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Google Topics Resembles Contextual Advertising

In 2020, Google announced that it would eventually end third-party tracking cookies in its Chrome browser. Cookies, which are tiny snippets of code, made it possible for advertising networks, including Google Ads, to target folks based on their browsing behavior.

Due to cookies, what an individual does online determines which advertisements and messages she sees. Data from cookies combined with other personal information translates into highly targeted (and effective) advertisements.

Now, Google is proposing an ad-targeting feature called “Topics” that would defend user privacy and replace third-party tracking cookies.

Privacy vs. Relevance

Ads that relied on behavioral targeting could be very relevant. Instead of seeing promotions for uninteresting items, folks saw products and services they could use.

Unfortunately, this relevance came at the expense of privacy. Ad networks harvested all sorts of private and sometimes embarrassing information. This data might even be associated with a specific email address, an actual street address, or a named individual.

Topics Proposal

Privacy-advocating groups, regulatory bodies, and tech companies have started to shy away from tracking-based behavioral advertising.

Google is giving up tracking cookies. Apple let everyone opt out of tracking in iOS 14.5. Meanwhile, the European Union, several nations, and a few American states introduced laws deterring tracking.

Last year, the company tested Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC) technology. And while Google said FLoC was 95% as effective as tracking cookies, it still was not privacy safe. The Electronic Freedom Foundation, for example, published an article describing FLoC as a “terrible idea.”

Since April 2022, Google has been testing a new, perhaps better, option, the aforementioned “Topics.” (I will refer to Topics, the ad feature, with a capital “T” — distinguishing it from lowercase topics in the generic sense.)

Boiled down, Topics has three parts:

  • It “labels” websites with a subject, or topic,
  • It associates a user with topics based on browsing behavior,
  • It shares a visitor’s topics with participating websites and ad networks.

Topics in Use

An example might help explain how Topics could work to target someone.

First, Google has identified about 350 topical labels to avoid race, ethnicity, and gender subjects.

One of these topics is “Arts & Entertainment/Comics.”

So, imagine if a person visited sites like Dark Horse Comics, Comic Book Herald, and CBR.com (the site formerly known as Comic Book Review). In Chrome, Topics might associate this person with the comic topic.

When this person, who is now associated with the comic topic, visits a more general website, Chrome will share the visitor’s topic, allowing the site and any ad server it employs to show relevant comics-related advertisements.

There are some complicating details. The Topics feature associates five new topics with a person each week. It also adds a random topic that doesn’t interest the person to confuse nefarious efforts to track individuals.

Topics will only show three websites of an individual’s usual subjects. After three weeks, it deletes them.

Finally, users have the option to opt out of the Topics feature.

Contextual Advertising

While Topics would allow advertisers to find, for example, a comic-loving consumer on a much more general website, this proposed privacy-preserving feature sounds similar to good old-fashioned contextual advertising.

If an online comic book store wanted to target folks who read comics, it could simply place ads on sites like Comic Book Herald and CBR.com.

Because of the context, the advertiser would know folks visiting these sites are interested in comics. In essence, Topics does this for you.

In a way, the proposed Topics tool is an endorsement for contextual promotion.

A marketer who is willing to do a bit more work should be able to find many contexts to promote products, including vertical websites, newsletters, podcasts, and influencers.

Topics and Context

Suppose it turns out that Topics is a roaring success. In that case, it could encourage the advertising and marketing community to look beyond sizeable programmatic advertising platforms to find contextual placements that might be advertising gems.

However, looking beyond platforms such as Google Ads, Meta Ads, and Microsoft Ads does not mean avoiding them. These platforms will still be essential for most businesses in the foreseeable future.

Here is the point: Tracking-based behavioral ads are a lazy way to market. You could buy an ad on Meta and let its algorithm find nearly perfect targets based on their behavior across devices. You could target warm audiences on Google Ads and know that you should get pretty good results.

The new focus on privacy will probably make advertisers work harder, but finding good contextual opportunities might be worth the effort.

4 Questions for a Prospective PPC Agency

Many advertising agencies offer a pay-per-click audit for potential clients. The audits allow agencies to understand the components of the account and provide recommendations. Audits are helpful but only to a point, in my experience.

I work for a PPC agency. When evaluating a potential new firm,  I would ask these four questions if the roles were reversed.

4 Questions for a Prospective Agency

“How do you balance manual PPC management with automation?” Some would argue Google’s shift to automated ad optimization lessens the need for an agency. I disagree.

To be sure, an effective paid search account needs automation. Automated bid strategies adjust on the fly. Responsive Search Ads work best when Google tests all combinations. Advertisers who embrace automation have a better chance to succeed.

With this thinking, advertisers can drive PPC performance by:

  • Providing better conversion data.
  • Adding the maximum number of ad assets for testing.
  • Consistently pausing ineffective keywords, audiences, placements, and ads.
  • Implementing negative keywords.
  • Researching new keywords and audiences.

