Five ways to slash ad spend and achieve results right now

country exclusions

You know what’s great about PPC? Even when your account is in the dumps, you can make small changes that can have a big impact on its performance and your ad spend.

And sometimes all it takes is a little bit of creativity.

So in the spirit of making small steps to improve your PPC, and building on my tips from last month, I’m going to share with you five ways you can get creative to save ad spend (and even make some money through more targeted advertising) in your PPC account.

The usual

Most PPC professionals know the usual ways to cut wasted ad spend, and hopefully you’re doing the following on a regular basis:

  • Managing your negative keywords (in my PPC operations guide, I recommend this be a monthly task for most)
  • Managing and excluding irrelevant sites from your Google Display Network campaigns (daily is good here for most)
  • Filtering out non-converting and/or sky-high cost-per-acquisition keywords, ad groups and campaigns

But, have you thought about things like:

  • Excluding countries from remarketing campaigns?
  • Tiered bidding?
  • Ad delivery options?
  • Ad scheduling?
  • Testing ad positions?

These things can help you manage ad spend even more. Let’s look at those closer now.

1) Country exclusions in remarketing

Sometimes when you set up a remarketing campaign, even though you’re just targeting the US, you’ll often see traffic from other countries and it’s because they’ve been to your US website.

One of our client’s remarketing campaigns had a ton of traffic from countries outside of the US and Canada, but they’re not actually doing business in other countries, so we just excluded those.

By excluding countries outside of the U.S. and Canada, we were able to shave off a pretty penny.

2) Tiered bidding

Tiered bidding is one of those things that PPC pros usually have either a strong preference for, or don’t do at all. At my agency, we typically always do tiered bidding, but most of the accounts we inherit haven’t.

The gist of it is this (and here’s a good article on the nitty-gritty details): you can use multiple match types to bid on the same keywords to help control budget.

Say you use three match types: exact, phrase and broad. The idea of using tiered bidding is that you spend more money on the terms that are highly relevant. In turn, AdWords is going to give more play to the keyword type you’re willing to spend more on.

The exact match should be very targeted, whereas broad match will likely bring in some irrelevant terms. That’s why you’re going to bid lower on broad and higher on exact match, like the following example:

  • Exact match $1
  • Phrase match $0.75
  • Broad match $0.50

If you’re looking at ways to save money and focus on the more targeted traffic, you might consider this tiered bidding plan to get you there.

3) Standard ad delivery

Ad delivery options determine how quickly you want the ad platform to use your budget each day. With AdWords, there are two settings, standard and accelerated:

  • Standard delivery (the default option) tries to show your ads throughout the entire day to make sure that you don’t spend your whole budget in the morning and cause your ads to stop showing for the rest of the day.
  • Accelerated delivery tries to show your ads more quickly until your budget is reached. With this option, your ads can stop showing early in the day if your budget is spent.

At my agency, we almost always start with accelerated ad delivery with the goal of maximizing our chances of ad impressions while the demand is there.

On a few occasions, though, we’ve stepped out of our comfort zone to try standard delivery, and it can work well to save ad dollars—especially when you have a highly competitive space with a lot of search volume throughout the day.

4) Ad scheduling

Speaking of ad delivery, ad scheduling gets into the days and hours that an ad can show, and can help you boost conversions in a pinch.

At my agency, our go-to strategy is to deliver ads on all days at all hours (which happens to be the default setting in AdWords).

Normally with this setting, you’ll see things naturally slow down when the demand is not there. Going with the default setting tackles what happens when the outliers are looking for your services or products after hours.

For example, one of our B2B PPC clients can spend $1,000 a day Monday through Friday, and as low as $100 per day on the weekends. And they do get some leads that trickle in on Saturdays and Sundays, so why not grab those low CPA leads when possible?

Recognizing that sometimes you’ve got to tighten the belt even more, it’s simple to pause ads on weekends or during the late night and early morning hours with ad scheduling.

5) Ad position

Google officially changed the way desktop ads display in the search results in February 2016. No longer in the right-hand side bar, ads now display above and below the organic listings (up to seven ads with three being the average for the top area).

If you’re trying to save a little cash, don’t be afraid to test by targeting a lower position on the page – like Position 4, even if that means you’re at the bottom of the page.

Early results show that Position 4 still gets play, and early tests that my agency has been performing show ad spend is way down for Position 4, but revenue is holding steady.

On the mobile side, we used to always vie for Position 1 (or else you might as well not have been on the page at all), but lately, we’ve been seeing three ads show up before the organic listings on a mobile device, so you can play with your ad position there as well, and possibly save some dollars.


Get creative

Sometimes, saving on ad spend and bringing in more targeted conversions is all about creativity and being willing to test.

Ultimately it’s about using the knowledge of the business and your understanding (or the help files!) of the features available to you to come up with a system to reduce ad spend while bringing in more targeted buyers.

Do bounce rates affect a site’s search engine ranking?

bouncy castles

The bounce rate debate continues…

Bounce rates and how they affect a website’s ranking on Google has been discussed, dissected, and dismembered over and over again.

As fully transcribed on this site, a conversation between Rand Fishkin, CEO of Moz, and Andrey Lipattsev, Google’s search quality senior strategist, led to a surprising discussion on click and bounce rates affecting search rankings.

