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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.

3 Optimizations for Google Shopping Campaigns

The benefits of Google Shopping are compelling. Advertisers consistently experience strong revenue, traffic, and return on ad spend while often paying less per click than standard search campaigns. Still, the performance of Google Shopping ads, like all ads, could plateau. Thus continuous optimizations are key to sustaining results.

This post highlights three ways to optimize Google Shopping campaigns via the Google Ads interface. The tactics do not address product feed optimization, which is equally important.

Exclusions

The first optimization is excluding keywords and products. Although Shopping campaigns don’t utilize keywords, advertisers can review the search queries. In the campaign, go to the left navigation and click Keywords > Search terms. Exclude irrelevant and non-converting keywords.

It’s also helpful to add exact match negative keywords. Absent campaign keywords, broader search terms could trigger unprofitable ads. For example, a search for “shoes” could trigger a “running shoes” Shopping ad. An advertiser selling running shoes might experience many clicks, but the conversions, if any, would likely be expensive. Thus creating a keyword exclusion list could save money.

Products are the other exclusion opportunity, for multiple reasons, including:

  • Sub-par performance,
  • Low-margin goods,
  • Limited inventory.

Exclusions are especially helpful for advertisers with a broad product range. For example, an advertiser with 500 types of running shoes may want to exclude 20 of them from a particular campaign.

When assessing performance, segregate product groups and identify items for exclusion. The image below shows products’ clicks and conversions. I’ve highlighted those with at least 100 clicks and fewer than two conversions. I will exclude these items. (I blurred out product names.)

Set your own threshold for product exclusions. Excluded products will not show, allowing you to allocate the investment to better performers.

Screenshot of the Google Ads interface showing product exclusions.Screenshot of the Google Ads interface showing product exclusions.

When assessing performance, segregate product groups and identify items for exclusion.

Smart Shopping Campaigns

I’ve addressed the importance of testing Smart Shopping campaigns, which grant greater control to Google and benefit from its machine learning to automate network exposure and bidding. Smart Shopping advertisers cannot set bids, add negative keywords, or use a bid strategy other than “Maximize conversion value.”

I’ve seen mixed results with Smart Shopping versus standard Shopping campaigns. For example, targeting the same 10 products in both Smart Shopping and standard Shopping campaigns often produces different winning campaign types. Smart Shopping campaigns typically see more traffic because Google assigns a higher priority. But standard Shopping campaigns tend to be more efficient, with higher revenue and conversions.

I usually segregate high-performing products in standard Shopping campaigns and place them in Smart Shopping. The gives products their own budget and priority. A bonus of Smart Shopping campaigns is targeting new customers, those who haven’t been to the site. It helps advertisers assign a value to new customers, too.

A bonus of Smart Shopping campaigns is targeting new customers. It also helps advertisers assign a value to those buyers.

Adjust Bid Strategies

Standard Shopping campaigns include the option of changing bid targets. For example, an advertiser could meet its Target ROAS bid strategy of 500% but have a low 30% impression share. Lowering the ROAS goal would increase impression share and, likely, conversions and revenue, too.

Another option is changing the entire bid strategy. Moving to a “Maximize Clicks” strategy would tell Google to obtain as many clicks as possible within a designated budget. A “Maximize Clicks” strategy would not optimize conversions, but it would generate more traffic.

Standard Shopping campaign advertisers could also set manual bids per product or product group instead of Google automating the bids.

Shopper Privacy Could Boost Contextual Ad Targeting

Consumer privacy concerns could prompt advertisers to find alternatives to tracking-and-behavior-based ads, giving contextual targeting a boost.

Contextual targeting is not new, although it’s becoming more sophisticated. It is based on a tried and true concept: Place your ad next to relevant content.

Context vs. Behavior

Hearken back to decades past, pre-internet, and imagine you are responsible for promoting a brand of golf clubs. You need to figure out how to get your brand’s golf club ads in front of folks who were likely to buy.

How would you do it? You’d probably buy an ad in a magazine, such as Golf Digest, Golf Illustrated, or The Professional Golfer. Your prospects would be likely to read one or all these popular magazines. That’s contextual targeting.

