Opinion: Why Google's 'Loretta' ad won the Super Bowl - CNN

Opinion: Why Google's 'Loretta' ad won the Super Bowl - CNN


Opinion: Why Google's 'Loretta' ad won the Super Bowl - CNN

Posted: 03 Feb 2020 12:00 AM PST

[unable to retrieve full-text content]Opinion: Why Google's 'Loretta' ad won the Super Bowl  CNN

DOJ Antitrust Probe Google Third-Party Advertising Business - Business Insider Nordic

Posted: 07 Feb 2020 12:00 AM PST

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The Department of Justice's (DOJ) antitrust probe into Google is honing in on the company's third-party advertising business and its impact on and influence over publishers and advertisers, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Alphabet Advertising Revenue
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Investigators are reportedly looking into two potentially anticompetitive decisions: Google's integration of its ad server, a tool for publishers selling ad space, and its ad exchange, the industry's largest ad marketplace; and second, Google's decision to require advertisers to use its tools to buy ad space on YouTube following its acquisition.

The news follows a recent evidence-sharing meeting between the DOJ and state attorneys general, who issued a subpoena questioning Google's ad products last fall. 

The development could signal that investigators are closing in on a particular topic (Google's third-party advertising) to build an antitrust case around. In line with such a decision, the DOJ's chief antitrust investigator recused himself from the investigation last week due to his involvement with the FTC's approval of Google's acquisition of the DoubleClick ad server in 2007.

The news also follows multiple rounds of interviews between investigators and publishers like New York Times Co., Gannett, Condé Nast, and News Corp., likely looking to understand whether Google has abused its position as the industry middleman to the detriment of these publishers. The search giant appears to be preparing for the worst on this front: The Journal reports that Google execs have had informal conversations about preemptively divesting their third-party ad tech business.

With greater clarity into the plans of antitrust regulators, we can speculate about the likelihood of a few (not mutually exclusive) outcomes for Google.

High confidence: Google will invest more heavily in AdWords and Search advertising — its first-party ad business — relative to its third-party operations. And even if the investigation does not force divestment from or other significant changes to its third-party business, we expect Google will still prioritize its search product due to industry trends — like the dissolution of third-party cookies.

Moderate confidence: Google will offer more favorable terms to publishers and digital advertisers, reducing its influence as the middleman between the two. And based on the Journal's report, investigators are likely making a case for some kind of structural change to how ads are bought and sold through Google's ad platform.

Low confidence: Regulators will force Google to divest entirely from business segments like YouTube, Maps, or other G-suite products. These business segments have not received the same attention from regulators as its other ad products, likely because it's hard to prove that their development or acquisition has had an anti-competitive effect. In other words, making a legal argument that YouTube was a direct rival to Google Search at the time of acquisition is a tall order, and investigators likely haven't discovered anything in the ballpark of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's emails directly characterizing WhatsApp as a Facebook competitor at the time of purchase. 

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UTM Parameters: A Complete Guide for Traffic Attribution - Business 2 Community

Posted: 02 Mar 2020 04:04 AM PST

Traffic attribution identifies which sources drive visitors to a web property. And it's impossible to credit a conversion to the correct source without first knowing how a visitor got to a website.

In other words, the foundation of conversion attribution is traffic attribution. Simple as it may sound, attributing a session to its traffic source can be tricky, even impossible.

This post details the role that UTM parameters play in traffic attribution in Google Analytics. After reading this post, you'll know more than 99% of marketers about how to use UTM parameters.

Here's what I'll cover:

Why conversion attribution starts with traffic attribution

Marketers must be able to reliably credit conversions (i.e. results) to the correct traffic source to compare the performance of marketing activities across various channels.

Imagine the following situation: A user visits a website five times before making a purchase. If we're not tracking from which websites, which campaigns, or which channels they visit, how could we know how much of that conversion to attribute to each source?

If we can't determine where the traffic comes from, we can neither attribute conversions to their original sources of traffic, nor can we find out the true cost per acquisition (CPA) or return on ad spend (ROAS) for each marketing activity.

Proper tracking of traffic sources delivers a clear view of the user's purchase journey:

We can see how search engine optimization helped an in-market searcher discover our website, and how our Facebook remarketing and abandoned cart email campaigns nudged a user to come back and finish their purchase.

The above level of visibility is something that you have to plan in advance and invest in execution. It does not happen automatically.

How Google Analytics understands traffic sources

To understand how traffic attribution works in Google Analytics, we need to first understand how Google Analytics recognizes the traffic source for any given session.

Previously known as a visit, a session in Google Analytics is:

A group of user interactions with your website that take place within a given time frame. A single user can open multiple sessions. Those sessions can occur on the same day, or over several days, weeks, or months [. . .] These user interactions can be page views, events, or transactions.

Each session can have only one traffic source. To understand the traffic source of a session, Google Analytics relies on two critical pieces of information: the HTTP Referrer and UTM parameters.