However, it’s a red flag when agencies accept Google’s recommendations entirely. Ad opportunities should be vetted for ramifications.

Develop a good sense of what an agency manages and what it leaves to Google.

“How do you evaluate updates from Google?” Constant change is one way to describe the PPC industry. Agencies should be able to address changes, how they impact results and the next steps. For example, Google has been pushing Performance Max campaigns recently. Agencies should have a plan for this new campaign type, even if it’s preliminary.

Watch for vague answers, buzzwords, and Google-speak. You need to know the impact on your company.

A related question is, “How do you stay current?” The agency should be able to share a comprehensive list of blogs, thought leaders, and conferences that it follows.

“How many clients does each account manager oversee?” The answer to this question depends on multiple factors, such as the size of an account. But it should not be more than five. A manager assigned to smaller-spend accounts with little day-to-day execution could do more.

A good benchmark in my experience is no more than two accounts if the average spend is $100,000 or more a month. (Although spend isn’t the only indicator of workload.) Generally, accounts spending at least $100,000 a month have many different campaigns across Search, Display, and Video. In any given week, the manager is:

  • Optimizing the account,
  • Creating and sending reports,
  • Researching and testing new initiatives,
  • Meeting and communicating with the client.

This work will typically result in a 40 – 45 hour week for, again, larger accounts. Adding more sometimes means longer hours and less time per client, potentially leading to poor performance.

The exception is agencies that assign specialists to larger accounts to help the lead manager. Those clients should understand the overall makeup of the team and the various roles.

“How will you grow my account?” Agencies typically implement their initial recommendations and see better performance right away.  The client has left its previous firm for, presumably, not meeting expectations. A fresh approach and the desire to show improved results can quickly move the account in the right direction.

Then what?

Clients need to know how the account will grow, producing more profits. For example, a long-term initiative could include creating new audiences to expand customer match lists and using those lists to promote a new product through a Display campaign.

Forward-thinking is critical.

How Conversion Data Improves Google Ads Automation

Google’s shift to automated ad management continues. Many of my articles address how advertisers can use that automation while maintaining a level of control. What advertisers often overlook, however, is conversion tracking.

Google knows to show an ad to a searcher who types in the targeted keywords. But Google cannot optimize performance unless the advertiser has enabled conversion tracking.

Most advertisers have done that. But most have not configured it correctly. Here are four steps to improve Google Ads’ automation (and machine learning) via conversion tracking.

4 Steps to Improve Google Ads Automation

Set up Enhanced Conversions. I touched on Enhanced Conversions last month. It’s worth a deeper dive.

Enhanced Conversions track performance even when cookies are restricted — a critical feature for cookieless browsers — by matching hashed customer data from an advertiser’s site with Google’s.

Illustration from Google showing the matching of hashed dataIllustration from Google showing the matching of hashed data

Enhanced Conversions track performance by matching hashed customer data from an advertiser’s site with Google’s, avoiding the need for cookies. Image: Google. 

A recent case study from Google reported U.K. retailer ASOS saw an 8.6% lift in sales from search ads after implementing Enhanced Conversions.

Google suggests the “maximize conversion value” bid strategy for advertisers with at least 50 conversions in 30 days. An advertiser with 40 conversions in 30 days could reach 50 by implementing Enhanced Conversions.

Advertisers set up Enhanced Conversions through a global site tag or Google Tag Manager. Enhanced Conversions apply only when Google Ads is the conversion source — not Google Analytics or offline conversions. To trigger a conversion, consumers must submit data such as an email address on the designated page. Page views do not apply.

Choose the right attribution model. Last-click attribution is a common blunder. The model assigns all conversions to the last clicked keyword and ad. It overstates brand campaigns in search because brand keywords tend to be the last click in the buying cycle.

For example, a consumer may click an ad for a non-brand keyword such as “basketball shoes” and go to Nike’s website to research. A week later, she may type “nike basketball shoes,” click the brand ad, and make a purchase. The brand keyword receives all the credit despite the non-brand term having an important role. Hence critical keywords that assisted in the conversion process are undervalued.

Google offers six attribution models for conversions:

  • Last click,
  • First click. The first click that leads to a conversion receives all the credit.
  • Linear. All clicks receive equal credit for the conversion.
  • Time decay. Clicks that occur closer to the conversion receive more credit.
  • Position-based. Forty percent of the credit goes to each of the first and last clicks, while the remaining clicks split 20%.
  • Data-driven. Credit is distributed based on past conversions.

Data-driven attribution is ideal because it most accurately gives credit to each click. But to work efficiently it needs at least 300 conversions and 3,000 ad interactions — e.g., clicks, views of video ads, calls for call extensions. This model assigns appropriate credit to all keywords and ads.

In the absence of enough data, I prefer position-based attribution as non-last clicks combine to receive 60% of the credit.