Cover of Golf Digest magazineCover of Golf Digest magazine

Magazines such as Golf Digest were once a primary method of reaching enthusiasts.

Fast forward to today. You need to promote the new and improved version of those golf clubs. This time, you shoot a few photos, write a snazzy headline, and go to Google Ads, where you target keywords and topics for your Display Network campaign. That’s contextual targeting, too.

Google Ads and most digital ad networks offer some form of contextual targeting, often keyword phrases.

So what is the difference between contextual targeting and behavioral targeting?

Contextual targets an article, video, or podcast. And the targeting mechanism is a keyword phrase or entity.

In contrast, behavioral targeting aims at each person’s private behavior, including past searches, social media activity, or even visits to physical stores. It could include the apps someone has installed and used, the purchases someone has made, or the personal preferences and opinions shared with a friend in a private message.

Bad Behavior

Behavioral targeting has been in the news. Many consumers did not understand the extent to which they were being identified and tracked or how information about them was being stored and shared.

Privacy advocates shouted.

For example, scientist Jaron Lanier argued that social media advertising algorithms were not just targeting human behavior but altering it, in his book, “Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now.”

Governments took notice.

Privacy concerns sparked new laws, such as the E.U.’s General Data Protection Regulation and California’s Consumer Privacy Act.

Tech companies responded, too.

Apple, for example, has already changed its Identifier for Advertisers. It now restricts third-party cookies in its Safari browser (as have most browser makers) and limits tracking in its email app.

This might be good for privacy. But it’s impacting one of the most successful forms of advertising. Behavioral targeting placed extremely relevant ads in front of consumers most likely to engage.

Many direct-to-consumer brands have built their businesses on Facebook advertising because of its ability to target shopper behavior. Similarly, many shoppers prefer ads relevant to them versus context alone.

New Context

The balance between personal privacy and behavioral targeting is tilting toward privacy. For example, in the most recent version of its mobile operating system, Apple began asking users to share trackable information with each app specifically. Before this change, users had to navigate a series of non-descript menus and settings to opt out of tracking.

In May 2021, Flurry Analytics reported that only 15% of iPhone owners had opted-in to tracking. In contrast, performance marketing agency Tinuiti reported that about 70% of iPhone users were being tracked before Apple’s changes.

With relatively less tracking data, behavioral targeting may be more difficult. So some advertisers could choose to include more contextually targeted ads and platforms in their marketing mix. This, in turn, might lead to some contextual targeting innovations or changes.

Conversational Ads

What BeOp CEO Louis Prunel calls “conversational ads” could be an example of contextual targeting innovation.

“Advertisers get much better results … by having conversations that are placed contextually at the end of an article on premium publishers’ [websites],” Prunel explained, adding that “conversational ads” may get as many as 70% more clicks than standard display ads.

While the BeOp platform gives advertisers creative control, one way of using it is to blend a display ad or video with guided selling to engage in a customer “conversation.”

The idea is to ask prospects a question so intriguing that they interact with the ad and eventually convert.

Prunel said that the combination of keyword-based contextual placement, the position of the ad on the page, and good copywriting make these conversational ads effective for both conversion and branding. Only television has a lower cost per impression, according to Prunel.

Screenshot from BeOp of a Microsoft Surface ad campaign with a question, "What character trait suits you the most?"Screenshot from BeOp of a Microsoft Surface ad campaign with a question, "What character trait suits you the most?"

BeOp, an ad platform, uses keywords and topics to place ads in context. Advertisers can use these ads to ask questions and spark a “conversation” with potential customers. Image: BeOp.

Shoppable Video

Shoppable video is “a video experience with products and information about the products wherein you can take action, and this action is usually a purchase,” said Amit Erental, senior business line manager at Cloudinary, a SaaS platform for streaming video and image management.

“Shoppable video had its start as one of the use cases of interactive video, but over the past three years, we have seen it grow into its own category,” Erental said.

Social networks such as Instagram offer full-fledged shoppable video ads. But given the aforementioned privacy concerns, don’t be surprised if we see shoppable video and contextual targeting combined.

