation of paid search, which I think is rather unfortunate. Consumers no longer begin their journeys from a single place, but from many: Google, Bing, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Amazon, Alibabi, Walmart, among others. Now, in addition to the text and display ads, retailers need video for the highly visual channels, such YouTube pre-roll ads and Instagram interstitial stories. And, like banner ads, video placements come in all different sizes and placements; full screen for YouTube pre-rolls, landscape or square for Facebook feeds, and squished down to fit in a banner or side ad on a news site. Campaigns today need hundreds of creatives in multiple formats and sizes.

The real challenge to third generation paid search is that it requires a multitude of strategies, accommodations and budgets. For instance, Amazon has its own paid search, and Google now has Google Shopping, which means retailers must ensure that both Amazon and Google understand their product catalogs so that those platforms can serve up the right products. In other words, retailers need to format their product data in ways Google, Bing, Amazon, Facebook, etc. can understand it.

To be a marketer nowadays is incredibly difficult. Customer acquisition costs reach higher into the sky while ROI is on the decline. One can’t help but wonder if there is a fourth generation of paid search, and if so, will it lead to more or less fragmentation. If more, what will that mean for marketers?

Clearly, retailers, especially SMB companies can’t be everywhere, which means they need to make strategic decisions. Which channels make sense for your brand? Where on the web does your target audience congregate? Which ad formats work best in those channels.

These are questions Something Digital spends a lot of time talking about with clients, which is one of the many reasons why we developed BULLSEYE, an ecommerce business maturity quiz. We can help you assess the maturity of your business, which in turn helps you make strategic decisions around where you should invest.

At the moment a lot of our customers having good success on Google Shopping because its reach extends beyond Google. For instance, Google Shopping results appear in YouTube. For many retailers, that’s a perfectly fine near-term strategy.

If you have questions about paid search or need help with it, contact us.

Written by: Phillip Jackson, Ecommerce Evangelist

Compete Amazon

Budgets are for CFOs, not Paid Search Campaigns

Last year I heard a business partner of ours, David Deppner, say something both startling and incredibly insightful at a conference. David is cofounder of Psyberware, an ad management solution for Magento merchants, and his company (among other things) helps merchants drive efficiency in their paid search campaigns. So when he said, “budgets are for CFOs, not paid search campaigns,” I sat up.

Some context: the discussion at the moment was focused on customer acquisition, and David noted that every marketer is eager to achieve specific customer acquisition costs (CAC) and ROI, and to that end put limits (i.e. a budget) on paid search. This doesn’t really make sense.

Look at it this way: If you knew that every dollar you put into the bank grew into three dollars in six month’s time, wouldn’t you keep depositing your money there? This is paid search. It’s the investment that keeps on growing.

More than that, paid search is all about growing your top funnel. Unlike remarketing or retargeting campaigns, paid search is focused solely on customers to your brand and ecommerce store. Spend a dollar acquiring them and you’ll get your dollar back in the first sale, and additional dollars when they return.

True, many retailers, particularly direct-to-consumer brands, face high customer acquisition costs. But they also have high retention and loyalty rates, which directly translate into repeat sales, which justifies the higher margin they’ll need to pay to capture the customer initially.

I’ll give you a concrete example. Let’s say you’re a shoe brand and one of your evergreen products is a $138 pair of leather sandals, and your average order value is somewhere between $110 and $120. Spending $40 to $50 to acquire that customer is quite reasonable given that you will probably make 25% margin on those sandals. When all is said and done, you’ll get a respectable $35 from the initial transaction, but that’s just the first benefit.  Customers you sell to are 60% to 70% more likely to purchase from you again, and many are likely to recommend your brand to friends and family.

Unfortunately, far too many retailers view paid search as an expense to be controlled and capped, and not as an investment in building the top of their sales funnel, and ultimately the future success of their businesses. Assuming you’ve built a smart strategy and have partnered with the right companies, in theory you should have an unlimited pool of money at your disposal for your paid search campaign. By this I mean, for every one dollar you put into paid search, you stand to add two to three dollars in future sales revenue.

So why do retailers have budgets around paid search spend? Now a cynic may say this is rather self-serving, as Something Digital is a digital marketing company and probably doesn’t want to work within a budget, but that’s not the case at all. We certainly wouldn’t recommend that any company spend more on paid search than it has in the bank. What we are saying, however, is that most budgets allocated are on an accrual basis, in the same way that  PTO is accrued by a full time employee. But that’s not how marketing spend should align.