1. HTTP Referrer

When someone clicks on a link to navigate from Page A (referring page) to Page B (destination page), the URL of the referring page is passed to the destination page by the browser in a field called "HTTP Referrer."

That field is readable by a Google Analytics script (or any other script, e.g., Google Tag Manager, Facebook Pixel, etc.) that runs on the destination page.

Google Analytics uses the value of HTTP Referrer to understand which page "referred" the user to initiate the session and will identify that "referrer" website as the source of the traffic for that session.

Site visits initiated by clicking a link on another site almost always have an HTTP Referrer value. But there are cases for which a value isn't available:

  • Navigation from a secure (HTTPS) page to a non-secure (HTTP) page; for security reasons, the URL of the secure page won't pass to the non-secure page.
  • Navigation from a link on a tool that doesn't pass the HTTP Referrer value or has no referring page (e.g., a link in a PDF or spreadsheet, or a link within an email—especially when opened in a desktop client like Microsoft Outlook or on a mobile device).
  • Links shared and clicked within mobile apps and instant messengers.
  • Browser bookmarks or directly entered URLs.
  • Scanned QR codes.

In the absence of a value for HTTP Referrer, Google Analytics relies on a set of URL query parameters, known as UTM parameters, which allow the link to self-identify its source.

If there's neither a value for HTTP Referrer nor any UTM parameters, Google Analytics classifies the source of traffic as Direct, which basically means it has no idea where the user came from.

2. UTM Parameters

For the reasons described above, HTTP referrer is not always available to Google Analytics, blinding us to the source of, in some cases, a large portion of our traffic.

Even when HTTP Referrer exists, it provides only one basic piece of information—the source, which can't answer the following questions:

  • Which marketing campaign was this link click a part of? You may run, for example, several Facebook campaigns.
  • Which email campaign was this link in?
  • Which social media post was this link a part of? We might know it was from Facebook or Twitter, but we can't know which Facebook post, or ad, or tweet, etc.
  • What was the text of the link or button that was clicked on?
  • And so on.

Imagine if we could tell Google Analytics everything we know about that link—where it was shared, the campaign it was part of, the purpose of sharing it, and the anchor text or call to action (CTA).

That knowledge would allow us to understand which campaign is working, what traffic source is working, what email in an email series is doing best, or which CTA is performing better or worse.

This is where UTM parameters come to the rescue.

What are UTM parameters?

Initially created by Urchin Software, which was acquired by Google to build Google Analytics, Urchin Tracking Modules (UTMs) are a set of five query parameters that we can append to a link pointing to our website.

The five parameters are:

  1. utm_source
  2. utm_medium
  3. utm_campaign
  4. utm_term
  5. utm_content

The first two parameters, utm_source and utm_medium, are required; having a value for utm_campaign is highly recommended.

For example, imagine it's mid-November and you share a link in a Facebook group to drive traffic to your winter sale promotion. The CTA is "Shop Now 40% Off."

The UTM Parameters on the link might look like this:

https://site.com/sale-collection/?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=winter-sale&utm_term=shop-now-40-off&utm_content=facebook-group-title_november

Why are UTM Parameters important?

UTMs are the building blocks of traffic and conversion attribution. They help:

  • Identify sources of traffic and their properties;
  • Organize incoming traffic into meaningful buckets;
  • Attribute results (conversions) to the correct traffic sources.

By developing and following a proper strategy to add UTM parameters consistently to your inbound links, you not only gain clarity into your traffic sources, but you also save time and money cleaning up your data in the future.

A link that is properly tagged with UTM parameters helps you answer the following questions:

  • Where is the traffic coming from? The utm_source value tells Google Analytics the name of the website with the link that the user clicked.
  • How are they arriving at our website? The utm_medium value identifies the communication channel used to create the source.
  • For what reason are they coming to our website? The utm_campaign value identifies the marketing campaign or promotion responsible for the click.
  • What keyword exactly? The utm_term value is used mainly to identify the search term, but it can also be used to pass similar information, like the CTA on the link.
  • What else do we know about that link? The utm_content value sends more information about the link that was clicked on. This can be the type of link (e.g., image vs. text vs. button), the placement of the link within a document, the variant in an A/B test, etc.

In the following sections, I describe—in detail—what each of these UTM parameters are used for, their best practices, and some criteria for deciding which values to use for them.

That knowledge will help you go from mere identification to high-value analysis.

From UTM identification to UTM-based analysis

While it's nice to identify the source, medium, campaign, and other properties of a single click, serious analysis requires organizing traffic into meaningful categories based on their shared properties.

For example, if UTMs only identified the properties of each click to a website, we could freely use any of the below values to identify traffic generated from a Facebook ad:

  • Possible values for utm_source: Facebook, facebook, facebook.com, FB, fb, FB-Ad, facebook Ad;
  • Possible values for utm_medium: Ad, PPC, CPC, PAID, Paid, cpc, paid-ad, ppc, ad.