Rand stated that he has recently been running a few experimental tests with various crowds of 500 to a couple thousand people.

Everyone participating was prompted to take out their cellphones, laptops, and digital what-have-yous and perform a specific search. Once the search listing appeared, he had everyone in the crowd click one of the listings at the bottom of the results page and then click away from that site. He then monitored the results over the next few days.

Rand found a whole bunch of inconsistencies. In a little more than half of the experiments, the ranking did change on the search engine results page (SERP), and in a little less than half of the experiments, the rankings did not change.

This begs the question:

Do bounce rates affect a site’s search engine ranking? If so, how much?

Lipattsev believes that for each individual search query in the experiment, the generated interest regarding those specific searches impacts the rankings change rather than just the clicks and bounces.

He said that if a certain topic is gaining a substantial amount of searches and an increase in social media mentions, Google would pay more attention to that rather than a site getting more clicks.

Lipattsev says that it is certainly doable to determine exactly what causes a large rankings jump for an individual listing, but Internet-wide, it is much more difficult.

All this being said, what actually is a bounce rate?

The bounce rate is the percentage of visitors to a particular site who navigate or “bounce” away after only viewing that individual webpage.

Usually, the term ‘bounce rate’ has a negative connotation associated with it. People think that if a visitor only visits one page and then leaves, it’s bad for business. Their logic isn’t that flawed, either. After all, a high bounce rate would indicate that a site does not have the high-quality, relevant content Google wants out of its top ranked sites.

A great Search Engine Journal article shows nine negative reasons why your website could potentially have a high bounce rate, including poor web design, incorrect keyword selection, improper links, and just bad content. It’s true that these high bounce rates can reflect poorly on a website… sometimes.

So, what gives?

Having a high bounce rate on something like a ‘contact us’ page can actually be a good thing. That’s more of a call-to-action site, where the goal of that particular page is to have the user find the contact information, and then actually contact the business. The visitor got what they came for and then left. Extra navigation around the website doesn’t really mean anything in this case.

Of course, if your site is more content-driven or offers a product or service, then your goal should be to have a higher click-through rate (CTR) and more traffic to each page.

But what about Google?

Does Google know your bounce rate and are they using it to affect rankings? This Search Engine Roundtable article provides the short answer (which is “no”).

Many organizations don’t use Google Analytics, so Google has no way of tracking their bounce rate information. And even with the analytics that they can trace, it’s difficult to determine what they actually mean because every situation is different.

There are many factors that go into determining how long a visitor stays on a particular webpage. If a visitor remains on a site for over 20 minutes, they could be so engaged with your site’s content that they can’t even imagine leaving your wonderful webpage… or… it could mean they fell asleep at the screen because your website was so boring. It’s too difficult to tell.

If you are operating one of those websites that should have a lower bounce rate, these tips on lowering that number should be able to help. Some highlights include making sure each of your pages loads quickly, offers user-friendly navigation, avoids cluttered advertisements, and features quality content!

If bounce rates don’t affect Google’s rankings as much as you thought, you wonder how significant other ranking factors are. Well, Google recently revealed that magical information. They narrowed it down to three top ranking factor used by Google to drive search results:

  • Links: strong links and link votes play a major role in search rankings.
  • Content: having quality content is more important than ever.
  • RankBrain: Google’s AI ranking system.

It’s no shock that links and content matter, but RankBrain is still relatively new. It’s Google’s new algorithm to help determine search results (after factoring in links and content). RankBrain filters more complex searches and converts them into shorter ones, all the while maintaining the complexity of the search, thusly refining the results.

Google’s newest AI technology – and whatever other secret technologies they are working on – may resolve the never-ending debate over bounce rates, but it’s certainly going to be a difficult process.

More research is to come and Andrey believes the challenge to make bounce rate click data a strong and measurable metric is “gameable,” but Google still has a long way to go.

“If we solve it, good for us,” Andrey said, “but we’re not there yet.”

There is no one-size-fits-all answer when it comes to SEO and all its intricacies. The greatest answer to any SEO question is always “it depends.”

How Google fights webspam and what you need to learn from this

google webspam

Google has this week revealed its annual report on how it has policed the internet over the last 12 months. Or at least how it policed the vast chunk of the internet it allows on its results pages.

Although it’s self-congratulatory stuff, and as much as you can rightfully argue with some of Google’s recent penalties, you do need to understand what Google is punishing in terms of ‘bad quality’ internet experiences so you can avoid the same mistakes.

It’s important to remember that Google for some people IS the internet, or at least the ‘front door’ to it (sorry Reddit), but it’s equally important to remember that Google is still a product; one that needs to make money to survive and (theoretically) provide the best possible experience for its users, or else it is off to DuckDuckGo they… uh… go.

So therefore Google has to ensure the results it serves on its SERPs (search engine results pages) are of the highest quality possible. Algorithms are built and manual reviews by actual human beings are carried out to ensure crappy websites with stolen/thin/manipulative/harmful content stay hidden.

Here’s how Google is currently kicking ass and taking names… and how you can avoid falling between its crosshairs.

How Google fought webspam

According to Google, an algorithmic update helped remove the amount of webspam in search results, impacting 5% of queries.