Use conversion values. Assign a value — static or dynamic — to all conversion types. By updating the pixel dynamically, you can track the revenue of each purchase. Or you can assign a static value for nonmonetary conversions, such as signing up for a newsletter. Adding a value is a requirement of the “maximize conversion value” bid strategy.

Screenshot of Google Ads' settings for conversion valuesScreenshot of Google Ads' settings for conversion values

Assign a value — static or dynamic — to all conversion types.

Use campaign-specific goals. Once you’ve set up Enhanced Conversions, instruct Google on the bid strategies each campaign should optimize for at Settings > Goals. The choices are “account” or “campaign-specific.” By default Google will optimize by account, meaning your ads will show to any searcher who is likely to convert for any goal.

Campaign-specific goals will optimize toward one or more specific conversions, such as purchases, newsletter signups, or form submissions.

Screenshot of Google Ads settings for bid strategiesScreenshot of Google Ads settings for bid strategies

Instruct Google on the bid strategies each campaign should optimize for — “account” or “campaign-specific.”

Outbound Marketing In an Inbound World

Search engine optimization, content marketing, and the whole of inbound marketing are important for promoting a business. But let’s not forget about advertising.

I recently attended a marketing event where an inbound marketer responsible for search engine optimization and content for a multi-million dollar company complained that her site traffic has dropped because of poor advertising performance.

It was odd to hear her complain about advertising results and yet admit a dependency on them.

Aren’t inbound tactics supposed to replace ads?

Inbound vs. Outbound

For years, some marketers have argued that outbound (traditional) marketing was dead, dying, or less important.

As HubSpot puts it, “Inbound marketing is a business methodology that attracts customers by creating valuable content and experiences tailored to them. While outbound marketing interrupts your audience with content they don’t always want, inbound marketing forms connections they are looking for and solves problems they already have.”

Screenshot of HubSpot page describing inbound marketingScreenshot of HubSpot page describing inbound marketing

HubSpot pits inbound marketing against outbound.

Take a marketing course from the Digital Marketing Institute, and you’ll hear an instructor, Philippe Polman, say, “In today’s business world, inbound marketing is the most important aspect of digital marketing.”

But is that always true? What if outbound marketing is essential? And why can’t inbound and outbound coexist?

A few facts demonstrate that advertising (outbound marketing) is growing, and the growth is likely an indication of value.

Amazon Ads

Amazon’s advertising services generated $31.6 billion in 2021, according to the company’s 10-K filing (PDF) with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Some $9.7 billion of that revenue came in just the last three months of the year. Year-over-year, Amazon’s ad revenue was up 32%.

This result puts Amazon well behind Google Ads ($205.9 billion in 2021) and Facebook ($115 billion in 2021), but ahead of YouTube ($28.8 billion in 2021) and TikTok ($4 billion in 2021).

Amazon is a major player in digital advertising. And it continues to rapidly grow despite being restrictive. The company controls most of the content, keeps a close watch on the audience, and has even been accused of stealing product ideas from its advertisers (marketplace sellers).

The growth implies advertising on Amazon — perhaps due to its rich first-party targeting data and purchase environment — is valuable to advertisers and thus effective.

Google Ads

Amazon is not the only ad platform growing.

Google’s advertising revenue rose 42.6% from $146.9 billion in 2020 to the aforementioned $205.9 billion in 2021.

Google acknowledges that its success is contingent on happy advertisers. “We generated more than 80% of total revenues from the display of ads online in 2021. Many of our advertisers…can terminate their contracts with us at any time,” the company reported in its 10-K.

“Failing to provide superior value or deliver advertisements effectively and competitively could harm our reputation, financial condition, and operating results.”

Google almost certainly understands that the quality of its search engine results is a key factor in advertising success. But it would not be surprising if the company found ways to optimize both: the search experience and ad value.

Consider position zero. Google often tries to answer the user’s query on the search results page.

Searching “inbound marketing definition” on Google can return a snippet that includes an answer to the query, leaving no need to click elsewhere.

Screenshot of Googe search result showing top snippet from SalesforceScreenshot of Googe search result showing top snippet from Salesforce

Searching on Google for “inbound marketing definition” produces a position-zero snippet from a Salesforce article.

A search engine optimizer might argue that position one is a big win for the company. But gaining and holding it is an SEO challenge.

Google presumably wants to answer queries quickly and keep users on its properties. As this trend continues, competition for organic keywords could become fierce. At the same time, an ad could trump even position zero.

Facebook Grew, Too

Not too long along Facebook took out full-page newspaper ads claiming that Apple iOS 14’s opt-in requirement would significantly harm small businesses (and Facebook’s ad revenue).

“We’re standing up to Apple for small businesses everywhere,” the ad’s headline read. “Without personalized ads, Facebook data shows that the average small business advertiser stands to see a cut of over 60% of their sales for every dollar they spend….these changes will be devastating to small businesses.”