An intelligent approach is to plan how you are likely to spend your marketing budget over the course of the entire year and to know upfront when higher paid search costs are likely to deliver higher dividends. Case in point: gifting holidays provide the opportunity for retailers to gain up to three new customers from a single customer acquisition. This means if your AOV is $110 and you spend $60 to $70 in paid search, your ROI is lower the first sale, but much higher when you consider $220 from two new customers you didn’t need to pay for. Abiding by strict CAC (customer acquisition cost) and ROI goals during peak gifting periods means you miss out on this upside.

To CFOs, budgets are tools to track performance and assess whether or not the company is investing in the right technologies, processes and market sectors. Without it, CFOs have no real way of knowing if they can meet their financial commitments and responsibilities. That’s not the marketers role.

The marketer’s job is to strike while the iron is hot. When you impose limits on customer acquisition, you needlessly limit the maximum amount of performance you can drive in a calendar year. This isn’t the best way to approach marketing. If Allbirds had taken that approach it wouldn’t be a unicorn (valued at $1 billion) today.

That’s why every marketing budget should offer flexibility to adapt with the demands of the marketplace. It is, after all, the future of your company, and you shouldn’t put a cap on its long-term success.

 

Written by: Phillip Jackson, Ecommerce Evangelist

Google Shopping

Google Shopping Tips & Tricks Part 2: Campaign Configuration

Now that we’ve covered feed management, let’s discuss campaign configurations. When formulating a strategy, it’s important to consider how much time you have to devote to the initial configuration and ongoing optimizations. While agencies might love to organize campaigns as specifically as possible, in-house marketers with smaller teams may prefer simplicity and automation. What works for someone else may not work for you, so always consider the level of effort required before making any big decisions.

Smart Shopping

Google’s Smart Shopping campaigns are for anyone who is in a bit of a time crunch, prefers to automate the heavy lifting, and wants visibility across all shopping placements (search, YouTube, display, and Gmail).

After creating a new campaign, select “sales” as your goal and make sure that your feed (which should be linked from Merchant Center) and country of origin are set. At the bottom of the screen, you will see two subtypes in the AdWords platform:

After you choose “Smart Shopping,” the remaining options are fairly minimal. All campaigns use a “maximize conversion value” bidding strategy, so it is important to set your budget realistically. If you’ve run standard shopping or display campaigns in the past, I suggest using those budgets as a guideline for Smart Shopping. When in doubt, start low and increase over time. Another available option in the “bid settings” section is to “set a target return on ad spend.” Enabling this option right away can stunt your campaign and prevent Google from spending your entire daily budget. I recommend leaving this option unchecked and revisiting it after your campaign has run for at least one month.

After you’ve completed these steps, that’s it! You could technically call it a day, start collecting data, and closely monitoring ROAS.

Product Groups

One other area where you can make optimizations for Smart Shopping is under the “product groups” tab. By default, you’ll notice an enabled group called “All products” that contains everything you’ve included in your approved product feed. If you need to exclude certain products, simply edit the group.

This is where feed custom labels become very useful. Setting these columns to title, category, and/or sku makes it easy to find and isolate specific products. If the products you need aren’t available, you may need to add a column to your feed.

Testing

If you’re already running a standard Shopping campaign without optimal results, consider testing Smart Shopping. Isolate a small group of products, exclude them from your traditional campaign, and include them in your Smart campaign. Monitor the results for at least one month and make a determination based on performance.

Sometimes it makes sense to include certain products in a Smart Shopping campaign while managing others via Traditional Shopping. I occasionally use Traditional Shopping for bestselling products and Smart Shopping for the rest of the catalog. Depending on a client’s needs and performance standards, it may make sense to adopt some combination of the two.

Traditional Shopping

Traditional shopping is more difficult to manage but gives a greater level of control over bidding and optimizations. Since it’s impossible for me to assess which strategy is best for you without reviewing historical data and revenue goals, I’m going to give a brief overview of some common configurations and when you might want to use them:

  • Single product ad groups (SPAGs) are useful for anyone who needs product-level bidding control and has serious time to devote to management. If you have thousands of skus, adopt another strategy because this one will easily suck up all of your time. Instead of separating product groups by category, price, or brand, SPAGs use product IDs. Each product ID becomes its own product group with individual bid settings.
  • Campaigns organized around shopping intent give you control over how much you bid for certain types of users. A user who is already familiar with your brand and searches for a specific product has a high intent to buy, whereas a user who searches for something generic isn’t as good of a fit. By using your campaign’s priority settings and negative keywords, you can ensure that you bid most competitively on users who are likely to purchase.
  • Setting up campaigns by price and profit margin are two other solid strategies. The higher the profit margin, the more I’m willing to spend to send potential buyers to my site. It doesn’t make sense to pay the amount per click for products with wildly different return (unless customer lifetime value proves otherwise).