The remaining spam was tackled manually. Google sent more than 4.3 million messages to webmasters notifying them of manual actions it had imposed on sites affected by spam.

Following this, Google saw a 33% increase in the number of sites that went through a spam clean-up “towards a successful reconsideration process.” It’s unclear whether the remaining sites are still in the process of appealing, or have been booted off the face of the internet.

Who watches the watchmen?

More than 400,000 spam reports were manually submitted by Google users around the world. Google acted on 65% of them, and considered 80% of those acted upon to be spam.


There was a huge 180% increase in websites being hacked in 2015, compared to the previous year. Hacking can take on a number of guises, whether its website spam or malware, but the result will be the same. You’ll be placed ‘in quarantine’ and your site will be flagged or removed.

Google has a number of official guidelines on how to help avoid being hacked. These include:

  • Strengthen your account security with lengthy, difficult to guess or crack passwords and not reusing those passwords across platforms.
  • Keep your site’s software updated, including its CMS and various plug-ins.
  • Research how your hosting provider handles security issues and check its policy when it comes to cleaning up hacked sites. Will it offer live support if your site is compromised?
  • Use tools to stay informed of potential hacked content on your site. Signing up to Search Console is a must, as it’s Google’s way of communicating any site issues with you.

google spam fighting

Thin, low quality content

Google saw an increase in the number of sites with thin, low quality content, a substantial amount likely to be provided by scraper sites.

Unfortunately there is very little you can do if your site is being scraped, as Google has discontinued its reporting tool and believes this problem to be your own fault. You just have to be confident that your own site’s authority, architecture and remaining content is enough to ensures it ranks higher than a scraper site.

If you have been served a manual penalty for ‘thin content with little or no added value’ there are things you can do to rectify it, which can mostly be boiled down to ‘stop making crappy content, duh’.

1) Start by checking your site for the following:

  • Auto-generated content: automatically generated content that reads like it was written by a piece of software because it probably was.
  • Thin content pages with affiliate links: affiliate links in quality articles are fine, but pages where the affiliates contain descriptions or reviews copied directly from the original retailer without any added original content are bad. As a rule, affiliates should form only a small part of the content of your site.
  • Scraped content: if you’re a site that automatically scrapes and republishes entire articles from other websites without permission then you should just flick the off-switch right away.
  • Doorway pages: these are pages which can appear multiple times for a particular query’s search results but ultimately lead users to the same destination. The purpose of doorway pages are purely to manipulate rankings.

2) Chuck them all in the bin.

3) If after all that you’re 100% sure your site somehow offers value, then you can resubmit to Google for reconsideration.

For more information on Google’s fight against webspam, read its official blog-post.

And finally, I’ll leave you with this terrifying vision of things to come…

robots and people

Three research-driven PPC tips for the automotive industry

us auto industry revenue

If you’re an automaker or car dealer, 2016 should be a good year for sales.

Intensive research conducted by my data scientist colleagues at Bing Ads shows that digital media, especially search, will be the perfect place to capture the attention of prospective petrol-heads as they venture out on their car-buying journey.

What’s driving solid car sales?

Well, interest rates as well as fuel rates are low while the consumer index, according to an IBISWorld industry report, remains high. As a result – additional disposable income and improved credit scores – demand for cars is also likely to increase. In fact, auto sales are forecast to grow through 2020, with growth peaking in 2018.

So what can car manufacturers and dealers do to ensure they make the most of this opportune time?

Here are three solid tips, to help you accelerate towards some meaningful digital connections with potential auto-shoppers:

Look to the younger audience for hybrid, electric or diesel vehicles

If you’re a green car manufacturer, make sure you’re appealing to the millennials. “The Harris Poll” from Harris Interactive revealed that 57% of US millennials (18-37) would consider a traditional hybrid for their next lease or purchase. Compare that with just 43% of Baby Boomers willing to do the same.

There is one drawback – the higher price points is seen as a deterrent. Research from J.D. Power revealed that almost one in four buyers of gas-powered vehicles avoided the hybrid model due to cost.


Take action:

  • Customize your creative to appeal to the younger generation, focusing on advances in technology and positive environmental impact.
  • Add bid modifiers to your search campaigns based on age group, bidding up for the age ranges most likely to purchase a green vehicle.
  • Alleviate cost concerns through your creative.
    • Use ad copy to highlight discounts and offers – six in 10 car shoppers are influenced by promotions according to a RadiumOne study.
    • On your landing pages, share additional financial incentives they may receive such as government subsidies or lifetime fuel savings.


Use the fact that brand loyalty is scarce to your advantage

According to a Facebook study, only two in five shoppers have an early brand preference – in fact very few shoppers are exposed to digital ads early in the purchase process. This means there is a ripe opportunity to build brand and model awareness.

Microsoft’s internal data shows that consumers considered an average of 9.8 makes and 11.4 models prior to making their purchase decision.

PPC can be vital in this process since most shoppers will conduct their research online before visiting a dealership, according to Accenture.


Take action:

  • Bing’s Remarketing in paid search or Google’s RLSA ads are your friends here.

