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How to make a holiday shopping campaign for low budget accounts

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As an advertiser, it always feels like the holiday season is abnormally long. It starts in August when I’m initiating conversations with our clients about the upcoming holidays and what it means for them. The majority of my clients are small businesses with small budgets, making this an important time of year. Not only do we have to be careful with our spend, but the revenue that is generated during this season is crucial. A lot of the accounts I work with will feel a strain in their business if they don’t earn enough during the holidays to help them make it through the slower months.

The unique constraints that small businesses face with advertising carry over to the holiday season, which is why planning your calendar, knowing what you’re measuring and being intentional with your budget are so important.

Calendar 

One of the challenges of running a small account during the holiday season is planning out exactly which campaigns you will run when. There are three main ways I approach the calendar.

Use historical data

First, use all the data you have access to in order to identify what worked last year and what didn’t. We have a client that is in the hospitality space and has been with us for three holiday seasons. We have a lot of data about what has worked in the past, and we use it to identify the platforms we want to use as well as similar campaigns that we want to run every year. If you don’t have data from last season, use what you do have to make an informed guess.

A caveat here is to ensure you aren’t looking only at last-click data or return on ad spend at the campaign level. Looking at purchase path and assisted revenue is important when identifying what you deem successful. If a specific campaign plays an important role at the beginning of the purchase path, cutting it is going to affect overall revenue.

Another important item to keep in mind is any major changes in your audience or offerings over the course of the year. Ask yourself if you can really make the assumption that what worked last year will likely work again if there have been major platform or audience changes. This also applies if a new competitor is in your space.

Trim it down

Chances are, you don’t have the budget to do everything that you want to do. It is the reality with small accounts, there isn’t enough money to go around. The last thing you want is to end up with a low performing holiday campaign because budget was spread too thin.

There are three things to keep in mind when trimming your campaigns down – budget, capacity and creative.

First, score your ideal campaigns according to priority. For us, high priority campaigns are those that have played the biggest role in affecting the overall bottom line – a combination of direct and assisted revenue. Look at costs from the season last year, take into account rises in cost-per-click (CPC) and the typical length of the season for the business. Some of our clients only run holiday ads from Nov. 11 through Dec. 10, and others run from mid-October through December. You additionally want to take into account any extra budget you may need for Black Friday or Cyber Monday, assuming you participate. Assign your campaigns their ideal budget alongside their priority and look critically at what does and does not fit.

Second, look at the business’s overall capacity. We have clients who are two-person businesses, and although demand exists we know that once they hit capacity, they physically cannot create or sell any more stock. Take this into account when allocating out what you will and will not run. Is there a point where this will happen for you during the season? 

Finally, there is a chance that some of your top-performing and ideal campaigns will require new creative for this year, or even midway through the season. Some creative can be reused year-over-year, but you generally want something new to avoid ad exhaustion, as small businesses can have small audiences. If a high scoring campaign that you really want to run needs new creative, chances are something else will have to go, especially if creating that asset costs additional budget.

Chart it out 

Once you have a plan ironed out, create yourself and your team a GANNT chart with details about execution. We have clients that add our digital marketing component into their larger GANNT charts and while it is excellent to see where digital fits in the overall picture, we find it extraordinarily helpful to maintain our own copy.

This is also important as with smaller clients, they will typically have one point of contact, one team member who is going to be helping with their whole holiday campaign. I’ll hop in for strategy discussions, but the implementation and actual running of the campaign is up to a single person. That can leave a lot of room for error, and an individualized GANNT chart combined with Asana tasks detailing starts/stops/finishes helps us run smoothly throughout the season.

To recap: 

  • Use historical data to figure out what campaigns you want to run 
  • Look at overall contribution to revenue, not just last click ad spend
  • Trim it down according to budget, capacity or creative 
  • Chart and task it out

Analytics 

When evaluating the success of your campaign, we stick with the metrics that were used the year prior in order to evaluate year-over-year growth, which is our biggest KPI within the holiday season. While we will look at return on ad spend (ROAS), increases in overall revenue generated is our primary goal. There is an exception to this, we will use ROAS as a success metric if a client sells out of inventory each season. If we helped them sell out faster while spending less on ads, then that is a success.

One note about analytics is that it is so important to tag and name your campaigns properly. Use UTM tags that align with not only the platform and type of ad, but the holiday season. You’re doing future you a big favor by tagging your campaigns and naming them in a way that allows for easy future comparisons.

To recap: 

  • Stick with similar metrics year-over-year
  • Look at overall growth/revenue increase instead of campaign level ROAS metrics 
  • Tag and name your campaigns properly to save future you a headache and allow for easier reporting

Budget

Budgets are a hot topic these days. From stories about Google Ads not respecting their own twice a day budget rule to increasing CPCs across the board, there’s always something to be thinking about.