 

Traditional Shopping puts you in a good position to maximize return, discover new users, and grow your business, but it only works if you have time to manage it. When in doubt, start simple, optimize over time, and if all else fails, test Smart Shopping (or give Something Digital a call 😉).

Written by: Lindsay Pugh, Senior Digital Strategist

Google Shopping

Google Shopping Tips & Tricks Part 1: Feed Management

If I had a nickel for every time a client asked for Google Shopping feed advice, I could quit my job and move to the Bahamas (sorry SD). For someone not used to configuring or managing these campaigns, the process can seem daunting.

If you are a mid to large merchant (2,500+ skus) on a more complex ecommerce platform, managing your own Google shopping feeds and campaigns is probably not feasible. Instead of reading this article, you should reach out to an agency like SD for assistance. If you’re a smaller merchant who handles digital marketing initiatives in-house, read on for advice on feed generation, optimization, and troubleshooting. By the end of this article, you should have a good handle on the basics and feel ready to get started.

Feed Generation

Assuming you already have Google AdWords and Merchant Center accounts, the first thing you need to do is generate a feed. There are two ways you can handle this:

  • Find an app or extension that can generate a feed for you. There are many good options available, but here are two that I have personally used and often recommend:
  • If you have a small product catalog (under 100 skus) and don’t want to pay for an extension, create a manual feed using Google sheets.
    • If you go this route, make sure you use automatic item updates to ensure that availability, stock status, and price remain accurate over time.

 

At the very least, you should configure your feed to generate each day during a time when site traffic is low. If your product catalog is large, consider splitting the process up into multiple batches to reduce server load time.

Feed Optimization

Once you have a tool to actually generate the feed, you must figure out how to configure it. This help doc gives a good overview of the information and format required by Google. These are the ‘optional’ fields I suggest including if they are applicable to your business:

  • Additional image link
  • Sale price
  • Google product category
  • Product type
  • Identifier exists
  • Product variants like material, pattern, and color

 

If you’re on Shopify, this process should be relatively straightforward. If you’re on Magento, chances are good that this is where you’ll run into the most issues. Since each site’s product catalog and infrastructure is different, it’s hard to predict exactly where you’ll run into trouble. Here are some quick tips that may help if you’re struggling:

  • Only include simple (child) products in the feed and use the item_group_id column to tie them together with the configurable (parent) id. There might be a specific instance where a retailer only wants configurable products in the feed, but this isn’t common.
  • If your products don’t have an associated gtin, mpn, or upc, you can set this column to match simple product id.
  • The attributes in Magento are the only ones available for your feed. If you’re interested in including information that isn’t available (like pattern or material), you must first add it as a Magento product attribute.
  • If you run into feed formatting issues (too many characters, letter case inconsistencies), you can probably set a rule to fix it, either via your feed extension or in Google Merchant Center.
  • If there’s information you want to include in your feed that Google’s standard columns don’t support, you can sneak it in using a custom label. I often use custom labels to differentiate bestselling products so that I can set separate bids for them.

 

If you run into any issues with feed generation (errors, lack of progress), reach out to your development team or the extension creator.

Feed Testing

Once the feed has generated, you’ll want to test it for accuracy. If you’re using Rocketweb there is a “test feed” option that allows you to input skus and quickly see whether or not they are present. This feature is good for a quick spot check, but you should also plan to save the feed as a text file, import it to excel, and do a more thorough review to ensure that all wanted products are present and information is correct.

If products that should be included are missing, take the following steps:

  • Review the product in question in your catalog. Does the information that you expect to see in the feed match up with the way you mapped your columns?
  • Check any feed rules that are currently in use. Could they be impacting this product?
  • If you’re using Rocketweb, also check the product catalog listing to make sure that it isn’t set to “skip from being submitted.”

 

Google Merchant Center

Once you’re confident that the feed is in good shape, submit it to Google Merchant Center. If there are errors, work through them, re-fetch the feed, and remember that you can always set rules to correct bulk errors. At this point, you might be thinking something like, “Wow, this is a tedious process.” If so, you are 100% correct. It can often take several rounds of testing, tweaking, and submitting before you get a feed that has all of the necessary information and adheres to the required format. Be patient, continue testing, and when in doubt, review the Google help docs or reach out to your feed provider. With a little bit of practice, you’ll be participating in Google Shopping auctions in no time.

