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How retailers can survive Amazon’s stronghold in Google search

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Retail marketers can’t out-Amazon on the paid Google SERP, but they can find white space.

Among the metrics that can help is impression share. It’s in the Google Auction Insights report for shopping and paid search campaigns.

Impression share is the percentage of impressions your ads received divided by the estimated number of impressions the ads were eligible to receive. Google determines eligibility based on a number of factors, including targeting settings, approval statuses and quality.

On the surface, impression share can help you understand whether your ads might reach more shoppers if you increase your bids or budget.

But a smarter way to use impression share is for gaining context into how your advertising environment is shifting. Evaluate it alongside other performance and competitive metrics. From there, use those insights to identify how to adapt your campaigns and bidding strategy to the changing competitive pressure.

Let’s take a look at the latest data and examples for how to go about it.

Amazon’s impression share in Google Shopping

We analyzed Google Auction Insights reports for a leading retailer in five verticals. These retailers all see Amazon as a regular competitor in Google Shopping and Google paid search.

The following chart shows the share of impressions Amazon has garnered over the last two years for Google Shopping auctions in which both the retailer and Amazon were eligible to serve an ad.

From this chart we can make a few observations. One is that Amazon’s impression share tended to increase as each year progressed, reaching a peak just before or during each holiday shopping period, and dipping sharply during Q2 2018 when Amazon briefly paused its shopping campaigns.

We can also see that Amazon’s share of impressions for categories such as office supplies and home improvement was consistently higher than its share for sporting goods or apparel.

Why the difference between verticals? In part it’s a reflection of each retailer’s search query universe and how much it overlaps that of Amazon. The home improvement and office supplies retailers likely share more of Amazon’s search query universe.

By contrast, a retailer who sells a lot of, say, North Face and Nike products might not see much competition from Amazon, because those brands are not available on Amazon. When consumers search using North Face- or Nike-branded terms, for example, Amazon could possibly appear in search results with ads for similar products. Still, Amazon would have a much lower impression on those items because of their lower relevance.

Ramping up apparel

Take a closer look below at Amazon’s impression share within the apparel category on Google Shopping over the past several months.

One takeaway here is that the hockey-stick growth aligns with Amazon’s private label surge. The company introduced seven new private label brands and over 150 Amazon-exclusive brands in Q4 2018, according to the TJI Amazon Brand Database. Amazon’s largest brand portfolio? Apparel and accessories, with over 80 private label and exclusive brands in the U.S.

Amazon’s impact in paid search vs. shopping campaigns

Looking at the same retailers in Google paid search shows a slightly different set of results.

Amazon has long been active in paid search. While it continues to experiment and fine tune its Google Shopping strategy, the company has a more established and consistently growing presence in paid search, as this impression share data suggests.

An outlier, however, is Amazon’s heightened impression share within the office supplies category. That trend aligns with Amazon’s push in the office supplies market over the past few quarters.

For another view of the data, let’s isolate Amazon’s impression share for each vertical.





Compete with Amazon, not against it

The best way to respond to Amazon’s growth is not to panic. Look at your bottom line and determine what, if any, impact Amazon is having on your business. Impression share is a metric that shouldn’t directly drive strategy, but rather provide context around the advertiser competition in your market.

At the end of the day, keep Amazon’s impression share in perspective. Amazon is influential, but retailers that know their business and customers can be well-equipped to handle rising impression share from competitors. Here’s how.

Know how to interpret impression share

Impression share can you help you determine your biggest competitors on Google, and how that landscape is changing. While you probably know your competitors overall for your business, that composition might differ in Google’s shopping and paid search channels. For instance, retailers that devote most of their digital marketing budget to Google Shopping could create strong competition for you on that channel, while creating little competition elsewhere. Use impression share to uncover new entrants or established competitors who are being more or less aggressive with their bids. Say your CPCs suddenly rise. Examine impression share to see whether a competitor’s heightened spending is a factor.

Understand a healthy impression share for your business

Your business, competitive landscape, and return goals determine an ideal impression share. If you’re up against deep-pocketed competitors like Amazon, an impression share of 10% might be healthy for your campaigns, as long as you’re driving revenue efficiently. If you’re achieving your revenue targets within your campaign’s return goals, there’s little concern about a few competitors outranking you.

Dig into click share, too

Click share is the percentage of clicks on your ads relative to the clicks they were eligible to receive. Analyze click share in combination with impression share to get a better sense of where your campaigns are weak and can improve. In paid search, if impression share is high but click share is low, your ads might be appearing for irrelevant queries. If the same situation is happening in Google Shopping, your products might be priced too high above the competition. Or, maybe competitors are showing promotions on their ads more often than you. Conversely, if impression share is low and click share is high, consider bidding more aggressively to increase impressions and earn even more clicks. Push products that have the best price for an easy win.