For example, Cloudinary’s offering would allow merchants to create videos, add shoppable links, and place those videos on their own site, a blog, or, potentially, on other sites, such as a cable television channel, shown below.

Ultimately, both behavioral targeting and contextual targeting are approaches advertisers can use to place relevant ads. If one approach wanes in popularity or effectiveness, the other could rise.

Screenshot of E! Entertainment Television commercial with shoppable video.Screenshot of E! Entertainment Television commercial with shoppable video.

E! Entertainment Television used a shoppable video to show off holiday items in 2020.

Breaking Down Google Ads New ‘Strikes’ Policy

Google Ads recently introduced a pilot program to combat repeat policy violations. Beginning in September, advertisers who continually violate ad policies will suffer consequences such as account pauses and indefinite suspensions. Google has long voided ads that breach its rules, but the repercussions were otherwise mild or nonexistent.

But in its July announcement, Google is upping the ramifications, stating, “Google is committed to creating a trustworthy ad experience for users, advertisers, and publishers.”

The system will use “strikes” to assign penalties. Quoting from Google’s announcement:

Warning

    • Trigger. First instance of ad content violating our Enabling Dishonest Behavior, Unapproved Substances, and dangerous Products or Services policies.
    • Penalty. No penalties beyond the removal of the relevant ads.

First strike

    • Trigger. Violation of the same policy for which you’ve received a warning within 90 days.
    • Penalty. The account will be placed on a temporary hold for three days, during which ads will not be eligible to run.

Second strike

    • Trigger. Violation of the same policy … within 90 days of the first strike.
    • Penalty. The account will be placed on a temporary hold for seven days, during which ads will not be eligible to run. This will serve as the last and final notice for the advertiser to avoid account suspension.

Third strike

    • Trigger. Violation of the same policy … within 90 days of the second strike.
    • Penalty. Account suspension for repeat violation of our policies.

The system will flag these violations:

Advertisers can appeal violations, to remove a warning or strike. And the new system applies only to prohibited content, not to violations such as excessive punctuation or nonfunctional destination URLs.

Impact on Advertisers

First and foremost, advertisers should always adhere to Google’s policies. Most do. The new system is aimed at repeat offenders.

Most ad disapprovals are honest mistakes, in my experience. For example, a merchant may be unaware that an inventory item is an unapproved substance. Moreover, Google’s algorithms may wrongly flag an ad that contains, for example, the words “hashed data.” For these reasons, advertisers can appeal disapprovals and seek manual reviews.

To request an ad review, check the box next to an ad and go to the main navigation under “edit.” Then click “Appeal policy decision.” Choose one of two reasons for appealing and whether the appeal is for the single ad, all ads in the campaign, or all ads in the account.

Screenshot from Google Ads interface showing the options for appealingScreenshot from Google Ads interface showing the options for appealing

Choose the reasons for the appeal and where to apply it.

Advertisers should create custom alerts for disapproved ads. Google sends emails when ads are disapproved, but setting up notifications yourself facilitates quick action. To filter disapproved ads, go to the left navigation of the Google Ads interface and click Ads & extensions > Ads. Then, set a filter for Policy approval status > Disapproved.

You’ll then see all disapproved ads with the reasons. This filter also shows ads that are approved on a limited basis or are under review.

Screenshot of "Policy approval status" interface in Google AdsScreenshot of "Policy approval status" interface in Google Ads

To filter disapproved ads, click “Disapproved” in “Policy approval status.”

A second alert to set up is the disapproved ads script. The script can run as frequently as hourly, sending an email containing all disapproved ads and their campaigns.

Perfecting Search

The new policy may cause advertisers to become cautious, avoiding certain products and messages. But it’s no reason not to test and grow campaigns. Any disapproval can be appealed. And a warning could be a helpful signal of what not to do.

Google calls the new system a “pilot.” The company presumably recognizes the risk of angering advertisers. It’s not surprising that the violations apply only to prohibited content, which is the easiest to enforce — for example, advertising tobacco products.