Audience

One of the best ways to ensure that you don’t spend all your budget is focusing on smaller audiences that you hypothesize will drive revenue. If you have a limited budget for the season, focus spend on proven remarketing and email lists. This is especially important during the sale periods, where customers who know you and have previously engaged with your business are more likely to purchase. This is a great way to approach Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

You can also use lookalike audiences of people who have purchased in past years to narrow down your targeting for top of funnel campaigns.

Know your best performing days

If you have historical data from last season, use it to determine the start time of your holiday sprint. If you’re seasonal, when did traffic return last year? When did purchases rise? Are there certain days of the week or hours of the day that are more profitable? To maximize your budget, look at all of this information and determine when to start your holiday campaigns, whether or not to advertise seven days a week, and where you should be using bid adjustments to maximize revenue.

An example of a seasonal client analytics is below. The holiday traffic came to their site this year earlier than we anticipated. We were going to run ads beginning Nov. 12 but looking at the rise in organic traffic in early October, we decided to run an early bird campaign and have seen a jump in year-over-year revenue as a result of paying attention to the early spike.

Use a script to help you manage

The final budget tip for the season is to avoid that pesky overspending in Google Ads by using a budget script. This piece of advice comes from Duane Brown of Take Some Risk, who recommends this script to limit overspending. The one caveat is that you do have to remember to re-activate what gets paused the next day, either through another script or a rule.

Using a script to ensure your daily budgets don’t get out of control is a helpful way to maximize results throughout the season and prevent Google Ads from taking away your budgetary control.

To recap: 

  • Limit big sale days to your most qualified audiences 
  • Know what days and times you should be loading your budget for 
  • Pay attention to seasonal traffic and adjust accordingly 
  • Use a script to prevent overages

Season recap

One of the best things that you can do for your future self is to make notes as you go. What worked, what didn’t, what UTM tags you used, your GANNT charts, and why you made the choices you did.

We always think we will remember what we did with our calendars, how we managed success and what budgets we used and why, but instead of starting over every season, keep notes so that when you’re planning your 2020 campaigns you have something to refer back to.


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

Amalia Fowler is the director of marketing services at Snaptech Marketing. She manages a team of strategists who develop holistic digital marketing strategies for clients. Passionate about testing, marketing psychology and digital strategy, Amalia speaks frequently at industry conferences and events. Outside of marketing, she’s a coffee, paddleboarding and Vancouver enthusiast. You can follow her on Twitter @amaliaefowler for all things marketing related.



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Google brings ‘Interpreter Mode’ language translation to the Assistant on smartphones

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Google introduced its real-time translation feature, “Interpreter Mode,” for Google Home and smart displays earlier this year. It tested the feature in several hotels in Las Vegas, New York and San Francisco at concierge and registration desks.

Now the company is more broadly rolling out Interpreter Mode to Android devices and iPhones. Where there were 26 languages available on Google Home, there are now 44 on the smartphone Assistant.

Google Translate also works. While the capability is impressive, people have been using Google Translate in real-world travel or foreign-language contexts like this for some time. This is just a more elegant and enhanced presentation of Google’s underlying machine translation capabilities.

‘Help me speak [language].’ In order to invoke Interpreter Mode, users say something along the lines of “Hey Google, help me translate [foreign language].” It will then enable real-time translation. Google also says the Assistant “may present Smart Replies, giving you suggestions that let you quickly respond without speaking.”

Interpreter Mode works automatically on Android, but iPhone users will need to install or update the Google Assistant app. Without updating the app, I tried to invoke it on the iPhone, and it prompted me to use the Google Translate app instead. Indeed, real-time translation can be accomplished with Google Translate, though somewhat more awkwardly.

Why we care. As Google continues to add capabilities and features to the Assistant, it reinforces usage and loyalty. The Assistant is Google’s cross-platform UI that spans multiple channels and hardware devices.

Yet we still don’t know how frequently consumers are using the Assistant on smartphones or whether there’s any substitution of the Assistant for more traditional Google Search on mobile devices. I suspect the Assistant as a search alternative is still a small minority use case. Earlier this year Google tested ads in Assistant smartphone search results.


About The Author

Greg Sterling is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes about the connections between digital and offline commerce. He previously held leadership roles at LSA, The Kelsey Group and TechTV. Follow him Twitter or find him on LinkedIn.



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Amazon ad spend rises over Cyber 5, but most efficient sales days still ahead

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On Cyber Monday alone, consumers spent $9.4B via online channels – that’s up $1.5B from just last year, according to Adobe, and another record-breaking figure in terms of e-commerce sales. For marketers, the entire five-day stretch known as Cyber 5, but dubbed “Turkey 5” by Amazon, was likely a banner sales weekend, but looking at year-over-year Amazon data, what’s clear is that your holiday fortunes are not made or broken on that period alone.