Use smarter segmentation

If you can’t simply increase budget as a response to competitors’ rising impression share, try this instead: Segment products into campaigns based on how much exposure you want those products to get. Increase bids in the campaigns containing the highest margin or best performing items. Or, create separate campaigns for branded and non-branded queries. In Sidecar’s 2018 Google Shopping Benchmarks report, we found that clicks from branded searches delivered 171 percent more ROI and a CTR four times higher than that of non-branded searches. Also, within Google Shopping, use negative keywords to filter queries and avoid wasting impressions on less relevant or low-performing terms.

Bring your mobile strategy up to date

Google Shopping hit a milestone in Q4 2018, according Sidecar’s research. For the first time ever, more than half of all Shopping conversions on occured on mobile devices. Google paid search wasn’t far behind with 44 percent of all conversions occuring on mobile in Q4. If exposure and brand awareness are among your goals for Google Shopping, you’ll get more bang for your buck on mobile where CPCs are cheaper and where Showcase ads are a factor. Those mobile impressions can lead to conversions on both mobile and desktop. Consider creating a separate campaign for mobile traffic if you haven’t yet. It will let you tune bids granularly to how your products perform on mobile.

Plan search and shopping campaigns cohesively

As the above charts show, metrics like impression share vary between shopping and paid search campaigns. You might find, for instance, that you face greater competition in paid search than Shopping. As a result, you might treat paid search as more of a bottom-of-the-funnel channel and focus spend on high-intent queries that have the greatest chance of converting. To complement that strategy, consider how you can fill the top of the funnel with Google Shopping—a channel where you already have an advantage in terms of exposure. You might be able to withstand bidding more aggressively on a greater swath of products to drive up impression share even more.

Evaluate a move to multi-touch attribution

Most retail marketers probably agree that last touch attribution is a fundamentally flawed approach in today’s omnichannel world. On the other hand, multi-touch attribution can empower you to measure performance across channels and gain an entirely new (and more accurate) view of your customers’ journey. While it’s certainly not a simple feat to shift attribution models, some retailers, like Moosejaw, are successfully making the move. The retail landscape is only becoming more competitive. A multi-touch model that aligns with your business and goals might be among the few, major ways you can uncover a new advantage to push shoppers through your marketing funnel.

By carefully coordinating shopping and paid search campaigns, you’re positioning yourself to achieve a full-funnel marketing approach. Put your customers first when devising any strategy for Google Ads, while keeping your competitors in view.


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.


About The Author

Steve Costanza is the Senior Analytics Consultant of Enterprise Customer Strategy at Sidecar. He analyzes digital marketing performance and strategic direction for large retailers across verticals, focusing on data visualizations and advanced account segmentation. He is responsible for deriving meaning from numbers and determining how to use those insights to drive marketing decision making. Steve is especially close to Google’s new innovations impacting Shopping and paid search. He has a master’s degree in data analytics and contributes to Search Engine Land as well as Sidecar Discover, the publication by Sidecar that covers research and ideas shaping digital marketing in retail.





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LinkedIn Users Can View All Sponsored Content From the Past 6 Months

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LinkedIn pages will soon feature an ‘Ads’ tab showing all sponsored content an advertiser has run in the past six months.

The company says this change is being made in an effort to bring even greater transparency to ads on LinkedIn.

“At LinkedIn, we are committed to providing a safe, trusted, and professional environment where members can connect with each other, engage with relevant content, and grow their careers. Increased transparency to both our customers and members is critical to creating this trusted environment.”

While viewing ads in the new tab, users can click on the ads but the advertiser will not be charged.

Ad clicks from within the ‘Ads’ tab will not impact campaign reporting either.

From a marketing perspective, I see this as being an opportunity for competitor research.

Do you know a company who is killing it with LinkedIn advertising? View their ads tab to see if you can learn from what they’re doing.

Of course, the Ads tab will only show you what their ads look like.

It won’t reveal anything about how those ads are targeted or what the company’s daily budget is. But hey, it’s something.

LinkedIn says this is the first of many updates to come as the company furthers its effort to provide users with useful information about the ads they see.

The new Ads tab is rolling out globally over the next few weeks





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SEMrush expands to Amazon with Sellerly for product page testing

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SEMrush is a popular competitive intelligence platform used by search marketers. The company, recently infused with $40 million in funding to expand beyond Google, Bing and Yahoo insights, has launched a new product called Sellerly specifically for Amazon sellers.

What is Sellerly? Announced Monday, Sellerly designed to give Amazon sellers the ability to split test product detail pages.