    • Bid on competitive terms
    • Consider bidding even on luxury vehicles to account for aspirational searches

Use ad copy that’s proven to work

Digital ads are the most influential type of ad during the car-shopping process – more so than TV or print according to a study of U.S. car shoppers by G/O Digital. Yet the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) reports that only 36% of auto marketers in the U.S. use paid search advertising.


With a quarter of car buyers reporting via a study by Nationwide that they find shopping for a car to be as stressful as preparing taxes or buying a home, effective ad copy can make a big difference.

When we think of ad copy, don’t limit yourself just to words. Car-buying is a visual process, with four in 10 searches being for images of cars. Microsoft’s internal data shows that 45% of consumers viewed more than 36.7 car images on a search engine.


Mobile devices mustn’t be ignored either. According to research by SessionM, seven in 10 smartphone users use their mobile device when shopping for a vehicle.

Here’s how the usage breaks down:


Take action:

  • Add image extensions to your ad to grab searcher attention and showcase latest or most popular models.
  • Take advantage of new ad formats such as Google’s auto-specific ads or Bing Ads’ new video extensions for mobile devices (currently in beta).
  • Use words that work. Here are the top five ad combinations across devices:


  • Don’t forget the Sitelink extensions. These are a fantastic and underused opportunity to simplify the car buying process. Microsoft data shows that Sitelink extensions can result in a 13% improvement in Click through Rate (CTR), with Enhanced Sitelinks having a 22% average higher CTR.

These data-driven tips PPC tips for the auto industry compiled by data scientists from Bing Ads are sure to help you on your road to an extra-profitable 2016. Digital media, especially search, is the perfect place to insert your brand right at the start of the car-buyer research phase.

By the smart use of visual cues, demographic targeting and by paying attention to what ad copy resonates best, you’ll be well on the way to an empty car lot by the end of the year!

Feeling inspired? Share your favorite tips and ideas in the comments below.

Purna Virji is Senior Bing Ads Client Development and Training Manager at Microsoft and a contributor to Search Engine Watch.

How to use site search to improve conversion

Site search - how to improve conversion

Ian Scarr, the Regional Vice President for EMEA of SLI Systems delivered a very interesting talk at Internet Retailing Expo about site search on ecommerce sites and how it can increase a conversion with a series of steps.

Here’s a round-up of the talk, along with Ian’s tips on the importance of site search for every website.

Targeting the “spearfishers”

Ian Scarr started his presentation reminding us that “good site search should be for everybody” as every site should focus on helping its customers find exactly what they are looking for.

According to a report by Forrester Research, retailers should focus on “spearfishers,” meaning shoppers who visit a site looking for a specific product. This can be achieved by providing a useful site search.

Forrester Research also found that 43% of visitors navigate immediately to the search box, while searchers are 2-3x more likely to convert compared to non-searchers.

Reduce the path to purchase

Users need to have easy access to the products they are searching for and the number of clicks required to complete a purchase affects the conversion rate.

A rich auto-complete search engine can speed up the journey to a particular product and this helps customers complete the purchasing process.

What’s more, it may be useful to add recommendations for popular products and also redirects to specific pages on the site, which helps shoppers find exactly what they are looking for as fast as possible. For example, when the search displays only one result, you can redirect to the particular page directly and help facilitate the customer’s journey.

Understand your visitors

The search function should provide contextually relevant results, as any irrelevant result could affect the conversion rate.

It is important to understand what your customers are looking for and use the learning of their preferences to put the best performers first. Dynamic refinements allow you to let your customers decide what to merchandise, which leads to an increased number of conversions.

Site search - how to improve conversion

Optimise search

As the search gets more optimised, the likelihood of a purchase gets higher.

For example, there is no need to let a misspelling keep the user away from the right search results. By providing the properly spelled results the bounce rate is reduced, which increases the chances the users end up buying the particular product.
Site search - how to improve conversion

What’s more, you can also identify the key terms that are not converting for you, in order to promote or demote the products by pushing them either at the top, or the bottom of the results.

Site search - how to improve conversion

Build landing pages

Dedicated landing pages for PPC campaigns, or email marketing campaigns may help the conversion, as it increases the relevance and the user experience when searching for a specific product.

Site search - how to improve conversion

The analysis of the popular search terms may indicate the searches that require their own tailored pages, whether it’s about specific brands, or even specific products.

Provide an alternative

No matter whether users find what they are looking for or not, the search results can be enhanced with relevant recommendations.

For example, Amazon’s recommendations take 75% of the page and they seem to benefit the conversion rate, as they are all extremely relevant to the users’ searches.

It has been observed that recommendations lead to a 10-25% increase in site revenue, while there is also a 11% decrease in bounce rate.

Site search - how to improve conversion

Don’t forget mobile

As mobile usage gets more popular, it is more important than ever for every site to provide the same searching experience, both in desktop and mobile.

Less typing (and browsing) leads to an improved mobile experience, with speed and ease being critical for “spearfisher” shoppers.

Except for the tips mentioned above, mobile search should also be fit for the smaller screen, ensuring that users do not abandon the process early.

Site search - how to improve conversion

For lots more valuable insight on the changing face of digital marketing and ecommerce, attend our two-day Shift London event in May.

Why are SEOs slow to implement Accelerated Mobile Pages?

