Are we over zealous on Remarketing?

One of the major shifts in online advertising that I have observed recently is the rampant use of re-marketing campaigns of late.

What are remarketing campaigns?

I like to think of remarketing campaigns in the form of a popular ad campaign that Vodafone (then Hutch) ran in India.

Where you go our network follows
Where you go our network follows Ad by Hutch

This brilliant ad campaign that was run in India talks about how the network follows the user and ensures that the telephone network is always available to the end customer. Keep in mind those were the days when network connectivity was a major issue.

Re-marketing campaigns are very similar, instead of the network, its the ad network that follows and ensures that the user is targetting off different websites who are running ad inventory.

If done right, remarketing campaigns can be seen as a serendipitous, even.

For example, let’s say if I went to a Flipkart or Amazon to purchase a particular product, and then I added the product to my cart, because of that particular action, I could be included in a Remarketing audience, and this audience is then shown an ad across different Display Networks. One of the most popular display networks out there is the Google Display Network (GDN).

However, this is not the only display network, there are multiple networks out there who can provide the same facility to the marketer.

It’s all about the spends for Display Networks

Now, you have to realize that for all Display networks and even for Social Media sites, the primary revenue model is advertising. That means, they want to grab more and more wallet share of the brand. A few years back, Google was ruling the roost in India, however, Facebook is now giving Google AdWords a run for its money.

Therefore, whenever a new feature is available on one network, the other ad networks simply duplicate the feature. Did you know that at present if you wanted to run Remarketing campaigns you could do so Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube? The list goes on, and the ability to create Custom Audiences and Lookalike audiences is also available across all channels.

Simply put, all the old and new marketing networks out there are willing to provide the features that marketers need in order to target (and re-target) their customers.

So where does that leave us?

Over zealous re-marketing

It leaves us with a whole bunch of over zealous marketers who want to get in front of the user and keep bombarding him/her with their offers. No matter what.

Take this case, I recently visited a website that was being promoted by a known agency. I was doing a routine check of their tag implementation. Satisfied that most of the obvious issues were taken care of, I left the site. Notice, there was no purchase intent.

Now, everywhere I go, I am being bombarded with impressions of this site. On Instagram, on Facebook, on GDN. Cute, but am I going to click on the ad? Not really. Are these impressions wasted? Yes, on me, they are.

I never intended to buy!

Is such a bombarding of the user the only mechanism to deliver results?

So what can be done to make remarketing more effective?

As a marketer who is in charge of running these remarketing campaigns, there are a couple of things that you could immediately do to reduce the spends and therefore increase the efficacy of your campaigns.

  1. Put a frequency cap on each of your creatives. If I am not going to click on your ad the last 20 times, theres a snowflake’s chance in hell that I will click on the ad the 21st time!
  2. Create remarketing campaigns based on user actions on the site, and not just a blatant site visit. If I have done certain things on the site that indicates my intent e.g start filling a form, downloaded a brochure, done an add to cart, etc, then it makes sense for me to be included in the respective remarketing list.
  3. Exclude the users who have already converted from your remarketing lists. If you do not do this, then the ads would also be shown to users who have already converted. Thereby wasting a lot of impressions. If you don’t do this, then its just plain lazy.
  4. Plan your remarketing campaigns on paper first before, think through the entire process and then kick-off the campaigns. Most of the time, remarketing campaigns are launched after the firsst set of campaigns, since you need visitors to be included in your remarketing lists. That means, you have time to plan and think through. Don’t waste that time.

If after all this, your remarketing campaigns still don’t deliver results, do let me know!

After thought on Remarketing campaigns

In the day and age where individuals online are slow to wake up to concept of online privacy, we as marketers often don’t realize that remarketing campaigns being done to death can turn a meeting of chance into oh-my-god-the-brand-is-stalking-me kind of feeling.

The next time you are thinking of remarketing, do tone it down a bit please.

 

Google launches Machine Learning for AdSense

Google AdSense has been around for more than a decade and a half now, this along with DoubleClick for Publishers allows website owners to monetize their traffic.

One of the key challenges in this was to figure out the optimum ad placements without impacting readability and user experience of the site. This trade-off that the publisher had to do was to decide on the different ad slots to create on the web page, and then balance that with the Revenue Per Thousand Impressions (RPM) metric that the digital advertising industry is so familiar with.