As part of the research my company conducted, it is clear that on a conversion rate and cost-per-conversion basis, some of the best sales days on Amazon come after Cyber Monday. To maximize your total sales, and potentially capture market share from competitors, your advertising budgets and strategy on the site needs to align with this reality.

As seen in the below graphs, which are drawn across a same-set of more than 700 Amazon sellers, ad conversion rates continue to rise from Cyber Monday all the way through the Dec. 22 shipping cutoff. Yet, the average cost-per-conversion declines over the same period.

Click to enlarge

This is likely due to two contributing factors.

Perhaps most impactfully, many brands budget to spend aggressively during that five-day period and, due to the extremely high volume of consumers on the site, blow through a fixed budget for the season. While those holiday period campaigns may have driven high sales volumes at profitable costs, those same brands now don’t have the ability to stay aggressive over the intervening days, substantially tapering down spend and bids through the remainder of the year and missing out on these additional profitable sales.

Secondly, when consumers are shopping on Amazon a matter of weeks or days before Christmas, they are less inclined to do a great deal of research when buying their gifts. Time is of the essence, and the data bears out that users are more likely to click and convert on a sponsored product ad during this period.

In 2019, that latter point may be even more important, as the time between Cyber Monday and Christmas nearly a full week shorter, lending itself to more “last minute” holiday gift buying.

The bottom line is that on Amazon, it’s imperative that you consider uncapping budgets around holiday periods and other high-traffic events on Amazon in particular, provided you have the ability to set and adjust bids to align with the value of a given sale after discounts, fees, etc.

This is driven home by the overarching trend over the five-day period itself. Even in the face of a large number of sellers aggressively advertising during this time, the massive amount of consumers coming to Amazon and subsequently clicking on ads outpaced that rate. Across gift-giving categories and more than 219,000 products, Amazon ad spend was up significantly, but CPCs either remained flat, declined, or rose at a level far below the corresponding spend increase – compared to the prior four-week average.

Click to enlarge

In a sense, it was easy for a brand to spend substantially more on Amazon advertising over “Turkey 5” – we saw a 92% increase from pre-holiday levels on average – but they were likely driving sales at a more profitable rate from that ad spend. With conversion rates remaining high following Cyber Monday, that efficiency is likely to increase, albeit with less traffic overall.

Maximizing the holiday home stretch and beyond

With some time still remaining until the Dec. 22 shipping cutoff, there are some tactical levers brands can pull to capture more of those profitable sales. We talked about the value in uncapping budgets through Dec. 22, but that needs to be paired with bids that are set in line with any promotional or non-promotional pricing which may be in place for a given product.

By consistently bidding to value on an individual product level, brands can bring in more profitable sales on Amazon during these high traffic periods. Additionally, this is a good practice year-round, as it minimizes the risk of wasting ad spend while allowing for scale when a bump in user purchase activity warrants additional investment.


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

Andrew Waber is the director of insights at retail optimization platform (ROP) provider Teikametrics. In his current role, Andrew manages the analysis, editorial direction and strategy for Teikametrics’ reporting on online retail advertising and the larger online retail marketplace. Prior to his time at Teikametrics, Andrew served as the manager of data insights and media relations at Salsify, the manager of market insights and media relations for advertising automation software provider Nanigans, and as the market analyst and lead author of reports for Chitika Insights, the research arm of the Chitika online ad network. Andrew’s commentary on online trends has been quoted by the New York Times, Re/Code and The Guardian, among other outlets.



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SMX Overtime: Managing your online business reviews

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Last month I spoke at SMX East about scaling online reputation management – specifically reviews. At the end of my presentation, “14 Tips to Scale Reviews Across Multiple Locations,” I fielded a number of fantastic questions from session attendees and wanted to follow-up on some additional ones.

How do I convince clients to respond to reviews on Google?

First and foremost, responding to customer reviews builds trust. When a business responds to reviews, it demonstrates that it cares enough about its customers to respond to them. Being responsive builds trust not only with the person who wrote the review but also with future customers who might be looking at reviews as they evaluate you against your competitors. 

Responding to reviews specifically on Google also improves your visibility. Reviews have been the fastest growing signal in Google local ranking factors for the past three years, according to the annual Moz Local Search Ranking Factors study. Review signals were overwhelming correlated with higher rankings in Local SEO Guide’s Local Search Ranking Study from two years ago. And Google itself cites managing and responding to customer reviews as an important ranking factor.

Strictly looking at GMB and reviews, wouldn’t negative reviews actually be helpful in rankings?