Let’s put aside the irony of making a case for personalized digital ads in a newspaper and recognize that Apple’s policy changes certainly impacted ad targeting. However, small businesses, in general, have not been devastated.

What’s more, predictions that iOS 14 could send advertisers to inbound marketing have not yet come to fruition.

Apple’s iOS 14 update was a meaningful, significant change to advertising, but still something of a nonevent for the industry.

This is especially true when you consider that Facebook’s advertising revenue rose 36% in 2021, up from $84.8 billion in 2020. Facebook saw average revenue per ad and total overall ad revenue increase.

Even in the face of adverse effects, outbound marketing on Facebook is still booming.

Balanced Approach

None of this implies that advertising is somehow superior to other marketing forms. I’ve cited Amazon, Google, and Facebook to point out that outbound marketing remains valid and should be part of a balanced approach that includes SEO and content.

Setting Up Google’s Performance Max Campaigns

Performance Max campaigns were a primary focus of Google’s Marketing Livestream event last year. Now available to all advertisers, Performance Max shows ads across the Google Search and Display networks via a single campaign.

Submitting a product feed, image and text assets, and audience signals enables ads across Google’s inventory. Machine learning models then optimize bids advertisers’ goals.

Performance Max Setup

The first step is creating a campaign and choosing the “Performance Max” option.

Screenshot of Google Ads setup for "Select a campaign type"Screenshot of Google Ads setup for "Select a campaign type"

Create a campaign and choose the “Performance Max” option.

Then enter a budget and a conversion goal — volume or value — for the bid strategy. You cannot bid manually with this campaign type. You can optionally set up a target cost per acquisition (CPA) or return on ad spend (ROAS). You’ll also choose the conversions to optimize, such as sales, leads, or phone calls.

Next comes the campaign settings, including location targets and ad schedule. Hidden in the settings is “Final URL expansion.” This option, which is active by default, sends traffic to your most relevant URLs. The fine print states that Google can replace your landing page with a more relevant one based on searchers’ intent. The option is good in theory and similar to Dynamic Search Ads. It allows URL exclusions, too. However, I typically turn the option off because I want users to go to the URLs of my choosing.

After completing the settings, create your first asset group, which contains Merchant Center listings, ad assets, and an audience signal. You can target all products in your Merchant Center or a subset. For example, you could target a particular product type in the asset group so only select products show. Note that Performance Max has priority over Shopping campaigns. Test a subset of your product feed before adding all products.

Next, submit your ad assets, including:

  • Final URL (which can dynamically change with “Final URL expansion”),
  • Up to 15 images,
  • Up to five logos,
  • Up to five videos (optional),
  • Up to five 30-character headlines,
  • Up to five 90-character headlines,
  • One 60-character short description,
  • Up to four 90-character descriptions,
  • A call to action from a predefined menu,
  • The business name.

Google will test all combinations to determine the best-performing ads based on the campaign goal. Like Responsive Search and Display ads, submit as many assets as possible to drive performance.

Creating the audience signal is the last step of the asset group setup. Adding an audience signal is optional, but it’s a good idea in my experience as it provides Google a starting point. The signal can be one or more of your audiences, such as:

  • Custom segments,
  • First-party data (email subscribers),
  • Interests,
  • Demographics,

The final step before publishing the campaign is to add extensions, such as sitelinks, callouts, and structured snippets. Adding extensions is standard with any search campaign.

Reporting

As enticing as Performance Max campaigns are, the reporting and subsequent optimization opportunities are weak. The first drawback is reviewing network and platform performance. Ads can run on YouTube, Gmail, Google Discover, and more, but we can’t see the data for each channel. Google decides where the ads show as “cross-network.” Thus advertisers cannot view data for, say, Gmail and increase or decrease bids based on performance.

The same problem applies to assets. Advertisers see only aggregate asset data. Our assets may have generated 20 total conversions, but we don’t know which are responsible. Moreover, Google shows the top asset combinations without data, which is equally frustrating and helpful. We could see the top five image combinations, but we wouldn’t know, for example, if one of the five accounted for 90% of conversions.

The most beneficial reporting is in the asset view. Google designates “Low,” “Good,” and “Best” performance for each asset. A headline of “Over 4,000 Five Star Reviews” could receive a Best while an image could be Poor. Unfortunately, Google does not define the performance levels of the three categories.

Screenshot of Google Ads report showing Low, Good, and Best performanceScreenshot of Google Ads report showing Low, Good, and Best performance

Google designates “Low,” “Good,” and “Best” performance for each asset.

Despite the lack of transparency, it’s worth testing Performance Max campaigns. Google continues to emphasize automation and machine learning. Performance Max campaigns are the next iteration.

Reviewing Google Ads Performance at Year-end

It’s necessary at year-end to review pay-per-click advertising performance. As with any managed channel, you should expect growth, such as more revenue, transactions, or unique visitors, among other metrics.