“By introducing Sellerly as a seller’s buddy in Amazon marketing, we hope to improve hundreds of existing Amazon sellers’ strategies,” said SEMrush Chief Strategy Officer Eugene Levin in a statement. “Sellerly split testing is only the first step here. We’ve already started to build a community around the new product, which is very important to us. We believe that by combining feedback from users with our leading technology and 10 years of SEO software experience, we will be able to build something truly exceptional for Amazon sellers.”

How does it work? Sellerly is currently free to use. Amazon sellers connect their Amazon accounts to the tool in order to manage their product pages. Sellers can make changes to product detail pages to test against the controls. Sellerly collects data in real time and sellers can then choose winners based on views and conversions.

Sellers can run an unlimited number of tests.

Why we should care. Optimized product detail pages on Amazon is a critical aspect of success on the platform. As Amazon continues to generate an increasing share of e-commerce sales for merchants big and small, and competition only increases, product page optimization becomes even more critical. Amazon does not support AB testing natively. Sellerly is not the first split test product for Amazon product pages to market. Splitly (paid), Listing Dojo (free) are two others that offer similar split testing services.


About The Author

Ginny Marvin is Third Door Media’s Editor-in-Chief, managing day-to-day editorial operations across all of our publications. Ginny writes about paid online marketing topics including paid search, paid social, display and retargeting for Search Engine Land, Marketing Land and MarTech Today. With more than 15 years of marketing experience, she has held both in-house and agency management positions. She can be found on Twitter as @ginnymarvin.



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Google on Domain Penalties that Don’t Expire

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Google’s John Mueller was presented with a peculiar situation of a website with zero notifications of a manual action that cannot rank for it’s own brand name. Mueller analyzed the situation, thought it through, then appeared to reach the conclusion that maybe Google was keeping it from ranking.

This is a problem that has existed for a long time, from before Mueller worked at Google. It’s a penalty that’s associated with a domain that remains even if the domain is registered by a new buyer years later.

Description of the Problem

The site with a penalty has not received notices of a manual penalty.

That’s what makes it weird because, how can a site be penalized if it’s not penalized, right?

The site had an influx of natural links due to word of mouth popularity. Yet even with those links, the site cannot rank for it’s own name or a snippet of content from it’s home page.

Had those natural links or the content been a problem then Google would have notified the site owner.  So the problem is not with the links or the content.

Nevertheless, the site owner disavowed old inbound links from before he purchased the site but the site still did not rank.

Here is how the site owner described the problem:

“We bought the domain three years ago to have a brand called Girlfriend Collective, it’s a clothing company on the Shopify platform.

We haven’t had any… warnings from our webmaster tools that says we have any penalizations… So I was just wondering if there was any other underlying issues that you would know outside of that…

The domain is girlfriend.com and the query would be Girlfriend Collective.

It’s been as high as the second page of the SERPs, but… we get quite a few search queries for our own branded terms… it will not show up.

My assumption was that before we bought it, it was a pretty spammy dating directory.”

John Mueller’s response was:

“I can double check to see from our side if there’s anything kind of sticking around there that you’d need to take care of…”

It appears as if Mueller is being circumspect in his answer and doesn’t wish to say that it might be a problem at Google. At this point, he’s still holding on to the possibility that there’s something wrong with the site. You can’t blame him because he probably gets this all the time, where someone thinks it’s Google but it’s really something wrong with the site.

Is There Something Wrong with the Domain Name?

I checked Archive.org to see what it’s history was. It was linking to adult sites prior to 2004 and sometime in mid 2004 the domain switched it’s monetization strategy away from linking to adult sites to displaying Google ads as a parked domain.

A parked domain is a domain that does not have a website on it. It just has ads. People used to type domain names into the address field and sites like Girlfriend.com would monetize the “type-in” traffic with Google AdSense, usually with a service that shows ads on the site owner’s behalf in exchange for a percentage of the earnings.

The fact that it was linking to adult sites could be a factor that has caused Google to more or less blacklist Girlfriend.com and keep it from ranking.

Domain Related Penalties Have Existed for a Long Time

This has happened many times over the years. It used to be standard to check the background of a domain before purchasing it.

I remember the case of a newbie SEO who couldn’t rank for his own brand name. Another SEO who was more competent contacted Google on his behalf and Google lifted the legacy domain penalty.

The Search Query

Mueller referred to the search queries the site owner wanted to rank for as being “generic” and commented that ranking for those kinds of “generic” terms is tricky.

This is what John Mueller said:

“In general, when it comes to kind of generic terms like that, that’s always a bit tricky. But it sounds like you’re not trying to rank for like just… girlfriend. “

However the phrase under discussion was the company name, Girlfriend Collective, which is not a generic phrase.

It could be argued that the domain name is not relevant for the brand name. So perhaps Mueller was referencing the generic nature of the domain name when he commented on ranking for “generic” phrases?