Google stresses that “High-quality, positive [emphasis mine] reviews from your customers will improve your business’s visibility and increase the likelihood that a potential customer will visit your location.” So, strictly speaking, negative reviews won’t help.

But the bigger question is this: how can negative reviews help your business beyond rankings? They can if you are willing to learn from them. No business is perfect. Negative feedback identifies vulnerabilities that you need to address before they mushroom into bigger problems.

Responding to reviews by improving your business creates a virtuous cycle: a better customer experience leads to more positive reviews, which leads to improved visibility online. So, long story short, indirectly negative reviews could help your rankings in local search by improving your business.”

Many of our clients like us to handle reviews on their behalf. Do you have any recommendations on how to monetize that as a service?

Don’t try to manage reviews manually – especially if your clients operate multiple locations. Trying to monitor and respond appropriately and quickly to reviews can be overwhelming unless you have a tool that does everything from sentiment analysis to natural language processing of the reviews as they come in. (Full disclosure: my company offers one.) But don’t take my word for it: ask someone who has tried to manage reviews manually at scale. They’ll tell you the same thing: you need the right tool to manage this process well.

What’s a typical workflow like when outsourcing reviews? How do you onboard the new people responding to reviews?

First, talk with your client and establish a protocol for how to respond to reviews. Is the client going to split duties with the outsourcing partner, or is the partner going to handle them all? In addition, what’s the protocol for writing original replies versus using some agreed-upon, preformatted replies? Those (and many others) are the types of questions you need to address. Get the protocol sorted out and documented. Once you do that, onboarding new people comes down to relying on the protocol to train them.

What’s your position on review gating? Only targeting people who give us the best feedback or would asking all be more beneficial?

Don’t do it. Review gating goes against Google’s terms of service and violating that can get you in hot water with the world’s most popular website. Incidentally, as reported in Search Engine Land, review gating won’t materially impact your business’ overall ratings anyway. It’s not worth the risk.

When businesses ask customers for reviews say, for urgent care, what ratio of positive to negative reviews might the business expect?

If you take good care of your customers, then expect a high ratio of positive reviews! The important thing is to ask for reviews. Don’t be afraid of negative ones happening. People who have a bad experience with your business are going to share negative reviews whether you ask them or not. It’s not like asking for reviews will trigger a flood of damaging feedback. Trust me – upset customers need no encouragement. But sometimes happy customers just need a little nudge to share the love online.

How do you combat fake reviews and irrelevant negative reviews? Flagging doesn’t do crap!

Fake reviews are a problem and no doubt that flagging reviews has little effect on having them removed. While there is no guarantee this will work, typically the best course of action to have reviews removed is to post to the GMB forums and hope Joy Hawkins or another Product Expert takes up your cause.

That said, what you can do is ask customers to review your business and make it easy for them to do so. The uptick in authentic reviews will counter the spammy ones.

How do we decide which platforms to focus our review asks on? Zillow? Google? Facebook? Especially given a limited number of transactions.

Focus first on the review amplifiers, Google and Facebook. Review amplifiers have an inordinate impact on your reputation because of their scale and influence. It’s better to focus on a small number of review amplifiers than spread yourself thin trying to be present on every location where someone leaves a review.

Start with Google. Google reviews have the biggest impact on your reputation and search rankings. Google owns 93 percent of the search market, and as noted earlier, reviews are one of the most important local search ranking signals on Google. Accumulating customer reviews on Google is most important for both your reputation and your visibility online.

Facebook remains an important number two choice to focus your time. Research from Vendasta shows that Facebook is a critical site for reviews owing to its traffic and review volume, which is true in my experience working with clients. After all, next to Google and YouTube, Facebook is the world’s most popular site – and its user base is growing.

After Google and Facebook, pick some vertical sites that pertain to your industry – such as TripAdvisor for travel and Zillow for real estate.

But in a world of limited resources and budget, you need to focus first on the review amplifiers: Google and Facebook.


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

Adam Dorfman is a technology and digital marketing professional with more than 20 years of experience. His expertise spans all aspects of product development as well as scaling product and engineering teams. He has been in the SEO and Local SEO space since 1999. In 2006, Adam co-founded SIM Partners and helped create a business that made it possible for companies to automate the process of attracting and growing customer relationships across multiple locations. Adam is currently director of product at Reputation where he and his teams are integrating location-based marketing with reputation management and customer experience. Adam contributes regularly to publications such as Search Engine Land, participates in Moz’s Local Search Ranking Factors survey, and regularly speaks at search marketing events such as Search Marketing Expo (SMX) West and State of Search as well as industry-specific events such as HIMSS. Follow him on Twitter @phixed.



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