If its new system is successful in reducing disapproved ads, Google will likely add other violations (beyond content), such as abusing the ad network, improper data collection, and other prohibited practices.

The system follows Google’s push for safe search experiences and user privacy. It’s the latest step in perfecting the search engine.

Need More from Pay-per-click Ads? Try Planning

Pay-per-click advertising is essential for many ecommerce and omnichannel retailers. Google, Facebook, and other ad platforms have made it easy to set up a campaign. Their machine learning can even identify audiences and keywords.

PPC success, however, often depends on careful planning and preparation, not rushing out to place ads.

Moreover, PPC advertising is almost always iterative. So even with planning, a fully optimized campaign could take months.

What Is the Goal?

It is too easy to buy PPC ads with only a vague idea of what they are supposed to accomplish.

To start, define for each new campaign a SMART goal — specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timebound.

Imagine you sell subscriptions for premium ice cream. Subscribers receive various “flavors of the month.” A PPC goal might be to increase monthly recurring revenue by $25,000 in the next quarter.

Can I Afford It?

Next, decide if your goal is affordable.

An objective of generating $25,000 in new monthly recurring revenue requires knowing some things about the direct-to-consumer ice-cream-subscription business, such as a competitive subscription price and the customer acquisition cost.

For example, if the typical subscriber pays $25 per month, you need 1,000 new subscribers over three months. And a customer acquisition cost of, say, $27 requires $27,000 to fund the campaign.

And this says nothing about your company’s profitability. If the cost of goods is $13 per order, you would need a subscriber to stay more than two months to break even.

Monthly Subscription Revenue – Monthly Cost of Goods = Monthly Gross Profit

Customer Acquisition Cost / Monthly Gross Profit = Number of Months to Breakeven

Thus:

$25 – $13 = $12

$27 / $12 = 2.25 months

Run these sorts of scenarios to ensure your campaign goal is realistic.

Who Is the Customer?

Having a SMART goal that has survived your customer acquisition costs is not enough.

It’s essential to understand your target customer. Developing a customer profile or persona can help, especially when it comes time to write ad copy.

Consider the customer’s needs. For example, in 2019, Google, together with the Kantar Group, an analytics and consulting firm, identified six needs that drive search behavior:

  • Surprise me. Search is fun and entertaining. It is extensive with many unique iterations.
  • Thrill me. Search is a quick adventure to find new things. It is brief with just a few words and minimal back-button use.
  • Impress me. Search is about influencing and winning. It is laser-focused using specific phrases.
  • Educate me. Search is about competence and control. It is thorough: reviews, ratings, comparisons, etc.
  • Reassure me. Search is about simplicity, comfort, and trust. It is uncomplicated and more likely to include questions.
  • Help me. Search is about connection and practicality. It is to-the-point and more likely to mention family or location.

“Each need state is made up of a combination of emotional, social, and functional needs. Emotions are the foundations of need states. The truth is, decision-making is not a rational process, but one driven mainly by how people feel. The rational brain layers on reasons for our choices only after they’re made,” wrote Justin De Graaf, Google’s head of user experience research.

“And those needs have a profound impact on search. How long the query is. How many times a person hits the back button. How many tabs a person has to open. Which device they’re using. The number of search iterations. Whether a person prefers text, image, or video results. How many different things they type into the search bar.”

Those needs are also likely to impact your PPC search advertising.

Once you know your customer, you’re ready to develop the keywords and structure for your campaign.

Understanding Dynamic Search Ads in 2021

Ecommerce sites often have hundreds or thousands of product pages. Creating keyword-based ads in Google for each page is laborious and sometimes impractical. That’s the purpose of dynamic search ads. Advertisers can tell Google which pages and themes to target on their sites, and Google will dynamically show ads for those targets from relevant search queries.

Google and Microsoft have offered DSAs for a decade. The ads can produce amazing results. However, many advertisers view DSAs as a catch-all to capture traffic with few keyword-based campaigns. That’s accurate, but it doesn’t fully embrace all the benefits.