Any of these values can identify the source to be Facebook and the medium to be some kind of paid traffic acquisition. But identification is not organization.

Imagine if each person, team, or media buyer responsible for running Facebook Ads could decide which combination of values they prefer. We'd end up with a report that looked like this:

Not so useful, right? What we want to see is the total of those rows:

That allows us to compare Facebook ads to other paid campaigns:

Without a consistent value of "cpc" for utm_medium and the name of the platform in lowercase as the utm_source (Google Analytics is case sensitive!), we would never get a clean report.

Always use the same value for the same entity. Once the values pass into Google Analytics, you can't go back in time and fix inconsistent ones. At scale, a disorganized system of UTM parameters can easily ruin the integrity of your analytics reports.

A few overarching standards can help you avoid that catastrophe.

Standards for all UTM parameters

There are some immediate ways to improve your UTM tracking, no matter how you decide to do it (or which parameter you're using):

  1. Use lowercase whenever possible—"Email," "email," and "eMail" are considered three values in Google Analytics. (The exception is if you need to join data from Google Analytics to another tool for analysis or enrichment. The caveat doesn't apply to utm_source and utm_medium, which should always be lowercase.)
  2. Use dashes instead of white spaces in your parameters.
  3. Don't use punctuation or special characters.

Sometimes, it's impossible to control all values passed into Google Analytics through UTM parameters. People make mistakes, and some tools don't allow custom UTM parameters.

In those cases, you can create filters in Google Analytics to convert campaign values to lowercase and keep traffic reports clean and consistent.

Once you have unique values for each UTM parameter, create a custom UTM-tagging strategy for your organization, as well as a central document that's accessible to all team members.

Here's how to decide what to use for each.

Best practices for each UTM value

1. utm_source

The value of utm_source should be the name of the platform or tool that's used to create the medium (e.g., Facebook, YouTube, Google, or, in case of email traffic, Mailchimp, ActiveCampaign, InfusionSoft, Drip, etc.).

The utm_source value is required along with utm_medium. If utm_medium is omitted, utm_source will be ignored, too. Traffic will be reported as Direct.

If present, utm_source will take precedence over the HTTP referrer. Imagine a link from John's blog (blog.com) to your website (site.com) with the following URL:

http://site.com/?utm_source=johns-blog&utm_medium=medium&utm_campaign=sale

If there were no UTM parameters, the value of the HTTP Referrer, blog.com, would be the source of traffic. But because there's a value for utm_source, it will override the HTTP Referrer, and Google Analytics will report the source of traffic as "johns-blog," and not "blog.com."

In the absence of utm_source, the top-level domain of the HTTP Referrer will be reported as the source. For example, for Facebook traffic, the source will be reported as facebook.com.

If neither utm_source nor HTTP Referrer is present, the source for the session will be reported as Direct, which we'll cover in more detail later.

A note on utm_source for email campaigns

When it comes to email, some marketers prefer to insert the name of the email list or newsletter as utm_source instead of the name of the email service provider (e.g., "newsletter" instead of "mailchimp").

It's even recommended in Google's documentation (emphasis added):

Every referral to a website has an origin or source. Possible sources include: "google" (the name of a search engine), "facebook.com" (the name of a referring site), "spring_newsletter" (the name of one of your newsletters), and "direct" (users that typed your URL directly into their browser, or who had bookmarked your site).

The idea goes back to a time when email was mostly for sending newsletters, and email automation tools weren't yet popular.

The approach might make sense if you want to report only on email traffic performance—not to compare email with other sources and mediums. But the approach has issues.

Imagine you have 20 lists (and growing) in your email marketing tool. In this case, you introduced 20 new rows to your report: list-01, list-02, etc., which are reported alongside the name of other tools and websites.

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When looking at the list of sources and the amount of traffic from each, you're no longer comparing apples to apples—unless the report is filtered to include only email traffic.

In addition, if you use different platforms to send emails (your CRM, your shopping cart, and an email automation service), then you won't know from which service the email was sent. When issues arise, finding and fixing the exact email wouldn't be easy.

The name of the email service provider should be consistent with the values for other types of traffic, and the newsletter people subscribed to (or their behavioral or RFM-based segment—comparable to the target audience of an ad) should go in utm_content (more on that later).

2. utm_medium

The utm_medium value identifies the type or high-level channel of traffic. It tells Google Analytics how someone arrived on your site website—through email, a paid ad, social media, etc.

Many sources can create the same medium. For example, the medium for paid ads is "cpc" (Cost per Click); multiple platforms fall within that medium, like Google Ads, Microsoft Ads (Bing Ads), Facebook Ads, etc.

Similarly, for a medium such as email, sources are email service providers and automation tools, like Mailchimp, Klavyio, Infusionsoft, ActiveCampaign, ConvertKit, and Drip. They can also be CRMs, such as HubSpot or Salesforce, or shopping cart platforms, like Shopify or WooCommerce, which send transactional or marketing emails.