The review should include broader industry and economic developments. For example, comparing 2021 against 2020 is unique as online sales in 2020 experienced historic spikes due to pandemic-driven lockdowns, stimulus checks, and an overall reluctance of shoppers to leave their homes. Curbside pickup and home delivery were products of the online shift.

With all of this in mind, here are factors that typically make or break PPC performance year over year.

Non-brand Growth

Most advertisers should see progress or continued positive results from brand keywords. But overall PPC performance long-term depends on non-brand efforts, such as a sporting goods supplier bidding on “home gym equipment” keywords or testing a Performance Max campaign.

Gauge non-brand efforts through short and long-term results. Perhaps those efforts decreased return on ad spend but increased revenue and transactions. Though efficiency suffered, the number of purchases increased, generating new customers for future email marketing and retargeting.

Plus, softer conversions, such as email signups and live chat queries, generate marketing prospects and “customer match” lists for new PPC campaigns.

Campaign Types

Google Ads’ five campaign types are:

  • Search,
  • Shopping,
  • Display,
  • Video,
  • Discovery.

All are critical for PPC growth, but most advertisers run only Search and Shopping campaigns with a small investment in Display, usually through remarketing.

New customers, however, mostly come from Display, Video, and Discovery. Moreover, data generated from new campaign types helps layer audiences in Search and Shopping campaigns. And all traffic, regardless of campaign type, can be used for remarketing.

Assisted Conversions

A report in Google Analytics titled “Assisted Conversions” shows the various channels that contributed to a conversion.

For example, say a shopper (i) clicked a search ad and left the site without converting, (ii) clicked an organic search listing and left the site without converting, and (iii) directly typed the URL into her browser and converted. The Assisted Conversion report would assign the last click conversion and revenue to direct traffic with paid and organic search participating. The shopper’s assisted conversion path would be:

Paid Search > Organic Search > Direct Traffic.

The report assigns a value (revenue) by channel along with the number and value of specific last-click conversions.

Assisted conversions are most valuable when comparing two periods. In the screenshot below, paid-search-assisted conversions in November 2021 were 295.85% higher than in November 2020.

Last click conversions increased too, but the encouraging aspect is that paid search was a part of so many more conversion paths in 2021 and contributed to overall higher revenue. The “Top Conversion Paths” report in Google Analytics provides the specifics of every conversion path involving paid search.

Sample Google Analytics "Assisted Conversions" reportSample Google Analytics "Assisted Conversions" report

In this sample report from Google Analytics, paid search assisted conversions in November 2021 were 295.85% higher than in November 2020. Click image to enlarge.

Changing Landscape

Pay-per-click advertising is ever-evolving. The new features and announcements page in Google Ads Help lists over 70 updates in 2021. For example, Google Ads retired modified broad match keywords this year — phrase match now functions in the same manner.

Growth requires staying informed and implementing appropriate changes. You cannot rest on past performance. Google alters features and workflows without warning. Adapting to change is vital for long-term success.

How Content Drives Low-cost Ad Conversions

Content marketing is often associated with search engine optimization since the two disciplines can work hand in glove. But there can be a strong affinity between content marketing and advertising, too.

Content marketing is the act of creating, publishing, and distributing content to attract, engage, and retain an audience of customers and prospects.

Many businesses employ content marketing to drive organic search traffic and engage visitors. Advertising can accelerate content promotion while driving new and incremental sales.

Content Cycle

A cycle is one way to think about the content marketing process.

There is a planning stage. Topics are selected, and SEO entities and keywords are identified. Outcomes are chosen here, too.

Next, the content is composed or created. This may be as singular as writing a blog post or as multifaceted as publishing an online course.

Then the content is promoted. The results are measured. The campaign’s performance is used to start a new planning process.

Content Promotion

Many content marketers use organic social media, SEO, and email marketing to spark interest in new content. But advertising should be added to this promotional mix, too.

As an example, an ecommerce-related SaaS company recently published a profile of one of its customers. The profile featured a video, a podcast, and an article of nearly 3,000 words.

Promotion in an email newsletter generated a few hundred page visits on publication day. The combined traffic from organic social media and organic search totaled 31 page visits in the first 48 hours.

In those same two days, a Facebook ad campaign promoting the profile drove 1,543 page visits at 15 cents per visit.

Screenshot of a Facebook ad performance page showing the results of the campaignScreenshot of a Facebook ad performance page showing the results of the campaign

A Facebook ad campaign drove 1,543 visits to an article at 15 cents per visit.

Here is another example. A midsize brand wanted an outsized impact on YouTube. The company planned a series of videos featuring b-level celebrities.

The problem was that b-level celebrities did not want to be associated with a video on a new channel that might only get a handful of views.

So the company launched a Google Ads campaign aimed at video views. The targeted video received 273,760 views in 12 days at an average cost of 4 cents per view. (Many video view campaigns are even less expensive.) The celebrity was pleased, and the company confirmed it could attract future guests.