A column graph showing awareness of AMP among SEOs surveyed, with 21% of SEOs aware of AMP "in passing", 35% "have done SOME research" into AMP, 18% "have done A LOT of research" into AMP, while 25% are "not aware" of AMP.

It’s been just over two months since Google launched Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP), its super-fast brand of mobile webpages running on an amped-up version of HTML.

Accelerated Mobile Pages are designed to speed up the experience of browsing the mobile web, providing page load times which are anywhere from 15 to 85% faster than regular mobile pages. We know that site speed has been a signal in Google’s search ranking algorithms since 2010, and that Google has repeatedly given ranking preference to sites which are optimised for mobile.

Given these two facts, together with the fact that AMP is Google’s own initiative, and it isn’t much of a stretch to conclude that AMP websites are likely rank much better in search than sites with ordinary mobile webpages.

Yet the first survey conducted since the advent of AMP has found that uptake of AMP among professional SEOs is still relatively low. The survey, carried out by SEO PowerSuite, looked at awareness and uptake of AMP among a pool of 385 SEO professionals in North America and Europe.

Of the respondents surveyed, less than a quarter (23%) had taken concrete steps to implement AMP on their mobile sites since the feature’s launch.

Overall awareness of Accelerated Mobile Pages among respondents was high: 75% of the SEO professionals surveyed were aware of AMP. But of these, 21% said they were only aware of the existence of AMP “in passing”, meaning that altogether, nearly half of SEOs (46%) were either unaware of AMP or had only a passing awareness of the feature.

Of those SEOs who hadn’t yet begun to implement AMP on their mobile sites, a high proportion (42%) intended to do more research before making definitive plans. 29% said they had plans to implement AMP in the next six months, and only 5% of respondents said they had no intention of supporting AMP on their mobile sites whatsoever.

The evidence suggests that AMP is fertile ground for getting ahead in search, and a full 80% of survey respondents believed that AMP would have a significant (49%) or moderate (31%) effect on search rankings. So why have SEOs mostly held back from implementing AMP on their mobile sites so far?

Creating an AMP version of your mobile site sounds like a concrete and straightforward way to get ahead in search results, but in practical terms it’s easier said than done. As Damon Kiesow, Head of Product at publishing company McClatchy, told Neiman Lab:

“Everything we know about building a webpage we have to relearn. But we’re relearning it from the premise of converting a current product over, not creating a product from scratch. It’s a fairly complex process!”

Because AMP strips out a lot of the dynamic elements that slow down page loading time, embracing AMP might also mean that SEOs and search marketers have to do away with features that they depend on for business, such as comment systems, lead capture forms and other types of pop-up.

There’s also the very obvious fact that Google’s roll-out of AMP isn’t all that widespread yet. Accelerated Mobile Pages still don’t show up in search results outside of, meaning that many of the non-US respondents to SEO Powersuite’s survey may be deliberately holding fire until AMP will make a difference to search results in their country.

A screenshot of mobile results for "EU referendum", showing AMP-ified BBC News stories in the "top stories" carousel at the top of search results.Accelerated Mobile Pages still have yet to make an appearance in search results outside of

And of course, there is the occasionally-forgotten fact that the world of search consists of more than just Google. In a situation where implementing AMP would take a lot of time and resources, SEOs may be hesitant to go all-in on a feature that will only affect the standing of their mobile site on Google, especially if they market to a country which favours another major search engine, such as China or Russia.

Ultimately, SEOs have to weigh up the potential benefits of getting in on AMP ahead of their competitors and possibly securing a better spot on the Google SERP versus the drawbacks and costs of implementing the new protocol. SEO Powersuite noted in their published results of the survey that, “the delay in quick adoption [of AMP] offers an opportunity for agile marketers to get ahead of their competition in mobile search by implementing AMP immediately.”

They pointed out that getting in early with AMP has the potential to be beneficial for a long time thereafter, because “As any SEO professional working to overtake competitors knows, Google’s institutional memory is long. It can be difficult to get the search behemoth to “forget” (i.e. to stop ranking) brands it has mentally defined as industry leaders and therefore deserving of higher ranking because of AMP support.”

Therefore, investing resources in AMP at this stage could allow SEOs and search marketers to reap the rewards further down the line. It’s still early days, and with relatively few SEOs apparently having staked their claim with AMP so far, the field is wide open for others to make a move if they judge it to be worthwhile.

For lots more valuable insight on the changing face of digital marketing, attend our two-day Shift London event in May.

Why fighting mobile click fraud is a waste of time


Fraud prevention is heating up in mobile. But trying to fight fraudulent clicks from mobile apps is a losing battle. Instead, try these three tips.

Every week, a new industry expert or solution enters the fray to solve the billion-dollar fraud market. That’s great. Collectively, we can only combat fraud if as many parts of the mobile marketing stack embrace the techniques and implementations available.

All the same, advertisers frequently want detection and reporting on fraudulent clicks.

We refuse.

Fighting clicks from mobile apps is not only foolish, but an utter waste of focus. Permanently out-fooling such fraud prevention filters is a trivial task for the average fraudster. At best, fraud detection for cost-per-click (CPC) campaigns would be a stopgap and an ersatz pacifier for concerned marketers. At worst, it’s counterproductive snake oil.