Google Analytics relies on the value of medium for its Default Channel Grouping, so follow the most widely used values for a medium (whenever possible) and refrain from passing custom values for medium.

Many tools offer a built-in feature to add UTM parameters to all links within their platform. If it's possible to customize these values, use values from the above list to keep everything within the same bucket.

For example, if your email automation tool uses "email-automated" as the default value for utm_medium but you have the option to change it, change it to "email" to prevent email traffic from fragmenting into two categories.

Also note that the same source (website, platform, or tool) can create different mediums. For example, Google as a source can send traffic to your site through several mediums:

  • Organic: Non-paid Google search;
  • CPC: Google Ads;
  • Display: Google Display Network;
  • Referral: In the rare (but pleasant) event that Google mentions your website on their blog and links to one of your pages.

Facebook can do the same:

  • Referral: When someone shares a link to your website on their personal wall;
  • CPC: Traffic from Facebook Ads;
  • Social: When you post an update on your company page or to a Facebook group.

(This is why Google Analytics reports on source/medium as a pair by default.)

While comparing the performance of different sources or mediums is beneficial, we're still missing some key information. For example, if a source/medium report shows "mailchimp/email," we still don't know:

  • The email campaign;
  • The email title;
  • Which link in the email was clicked (if there were multiple);
  • When the email was sent.
  • What behavioral or RFM segment the user was part of or who the email targeted.

These are pieces of information that we have access to in our email platform and ideally want to pass to Google Analytics. To get that information, we can use the remaining set of UTM parameters: utm_campaign, utm_term, and utm_content.

Unlike source and medium, there are no strict values; instead, best practices and business needs define the strategy.

3. utm_campaign

There are a couple schools of thought on values for utm_campaign. I'll cover both approaches.

While having a value for utm_campaign is optional, it's highly recommended. If omitted, the value is reported as "(not set)" in Google Analytics.

Approach 1: The tactical approach

Most marketers follow this approach—simply use the name of the internal campaign of your marketing or advertisement platform as the value for utm_campaign:

Pros of the tactical approach
  • It's easy to see the results of each campaign in Google Analytics.
  • If there's a cost associated with running a campaign (i.e. ad campaigns), it's easy to see the revenue and ROAS for each campaign.
  • It's easy to communicate to different teams.
  • Since utm_campaign values come from marketing tools and advertising platforms, it's easy to link the campaign from the tool/platform to Google Analytics data.

This is also useful to compare the performance of different campaigns within a single source/medium:

Cons of the tactical approach
  • In some cases, there's no internal campaign name on the platform from which the link is shared (e.g., organic post on Facebook, tweet, video on a brand's YouTube channel, affiliate link). As a result, a large portion of traffic will lack a campaign value.
  • Inconsistent naming of campaigns can cause a mess, making the Google Analytics campaign report virtually useless.
  • It can cause chaos when looking at campaign reports that aren't filtered for a single source/medium.

The tactical approach introduces a hierarchy in which source/medium indicates which values to expect in the utm_campaign field:

example of utm_campaign names that lose meaning when not filtered by source/medium.

As you can see in the diagram above, while comparing the performance of different campaigns inside a platform makes sense, each platform (or team in charge of it) may have a different naming convention for their campaign titles.

Viewing them all in a single table wouldn't make sense.

Approach 2: The strategic approach

The second, possibly better, approach is to use a high-level, strategic value for utm_campaign that identifies the product/category/event being promoted or the higher-level marketing or promotional objective.

This is closer to the classic concept of a pre-digital marketing campaign executed across different channels and mediums, like a Black Friday campaign across print, billboards, TV, and radio.

Here's a modern example: I used to run an ecommerce store selling iPhone cases, and whenever Apple launched a new iPhone, we had a product launch campaign to introduce a new line of cases. We ran Facebook Ads, Google Ads, Instagram Ads, and sent out a series of emails.

If we had used the internal campaign name within each tool as the value for utm_campaign, our final campaign report would've looked like this:

That's not useful.

What would a high-level, strategic value of "iphone-x-launch" for all the links—regardless of source, medium, or internal campaign—offer? It would let us compare the results of our iPhone X campaign with other campaigns that year:

And we can still drill down to the performance for each traffic source:

Depending on the campaign, here are some sample naming conventions that make sense:

When following the strategic approach, a campaign can span multiple sources and mediums:

Pros of the strategic approach
  • A clean campaign report with clear, strategic values;
  • A clear overview of how traffic sources perform per campaign;
  • The ability to view and compare the results of different marketing campaigns.
Cons of the strategic approach
  • Campaigns in Google Analytics reports won't correspond to the title of the campaign in each marketing tool/platform, making it harder to compare Analytics data with costs reported in the tool.
  • Only the cost and revenue for the whole marketing campaign across all sources can be directly compared, and breaking down the report requires further analysis.
  • Clear communication and central documentation are required. If one team or person doesn't follow this approach, all campaign data in Google Analytics will become nearly useless.