Dynamic Search Ads

DSAs are like Google Shopping campaigns in that they don’t utilize keywords. A Shopping campaign targets product groups; DSAs target web pages. Google matches the search query to the dynamic target. Google discovers these pages by its search and ad crawler technology. Advertisers can select from their sites a variety of dynamic ad targets, including:

  • Google defined categories,
  • Web pages by content,
  • Web pages by title,
  • Web pages by URL,
  • All web pages.

Assume, for example, that I want to create a DSA campaign for a selection of oval coffee tables. I could set up dynamic targets on my site as follows.

  • The Google-defined category that best represents “oval coffee tables.”
  • Any page that contains the word “oval.”
  • Any page that contains “oval” in the page title.
  • Any page that contains “oval” in the URL.
  • All pages on my site, although I wouldn’t use this option since my oval coffee tables appear on limited URLs.

Each target should be unique to an ad group. For example, I could set up the dynamic target of any page that contains “oval” in the URL and place it in an “oval coffee tables” ad group. This way, I could create a manual or automated bid strategy for this category.

Wayfair could do that, as an example, with this page, which contains “oval” in the URL: https://www.wayfair.com/furniture/pdp/willa-arlo-interiors-tuller-oval-coffee-table-w005486176.html.

Screenshot of "Tuller Coffee Table" page on Wayfair.Screenshot of "Tuller Coffee Table" page on Wayfair.

The URL for this “Tuller Coffee Table” page on Wayfair contains the word “oval.” Wayfair could target that word and URL via dynamic search ads.

A search for “oval coffee table” could produce a dynamic search ad leading to that Wayfair page. The ad itself would use a dynamic headline that Google generates based on the page content. The name of the table — “Tuller Oval Coffee Table” — is a likely candidate. Advertisers supply only the description lines for DSAs. Google also chooses the final URL and the display URL.

Screenshot from Google showing the framework for a dynamic search ad.Screenshot from Google showing the framework for a dynamic search ad.

Google generates DSA headlines based on the page content. Advertisers supply only the description lines. Google also chooses the final URL and the display URL. Source: Google.

Note that advertisers can submit a feed with pages to target versus those in Google’s index. Google then selects from the feed.

Why Dynamic Search Ads?

No matter the number of keyword-based campaigns, many advertisers will likely never cover the complete keyword inventory of their site. This is especially the case for ecommerce merchants that continually add products. Moreover, consumers type first-time queries every day. Dynamic search ads cover unknown keywords.

Plus, DSAs are an effective keyword research tool. As with standard search campaigns, advertisers can view query reports to see which terms triggered their DSAs. Advertisers could then assign high-converting themes into separate ad groups or campaigns, to expand. Using the “oval coffee table” example, I could discover that the query “oval coffee table” and variants perform well. I could segregate this theme into its own campaign and create ad groups with specific ad copy and extensions.

DSAs are typically less expensive than keyword-based campaigns. Advertisers can set lower (manual) bids than in other search campaigns. Google recommends bids, but I generally start at half the cost in other campaigns. If I’m bidding, on average, $1 in campaign A, I’ll bid $0.50 in the DSA campaign. Advertisers using automated bidding should likely set a higher return on ad spend (ROAS) or a lower cost per acquisition (CPA) to ensure profitability.

Keep in mind that DSAs will generate unqualified traffic. Google will inevitably show ads for irrelevant queries. The goal is for irrelevant queries to comprise only a small portion of overall traffic via, again, lower bids, higher ROAS, or lower CPA.

Exclusions

The excluded queries in DSAs are often as important as the targets. Primary exclusion vehicles are negative keywords and negative dynamic targets. Negative keywords in DSAs function the same as in search campaigns. Adding negative keywords eliminates irrelevant traffic. Identify those keywords in the search query report.

Remember to add the exact match versions of broad keywords as negatives. For example, Google could show ads for the query of “tables” for our “oval coffee table” scenario. Adding the exact match of “tables” as a negative keyword will ensure no ads will show for this broad query.

The other form of exclusion is negative dynamic ad targets. Similar to telling Google which pages to target, advertisers can also assign the pages to exclude. Common ecommerce exclusions include blog posts, policy pages, and FAQs — all are less likely to convert, although they do facilitate remarketing.

