Have you noticed recently that every web news and content site looks almost identical? And that it gets even worse if you scroll down below the “fold”. There, in the swamp, of “promoted” and “suggested” stories, you are liable to find exactly the same headlines for exactly the same stories as you move from site to site.
Web publishers love native ads because they are an easy way to monetize the audience they already have. Advertisers love it because, well, nobody cares to look at their ads anymore. But its becoming a zero sum game as media brands devalue their mastheads and when advertisers recognize that their sneaky content will become increasingly ignored by readers as they catch on to the con. Sponsored content might well become just as laughable as the integrated spokespeople in the P&G owned television shows of the fifties.
Where does this all end? Right now the trajectory is bad for publishers, difficult for content creators and potentially devastating for advertisers and their agencies. To the extent that what we think of as traditional “online” advertising is placed, it is being purchased not by people with a vested interest in the media brand, its constituency, its stable of journalists and creative people but rather by programmatic buying, where ad inventory is bid on and purchased by computers in real time. The impact of this trend is to speed up the commoditization of all media, putting huge pressure on branded media to cut costs, usually meaning that talented editors and writers suddenly find themselves freelancing for the highest bidder for their services.
At the very high end of the food chain, this is working for individuals with their own brands and followings. For example, Kara Swisher no longer needs the masthead and distribution power of the Wall Street Journal to ply her trade. If I’m a reader who likes Kara’s content (I am), I will search for her content wherever it might be. I no longer need the Journal. And if I’m an advertiser, I now have three choices. I can buy into a publisher’s story about the quality of their audience and the equity of their brand (but everything looks and sounds the same, so why?) paying huge premiums to be in that look alike content or, I can skip the Journal and pay Kara or Re/Code directly to be associated with her personal brand or, I could simply define my audience, cap my bid and let the computer go do its thing. Maybe I end up advertising in the Journal, maybe I end up in Re/Code but maybe not. I don’t know exactly where my ads will run but at least I will know that I’m not overpaying to reach my audience.
But what happens back at the Journal? The number of advertisers drops. The amount advertisers will pay is subject to tremendous downward pressure. The writing, long its hallmark, starts to become commoditized as pressure grows to conform to the rules of Google’s search algorithms and the data that almost always suggest that readers click on the lowest common denominator headlines and stories. The quality and character of all content is headed toward Buzzfeed at an accelerating pace.
What is a Publisher These Days?
The point of all this is that only the most courageous and deep-pocketed media brands can afford to fight to retain their brand equity by content alone. This is why you see smart media titles branching off into branded conferences, sponsorships, one-on-one interactions with media consumers as never before. If advertisers and agencies really believe that quality content and media brand differentiation matters to their image and brand equity, they will have to find better ways to collaborate with quality publishers than investing solely in sponsored content and leaving editorial environment decisions solely in the hands of the programmatic bidding machines. Reversing this race to the bottom is going to take courage, patience and resolve. Media brands, content providers and advertisers will need to find new and, most important, differentiated ways to collaborate as never before — while still maintaining editorial and creative integrity in the face of the data nerds who would commoditize us all.
(Originally Published on Medium April 11, 2015)
20x ROI in Two Weeks via Four Steps
Google AdWords Optimization yields significant improvements in return on search marketing investment. Over the past two weeks, we’ve implemented four changes for one of our SEM clients that yielded a 19.5x ROI, cut their average Cost per Click from $2.11 to $0.80 and more than doubled Clickthrough Rate from 0.68% to 1.60%.
1. Remove Geo-Targeting from AdWords
Targeting costs money, no matter which media you use. The premiums for geo-targeting are usually much higher than the resulting increase in performance. Unless your market is geographically restricted, buy the entire US market.
2. Use AdWords Broad Match vs. Exact Match Keyword Matching
Exact match limits the number of impressions and, just like any other form of targeting, carries a premium price. Testing broad match keyword matching showed that average post-click engagement rates actually increased when we bought broad match keywords. Read more about Broad Match from Google AdWords support here.
3. Add Ad Group Level Site Link Extensions to AdWords Campaigns
Google recently added the ability for advertisers to target their site link extensions by Ad Group rather than just by Campaign. We saw a substantial improvement in CTR and a resulting decrease in CPC when we moved to Ad Group level site link extensions. Read more at Google AdWords support page here.
4. Optimize AdWords Text Ads
Write more ads! We quickly saw that several of our ads were performing very well, while others were duds. One of the advantages of search marketing is the ease with which you can create and test new ads. Through optimizing the text ads we achieved significant improvements in Clickthrough Rates.
It is important to note that these improvements in AdWords performance were not achieved by sacrificing quality. On the contrary, we continue to monitor Google Analytics metrics such as Pageviews per Visit, Length of Visit, and Paths to ensure that visitors are engaging with the site and not just one-click wonders. Our PPC visitors have the highest engagement ratings of any advertising-sourced traffic.
How can we help you with your Google AdWords Optimization?