Campaign Grouping: A hybrid approach

Business owners and C-suiters are likely more interested in campaign-level reports and comparing high-level marketing activities, their costs, and their results.

Digital marketers, media buyers, and teams working with advertising platforms on a day-to-day basis, however, like to monitor and assess results for individual campaigns.

A comprehensive solution isn't built into Google Analytics, but there is a workaround: Campaign Grouping. Campaign Grouping assigns different campaigns (as named in each tool) to a higher level group that represents the marketing campaign.

Imagine you're promoting two product lines, a yellow line and a green line, across different channels:

What if you could tell Google Analytics which campaign promotes which product line? What if you could group all campaigns into yellow, green, or general?

That would give each team the flexibility to pass their internal campaign names to Google Analytics while preserving the ability to:

  • Link conversions to the campaigns;
  • Compare the value of conversions (or revenue) to the cost of running each campaign;
  • Calculate CPA and ROAS at the product-line and tactical-campaign levels and sum costs and revenues from all campaigns within a group;
  • Prepare a strategic, high-level report to review and compare the performance of campaign groups together.

The execution varies on a case-by-case basis. Here are some ideas on how to do it:

1. Ask teams to prepend the strategic value to the internal campaign title before passing it as the value of utm_campaign. For example:

  • utm_campaign=iphone-x—email-01
  • utm_campaign=iphone-x—facebook-rem
    utm_campaign=iphone-x—facebook-lla
    utm_campaign=iphone-x—facebook-ca
  • utm_campaign=iphone-x—google-broad
  • utm_campaign=iphone-x—google-rlsa

This still breaks conversion-to-campaign attribution and makes it hard to import campaign costs. However, it's easier to read in reports. Plus, it doesn't apply retroactively.

2. Create and maintain a central look-up table for all team members to identify campaign groups. Aggregate costs and results in a tool like Google Data Studio or BigQuery. This is the most flexible method and can group historical campaigns, too.

3. Create and maintain rules for a Custom MCF Channel Grouping in Google Analytics. This will apply retroactively, but it's impossible to pull these through the Google Analytics API to other reporting tools. In addition, it's hard to maintain rules.

4. utm_term

The value of utm_term depends on the source and medium of traffic. When deciding on what value to use for utm_term, think about one that clearly identifies the specific entity within the medium (your promotion or marketing activity) responsible for driving traffic to your website.

Depending on the medium, utm_term can identify a specific email, an ad in an ad group, a post on social media, the title of a blog post, a search keyword, the title of a video, or the body of a tweet:

According to Google, utm_term is used to "identify the paid keywords," and, hence, its values appear as the field "Keyword" in Google Analytics. However, you can use this field to pass useful information from other sources.

5. utm_content

According to Google, utm_content differentiates similar content, links within the same ad, links within a blog post, CTA buttons within an email, or variations of an A/B test.

It's an optional but useful field that can send any information about the click to Google Analytics.

How to send multiple values through a single UTM parameter

As utm_source, utm_medium, and utm_campaign have strict values, and utm_term has its own limitations, we're left with only one UTM parameter—utm_content—to send all other information about a click.

That's why we need a plan to send multiple values through a single UTM parameter. I recommend the following format:

key1--value-01_key2--value--02…

So, for example, your utm_content value might look like this:

audience--tof_variation-a_linktype--image-red-box

"Key" identifies the type of information being sent and is separated with two dashes from the "value"; key-value pairs are separated by underscores.

This format is readable in reports and also allows you to search and filter tables in Google Analytics or, later, to extract values in reporting tools.

Some tools make it easier to document your UTM strategy, share it with everyone on your team, and automate the process of adding UTM parameters. You'll save time and minimize human errors.

  • Google's URL Builder. A free tool by Google that helps you add UTM parameters to your URLs.
  • UTM.io. A web-based tool to build, share, and sync UTM parameters.
  • Terminus. A web-based tool to define, manage, and enforce UTM naming conventions.

Other UTM parameter tips

Don't use UTMs on internal links!

Never use UTM parameters on internal links (e.g., homepage sliders, internal banners, or internal links on blog posts).

Clicking on those internal links will cause the current session to end and a new session to start—attributing the new session to the source/medium used on the internal link.

Any subsequent user action, goal completion, or transaction will be attributed to the internal source, not the one that brought the user to the site.

Be careful of what you include in UTM parameters.

UTM parameters are visible in the URLs to visitors and competitors. Personal information like someone's name, email address, or telephone number should never be put in the UTM parameters (or any other URL query parameter).

Not only are these parameters visible to other users, but collecting personal data in Google Analytics is against their terms of service.

Use short links for cleaner URLs.