Screenshot from Google showing the interface for assigning "negative dynamic ad targets."Screenshot from Google showing the interface for assigning "negative dynamic ad targets."

Advertisers can assign the pages to exclude using “negative dynamic ad targets.” Source: Google.

Google Ads Updates Performance Max, Customer Match, Product Feeds, More

On May 27, Google held its annual Marketing Livestream event. Google Ads is typically a focus. This year was no different. Google addressed updates to Google Ads as well as its continued push toward user privacy and smarter automation.

Only a handful of the updates could produce noticeable performance changes for advertisers. Many are either enhancements to current features or expanded to all advertisers from only a portion previously. Nonetheless, I’ll review the most impactful updates in this post. Google’s support page contains a complete list.

Performance Max Campaigns

Currently in beta, Performance Max campaigns are opening to most advertisers. This campaign type broadens automation as advertisers can create one campaign for all of Google’s platforms, including:

  • Search,
  • Display,
  • Discover,
  • Gmail,
  • Maps,
  • YouTube.

Advertisers choose their goal(s) and submit various audiences and keywords for targeting. Advertisers also submit copy assets, including images, videos, and text. The format is similar to a responsive display ad where Google rotates all the assets and shows the best performing combinations, using machine learning to drive results.

I used the Performance Max campaign type for a lead generation client and experienced below-average results. My cost per conversion was higher than the account’s average. The campaign generated only a handful of conversions. The lack of transparency is concerning. There is no way to view how various assets are performing and what properties they appear on.

Nonetheless, Performance Max campaigns have the potential to provide advertising exposure across many properties and platforms. Certainly it’s more efficient to submit at once all assets and targeting criteria. A better way to view Performance Max results could be as a top-of-funnel tactic that helps convert users down the line.

This campaign type has value, especially if Google would provide more transparency.

Customer Match

With Google avoiding third-party cookies, first-party data will become much more important. Customer Match allows advertisers to upload email addresses and then target those users across all networks when signed into Google. Customer Match can nurture prospects who have submitted their email addresses, such as for newsletter subscriptions or whitepaper downloads.

The hurdle for using Customer Match has been a $50,000 lifetime spend threshold — accounts must have spent at least $50,000 since their inception. Google is now easing this restriction, but with a catch. Any advertiser, regardless of lifetime spend, can now use Customer Match. But only advertisers who have met the $50,000 threshold can directly target the users from the uploaded addresses. Otherwise, the Customer Match lists can only be layered into campaigns in observation mode. Advertisers can see the performance of their lists without the ability to set bid adjustments or target the users directly.

Despite the spend threshold, the larger point is to push advertisers to collect first-party data. Audience targeting will be drastically changing. Customer Match is a helpful way for advertisers to target warm audiences from existing info.

Expanded Product Feeds

Google Shopping continues to be the top revenue source for most ecommerce advertisers. Over the years, Google has broadened Shopping’s reach to include the Display Network, Search Partners, and YouTube. This requires advertisers to ensure their product feeds contain quality images, relevant product names, clear product descriptions, and much more.

Google has now expanded product feeds to video action campaigns. This campaign type shows a set of products within video ads on YouTube. Consumers can view the products in the video ad and click.

Screenshot from Google of a smartphone screen with Video Action ads.Screenshot from Google of a smartphone screen with Video Action ads.

Google has expanded product feeds to video action campaigns on YouTube.

Product feeds are also in beta for Discovery campaign ads. Discovery advertisers can submit product info to be shown across Google properties, similar in concept to Performance Max campaigns. It’s another way for Google to promote its Shopping service.

Greater Insights

Earlier this year, I addressed the benefits of Google Ads’ Insights tab, which include identifying new target keywords, audiences, themes, and locations. I cautioned readers to consider the information as mostly clues and, potentially, as new opportunities. Google announced at the Marketing Livestream event that it would add features to Insights, including:

• Demand forecasts,
• Consumer interest themes,
• Audience info.

The demand forecasts for trending search interest are likely the most helpful to advertisers.