Written by: Lindsay Pugh, Senior Digital Strategist

Compete Amazon

7 Strategies You Need To Compete With Amazon in Paid Search

Amazon is an ecommerce powerhouse that keeps on growing. Between Amazon’s strong domain authority, trusted customer base, and exclusive shipping methods, it can be difficult for brands to compete with Amazon. By the end of the year, Amazon is expected to generate $258.2 billion dollars in retail sales, which will make up 49.1% of all ecommerce sales. Many brands who feel they cannot compete with Amazon have resorted to selling on the marketplace.

However, you can compete with Amazon in the digital search space. Through carefully thought-out, planned digital strategies, your business will be able to capitalize on some of the weaknesses within Amazon’s digital strategy. So, how exactly do you compete with Amazon in the digital game? Follow these tactics. By utilizing these seven strategies, your online business will be able to find a way to compete against Amazon.

Tactic #1: Bid More on Branded Keywords

You own your brand, so by bidding on more branded keyword terms, you will have the opportunity to take up more of the retail space within the SERP, above the fold. When consumers search for your brand, your paid ads and organic listings will dominate the search engine space, giving you a larger opportunity to gain more customers. Not only will your online business gain more exposure in the SERP, you will have the opportunity to save money. Google will always favor the brand and branded keywords are generally less expensive than non-branded long-tail keywords. Know that there is power in your brand.

Tactic #2: Sell Unique Product Offerings

Consumers love Amazon because it is generic and efficient, but there are consumers who still shop online for an experience. Therefore, a way to compete with Amazon is to offer unique products not sold on Amazon. Think about what products of yours are on Amazon and then create new ads for products that are not sold on the marketplace. Another strategy is to take the products that you sell on Amazon, but make your product offering more unique, like bundled promotions or entering a contest. Entice consumers to click through to your ad with something unique.

Tactic #3: Create a Localized Experience

One of the struggles brands are presented with is competing against Amazon for ad space. They have a large budget in place for CPC but a downfall to this strategy is that Amazon does not bid locally. By placing bids and narrowing down your target market based on location, your online business will have the opportunity to target the right people in locations where consumers convert. Rather than placing bids on all locations, create ads that are location specific. For instance, if you know people in the mid-west typically do not purchase your products, but consumers in New York City and Boston have the highest conversion rates, spend your budget accordingly. Do not devote money to areas that do not convert. Segment consumers based on location and offer high-quality ads to profitable locations.

Tactic #4: Create Strong Content

Part of Amazon’s paid search strategy is that they only optimize on keywords in the first headline and the rest of the ad copy is rather generic. As a result, Amazon’s ad copy and landing pages are rarely optimized. This is a great opportunity for your online business to generate clicks by creating highly targeted landing pages with ad copy full of rich keywords consumers are searching.

For example, there is a major difference between the ad copy in Amazon’s ad and Sony’s ad. Although Sony’s ad is in position number two in the SERP, Sony’s ad copy is full of strong keywords that will entice a higher CTR. By creating better content with optimized landing pages, your online business can generate more clicks.

Tactic #5: Develop and Omnichannel Experience

Similar to bidding on more branded keyword terms, creating an omnichannel experience will enhance your overall presence in the SERP. By creating an omnichannel keyword list that will be utilized in both PPC and organic search strategies, quality score will increase, CPC will decrease, and your ranking in the ad space will have more authority. Take the time to work on organic search and reap the benefits in both PPC and SEO.

Tactic #6: Narrow Down your Target Market into Niche Markets

Amazon is fortunate enough to have a large budget and strong brand authority, and bidding on broad keywords may make it difficult to receive representation in the paid search ad space. Therefore, to compete with Amazon, narrow down your target market into niche segments that have a past of making online conversions. From there create a list of long-tail keywords that these niche markets would search for. By doing this, you have the ability to create highly target ads whereas Amazon ads target a larger audience.

Tactic #7: Create a Free Shipping Promo within PPC Ads

One of the biggest attractions to Amazon is their free two-day shipping for Prime members. With over 100 million Prime members worldwide, shipping can be the make it or break it point when it comes down to your branded landing page or Amazon’s marketplace. Create an ad campaign or ad group that is geared towards offering shipping promos in order to compete with Amazon’s most utilized ecommerce strategy.

Conclusion

In Conclusion, your ecommerce store can offer a unique shopping experience for your customers that Amazon cannot offer them. Follow these strategies, adapt them to your ecommerce goals and business plan to compete with Amazon in the paid search space.

Written by: Tori Oates, Digital Strategist

EYEO Festival Takeaways Banner

Something Inspiring: EYEO Festival Takeaways

I’ve been to forums in the past where speakers onstage serve up Kool-aid, in the form of flashy innovation, the illusion of collective harmony, or myths of the illusive work-life balance. And, I admit, I’ve drunk it when I’ve been thirsty for something, anything, to get me out of a design funk. But now I know there’s someplace better. In EYEO, I found a festival in which speakers serve up the human side of technological innovation, the power of critical mass, and first-person accounts of successfully, and industriously, making space in life for work that excites us.

