Word of Mouth and Internet – Google Study

Every marketer recognizes that Word of mouth conversations are the holy grail of advertising, helping to amplify paid campaign buzz and give messages longevity far beyond booked media schedule periods.

A new study on Googles Think Insight website explores the  relationship between the Internet and WOM conversations. Not surprisingly, the study emphasizes the role of search at all stages of conversations.

Google WOM & Internet Study

Some key findings:

1. The Internet is the #1 spark for WOM conversations and the first source for information after
2. WOM impressions generated by search are 27% more credible and 35%  more likely to lead to a purchase decision, compared to online or social media.
3. Smartphone users reference Internet a lot around WOM conversations

Implications
1. Increase SEM budget before and during a new campaign to capture impressions at all stages.
2. Bid on campaign related themes and words.
3. Send traffic to a microsite or YouTube channel so users can get more information (prices, buying locations) and continue discussions online.
4. Use advanced ad scheduling to upweight spending around TV spots when conversations are likely to spike (often at home)
5. Create separate mobile  campaigns for smartphone users

Have you used search to capture incremental campaign related queries? Please share your experiences with us in this blogs comments section.

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Is your PPC Campaign tool on Red Bull?

If you follow Formula One racing you will know that Red Bull are suddenly the team to beat in 2011, staying ahead of established teams like Ferrari that have ex-champion drivers in their ranks. Much of their new found competitiveness is down to them now having the best car, which counts immensely in this most technology dependent of premier world sports.

PPC marketing is analogous to Formula One in some ways in that the pre-requisites for success are similar. Both need a top-notch driver (Campaign Manager), race strategy (Campaign Optimisations), an experienced team principal (Account Director) and the best in line race car/engine (PPC Campaign Management tool).

As I read a recently released report on PPC Campaign Management tools by Search Marketing Now, I was left to ponder on the extent we as Paid Search marketers are dependent on our own PPC tools. So is it all about the tool?

I think a good tool can certainly improve campaign efficiency and outcomes especially with large accounts (portfolio of products/brands, active keywords >20,000,  multiple online channels). A PPC tool allows campaign teams to automate campaign tasks and provides complex reporting, competitive analysis and cross channel attribution insights all in one place. This frees time to focus on work that cannot be automated, like creative writing, forecasting, developing long term strategies, setting up tests and staying up to date with new search enhancements.

I have optimised many campaigns manually or simply through Adwords Editor and the Google/Yahoo interfaces with equal ease though I admit it does increase time required. The decision on whether to rely on a 3rd party tool or to what degree, depends on each Campaign Managers style and the complexity of the account. SMBs and SEM consultants running small or seasonal campaigns might often find working with free tools simpler and cost effective. If you are undecided, the report has a useful section on the pros and cons of campaign automation.

Here is a snapshot comparing the leading PPC management tools.  Disclaimer: I have not used any of the tools myself so cannot endorse or comment from personal experience.

PPC Campaign Management Tools

The above list at first glance appears more North America focused to me and hence may be unfamiliar to SEM practitioners locally. But it does provide vital information on the capabilities that leading automated solutions can provide.

Remember the PPC landscape today in Australia is not just Adwords and Yahoo, but increasingly also Facebook which according to an AdAge report did 60% of 2010 revenue in self-serve ads, as well as LinkedIn. In a previous post I noted IAB figures showing online advertising in Australia is growing steadily YoY and Search is already 50% of that spend. Read on and make sure your team or Agency is using the best tool on the market.

Google Instant Previews Now Live for Search Ads

Google has launched the Instant Preview feature for its paid search Adwords program worldwide. Instant Previews provides a graphic overview of a search result and highlights the most relevant sections. An icon appears besides the ads allowing users to preview the landing page without having to click-through. The feature has previously been around for a few months for organic search results only. The feature is active here in Australia too (see example).

Google-Adwords-Instant-Previews

I have four early observations to make:

Paid vs Organic Distinction  The distinction between the paid and organic results on the Google results page has been completely blurred now. Look at the example above for instance. The three paid ads all use the Extended Search Headline format and now the Instant Preview icon, which could confuse users into thinking the organic results for the query ‘credit cards’ begin at the top of the page.