I don’t understand why “generic” phrases entered into this discussion. The site owner answered Mueller to reinforce that he’s not trying to rank for generic phrases, that he just wants to rank for his brand name.

The search phrase the site owner is failing to rank for is Girlfriend Collective. Girlfriend Collective is not a generic keyword phrase.

Is the Site Poorly Optimized?

When you visit the website itself, the word Collective does not exist in the visible content.

The word “collective” is nowhere on the page, not even in the footer copyright. The word is there, but it’s in an image, it has to be in text for Google to recognize it for the regular search results.

That’s a considerable oversight to omit your own brand name from the website’s home page.

Screenshot of Girlfriend.com's footer

  • The brand name exists in the title tag and other meta data.
  • It does not exist in the visible content where it really matters.
  • The word collective is not a part of the domain name.

A reasonable case could be made that girlfriend.com does not merit ranking for the brand name of Girlfriend Collective because the word collective only exists in the title tag of the home page, not on the page itself.

Google Does Not Even Rank it for Page Snippets

However that reasonable case falls apart upon closer scrutiny. If you take any content from the page and search with that snippet of content in Google, you’ll see that the domain name does not even rank for the content that is on it’s own page.

The site is fully indexed, but the content is not allowed to rank.

I searched for the following phrases but only found other pages and social media posts ranking in Google, not Girlfriend.com:

  • “Five classic colors made from recycled water bottles.”
  • “A bunch of old water bottles have never looked so good.”

That first phrase, “Five classic colors…” doesn’t rank anywhere on Google for the first several pages.

But as you can see below, Girlfriend.com ranks #6 in Bing:

Screenshot of Girlfriend.com ranking in Bing.Bing has no trouble ranking Girlfriend Collective for a snippet of text taken from the home page. Google does not show it at all. This points to this issue being something to do with Google and not with the site itself.

Even though Girlfriend.com appears to fall short in its search optimization, that is not the problem. The problem is that Google is preventing any content from that domain from ranking.

The reason Google is preventing that content from ranking is because the domain was problematic in the past. At some point in its history it was filtered from ranking. It’s a Legacy Google Penalty.

Checking the snapshot of girlfriend.com via Archive.org shows that it was being used to promote adult websites prior to 2004.

This is what it looked like sometime in 2004 and onward. It appears to be a parked domain that is showing Google AdSense ads.

Screenshot of Girlfriend.com from 2004This is a snapshot of Girlfriend.com circa 2004. It wasn’t a directory as the site owner believed. Checking the HTML source code reveals that the page is displaying Google AdSense ads. That’s what a parked domain looked like.

Parked domains used to be able to rank. But at some point after 2004 Google stopped ranking those pages.

There’s no way to speculate if the domain received it’s penalty before 2004 or after.

Site Can’t Rank for it’s Own Brand Name

There are many reasons why a site can’t rank for it’s own domain name or words from it’s own pages. If you suspect that your site may be suffering from a legacy Google penalty, you can verify the previous content by checking Archive.org.

Archive.org is a non-profit that stores snapshots of what web pages look like. Archive.org allows you to verify if your domain was previously used by someone else to host low quality content.

Unfortunately, Google does not provide a way to contact them to resolve this matter.

Bing Ranks Girlfriend.com for Girlfriend Collective

If there was a big problem with links or content on Girlfriend.com that was keeping it from ranking on Google, then it would very likely be apparent on Bing.

Bing and Google use different algorithms. But if there was something so massively wrong with Girlfriend Collective, whether site quality or a technical issue, there would be a high probability that the massive problem would keep it from ranking at Bing.

Bing has no problem ranking Girlfriend.com for it’s brand name:

Screenshot of Bing search results showing that it ranks Girlfriend.com in a normal mannerBing ranks Girlfriend.com in a normal manner. This may be proof that there is no major issue with the Girlfriend.com site itself. The problem may be at Google.

Google’s John Mueller Admits it Might be Google

After listening to how the site owner has spent three years waiting for the legacy domain penalty to drop off, three years of uploading disavows, three years of bidding on AdWords for it’s own brand name, John Mueller seemed to realize that the issue was not on the site owner’s side but on Google’s side.

This is what John Mueller offered:

“I need to take a look to see if there’s anything sticking around there because it does seem like the old domain was pretty problematic. So that… always makes it a little bit harder to turn it around into something reasonable.

But it feels like after a couple of years that should be possible. “

In the end, Mueller admitted that it might be something on Google’s side. However an issue that remains is that there is no solution for other publishers. This is not something a publisher can do on their own like a disavow. It’s something a Googler must be made aware of in order to fix.

Watch the Google Webmaster Hangout here

Screenshots by Author, Modified by Author





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