This summer, I attended what I hope to be the first of many EYEOs, and the takeaways still feel fresh and refreshing, like the life water we all need to reenergize our careers and reevaluate our creative choices.

EYEO is an interdisciplinary tech conference that encourages collaboration across industries, borders, and cultures. The festival draws driven thinkers and leaders from all over the world, including visual and audio artists, designers, developers, engineers, data scientists, educators, and social activists. Its mission is to show how those identifiers are fluid, how our curiosities overlap, and how our communities can be more inclusive. EYEO encourages participation and the forging of new partnerships; their slogan is “converge to inspire.”

At EYEO, speakers present ideas that rise above sterile case studies or sales pitches. We’ve heard that all before and we sign up for EYEO because we know we deserve better. EYEO attendees instead get eye-opening humility, humanity, transparency, storytelling, comedy, and calls to action. Talks range from academic — like a social history of the American hardware store — to deeply personal —a first-person account of how a tragic event can alter one’s life course — to curated panel discussions that spark a fire in those of us who see injustice in the industries in which we work. Every captivating talk, roundtable, and meetup asks us to think about how we can leverage technology for good, and why we should be.

There is no marketplace and almost no corporate swag, which in itself says a lot about the principles of the event organizers. Instead, EYEO gave attendees a single notebook in which they could memorialize quotes, ideas, and sketches. Classic. Understated. But the magic is how it was designed. Prior to the conference, attendees completed a survey of short questions about their personalities. Are they optimists or skeptics? Are they adventurers or do they play it safe? Then, Accurat, an information design company lead by speaker Giorgia Lupi, transformed the submissions into an abstract data visualization that is printed on the cover, like a secret code.

The brightly-colored notebook is not only a vehicle for ideas, but also an icebreaker, an artifact, and a reflection of how each of us plays a role in a greater community, which can’t be overstated. Now it’s my turn to give back, so I’ll start by sharing my notes from the conference as they can be applied to the working environment and the work that we do at Something Digital.

Notebook + Book
Left: The EYEO notebook designed by Accurat and Pitch Interactive.; Right: “Dear Data”, an amazing book on soft data written by two EYEO speakers and friends, Giorgia Lupi and Stephanie Posavec.

Humanize Data

We have unlimited data plans with which we listen to playlists curated to our tastes, order products that are recommended for us, and monitor our health stats. Data science is literally on the pulse of everything that happens in our lives and we’re producing data all the time. Everything we do, say, hear, and see is data. Although we may not be aware of it, we’re making and processing data, from the moment we wake up to the moment we go to bed — even while we’re sleeping. Data can be for us to help us measure our own progress, or it can be for a corporation to market products and services to us tailored to our predictable behavior.

From a personal perspective, because of its deeper technological applications, data can often seem out of our control, or like an unreal, mysterious ‘other’ (I know I’m being watched by the device in my hand and on my wrist, but that’s just the world we live in). From a business perspective, because my work is about designing better user experiences based on data analysis —monitoring click-through rates, traffic, and popular searches — data can seem tactical, a means to an outcome.

But a common call to action among many of the speakers at EYEO is to rethink what we classify as data. Slowing down, being present, observing, and taking note: that’s data. Sources of data are everywhere. It could be as banal as the minutes a subway train arrives off schedule each morning or as critical as documenting the daily side effects of the medications we take. Counting something means it matters. Spending time reviewing this kind of data — sometimes referred to as ‘soft’ or ‘folk’ data for its lack of social currency — means spending time with ourselves.

How can this humanistic approach to data be applied in commerce? One way is to allow people to see themselves in data. We create personas by observing real behaviors of real people, making predictions based on their lifestyles and interests, and designing with the intention to show them that their needs are valuable. Data becomes a way to communicate intention. UX design is an industry driven by subjective data, like user feedback. In user testing, we ask questions to lend visibility to data that otherwise goes unseen and unmeasured.

Soft data in the marketing world can be found in social sharing and user generated content. For example, the eyewear store Tens.co features a widget showing visitors in real-time which products other customers are purchasing in that very moment. Instead of promoting only the cross sells or upsells stakeholders think customers should buy, the widget enables customers to see what appeals to the people within their affinity community and be persuaded — or not — by their own observations, giving them credit and entitlement.

Ten.co ExampleTens.co provides a visualization of what other customers are buying in real-time.