Ad Extensions  The Instant Preview displays only one landing page per ad. So if you have Ad Extensions Site Links you can’t offer a preview for each landing page.

Landing Page Design  The design of your paid ad landing pages is now more important especially if you are a category new entrant or not a top of mind competitor. If searchers preview your page before clicking, you must provide an enticing snapshot and pay attention to what relevant content on your page will be highlighted as per the users query. For established brands I expect that users will continue to click on their ads and not base their decision on previews. These brands must ensure that the colours and images users see on the landing page previews are synonymous with assets used in other media.

Mobile Search  Finally for the few mobile searches I did for ‘credit cards’, ‘car insurance’ and ‘savings accounts’, the instant preview wasnt available for the paid ads though organic searches are enabled. I think Instant Preview will be more useful for mobile search, where users are looking for immediate information and find it more cumbersome to go back and forth in search results due to the mobile screens limited space for navigation.

Are you a digital or paid search marketer – What do you think of the new feature?

GroupM Search study explores Search, Social relationship

A new study from GroupM Search developed with comScore sheds light on the causal relationship between Search and Social and how they influence the conversion path. This is a great follow-up to the 2009 study that explored the correlation between the two. Now that Social media is more mainstream and deeply embedded into consumer lives the 2011 study highlights opportunities for brands to explore in the consumers path to conversion.

Highlights:

  1. In 58% of all consumer journeys that end in purchase, the starting point is a search
  2. Consumers who convert are equally likely to use a combination of search and social (48%) as opposed to just  search (51%)
  3. When it comes to aiding the purchase decision, the top social option is user reviews (30%)
  4. 45% use search throughout the purchase process versus 26% only at the beginning and 18% only at the end

Implications of Google search changes

Google’s search result page, once as famous for its simplicity as its notoriously secret ranking algorithm has undergone a slew of changes in the last 2 months. Google does not actively promote these changes to end users, allowing them to find out about new features through discovery during regular use. The recent changes are focused on giving the company a stronger position in the ‘local’ space and making the search experience more ‘instant’.

Here is an illustrative screenshot and run down of the 7 changes:

1. Google Instant – Results below the search box now ‘instantly’ change as the user types.

Implication: Users get predictive results even before they complete their query thereby saving time (Google estimates it will save 2-5 seconds per search).  For advertisers it means impression counts will go up and they will need to bid on expensive head terms more as users may not get to the end of long tail search queries.

2 & 8. Instant Previews – A magnifying glass now appears alongside natural results which when clicked offers a preview (see number 8 on screenshot) of the destination page / website without having to navigate to it. A user can now base his judgement on whether to click by just taking a look at the preview from within the search results.

Implications: Users save time but website owners have to pay more attention to making their webpage design appealing and distinct for the preview facility.

3 & 4. Places Search – Local information is now clustered in a map that appears above the right column of sponsored ads. These results appear when Google thinks you are looking for local information. If you do a generic search but want to view local results, a new ‘Places’ link in the left hand menu will bring you these results.

Implications : Users now get a larger cluster of links on average. Google says it saves people an average of 2 seconds on local information searches. The links appear as red pins on the map and provide more comprehensive information about the plotted results than before, like reviews, ratings and addresses for a business. For business owners claiming their Google Places listing , optimising and ensuring its completeness is now even more important.

5. Ads – The heading at the top of the right hand column of Adwords paid ads are now referred to as just ‘Ads’ from the previous ‘sponsored ads’.

Implication: Marginal to none.

6. Change to 7-Pack – Earlier businesses could appear in the set of 7 local business ads that appeared along side the local business map as well as have its website listing appear below separately. Now it can have only one appearance within the 7-pack thereby limiting its visibility.

Implications: Local businesses must now have a well optimised website for local searches or risk disappearing from front page results altogether.

7. Adwords Ads – The right hand column ads positions 4 onwards have now been pushed lower down to accommodate the local Places Search map.