We all know how to calculate Return on Investment, the difficulty comes in rounding up all the Returns and all the Investments. Agencies and marketers attempt to simplify things by calculating something called the Return on Ad Spend (ROAS), which includes only media costs paid to publishers. While it certainly makes everyone happy to see a high ROAS, it’s a red herring that should be tossed out before it starts to smell any worse.
How do you compare the ROAS of a Google AdWords buy to the more labor intensive efforts involved in a social media campaign? A trade show and its travel, time and production costs to those of a print ad? The only way to accurately begin to measure and predict true marketing ROI is to incorporate ALL marketing costs, including production, travel, fees, commissions, and, most importantly, the value of the time put against the campaign by you and your team. Once you begin to incorporate ALL the costs, you can compare the overall cost of a campaign and its projected or actual results to those of other marketing campaigns on a more equal footing. Two weeks of staff time to build and promote a new Facebook promotion, or would $10,000 in media and fees produce the same results? Sure, that trade show booth is only $5,000, but the associated costs of travel, production and staff time can far exceed the cost of the booth space.
On the Return side of the ratio, you may also want to expand your horizons and ascribe values to secondary activities, as well as to acknowledge (and measure) the indirect impact of your marketing in areas such as creating awareness, driving site visits and stimulating customer engagement. Some retail studies suggest that marketing campaigns may drive up to 7x more indirect, non-attributed sales than trackable orders. If you’re not attempting to model and account for that 7x how accurate can your projections be?
Start by working backward from an allowable cost per sale, and then use your knowledge of conversion rations to calculate a projected cost per lead, per engagement, and per visit. Determine the true cost of your staff on an hourly, weekly, or even project basis. Remember, there is opportunity cost in every decision to deploy staff against one campaign or objective vs. another. Add up ALL your marketing costs, divide them by the projected numbers of visits, engagers, leads, sales and even lifetime value of a new customer. If the numbers don’t pencil out, can you reasonably expect to make improvements in any of the phases of the marketing campaign, either through reducing costs or improving performance, that might bring them into line? How do your predicted costs per visitor/engager/lead/sale for this campaign compare to your overall averages? Often times it may be more effective to put additional money against an existing campaign than to allocate the resources necessary to create an entirely new effort.
It’s not that hard to calculate and predict marketing ROI once you have all the figures, and it’s worth the extra effort to ensure your results aren’t, shall we say, fishy?
Many sites use data such as session duration and number of pages viewed per session as basic gauges of engagement. While these are good rudimentary measures, we have developed an Engagement Scoring Model that we believe provides a more detailed and accurate view of site engagement. Based on the principles of lead scoring as used by many b-to-b sites, our Engagement Scoring Model ascribes specific values to a limited number of key pages and actions on the site. The Model is built in Google Analytics, so it can be accessed through your usual GA account and requires no additional software or licenses.
The first step is to assign subjective values to each page or action/event on your site that you want to track. We say subjective because, just as in b-to-b lead scoring, these values are not absolutes and probably cannot be derived mathematically, yet most site owners have a good subjective sense of the relative value of their key pages and actions. Set each of these key pages or actions as a Goal in Google Analytics, and assign the Goal Value. We recommend using a scale of 1-100 for your Goal Values, as you’ll be dividing the Goal Value by the number of sessions and this range yields numbers that can be rounded to whole numbers rather than working in decimal values. For example, let’s assume that your site includes the following pages to which you want to assign Goal Values.
|Shopping Cart Entrance||50|
|5+ Pages Viewed||20|
|10+ Pages Viewed||40|
If you need a primer on setting Goal Values in GA, we recommend https://support.google.com/analytics/answer/2907896?hl=en.
Within 24 hours, you will be able to view the Goal Values in Google Analytics in Conversions/Goals/Overview.
A sample of the Engagement Scoring Model in Google Analytics
Ignore Goal Completions, this is just a count of the total number of times that any Goal has been completed and is irrelevant to our purposes. Note that the Goal Value is $64,245. Ignore the dollar sign, as we’re using Goal Value as a points system rather than trying to assign accurate dollar amounts to each Goal. The next step is to divide the Goal Value of 64,245 by the number of sessions to derive the average Engagement Score per Session. Assuming that you had 1700 sessions during the period, this would yield an average Engagement Score per Session of 64245/1700 = 37.79, which you can round up to 38. You now have a baseline Engagement Score per Session. You can use this baseline going forward to evaluate the average Engagement Score per Session for various traffic sources, or just to judge the overall health of your site.
Note that you are limited to 20 Goals in each GA View; if you need to track more than 20 Goals you’ll either need to segment your Goals into multiple Views and then use a spreadsheet to aggregate the scores, or, more simply, group similar pages with similar URLs into a single Goal, such as using www/YourSite.com/products… as a “begins with” Goal in GA and accept one value for all Products pages. In an upcoming post, we’ll detail how to use the Engagement Scoring Model to measure how well specific pages on your site are engaging your visitors.