The term ‘soft’ data underestimates its merit. Observed data, in conjunction with numerical data, can be more impactful on a human level, because it reminds us that we aren’t nameless hash marks; our personalities, opinions, and stories are as important as our buying power.

Data, after all, is people.

Get Empowered

Another big talking point for speakers was to mix up power structures. Fear, paranoia, the feeling as though we are being violated by giving up data without consent — when nearly our every move is always recorded, it’s hard to not feel disempowered by technology. Add on disenfranchisement and biases that stem from a lack of diversity among the engineers who write algorithms, and it’s no wonder that an atmosphere of mistrust is brewing. And yet! We all still carry our little glowing rectangles with us everywhere anyway.

The message from many speakers at EYEO is that objects of power are only powerful when we put them in the right hands. But how do we make data less disempowering and more empowering?

Or, as Carmen Aguilar y Wedge of Hyphen-Labs asked: “What is it you need from me to see you as human?”

Vimeo Still of Hyphen-Labs ProjectOne of many inspiring projects by the women at Hyphen-Labs.

One way is to think of data analysis as a service rather than self-serving. Use data to diagnose actual problems and identify the right tools and people to fix them, instead inventing solutions to problems that weren’t there to begin with and may produce even more problems over time.

For example, when we take on clients with existing sites at SD, we evaluate their site data as it is and recommend technical debt remediation before launching new marketing initiatives. Broken components and security breaches make customers feel confused and unsafe. We show the clients the holes in their system and offer a step-by-step roadmap to fill them. By tackling the backend problems first — issues customers can’t see but that hinder them from completing tasks — we’re indirectly improving the front-end user experience and flexing our expertise to serve our client’s and their customer’s best interests first.

Another way to do good by data is to mix up power structures. If advancements in technology are predicated on the confines of the platforms and languages we use, how do we use that technology to tell stories that are not written by the marketing department of larger corporations? How do we tell new stories?

Start by bringing new voices to the table, listening, collaborating, and giving those voices due credit. In a panel on diversity, one speaker noted that HR departments don’t have a pipeline problem, they have an effort problem. One reason I’m personally proud to work at SD is that while at first I had little web experience, the managers who interviewed me saw my perseverance and history of work ethic as an advantage, and that as an outsider, I brought another perspective to the creative team. Over the course of my tenure here, I’ve witnessed SD making great strides in recruitment and retention, giving all employees the freedom to directly interact with clients, communicate their ideas, and release their code, strategies, and designs out into the wild right away. New voices that cross cultural, racial, gender, and age lines help organizations approach problem solving at multiple angles, because how each of us sees the world is path dependent and, most importantly, valuable.

Diversity — and openly discussing diversity — within an organization equips teams to be more aware of the needs of users who might otherwise go unnoticed. EYEO speakers also called on those who represent the majority to assert their privilege to protect users who don’t always get the same protections. As a web agency specifically, we need to think about the safety of every community and every individual interacting with our work by:

1. Building accessible sites.

2. Prioritizing data security.

3. Designing not just for personas, but for representation.

What if frequent visually distracting pop up notifications distress users with PTSD? What if we QA test a site on broadband internet, but it is intended to be used in a region wherein access is more limited? What if a brand aims to market their products to ‘everyone’, but the lifestyle images they display on their product pages persistently only show models of one demographic?

This leads me to:

4. Ask questions. A lot of them.

It’s a mistake to assume anything is instantaneously understandable. Coming up with a thorough checklist as a team and asking as many questions as we can is how we break free from expert mind — what we already know or think we already know — and how we prevent faceless data from amplifying our biases. This is how we get closer to actual personalization, the kind that isn’t invasive or creepy, but is humble and constructive. Questioning leads to iteration. Iteration lead to prototyping. Prototyping leads to an evolving product that continually becomes more usable for everyone. It is yet one more argument for making slow observation and human feedback a part of our professional practice.

Go Forth and Do Better

For their encouragement to humanize data, get empowered, play with new people, and to find as many ways into a problem as possible — overall, to just do better! — I can’t thank the EYEO festival speakers and organizers enough. And I encourage you to visit eyeofestival.com to meet the speakers and watch videos of past talks.

I leave you with one last scribble from by trusty yellow notebook: Find delight in the work that you do. For me the delight comes from being able to inventory the data of my own life and add a point on that graph, however its modeled, for the invaluable learning opportunity EYEO afforded me to become a better designer and advocate for SD, our clients, their users, and you.

Written by: Gina Angelotti, Interactive Designer

Bidding on Branded

Bidding on Branded Search Is Not Stupid

As a digital marketer, there are a few common questions that I receive whenever I first engage with a new client. When it comes to the topic of branded paid search, the conversation typically goes something like this:

Client: Should I bid on my brand terms?
LP: Yes.
Client: But why should I pay for brand terms when I already rank #1 in organic search? Won’t customers find my site through my organic SERP listing?
LP: Maybe, but why would you take the chance?