Implication: This means some positions are now below the fold making competition more intense leading to Cost per Click inflation. Some advertisers that have effectively employed a position #5 or #6 strategy due to lower budgets or because this is where they get their best ROI are now at a disadvantage.

Google launches special results for suicide, poisoning

Starting today Google Australia has launched a special search initiative for searches on the terms ‘poisoning’ and ‘suicide’. For the above queries users are presented with a red phone icon and the emergency phone numbers for Lifeline Australia and the Australian Poisons Hotline. Just underscores the importance of Search as the first source of information in any situation. Hats off to Google for extending this service to Australians.

Digital Agencies – Looking Beyond Metrics & Media Forecasts

“Online to take over Print by 20XX”
“Online grows X% YOY, traditional media growth slows down”

These days not a week goes by that we don’t receive a new media forecast proclaiming the rise of online media. Only the growth percentages and years in the forecasts change. Most of these numbers are of course brought out by media groups with heavy investments in digital or interactive industry organisations.

My view is that these big growth percentages are expected because online is starting off a small base. So we (I work in online) have to start looking for big shifts in actual $ value numbers before we start beating drums. There are still challenges to overcome until Digital agencies can become viable businesses or standalone profit centres rather than token add-ons of large media agencies. Hoping that the above mentioned rosy media forecasts and our complex array of measurable metrics will keep each of us profitable only betrays a lack of vision. The big 5 challenges (in random order) are:

  1. Lack of attribution

From what I have seen the top 20 Australian brands do not have a significant online shopping presence i.e. their consumer’s research online, but buy offline for lack of choice. Now, you can throw stats at clients and tell them 60% of customer’s research online but until you can show them that those customers went on to buy at the store and not because there was a stall at the mall they don’t see the value of taking money from another media. Online needs to show that clicks delivered online can be attributed to a sale through a call-centre or a retail outlet. Traditional advertising has been using brand track studies, online surveys and retail figures to justify their spends for decades.

2. Small pool of prospects

There are some surefire online categories – Finance, Travel, Dating, Real Estate – unfortunately every big agency chases these. These clients have online business models and hence do not need to be sold on the value of online marketing to their businesses. But these big fish are also tough to snare and often have deep relationships with their offline agencies who may have their own online practices. So it’s a case of few fish and too many agencies.

3. Not getting a fair go

Attend an all-Agencies weekly WIP and you’ll often find the Media Agency dominating the discussion. Yes, traditional media agencies have relationships that go back longer with their clients and hence get more face time. Most C-level marketers started off at a time when traditional media were the only choices on a media plan and are averse to new media and its perceived complexity. With most media agencies headed by luminaries with illustrious records (and awards), media weightages can be swayed on reputation alone. Digital agencies and divisions must still rely on the crumbs on the table after the offline agency is finished.

4. Online isn’t a mass brand channel

Online doesn’t have the pulling power of TV yet. Big live events like cricket, AFL, Melbourne Cup and phenomenons like Master Chef aggregate audiences in a way no online property can.  Advertisers want to attach their brands to proven properties their target audience watches, even if their ads reach audiences outside their primary segments. People use the Internet to seek information, play games,  socialize on networks and watch videos. Not to watch ads in minuscule boxes or to click away from their favorite website to an advertisers website. Over decades we’ve learnt to accept advertisements on TV and as the quality has improved we’ve even grown to love them. The success of Gruen Transfer is proof of this.

5. Clients love traditional media

As a marketing client, I always looked forward to the days when the Creative & Media agency came in to the office. It was exciting and creative and put my boss in a good mood. Seeing the advertisements on TV or on a city billboard, also assured everyone from the CMO to the Finance Head that I was busy. Now in the complex work of Digital, be it developing search campaigns or setting up campaign tracking, clients have lesser scope to input and offer subjective opinion. The mass of metrics that Digital and PPC agencies churn out each week in voluminous excel spreadsheets also isolates them from their clients even more.

So there it is, a few challenges outlined, based on my own experience on both sides of the fence. In my next post I’ll touch upon a few strategies for Digital Agencies to consider in future.