Screenshot from Google Ads showing the performance of a campaignScreenshot from Google Ads showing the performance of a campaign

A Google Ads campaign that targeted YouTube users costs about 4 cents per view.

Here is a third example. A service company published a how-to article featuring its own offerings as part of the solution. The detailed article was several thousand words and included a companion video and three conversion opportunities.

A Google Ads search campaign targeting this how-to article in October 2021 produced 224 conversions from 45,255 impressions.

Screenshot from Google Ads showing campaign performanceScreenshot from Google Ads showing campaign performance

Some forms of content marketing work well for immediate conversions. This single how-to article combined with a paid search campaign generated 224 sale conversions in one month.

In all of these examples, advertising amplified the content to achieve the desired outcome.

Customer Funnels and Conversions

Content benefits from accelerated promotion, and advertising can generate conversions or leads because of the content.

This is important because the content marketing and advertising teams at most companies have different key performance indicators.

KPIs for a content marketer might be site traffic, video views, or newsletter registrations. Ad teams want conversions, clicks, impressions, and low cost per action or acquired customer.

An advertising manager will be reluctant to spend her budget on video views if it doesn’t meet her KPI goals. There are at least two ways in which content marketing can help.

First, content can drive conversions. The how-to article above helped potential customers and drove sales with a 7.32% conversion rate for an average cost of $33.32 per conversion. This was well below the profit generated, meaning the ad team was happy to send traffic to the article.

Second, content can help create “warm” or “hot” audiences for the ad team. The marketing manager can retarget potential customers who read a profile or watched a video. This process effectively moves the customer toward a conversion.

Working Together

In short, advertising can boost content marketing while defining customer funnels by retargeting folks who have engaged with the content.

4 Reasons to Use Dynamic Search Ads

Dynamic search ads access your website content and deploy artificial intelligence to generate headlines, bids, and targeted search terms automatically. These easy-to-employ text ads are the Swiss Army knife of digital promotion: They work well in many situations.

Moreover, dynamic search ads (DSAs) are similar in concept to search engine optimization.

Something Like SEO

For SEO, you’ve carefully selected keywords and entities for all of your important pages. You focused on the technical side, ensuring that Google and other search engines can index your pages. You’ve also optimized the pages’ content, making them high converting.

In the end, you trust the search engine to present a specific page to a potential customer when that person submits a related query.

DSAs are similar.

When someone types a term into Google that closely matches the keywords and entities found on one of your pages, Google Ads dynamically creates a relevant ad and presents it.

Advertisers can optimize DSAs for sending traffic to a website or, if you have conversions set up, to generate ecommerce sales.

DSAs are a striking example of marketing AI. There are multiple reasons to use them.

4 Reasons to Use DSAs

No organic rankings. One of the reasons to pay for any search ad is to garner traffic for a term your website does not rank for organically — or at least not rank on the first page.

Unlike SEO, however, DSAs do not need from advertisers a list of keywords. Google Ads or Microsoft Ads do that for you.

Google could use its index of your site or a page feed to target landing pages.

The page feed takes the form of a CSV spreadsheet with a column for the page URL and a column for custom labels. Advertisers can use these labels to build ad groups within a DSA campaign.

Large business. One could argue that a well-organized, keyword-focused search campaign sending visitors to a popular, conversion-optimized landing page will outperform a DSA.

For large businesses, however, creating all of those well-organized, meticulously-built campaigns might be a challenge.

Imagine you have an ecommerce website with 5,000 or more pages. These pages might include millions of keyword phrases and search entities. Trying to build search campaigns for all of them would be daunting, if not impossible.

Savvy companies focus on the top-performing pages, developing campaigns for the products that will produce the most revenue. This leaves lots of pages unrepresented in ads.

Enter the DSA. It can target those unrepresented URLs and associated products.

Here’s an example. I’m aware of a company that targeted 1,362 pages not included in its Google search campaigns. The DSAs aimed at these long-tail pages generated 2,211 conversions in a month.

Screen capture of actual DSA performance stats in GoogleScreen capture of actual DSA performance stats in Google

This screen capture is of a DSA campaign for a large site. There are 1,362 landing pages in the campaign. From Oct. 1 – 25, the campaign generated 2,211 conversions. Click image to enlarge.

Small business. DSA campaigns can help small businesses, too.

While a large business might be unable to build traditional search campaigns for every page, a small business might not do it for any page.

An entrepreneur at the helm of a small ecommerce company has lots of responsibilities. She may need to focus on the supply chain one moment and holiday email marketing the next. In between, she addresses order fulfillment and customer service.

DSAs are a good option when you don’t have the time or expertise to check and optimize ad performance daily. Rather, you can invest a little time upfront and let DSAs drive traffic and sales.

Search term intelligence. DSAs are keyword research extraordinaire.