Some clients have a difficult time moving past the idea that branded paid search is a waste of money and that as long as organic is performing well, it just isn’t worthwhile. I’m here to tell you that a) this isn’t true and b) it’s time to start thinking about branded search in a more strategic way.

To start, let’s define exactly what “bidding on brand terms” means. Contrary to what some believe, it’s more involved than simply spending money on variations of your company’s name and calling it a day. When I say “brand terms” I mean any terms that are specific to or synonymous with your company. For example, the awesome female founded company Wildfang (they’re not our client – I’m just a fan) might bid on the following brand terms:

  • Wildfang
  • Wildfang.com
  • Wild feminist shirt

 

You might think, “Hey, wait a second … ‘wild feminist shirt’ is not a brand term; however, it definitely is because it’s synonymous with the brand. Product names or product categories are included when they fall under this umbrella.

 

Now that we’re on the same page when it comes to brand terms, let’s dive into the top 5 reasons (in no particular order) why you need to bid on them.

1. If you don’t, someone else will.

The space might be free of paid ads now, but if your competitors are smart, they’ll see that you aren’t bidding on your own terms and will swoop in and take advantage. If you could prevent someone from stealing your traffic (especially potential new customers), why wouldn’t you? If competitors, resellers, or affiliates are already bidding in the space, then your involvement is an absolute no-brainer. Unless you want customers to only shop at resellers, you absolutely need to buy ads to remind them that you exist and have something better to offer.

2. Brand terms are cost-effective.

They might not exactly be cheap, but they’re definitely cheaper than the broad, non-branded terms you might use for prospecting. Also, ROAS (return on ad spend) is high, sometimes netting you as much as 10-12x back on your initial investment. If you’re a new brand with a limited amount of search volume, you will probably struggle to spend money and won’t see a crazy high return at first, but clicks and conversions will start to grow as you build the brand. In this instance, branded paid search can actually act as a barometer for the success of your other strategies. If you continue to monitor it, mine your search query reports for new terms, and optimize, you will see incremental success over time.

3. You have full control over brand message.

Sure, there are organic strategies you can employ to try to control SERPs (defined meta descriptions and page titles, structured markup), but search engines don’t always abide by your wishes. Perhaps you’re running a sale that you really want to tout in your sitelinks. The sale link might show up in SERPs, but it will definitely show up in paid search if you set it as a sitelink extension. The same message holds true for landing pages. Maybe you’ve built out a really beautiful landing page for bestselling products, but you’ve noticed that organic searches don’t always direct users to it, even when it’s relevant. If you’re running branded search ads, you have the ability to control the first thing users see when they reach your site.

4. Dominating SERPs is always good.

The more listings you have, the more likely it is that a user will reach your site. If you are running shopping ads, paid search ads, and have a high-ranking organic listing, you’re in a great position. According to Moz, “searchers who see an ad may be more likely to click on an organic listing, or they may be more likely if they see a high-ranking organic listing for the same ad to click that ad.” In other words, ad presence can increase organic search click-throughs. The good news? Google charges for clicks, not impressions.

Imagine this scenario: a user sees your paid search ad at the top of the page and is then reaffirmed that your brand is legit when they also see a top-of-page organic listing. The user then clicks the organic listing and buys something on your site. While this paid search listing impression cost you nothing, it directly impacted a user’s decision to click and buy. Why wouldn’t you want this?

5. Bidding on brand terms increases overall traffic from search engines.

Everyone will tell you that spending money on ads doesn’t directly increase organic rankings, but what about indirectly? A 2012 study from Google plainly states the facts: “89% of the clicks from search ads are incremental, i.e., 89% of the visits to the advertiser’s site from ad-clicks are not replaced by organic clicks when the search ads are paused.” In other words, those people who think that they don’t need to pay for brand terms because organic search makes up the slack are wrong. You might be skeptical of a 6-year-old study, but I can tell you that I’ve experienced this behavior firsthand as recently as last month. Whenever branded paid search ads are paused, we always see a decrease in organic search. If you don’t believe me, check out this 2018 study from CPC Strategy.

If you made it to this point and are still a skeptic, all I can suggest is that you give branded search a try. Set up a campaign and run ads with a modest budget for a few months while also monitoring your organic rankings. If you don’t see a decrease in branded organic search terms after pausing paid ads, please send me an email at [email protected] and tell me how wrong I am.

Written by: Lindsay Pugh, Digital Strategist

Dark Social

Dark Social: What is it and How Can You Make it Work for Your Site?