In order to help publishers out, AdSense had experiments where you could test different ad layouts and figure out the best layout to monetize the site.

So what has changed now?

Machine Learning.

This is the applications of artificial intelligence which gives programs the ability to discover new rules and learn from experience without additional programming. So that means, for newbie publishers instead of having to figure out by themselves what ad formats work and what ad placements work for them, you can apply machine learning and let the platform learn on its own.

What that means, is that the publisher is now free to focus on content, and let the AdSense platform figure out the best way to monetize that content on the ad network.

Caveat Emptor

With every new feature, comes a series of disclaimers. Machine Learning requires a lot of data to get things right. If you are a small site such as this blog, then it will take a long time for AdSense to optimally figure out the right ad formats and the proper ad placements.

Having said that, here’s a very simple way using which you can get started with Auto Ads in AdSense.

Setting up Auto Ads

Auto Ads in AdSense
Auto Ads in AdSense

In your AdSense console, in the Ads section you will now find a Auto ads menu item. Click on this, and get started with the setup wizard that’s present there. If you want to know how to embed the Auto ads code in your site, Google also has a helpful support article here.

That’s it! Once the code is setup in your website, you choose the formats you want to add (I chose everything) and let it run.

So far, the results haven’t been that great. However, time will tell if applying machine learning gives great benefits for the publisher.

What benefits should one look at?

Ultimately, it boils down to increasing the aggregate Revenues per thousand impressions metric (RPM). That’s what I’d look at, I would also look at the Click through Rates (CTRs) to go up.

Webmaster rolls out new Search Console

New-Search-Console

This has been coming for quite some time. Google Webmaster is slowly rolling out an update to the Search Console. The new search console is a much cleaner interface with most of the reports and insights hidden under multiple layers.

The Dashboard

The new Search Console dashboard is much more simpler now, with just three reports that you can view –

  1. Performance – How your site is performing in the search results. This is similar to the Search Analytics report.
  2. Index Coverage – How your site has been indexed and what errors does the search engine detect on the site
  3. AMP – Information about the Accelerated Mobile Pages and how Google detects AMP on your site

The good things

Straight off the cuff, this tool provides just the right information to the user. It forces the user to engage with the reports available, and provides interesting insights that were not available before.

Take a look at this new report which tells me the impact on Search Impressions when I decided to mark 75 odd pages on noindex.

Index Coverage Reports Insight
The report shows how I have lost impressions because of adding noindex to pages

Overall, most reports even if being the same are now much more easier to understand and interpret.

Another example is the Performance report with the Pages section selected. This feature was available in the older interface as well, but now the data is much more clear and this tells me which pages should I work on to improve my CTRs.

Search Analytics Report
I need to tweak the description and meta details of some of the top pages

The bad things

There are more things yet to come, and this is not a complete experience yet. I cannot only rely on the new interface. Some reports simply haven’t been incorporated into the new Search Console yet.

Reports on Structured Data is completely missing. The diagnostic set of tools and the crawl request tools are not included in the tool.

The update to the search console is welcome and I for one am glad that a much more cleaner interface is made available.

18 months down the line, what has Google AMP really achieved

In early 2016, Google launched Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) for publishers who wanted to have their content loaded in a flash on mobile devices at a much faster rate.

At the point of writing this article, 65% of all traffic in Asia (and this is higher for developer countries) is on the mobile. A bulk of these users are on mobile data networks which may not be as fast as a steady broadband connection.

What Google did therefore was to launch a series of initiatives, Weblight and now AMP that would help the search engine load the publisher’s content faster for the user.

Google is focusing on the user

The rationale that Google gave to publishers was that it focused on the user’s experience. If a user is doing a Google search on a choppy data connection, the search results might be presented in the blink of an eye, however, because the publisher’s site was taking too long to load, the user would get a bad experience … or worse, the user would say that Google is too slow!

With Google Weblight, what the organization did was to load the content on an interim site (which was Weblight) and display the content there. This created two problems –

  1. Publishers lost traffic, and Ad Revenues
  2. Publishers lost control on the format of their content and their style guides

Both reasons were strong enough for a lot of publishers to stay away from Weblight.

AMP gets introduced in the mix

To give some control of the content formats back to the user and also to incorporate both analytics and ad scripts into the publisher’s content, Google created another mark-up language. This is AMP.