As a dynamic campaign runs, Google tracks all related search terms — the actual words and phrases folks queried. These words and phrases are a rich source of keyword opportunities.

For every search term, Google provides the number of impressions, clicks, and conversions.

Advertisers can take the top-performing terms and use them in new, keyword-driven campaigns.

Warnings

As helpful as DSAs can be, there are concerns. DSAs can cannibalize traffic from other ad campaigns and from organic results. And DSAs sometimes result in higher acquisition costs and a less-than-perfect customer experience.

Let’s consider these in turn.

Cannibalization. DSAs can target search terms that match keywords in other campaigns or ad groups. This is especially true if a DSA is in the same campaign as a standard ad group. Don’t do that.

DSAs may also cannibalize organic traffic. For example, DSAs commonly target an advertiser’s brand name. Odds are good your company would also rank for your name organically. Thus you might end up paying for clicks you would have received for free. This could happen with product names and long-tail topics, too.

Acquisition cost. Not all landing pages targeted by DSAs are high converting. Inevitably, some of those pages will produce few conversions, but a DSA will still serve impressions and clicks for those poor performers.

Customer experience. Finally, remember that Google (or Microsoft) dynamically generates the headline of a DSA based on the content of the landing page and the search term.

If your site is not search optimized, the DSA could generate irrelevant headlines or search terms. Sending searchers to an unrelated landing page is a poor experience. In that case, it’s not the DSA’s fault. It’s your SEO.

Google Ads Promotion Extensions Can Boost Holiday Sales

The Google Ads promotion extension attaches a clickable discount offer to search ads and could boost sales for some merchants this Christmas season.

Click-through rates and conversion rates vary greatly from one business or one ad to the next. Thus one cannot say definitively that a promotion extension would drive more traffic or sales.

Nonetheless, since Google introduced promotion extensions in November 2017, pay-per-click practitioners have ballyhooed its success. For example, Pauline Jakober, CEO at Group Twenty Seven, a PPC agency, reported conversion rates as high as 13.02% for promotion extensions in a recent article for Search Engine Journal.

One caveat is that the promotion extension and its associated ads compete with other formats, such as shopping ads.

Despite the competition, setting up and using promotion extensions is straightforward and beneficial.

Note that an advertiser can link a promotion extension to a different landing page than the accompanying ad. And promotion extensions are easy to update without, for example, disrupting a regular, evergreen search campaign.

Best on Mobile

The Google Ads promotion extension can show up on any search ad. But it’s likely most effective on mobile devices. The difference is in presentation.

The promotion extension constitutes a single line of text at the bottom of a Google search ad on a desktop or laptop screen. While the opening text is bold, it is still relatively small in the context of the ad. What’s more, clicking the ad headline might seem more natural.

Sample promotion extension from Zolucky.com clothes on a desktop Sample promotion extension from Zolucky.com clothes on a desktop

On a desktop or laptop computer, the promotion extension appears as an extra line of text. While it is better to have than not, it is more subtle than on mobile.

On a mobile device, the promotion extension stands out. It has a price tag icon and is set apart from the rest of the ad. It resembles a large button.

Sample promotion extension ad from Letsmakeart.com on a mobile deviceSample promotion extension ad from Letsmakeart.com on a mobile device

On a mobile device, the promotion extension is set apart. Notice the prominence of the subscription offer versus the rest of the ad.

Level

Advertisers can add the promotion extension when creating a new campaign in Google Ads, or by navigating to Ads & extensions > Extensions and clicking the plus sign.

Screenshot from Google Ads interface showing the initial screen for launching an extensionScreenshot from Google Ads interface showing the initial screen for launching an extension

Adding the promotion extension is the same as adding any extension in Google Ads.

One can add a promotion extension at the account, campaign, or ad group level. Extensions on an ad-group level supersede those on a campaign level, which supersede account level. Assign the extension to the level that makes the most sense for your promotion.

Screenshot from Google Ads showing the options to assign extension to account, campaign, or ad group level.Screenshot from Google Ads showing the options to assign extension to account, campaign, or ad group level.

The promotion extension must be added to an account, campaign, or ad group.

Occasion

The occasion field is optional, but it makes sense to use it if your promotion is associated with a recognizable holiday or event, such as Black Friday or Cyber Monday.

Screenshot from Google Ads showing the extension setup for an occasionScreenshot from Google Ads showing the extension setup for an occasion

The occasion field makes sense if your promotion is associated with a recognizable holiday or event.

Occasions have specific date ranges. For example, in 2021 Black Friday and Cyber Monday promotion extensions can appear between October 15 and December 15. Google maintains a list of occasions and associated dates.

Promotion Details

The Google Ads promotion extension has four types.

  • Monetary discount, such as $10 off.
  • Percent discount, such as 10% off.
  • Up to monetary discount, such as “Up to $10 off.”
  • Up to percent discount, such as “Up to 10% off.”

