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Microsoft Advertising talks intelligence, UI updates, audience solutions in SMX keynote

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NEW YORK – As brands look to compete in today’s market, identifying ways to connect with audiences is critical. Growth relies heavily on the marketer’s ability to find better ways to meet the needs of customers, said Christi Olson, head of evangelism at Microsoft Advertising and Bing, during a keynote session at SMX West on Wednesday.

“Consumers want brands to help them, anticipating their needs and making their buying experience frictionless,” Olson said. “Our [Microsoft’s] goal is to help retailers become more competitive and deliver more engaging customer experiences that unlock new revenue and fuel future growth,” she added.

The growing complexity of the consumer’s digital footprint means advertisers need to understand the advanced technologies and innovations that drive meaningful brand engagement.

Delivering value with AI

According to Olson, Microsoft Advertising is gearing up to build better experiences for customers using artificial intelligence and machine learning. One example, an app called Seeing AI, has helped more than one million people with vision impairments complete tasks like reading a menu in restaurant or counting money to make a purchase.

Microsoft AI has added value to organizations as well, Olson explained, such as helping to quickly identify and resolve equipment issues remotely, or helping HR teams to recruit top candidates. 

In terms of the future, it’s evident that Microsoft has set out to build more advanced solutions that can connect the customer journey through intelligent learning.

(See Also: Get the just-released Periodic Tables of PPC)

“Creating better experiences for your customers, people you engage with is not about handing off your advertising to machines. At a time of advancing automation, creativity remains the essential differentiator of greater value than at any other point in human history,” Olson said.

To help organizations adopt AI-driven capabilities quickly and easily, Microsoft is working to bring intelligence to the products and services consumers already use daily. Olson said that Microsoft will be launching a new class of purpose-built Dynamics 365 AI solutions aimed at delivering out-of-the-box insights from unified data. That data can then be infused with advanced intelligence to support integrated actions across sales, customer service, and marketing teams.

Personalization at scale

User devices provide context. And context helps marketers better understand what matters to a consumer in a particular location and at a particular time. The right message at the right moment is the next level in customer service and can turn intent into action.

Context also allows retail businesses to more accurately anticipate what a customer might need, based on when, where, and how they arrive on a brand’s website. Consumers are always hunting for product information, deals, local availability, and local discounts online, Olson explained. Retailers who don’t make efforts to supply the right, personalized information at the right time will lose out.

“As we think about this enormous opportunity, we at Microsoft see four key areas of opportunity for retail,” she said. These include:

Know your customer. Deliver unforgettable customer experiences that make your brand stand out from the crowd.

Empower your employees. Provide your team with the tools that enable extraordinary customer service.

Deliver intelligent supply chain. Improve agility to reduce costs and drive customer satisfaction.

Reimagine your business. Stand out in today’s competitive retail environment by reinventing your business model, starting with the customers and working backward.

Uniting the Internet and the Intranet

One of the biggest challenges facing internal organizations is the inability to quickly and accurately locate company information through intranet networks. Earlier this month, Microsoft introduced the new Microsoft Edge and Microsoft Bing for business.

Olson said Microsoft’s ambition is for Bing and Edge to deliver the best search and browser experiences for businesses and consumers alike. With enhanced capabilities like deep intranet integration, improved people search, and features that support internal resources, Microsoft is setting out to help employees be more efficient and productive.

Olson said Microsoft will be introducing more features for the consumer audience in spring 2020.

Microsoft’s redesigned UI

In October, Microsoft Advertising unveiled the platform’s interface refresh, designed to better align with the update Google Ads rolled out in full a year ago.

The redesigned UI, explained Olson, enables advertisers to manage campaigns more easily with the following improvements:

Improved usability and navigation. The new online navigation includes more intuitive features for greater integration with Google Ads, saving advertisers more time when it comes to campaign management. Advertisers can use the new global menu to switch accounts, quickly access tools and settings like ad preview, shared library, conversion tracking, Google Import, and more.

Better organization of features. The new vertical page menu includes Ads & Extensions, Audiences, Experiments, and other features to deliver more streamlined access for advertisers. As advertisers navigate campaigns, page menus will adapt to only display the pages and data that are applicable to each campaign.

Modern look and feel. The new online experience is now more up to date and consistent with other Microsoft products.

Intelligent audience solutions

Currently, Microsoft Advertising offers intelligent audience solutions designed to help advertisers reach a target audience with a personalized ad experience at the right time.

These solutions include AI-driven targeting capabilities such as location, device, in-market audiences, Google Import, campaign-level associations, and more. Microsoft is currently piloting LinkedIn Profile Targeting, product audiences, similar audiences, and customer matches.

Eventually, Olson said, Microsoft plans to roll out customer combinations with “or” and “and” logic.

Amping up for new retail solutions

“For retailers to power great experiences on their website, search is critical,” Olson said.

With Intelligent Search, Microsoft aims to bring advertisers closer to understanding shopper intent with scale, intelligence, and AI. To do this, Olson pointed to Bing’s index that retailers can embed on their sites to grow visibility. Bing technology can help marketers understand consumer behavior and trends while leveraging machine learning and AI to help automatically optimize conversion actions.

Intelligent Search, part of Microsoft’s vision to offer more search solutions to retailers, will deliver personalized product recommendations using deep learning algorithms. Experimentation and custom rankings will help businesses achieve goals and drive up consumer satisfaction. Additionally, advertisers will have an improved ability to analyze transactional, behavioral, and demographic data from the sites.

Microsoft PromoteIQ, a vendor marketing solution that enables retailers to generate high-margin advertising revenue with their own advertising experiences, will become fully integrated with the Microsoft advertising platform. Currently in private preview, the PromoteIQ Network will allow retailers to scale commerce advertising revenue using an expanded integration with the Microsoft Advertising platform and sales teams, providing access to new channels that can help maximize value.

The age of digital marketing is
behind us, and our new reality—though it may at times seem daunting—is
marketing in the digital age. One in which marketers simply cannot find success
talking at
customers through single, traditional channels. Instead, brands must engage
with them on new and meaningful levels, wherever they are.

As Olson stated during her session, Microsoft is setting out “to help reimagine how [advertisers] serve customers and grow your business, deliver more engaging customer experiences that unlock new revenue and fuel future growth.”


About The Author

Taylor Peterson is Third Door Media’s Deputy Editor, managing industry-leading coverage that informs and inspires marketers. Based in New York, Taylor brings marketing expertise grounded in creative production and agency advertising for global brands. Taylor’s editorial focus blends digital marketing and creative strategy with topics like campaign management, emerging formats, and display advertising.



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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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