Here’s why.

The types of fraud occurring on websites only partially matches the types of fraud in apps. They work roughly the same: some software simulates the click and the conversion or install. However, on the web, this happens in a consistent environment where ad delivery is easily monitored inside the browser.

In fact, the whole journey from impression to conversion on the target website can be seen transparently and tracked with JavaScript and cookies. This allows you to check if a website is producing background clicks for cookie dropping. On the web, we have an array of tools for interacting deeper in the value chain.

In the app world, none of this works.

Cookies and JavaScript are extremely limited, if at all available. There are no insights into ad clicks beyond the pure HTTP requests and the data attached to them. Individual networks can perform spot checks, but the type of coverage required by effective fraud prevention cannot be achieved.

The reason HTTP requests and the data attached to them are completely unreliable is because they can easily be modified by fraudsters. A fraudster can make the HTTP request look like it comes from an iPhone when it’s actually from a connected toaster, or vice versa.

The only reason why fraudsters would hijack real devices on real networks is because they can’t fake the IP address. Server-to-server clicks even skirt that need.

Therefore, a background click from a device running a malicious app looks exactly the same as a legit click. Ever wonder why there are so many battery saver and flashlight apps?

An individual click will show up from a legit IP with real headers from actual devices, often with a legit device ID of a real user, making it even possible for one device to “click” for hundreds of other real devices. Individually, this click cannot be filtered out.

Clicks should still be placed under scrutiny in aggregate in order to prevent poaching of organic conversions via click spam. This approach, called “distribution modeling,” is a very promising approach to fix attribution rules and post-install datasets, but is not useful to detect and prevent false clicks and charges on CPC campaigns.

So what does that mean for your CPC campaigns?

Here are three pieces of advice, beyond the general recommendation not to run CPC on mobile:

1. Don’t keep CPC campaigns running forever

Turn off CPC campaigns as soon as they convert significantly lower than average, at sub-percentile click to install rates. Hundreds of people don’t decide to click your ad only to turn away at the sight of your app store page.

It’s much more likely that someone is faking a large amount of clicks, and those few conversions you are seeing are actually organic conversions that are being falsely claimed by the ad network.

2. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is

A very typical symptom of organic conversions being poached is that while the CPC certainly is expensive, the retention and downstream conversion rates look good.

This is again because the retention is being generated by organic users, that typically retain better than many paid users.

3. Place very high demands on the quality of incoming traffic

Write your quality demands into your IO precisely what platforms and countries you are targeting, if you are filtering anything like anonymous IPs, or any other measures you’re taking. Explicitly stating it in your IO places you in a much stronger position, should you ever need to return to your partners with bad news.

The oft-repeated adage is that mobile is very different from the desktop web. The techniques, methods and campaigns we can run on the desktop web don’t translate well to mobile. As a space, we have to progress from those ideas.

Paul Muller is the CTO and co-founder of adjust.

Five of the most interesting SEM news stories of the week

walking boots

Welcome to our weekly round-up of all the latest news and research from around the world of search marketing and beyond.

This week we have loads of paid search stats and research and news on the latest madcap tinkering by Google.

Paid search: John Lewis and Amazon spend the most on UK home décor

They must have lovely homes. If you can get round all the boxes and fork-lifts.

AdGooroo has published data on paid search advertising for the home décor category in the United Kingdom, examining 500 top, non-branded home décor keywords on Google between January 2015-January 2016.

Here are the stats:

  • 4,892 advertisers spent £45.5 million during the period.
  • Department store chain John Lewis led all advertisers with £920,000 spent, followed by Argos (£884,000) and Amazon (£867,000)
  • Amazon led all advertisers in clicks with 2 million during the period, just edging out John Lewis’s 1.99 million clicks
  • An average of 93 advertisers sponsored each of the top 20 keywords and 83 advertisers sponsored each of the 500 home décor keywords studied

Summer vacation/Mother’s Day search stats from Yahoo

The last time I mentioned Mother’s Day coming soon, it brought about a panic on one side of the Atlantic. And now it’s time to do the same for the other side…

  • Mother’s Day is coming soon! And to celebrate Yahoo has released a report on consumer search insights revealing important trends about Mother’s Day shopping and summer travel plans. Let’s hope they also ordered some nice flowers too.
  • 1 in 6 shoppers plan to spend more money on this year’s gift, and they are open to trying new brands in order to find the perfect gift.
  • 52% of shoppers surveyed said that they will likely compare prices from multiple retailers on the same products before making a purchase.
  • DIY presents are becoming more popular. More than 15 million searches about Mother’s Day showed that consumers search search for “images,” “quotes,” “poems,” “cards,” and other creative ideas.
  • Online advertising was the top source for influencing family vacations and online ads are more influential than TV ads. When asked what motivated their travel decisions, more than 50% of family travellers said that online ads influenced them, while only 28% cited TV ads.
  • The most commonly used phrases searched in conjunction with summer vacation were beach, lake, park, island, and water. Specific destinations that were commonly searched include Colorado, France, Alaska, Maine, and Tahoe.
  • So far this year, the highest concentration of people searching “summer vacation” on Yahoo came from Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, and Wisconsin.