Links containing UTM parameters can get very long, so when sharing them on social media (or anywhere else that the actual link will be seen), use a URL shortener like bit.ly.

If you prefer branded links to generic bit.ly ones, use a custom URL shortener that works with your domain.

Hide UTM parameters from the user.

Even when using a short link, the user is redirected to the destination URL, which includes the UTM parameters. Fresh URL by Wistia hides UTM parameters from the browser's address bar after they're recorded by Google Analytics.

Conclusion

UTM parameters are an essential component of accurate traffic attribution, which, in turn, is pivotal to understanding which online marketing efforts lead to conversions.

But a seemingly simple process of adding UTM parameters can quickly go awry, burying valuable data in a pile of inconsistent, inscrutable parameter names.

Take the time to build a strategy for your UTM parameters that ensures consistent tagging. The rewards are well worth the effort.


The 11 Biggest Google Ads Updates of 2019 - Business 2 Community

Posted: 14 Dec 2019 12:00 AM PST

2019 was a year of memorable events. A not-so-gratifying ending to HBO's Game of Thrones inspired dozens of memes and weeks of animated office chatter. 17-year-old Billie Eilish attracted the biggest crowd ever in the 65-year history of the renowned Reading Festival. The day before Halloween, the Washington Nationals pulled off an incredible Game 7 comeback to secure the first World Series title in franchise history.

Alas, we're not here to talk about TV, music, or sports. We're here, of course, to talk about online advertising. More specifically, we're here to break down the 11 biggest updates and innovations brought to Google Ads this year. With everything from the retirement of an OG search metric to the introduction of brand new audiences, 2019 has given us no shortage of topics to discuss. Without further ado, let's jump in.

1. The retirement of average position

February brought the first of two Google Ads bombshells announced in 2019: the retirement of average position. One of the original search advertising metrics, average position—which officially bit the dust at the end of September—was a basic indicator of auction performance.

Your bid and your Quality Score determine your Ad Rank, right? And your Ad Rank, in turn, determines where your ad lands in the paid search results—it determines your ad's position.

Advertise on Google AdWords bidding

Here's the catch: Ad position refers to order, not location. Just because you win the auction and obtain the first position, doesn't mean your ad is shown at the top of the SERP; it could be shown underneath the organic results. Average position, evidently, fails to tell the whole story.

As a result, Google decided to retire the metric in favor of the newer, more precise ones that were rolled out at the end of 2018: top impression rate, top impression share, etc. Reactions from PPC professionals ran the gamut, but the consensus seemed to be this: As automated bid solutions become more and more prominent, manual bid-to-position strategies become less and less useful.

2. The evolution of phrase match & broad match modifier

Bombshell #2: At the end of July, Google announced that phrase match and broad match modifier keywords are now eligible to show for same-meaning close variants such as synonyms and paraphrases. Prior to this announcement, the only close variants that could trigger a phrase match or broad match modifier keyword were plurals and misspellings.

phrase-match-broad-match-modifier-close-variants-example-queries

Via Google.

In case you're prone to getting mixed up by things like match types and close variants, here's a quick breakdown:

  • A phrase match keyword matches to queries that include the entirety of the keyword in its specified order. For example, "women's hair salon" is eligible to match to queries like "boston women's hair salon" and "best women's hair salon."
  • A broad match modifier keyword matches to queries that include each term specified in the keyword in any order. For example, +women +hair +salon is eligible to match to queries like "hair salon for women" and "best hair salon for women in boston."

Prior to the update, an ad targeting the phrase match keyword "women's hair salon" could show for queries like "women's hair salons" and "women's hir salon." Following the update, that same keyword can now show for queries like "women's hair dresser" and "women's hair parlor." Why? Because they're both same-meaning close variants. The same goes for broad match modifier.

Google's defense? The intent behind a query matters more than the semantics within a query. Plus, it's impossible to predict every single variant of each keyword you're targeting. As long as you keep a close eye on your search term report, add negatives as necessary, and use your ad copy to speak to your prospects' needs, you should be fine.

3. Brand new audiences for search advertising

With the two bombshells out of the way, let's shift gears and talk about the unambiguously good news that Google announced in the middle of October: the search network debut of affinity audiences and seasonal event segments for in-market audiences.

Affinity audiences

As those of you familiar with display advertising already know, an affinity audience is a group of consumers who have all demonstrated an interest in (or affinity for) a particular topic. On the back end, Google is able to create these audiences by looking at factors like search history and frequently visited web pages.

affinity audiences for search

By layering affinity audiences on top of your keywords, you'll be able to refine your search campaigns and focus on the prospects who are truly interested in what you're selling. For example, let's say you're a marketer at a company that sells all-natural cosmetics. Traditionally, you'd reach relevant consumers by targeting keywords like "organic makeup." Going forward, you'll be able to increase ROI by layering the Beauty & Wellness affinity audience on top of those keywords. Pretty neat, huh?