AMP allows the publisher to present the content on their own site, in a style that’s acceptable to the publisher. It may not have too much flexibility, but at least the publisher is free to design that style instead of the Weblight approach.

This may not be an ideal situation, but atleast it ensures that users are shown the content they are search for the fastest.

Have people embraced AMP?

Well, it’s a bit hazy there. For those of us who were on existing Content Management Systems (CMS) such as WordPress or Joomla it was much easier to transition. It just meant having to install some plugins and do the configuration.

However, the folks who have made their own web apps and products, they are completely clueless as to how to go about implementing AMP.

The sad part is that a lot of the product developers that I have spoken to, are of the opinion that AMP is just a new thing that “SEO folks” have to do. Add to the mental model of SEO being perceived as a much lower the value chain task – that pretty much means that developers are simply not aware about the benefits of AMP.

What irks me is that people’s individual bias is used to mask their ignorance about how to make their products perform better on search.

So, if you are leading a product team or are working on building products, then definitely head on to the Accelerated Mobile Pages project.

As a publisher who has embraced AMP, how does that impact me?

It surprisingly does not help me much with acquiring more traffic. The website is shown a bit differently in the search engine results, and that perhaps is getting me a bit higher click through rates. However, the numbers are not significantly high enough for me to assess based on the data provided.

One major problem with all new initiatives that Google is doing with Search is their stubbornness on keeping things completely opaque.

Not a single publisher is in the loop when it comes to knowing what was the exact payoff of any of the optimization activities they did. It is left for these teams to dig in and figure it out themselves before they are able to attribute the success of this activity. I believe that’s a major deterrent for a lot of product managers to make this choice of embracing AMP.

The web is not Google

I am coming back to this post after 6 months, found this on the internet – the AMP Letter. This is pretty much what I wanted to say about how this is shaping up.

Easy guide to Keyword Research

Keyword research sounds like such a daunting task. What’s the point of researching a keyword anyway? Shouldn’t your natural marketing instincts tell you which keywords are most relevant to your business. Not quite… Without quality keywords, found through effective keyword research, your search marketing campaigns (paid AND organic) will be completely misguided. If people aren’t…

via The Big, Easy Guide to Keyword Research for Businesses — Wordstream Blog Feed

If you have heard about Unicorns and Start-ups, then you probably would know of Larry Kim and Wordstream.

Linked the above post on why is Keyword Research important and how can a business go about doing keyword research both from a Search Campaign point of view and from a Content Marketing point of view.

If you are concerned with search, then this is a must read.

Data anomalies in Search Console

In the past 5-6 years or so, a lot of online businesses, especially the ones who are hungry for growth have relied on organic traffic as one of their key sources. Now growth could mean an increase in pure numbers (traffic, sessions, users) … or it could mean an increase in more tangible business parameters (revenues, profits). One of the things that I have learnt is that depending on which success metrics we chase, our own identity undergoes a shift.

Search as a major source of traffic

The major contributors to organic traffic are search and social. Wherever there is a site which has great and unique content by the loads, there is a chance for driving organic traffic.

At different points in time, I have been skeptical about Social Media and me-too posting that most brand pages do on platforms such as Facebook. However, Search for me has always been fascinating and I still have faith in Search :).

SEO can’t be a method

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) has evolved over a period of time and I have blogged about it on multiple occasions. Unfortunately, the number of times the algorithm changes and the rate of evolution of what Google (the market leader in this space) construes as quality content ensures that you can’t have a steady SEO “process”.

Having said that, SEO involves a fair amount of design thinking.

The reason behind this statement is because the problem behind search visibility (and the factors that control that) keep changing. It’s a wicked problem. Design thinking can solve such kind of problems because of its test and iterate mechanism.

Data to drive Design Thinking

This is where having the correct data to decide on next steps is crucial. Having a data driven design thinking approach would entail that there are periodical reviews of what kind of data we have available to make the right choices.

Search data has always been plagued with incomplete information. Starting from the 2011 encrypted search announcement, where a bulk of the data in Google Analytics was being reported as (not set). There have been ample approaches to clarify this data, unfortunately, as Google Search goes more towards handhelds and as digital privacy increases, the percentage of data where there is clear visibility will keep going down.

This can’t be helped. What can be done is take these “anomalies” into account and factor those in while doing your analysis.

So what kind of Data anomalies in Search Console do we expect to find?

Google Support has compiled this list. They keep updating their data reporting logic and keep updating this page as well.