50% of adults are unable to recognise ads in Google search results

As Graham Charlton reported this week, according to Ofcom half of all search engine using adults do not recognise ads.

For the study, the respondents were shown a picture of the SERPs for ‘walking boots’ (please note this study took place in 2015)…

The 1,328 survey respondents then had to select the results they thought were ‘paid for’. 60% identified them as paid links, while 49% identified them only as paid ads

ofcom 1

Ofcom also split the results out between newer and more established internet user and found that newer users were less likely to identify that the results with the yellow ad label were indeed paid results.

Google paid search positions #1 and #4 may lead to the highest CTR

As reported in MediaPost this week, Adobe has discovered that the cost per click for paid search ads served in the fourth position may produce the best outcome, with low cost-per-clicks but high click-through-rates.

CPCs rose slightly for the first and second paid search positions (6% and 7% up respectively) but fell for third and fourth (10% and 8%).

CTRs rose for all except the second position. First position was up 13%. Third: 2% and fourth: 18%.

So… how you going to optimise PPC ads for fourth position? Bearing in mind Google doesn’t always show a fourth paid search ad. Well I’ll leave you to that quandary and go put the kettle on.

Google’s In-Depth Articles disappeared, and are now back again

You may not have been aware of this but there’s an in-depth articles feature in Google that helps you surface longer more evergreen articles.

in-depth articles

Well there was until a couple of weeks ago when it mysteriously vanished, leading to much speculation as to whether it had been axed or not.

Only that’s all for nothing now, as it’s suddenly back again. Leading to new speculation that the whole thing was just a bug/glitch/mistake.

Now although this reads as a total non-event, your takeaway from this should be NEVER EVER take anything in search for granted, because Google will not only manually change an algorithm on purpose but occasionally lean on a keyboard and delete something vital by accident.

Dennis Publishing’s Paul Lomax on adblocking and ‘anti-ad zealots’

buy car

The growth of adblocker usage is one of the major problems affecting publishers today, as it has the potential to cut into ad revenues which many rely on.

Paul Lomax is CTO and Head of Product Development at Dennis Publishing (founded by the great Felix Dennis), an independent group which publishes many different titles, online and offline.

We caught up with Paul to ask his views on the growth of adblocking and how Dennis Publishing will look to deal with this issue.

How much of an issue is adblocking for Dennis Publishing?

Not insignificant but still very much in the minority. It varies hugely by market, with tech and younger brands affected more than say our automotive brands.

We have a fairly diverse portfolio, thankfully. Obviously we’re concerned the numbers may grow, so we’re not resting on our laurels.

Will adblocking force some publishers to abandon ad revenue models in favour of other revenue streams, such as ecommerce?

I think if other revenue models were viable enough to be a primary revenue stream, they’d already be in wider use. Ecommerce is far from being a new thing. There’s clearly opportunity to further diversify revenue steams, but that doesn’t mean abandoning ad revenue models which are still very strong.

Also, ecommerce (in the publishing sense, usually affiliate based) is not immune from ad-blocking in so far as many ad blockers stop affiliate cookies being dropped, which means the publisher won’t get paid for referrals.

Some publishers may diversify more drastically into real ecommerce, ie shipping products themselves rather than via partners. Dennis, for example, now sells cars and finance online having acquired in November 2014.

It could be argued that poor usability (intrusive ads etc) from publishers has driven the rise of adblocking. Is it too late now to change tack on ad formats?

There’s an argument that Pandora’s Box has been opened and can never be closed – even if publishers clean up their sites, there will be enough bad sites out there for users to leave ad blockers on, and there are other concerns too (malware, privacy). There’ll always be an element of ‘I ad block because I can’.

Remember though that publishers don’t create the adverts – advertisers, agencies and ad-tech companies have all played their part in this. There’s a drive towards good ‘acceptable ad’ formats, although the fact it sometimes requires payment is of course controversial, but there’s an element of user backlash about ad blockers letting any ads through. Some blockers that allow no ads are springing up. There will always be anti-ad zealots, but they’re in the minority.

The problem is when this filters over to mainstream users who have more legitimate concerns and would be happy for some value exchange to take place. At the moment ad blockers are mostly indiscriminate. I think we need to improve ad formats, but that alone isn’t enough.

You have been experimenting with ways to deal with adblocking. What do those experiments look like?

Like other publishers, we want to see whether our readers are happy to white list our sites, or if they’re more aggressively anti-advertising. There are also many questions about ad blockers’ ability to circumvent measures. And we want to look at discrepancies between various tracking and measurement methods.

We think solutions may vary depending on the brand and its market – for example a B2B IT website with pretty unique content might be in a better position to block users than say a news or more mass-market website.

And some of our brands may do a ‘data wall’, where we could ask for their contact details rather than require them to view advertising. More mass-market brands such as Coach might have more of a soft message, or an ad recovery solution. We’re open minded.

What have you learnt from other publishers’ attempts at combating the negative impact of adblocking? Did you use them as a reference when designing your experiments?

I don’t think we’ve seen studies long enough to draw any conclusions. For example, the much publicised Forbes trial data ends the day before the Adblock Plus community added rules to circumvent their message.