If the term “dark social” sounds ominous to you, especially in these days of massive Facebook data breaches, don’t be alarmed. It’s actually quite innocuous. Coined by Alexis Madrigal, a senior editor at The Atlantic, in his 2012 article, “Dark Social: We Have The Whole History of the Web Wrong,” dark social refers to users who share content (i.e. links) with one another via channels that can’t be tracked by Google Analytics or other web tracking platforms.

So when your mom emails you a link for a sweater she’s thinking of getting you for your birthday, she’s doing so via dark social. Ditto for your friend who texts you a link to the restaurant to meet up at.

A good bit of the traffic that shows up in your Google Analytics as “direct channel” comes from dark social, and if you’re responsible for managing the user experience on your website, you’ll need to shed some light on it ASAP. To begin, you’ve no doubt noticed that dark social represents a sizeable (and still growing) way for people to arrive on sites and to discover content. And according to RadiumOne’s research, 46% of consumers age 55 and older share via dark social exclusively.

Of course, not all of your direct channel traffic can be classified as dark social. Visitors may have a specific section of your site bookmarked, or their browsers may complete the URLs of pages they’ve previously visited. Dark social applies only to the portion of your direct channel traffic that stems from social referrals you can’t track.

There are a few ways you can get a handle on your site’s dark social channel, which is to say, get a better understanding of the user behavior of people who arrive on your site via links they’ve received from friends, families or colleagues. Keep in mind, none of these strategies are 100%, but combined they can help provide a roadmap to better engage people on your site whose origins are a complete mystery to you.

Begin by looking at your direct channel by landing page, and weed out any pages that are so specific that you can safely assume no one typed it in directly. For instance, it’s not unreasonable for a consumer to type “zappos.com/frye” into a search bar, but it’s highly unlikely they’d type in the specific URL for, Frye Ally 2 band Sling sandals, which is: https://www.zappos.com/p/frye-ally-2-band-sling-white-multi/product/9010107/color/2927.

Once you create and apply the segment, you can then begin to look at it by user type. Specifically, separate first-time visitors from returning ones, which you can do by going to Audience Type/Behavior/new vs. returning user in Google Analytics.

Of your returning customers, it’s safe to assume that 10 – 15% originated from a saved link or via a link they’ve previously visited and that their browser automatically completed. The rest should be considered dark social, and should be watched over time. To do that, either create a custom channel grouping in Google Analytics, or build out another segment to use whenever you perform a channel-based analysis.

How to make dark social work for your site

Whether you manage an ecommerce or a straight content site, it’s important for you to understand which content resonates with your visitors, and what they’re willing to share. If, for instance, you’re an ecommerce brand and you notice a sizable number dark social shares for the same landing page, then you’ll know to optimize that landing page for people who share it via dark social.

BuzzFeed has embraced dark social sharing in a big way. The site’s editors view the URL as a tool to pique interest in the articles its readers might share. At times the URL bares little resemblance to the article itself. For instance, this article:

“It’s Raining So Hard In New York City It’s Pouring Into The Subways And People Are More Miserable Than Ever”

Had this URL:

https://www.buzzfeed.com/tanyachen/where-concrete-jungle-dreams-are-made-of?utm_term=.fvZQrXPgO#.kb5P7Grdj

Another tactic is to create content that’s designed to be shared, such as the BuzzFeed story, “18 Exhaustingly Funny Tweets From Parents With A LOT Of Kids” (URL: https://www.buzzfeed.com/mikespohr/tweets-for-parents-with-a-lot-of-kids?utm_term=.erBadl6g8#.ubVoGRVLl).

If you notice that a large portion of your users share your content, use the opportunity to identify why it appeals to specific users, or to optimize it for more shares based on other behavior insights you may have about your site. At the end of the day, optimizing your site for dark social is all about discovering who your users and how you can better target to them. It’s about identifying, creating and serving your visitors with content they’ll find relevant and shareable.

If you want to learn more about dark social check out our dark social webinar or contact us.

Written by: Lindsay Pugh, Digital Strategist

Launches

Webinar: What to expect when you’re expecting (after your site launches)

Missed our webinar, but still curious about what to expect after your new site launches? Check out the full webinar below. This webinar will give you a good primer on when it actually makes sense to launch your site and what to expect post-launch. Let the SD team walk you through some common pitfalls and challenges that come along with launching a new site.

 

Something Digital is a leader within the industry that fully understands the process of going through a new site launch.  Whether you are rebuilding an already existing site or launching a brand new site, this webinar will help you make the best decisions for your newly launched website.

Want to learn more? Contact us!