One of the major changes that you can see is that last month, they started reporting more data in Google Webmaster Tools. Please bear in mind that this is just a change in the data that is being reported and not the actual search traffic that is on your site.

The link also explains why there is data disparity between Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools and any other third party tool that you could be using to generate keyword data.

So, my data is incomplete, what to do?

Don’t panic.

Work with the list of data anomalies and identify which ones are impacting you the most. Having visibility on which parts of data are not available to you is also better than not knowing anything and assuming that the data you have is complete.

In iterations, the first comparison is always your previous state. In both cases the data being made available to you is pretty much the same. Hence, a week on week comparison report is much more valuable as opposed to a comparison report with your closest competitor.

As long as the measures of success is on the same tool, the data anomaly should be cancelled out. Please bear in mind that for most of our data work, we do not need precise data but can work with coarse data.

A simple approach to identify this would be – if you work with charts and graphs more, then you can work with coarse data and absorb the anomalies. If you work with more than 4 decimals, then you might want to add 3-4 lines of disclaimer below your data.

Game Theory and SEO

This blog has been my place to articulate my thoughts, to propose experiments and my views on multiple topics. Having said that, this is one such piece.

I would love to hear your views about this and feel free to scroll down to that comment box and leave a line (or two).

What is Game Theory?

Taking the excerpt from Wikipedia –

Game theory is “the study of mathematical models of conflict and cooperation between intelligent rational decision-makers.” Game theory is mainly used in economics, political science, and psychology, as well as logic, computer science and biology.

In this piece, I am proposing that we can use the basic precepts of Game Theory and apply them to SEO strategies as well.

Originally, it addressed zero-sum games, in which one person’s gains result in losses for the other participants. Today, game theory applies to a wide range of behavioral relations, and is now an umbrella term for the science of logical decision making in humans, animals, and computers.

In Search Engine Optimization, for a particular query search, only one site can be at the top. At the cost of the search visibility of other sites.

Ergo, SEO is clearly a zero-sum scenario.

Wait, isn’t this between two players?

That’s what we construe of Game Theory … and more importantly with Prisoner’s Dilemma. However, in the real world, and in almost any market driven environment, there are always multiple players.

Such scenarios are referred to as n-person games, or in Gaming parlance – multi-player games. This gives way to something we define as Evolutionary game theory.

What is Evolutionary Game Theory?

Evolutionary game theory considers games involving a population of decision makers, where the frequency with which a particular decision is made can change over time in response to the decisions made by all individuals in the population.

So, in SEO the strategy that I can adopt at any point of time is suspect to change, and over a period of time, most players who are working on their SEO would tend to change their strategy and evolve their approach.

In economics, the same theory is intended to capture population changes because people play the game many times within their lifetime, and consciously (and perhaps rationally) switch strategies.

Ditto about SEO again. In textbook style, I could say don’t do Black Hat. However, you know it and I know it … that at some point of time in our lives we have done Black Hat. Yes yes yes, it doesn’t work and you have to pay the price, but we still have gone ahead, haven’t we?

This change in tactics, resulting in evolution of market dynamics effectively ends up changing the winning strategies of the game. A research article that talks about how the competing strategies change within a network of decision makers is available here.

To read more on Evolutionary Game Theory, here is the wiki link.

Rituals and Evolutionary Game Theory

One more interesting characteristic that mathematical biologist John Maynard Smith realized when studying the behavior of game theory in communities was that in biological communities (his research was based on Darwinian concepts and survival of the fittest) most of the players did not focus on their strategy as a winning one, but treated their strategies as at a ritualistic level.

Ergo, for most members of the population it was not important whether they were engaged in a competitive and winning strategy, but rather that they were engaged in a strategy in the first place.

Wait, what?

Let me rephrase that statement.

Players involved in playing a multi-player game, where the game itself was changing constantly, the winning strategy was not important for players.

So much, as having a strategy in the first place.

Uh, I thought this was going to be on SEO

It is.

In a game of lets-get-on-top (on Google), all of us marketers are running circles trying to figure out the best SEO strategy.

We have seen many of the oft-quoted paradigms here –

  1. Content is king
  2. Great Link profiling
  3. Black Hat

What I am proposing is that it really does not matter which step you take … as long as you decide to take a step as per a strategy and then choosing to evolve your stance after you find out the result.