Seasonal event segments for in-market audiences

Over the past couple years, few tools have helped search advertisers boost their conversion rates like in-market audiences. With an in-market audience, you can limit the reach of your ads exclusively to the users who are actively searching for a product or service like yours.

If I spend months on end searching queries like "used honda sedan" and visiting websites like Cars.com, it's safe to assume that Google will place me in the Autos & Vehicles in-market audience. As a result, car dealers and insurance providers can easily connect with consumers like me—consumers who are clearly interested in purchasing a car or something car-related.

event segments for in-market audiences

Just in time for the holiday season, seasonal event segments will allow you to connect with consumers who are actively researching a product or service in preparation for a specific occasion. Because you know why the consumers grouped in a particular segment are looking for a business like yours, you'll be able to refine your messaging like never before.

Looking for more big changes from Google in 2019, plus a look at what's to come? Sign up for our webinar here!

4. A long-awaited audience expansion tool

Speaking of audiences, let's move on to what I thought was the most exciting announcement from Google Marketing Live 2019: the audience expansion tool. Much like a Facebook lookalike audience, the audience expansion tool allows you to grow your display campaigns by reaching new prospects who behave similarly to the users you're already targeting—i.e., boost impressions, clicks, and conversions without touching your budget.

audience expansion tool

If, somehow, you're not already sold, consider the alternative: Throwing more money at your existing audience and hoping it does the trick. Although this strategy absolutely works from time to time, it's not exactly sustainable. And while I'm not an advocate for putting blind trust in machine learning, Facebook has proved that the lookalike concept works—and works well. At the very least, that should encourage you to take the audience expansion tool for a spin.

5. The retirement of accelerated delivery

Although I wouldn't go so far as to call this story a bombshell, the second major Google Ads retirement of 2019 definitely sparked some conversation. Back in August, Google announced that, as of October 7, accelerated delivery is no longer available for search and Shopping campaigns. (It remains available for display and video campaigns.) Since that sunset date, search and Shopping advertisers have had no choice but to opt for standard delivery.

  • Standard delivery: Google spreads the delivery of your ads over the course of the entire day (or over the course of the schedule you've set).
  • Accelerated delivery: Google enters your ads into every auction for which they're eligible until your daily budget runs out.

Google Ads accelerated delivery

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The following was Google's logic (which, for the record, I agree with): For a small or midsize business working with a limited daily budget, accelerated delivery is not cost-effective. Because auction prices fluctuate throughout the day, it's often best for small-budget advertisers to opt for standard delivery and capitalize on as many low-cost opportunities as possible.

Regardless of your budget, however, there were valid use cases for accelerated delivery. If your Quality Score for a given keyword were lagging behind, for example, accelerated delivery could function as a gas pedal of sorts—a way to get in front of prospects nonetheless. If you've found yourself missing accelerated delivery, we recommend using positive bid adjustments for early times of day to (at least partially) make up for its absence.

6. The introduction of lead form ad extensions

Numbers don't lie: Thanks to small screens and low levels of patience (among other things), getting users to convert from their smartphones and tablets is no easy task.

Google Ads Mobile Benchmarks Average CVR

Good news for all you lead gen advertisers out there: In an effort to help you drive more conversions from your mobile search ads, Google recently unveiled the brand new lead form ad extension. With a lead form ad extension—which is not, as of now, available for desktop advertisements—you can collect your prospects' contact information without asking them to leave the SERP. To put it more succinctly: Begone, friction!

Google lead form extensions

By allowing users on smartphones and tablets to fill out your form without navigating your (potentially slow) mobile website, the lead form ad extension promises to do wonders for your mobile conversion rates. Best of all: If a user is signed into their Google account at the time they see your ad, clicking on the extension will bring them to a Google-hosted form that's already pre-populated with their contact information. At the time of this writing, the beta version is rolling out to search advertisers everywhere.

7. The arrival of campaign-level conversions

Let's return to Google Marketing Live for a moment. Although this year's conference was jam-packed with innovations related to Smart Bidding—Google's suite of automated solutions that use machine learning to optimize your bids for specific conversion goals—one of them, in my opinion, stood out from the rest: campaign-level conversions.

As many of you already know, conversion tracking is an essential part of any successful Google Ads account. By setting up conversion tracking, you let Google know which user actions are most valuable to your business. As your account drives more and more activity and Google begins to collect substantial conversion data, their algorithms become better equipped to optimize toward your account goals.

conversion tracking in Google Ads

I repeat: Their algorithms become better equipped to optimize toward your account goals. Prior to Google Marketing Live, there was no way to designate which specific conversion goal is most valuable to a particular campaign. Let's say you built a brand new search campaign with the intent of increasing free trials. If someone were to click on one of the ads within that campaign and convert in a way other than a free trial (e.g., a newsletter sign-up), their action would still be counted as a conversion—even though counting it is actually detrimental to that campaign.

new campaign-level conversion setting

Now, with campaign-level conversions, you can tell Google, "Hey! This campaign right here? I only care about free trials. That's the only conversion goal you should track and optimize for. The other goals I've specified in my account do not matter for this campaign."