Advertisers have 20 characters to describe the promoted item and space for an optional coupon code or a minimum order value. Lastly, advertisers can list the days the promotion will run.

Screenshot from Google Ads interface showing the setup for promotion detailsScreenshot from Google Ads interface showing the setup for promotion details

Display the details of your promotion directly in the extension.

Dates Confusion

It is worth mentioning that the promotion extension has two sets of date fields.

This first set of start and end dates is labeled “Displayed promotion dates.” These dates are displayed on computers, tablets, and mobile devices.

The second set of start and end dates are under the “Advanced options” section and labeled “Extension scheduling,” providing the days and times to show the extension.

Screenshot from Google Ads interface showing two sets of extension datesScreenshot from Google Ads interface showing two sets of extension dates

There are two sets of start and end dates associated with promotion extensions.

Combined, the two sets of dates facilitate promoting a sale before it begins. An extension could launch on, say, October 10, announcing a sale that starts on October 20.

Google Ads Updates Search Terms Report, Keyword Match, More

Google Ads released a slew of updates in September to provide advertisers more clarity into ad auctions, performance metrics, and more. This transparency is welcome, especially as the holiday season is around the corner.

The updates include:

  • More visibility into the search terms report.
  • Changes to keyword phrase match and broad match.
  • “Video action campaigns” with connected TV.
  • New budget reports.

Search Terms Report

Google Ads announced in September 2020 that fewer search queries would appear in the search terms report due to user privacy. I reviewed five accounts, assessing the impact. In three of those accounts, over 30% of traffic came from hidden search terms after the change. Fewer than 6% of clicks came from hidden terms before then.

The change did not help advertisers. Absent queries that drive traffic and conversions, advertisers can’t identify new negative and positive keywords. The result is more irrelevant traffic and wasted spend.

One year later, Google is restoring visibility to the search terms report without, presumably, violating its privacy standards. Google will backdate the search terms data for queries, beginning on February 1, 2021. Importantly, however, query data before September 1, 2020, that doesn’t meet Google’s privacy standards will go away by February 1, 2022. Thus, export before then the search term data that you want to retain.

Keyword Match Types

Google continues to focus on search intent and predictability in how it applies keyword match types. Advertisers bidding on an exact match keywords (i.e., identical to a query) see those impressions. That behavior will now apply to phrase and broad match. For example, say someone searches for “pizza restaurants near me.” Before the update, an advertiser’s broad match keywords of “pizza restaurants” and “pizza restaurants near me” could both serve. Now, “pizza restaurants near me” is preferred because it is identical to the search term.

The change requires no action from advertisers. Keywords should already be in ad groups appropriately themed with variations of the root term. For example, a “pizza restaurants” ad group would have these relevant keywords:

  • “Pizza restaurants,”
  • “Pizza restaurants near me,”
  • “Nearby pizza restaurants.”

Your ad copy should address “pizza restaurants.” Google will now match the closest keyword to the query.

 Connected TV

Connected TV is the latest advertising trend. Advertisers can create video ads that will show on CTV platforms such as Roku, Chromecast, and Xbox. CTV presents another medium and more inventory for advertisers.

Video action campaigns show on YouTube and across Google’s video partners. YouTube is now expanding those campaigns to CTVs. This campaign type uses skippable in-stream and video discovery ad formats. The former is most common and appear before, during, or after videos. The ad shows for a minimum of 5 seconds, after which the viewer can skip the ad.

Action campaign ads can now show when users are watching YouTube or YouTube TV on their televisions.

Here’s an example, below, of an ad from Lusha, a B2B data provider. Users can click “Skip Ad,” “Try Lusha” (the blue call-to-action box), or watch the entire ad.

Example of an action campaign ad from Lusha.Example of an action campaign ad from Lusha.

YouTube’s action campaign ads, such as this example from Lusha, can now show when users watch YouTube or YouTube TV on their televisions.

Budget Reports

Google’s method of calculating monthly budgets and projections can be confusing. Google can spend up to twice your daily budget when it projects your ads will garner more clicks and conversions. Google’s new visual report will show an advertiser’s total spending limit and Google’s forecast for actual, cumulative monthly spend.

Google Ads interface includes a column for “Budget.” Hovering over the budget amount in each campaign generates the option to view the new report. The example below is a budget report for a campaign with an average daily budget of $500.

Screenshot of a sample of Google's new monthly spend reportScreenshot of a sample of Google's new monthly spend report

Google’s new report will show an advertiser’s total spending limit and Google’s forecast for actual, cumulative monthly spend.

The report is helpful. It displays my monthly spending limit, Google’s forecast of my actual spend, and my cost is to date. It also shows my actual daily spend and daily spending limits. The report automatically updates when advertisers change their budgets.

Nothing in the report is new. What is new is the visual representation of the info. Knowing the projected monthly spend helps allocate budget across all campaigns.