That's some automation I can get behind.

8. A bumper ad creator for everyone

While we've got Google Marketing Live on the mind, let's take a minute to talk about the bumper machine—a tool unveiled at the conference that allows anyone with a video shorter than 90 seconds to create a series of YouTube-ready bumper ads.

Even if you're unfamiliar with the term "bumper ad," it's practically guaranteed that you've encountered one at some point or another: They're the six-second ads that play before YouTube videos. According to data presented by Google at this year's conference, a series of three bumper ads leaves a greater impression on consumers than a single 30-second ad does.

The problem? Few small businesses have the resources to produce sleek, professional videos. Even if a business does have video assets, they're typically in the range of one or two minutes long. Unless you're a wizard of some sort, it's impossible to turn a 90-second video into an engaging, logical bumper ad.

It was impossible, I should say. With the bumper machine—free to all advertisers—anyone with a relatively short video can create a series of six-second YouTube ads just like that. Considering how much time everyone spends on YouTube nowadays, how can you pass that up?

9. User-generated images in Shopping reviews

I'm no retail expert, but I'm fairly confident I know one of the major reasons why people still like to shop in brick-and-mortar stores: the ability to touch and try on different products. When I go to H&M and try on a pair of pants, I'm instantly able to picture myself wearing them in different settings—at the bar with my friends, walking down the street with Tha Carter III blasting in my ears, and so on. By allowing customers to get a sense of how their products will impact day-to-day life, brick-and-mortar retailers have a big advantage over ecommerce businesses.

That's why Google's bringing user-generated images—i.e., authentic pictures taken by your happy, loyal customers—to Google Shopping reviews. If you use Google Shopping to sell to consumers based in the US, you can register for the Product Ratings program and create a product reviews feed. Using the brand new schema, you'll be able to upload the photos your customers have taken directly to Google Merchant Center.

Google Ads user-generated shopping reviews

If you're wondering how you can go about collecting user-generated images from your happy customers, here's my advice: just ask. With some simple email automation, you can reach out to everyone who buys something from your online store and (gently) encourage them to submit a review—complete with a picture, of course! If you toss in a little extra incentive—a promo code, for example—you'll have a library of killer photos in no time.

10. Videos in responsive display ads

Since their debut earlier this decade, there's been no denying the power of responsive display ads—the dynamic, eye-grabbing units that Google automatically optimizes according to web page content and user screen size. For anyone who doesn't know, here's how they work: You write some copy and submit a few visual assets; then, Google's algorithms determine which copy/imagery combination is most suitable depending on the factors mentioned above.

responsive display ads

Prior to this spring, "visual assets" meant still images and GIFs. As of March, however, YouTube advertisers can expand their reach by featuring video content in their responsive display ads. Here's three reasons why taking advantage of this update is a stellar idea:

  1. More impressions: Google prefers responsive display ads over standard banner ads.
  2. More clicks: Responsive display ads—especially those that feature video content—are more engaging than standard banner ads.
  3. More accessibility: Unlike standard banner ads—which take time, resources, and expertise to continually optimize—responsive display ads are semi-automated.

11. Gallery ads

Last but certainly not least, we've got gallery ads—the brand new mobile ad type unveiled at Google Marketing Live and currently available as a beta among select advertisers. Here's the example Google distributed on the day of the announcement:

devour-foods-gallery-ad

As you can see, a gallery ad—which, when triggered, appears at the top of the SERP—features a swipeable carousel of up to eight unique images. Above the carousel is a clickable headline and a display URL, and below each image is a brief caption. Once you have access to gallery ads, you'll be able to submit three unique headlines for each ad, thus giving you the power to test out different combinations of value props and CTAs.

Google's early tests indicated that gallery ads drive 25% more engagement (as measured by clicks and swipes) than standard text ads do. Here's my theory: Although words alone are good at communicating value, words and images paired together are even better. To see what I mean, take a look at this typical text ad from one of Devour's competitors.

gallery-ads-text-ad

A bad ad? Not at all. Nonetheless, you've got to ask yourself a question: If you were in the market for ready-made frozen dinners, which would be more likely to persuade you—Devour's gallery ad, or Marie Callender's text ad? I don't know how your brain works, but if you're like me, the ad with the carousel of mouth-watering images is going to win every single time. Science backs me up: The human brain processes images 60,000 times faster than text, and consumers are more likely to retain content that incorporates visual imagery.

My advice? Adopt gallery ads as soon as you possibly can.

What's next in 2020?

These are big changes—but what's next? Join us December 18 at 2 p.m. for a deep-dive with #1 PPC Expert Mark Irvine. He'll be sharing what these big changes mean for your accounts in 2020, and he'll reveal the area where Google expects massive growth in 2020. Register now!


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