This resulted in ad block users seeing the ‘thank you for whitelisting’ message but not actually seeing any ads. If you have an absolute ‘whitelist to view this site’ wall, then ad block developers are going to try and circumvent it – it becomes, to quote Sourcepoint, a knife fight.

Do you think that adblocking could be a blessing in disguise for publishers, who will be encouraged to consider their sites’ user experiences?

For users, maybe, for publishers, no, because of the largely indiscriminate nature of ad blockers. Let’s be clear, ad blockers aren’t all about users either – there are companies involved in ad blocking who are and will be making millions from the protection racket of pay to display.

It’s also a massive threat to net neutrality, if ISPs and mobile networks starting using technology like Shine, as has happened in Trinidad.

I’ve heard of examples where mobile and other adblockers are blocking even native posts. Many imagine that adblockers target only popups and banners, but are there other consequences?

People also think they only block third party content, eg ad-served, but they can block anything that can be pinned down via it’s HTML pattern (eg a CSS class name). All it takes is a user to right click on something they think is an ad for it to be reported to the community developers, who then figure out how to block it. And those creating the block lists tend to be anti-ad zealots.

They can and do block logos from sponsored blocks, any content or links labelled sponsored or similar (which given the ASA are starting to crack down on native labelling in the UK will become easier), anything they consider ‘annoying’.

Also things like related content blocks (if some of the items are paid-for), or newsletter sign up promos, or paywall notices. Ironically some even block cookie privacy notices. Many also have privacy options, which can stop affiliate or attribution tracking, retargeting, personalisation, ad effectiveness measurement, analytics (eg GA), A/B testing. The latter could have an impact on web professionals being able to optimise user experience or improve conversion rates.

Taking your analytics practice to the next level

ClickZ NY analytics

As both a Googler and ClickZ team member, I recently attended and participated in the always-inspirational ClickZ Live New York event.

Along with Katie Morse, Vice President, Social and Search at Nielsen and Pierce Crosby, business development and experienced data analyst at StockTwits, we had a panel discussion on how brands can take their analytics practice to the next level.

First, a quick description of the panel:

Data has become everyone’s domain, in all aspects of your marketing and business. Most companies do a good job at collecting and reporting data and have a basic process in place. But many are stuck as to what to do next to elevate value of data in their company.

As our conversation, and those questions the audience asked, were so good, I wanted to pull out some of the best questions and summary of answers we shared with attendees.

Pierce, Katie, and Adam presenting at ClickZ Live NYC. Photo by Search Engine Watch columnist Thom Craver (used w/permission).

1. Most companies have varying groups that need access to analytics insights. How do you efficiently get them all what they need and how do you ensure it’s most useful for them?

The answer is process. Ensure that you have the right metrics delivered to the right people at an anticipated frequency. Also ensure that you have conducted proper resource allocation in order to allow time not just to share dashboards, but flesh out insights for your teams to take action on.

If you are just delivering dashboards without context, you’re not doing your job. Actually, you’re performing the job a script can do – which isn’t a good place to be.

The more formalized you can be with your processes, the better, as this will make you incredibly efficient and free up time for the creative, valuable (and fun!) analyst projects.

2. How do you see a breakdown of time spent on analytics between data capture, reporting, and analysis? What are the best ways to help get organizations to move up the value chain?

The more time you can spend on analysis, the better. But if you’re not capturing the right data and reporting it in an articulate way, your analysis won’t be accurate or defensible. That’s why it’s important to spend time up front on ensuring your data quality is excellent and you’re effortlessly generating beautiful reports.

Need some hard numbers to serve as a guideline? Aim for 10% of time spent on data capture, 20% on reporting, and 70% on analysis and delivering insights to your team (my previous ClickZ column goes over the reporting part in more detail).

The way to get an organization to move up the value chain is easy: trend down the time you spend on capture and reporting. It’ll happen organically.

3. Can you talk about how you are using data across tactics — such as how does search inform social, email or other areas of marketing?

Data should not exist in a silo. You should be using it to inform everything you do, and you should be using it to understand your users, not simply to fill in dashboards.

For example: if you notice visitors to your ecommerce site are frequently querying a product name or type you don’t have in site search, you should share this data with your product team and persuade them to offer it. Marketing isn’t just about promoting products anymore.

Marketing now needs to be involved in the actual strategic decisions companies make, and data is how we get a seat here. Our user data should be informing what we do next, not just showing successes of our sites and apps. This all starts with breaking down silos and using insights cross functionally – beyond marketing.

4. Let’s talk about goal setting: how you can quantify success outside of just ROI? What are some other metrics that we might want to take a look at?

ROI in dollar terms is great. Everyone can understand this, especially your CFO. But generating revenue is just one outcome from your marketing and content, and just one thing to optimize.

For example, if your call center or social CRM team notices a recurring question about your company’s product they have to answer repeatedly, that’s a huge opportunity. What you need to do in this type of situation is measure what your user’s problems are and use this information to power answers in an automated / self-service fashion such as an FAQ page on your site or chatbot.

Creating this type of content in a data-driven manner can help trend down easily answered questions, freeing up your customer service team to focus on tougher problems which require a human touch and making your customers happier by simply getting the information they need immediately. That’s a win-win: and very measurable!

5. What are some actionable ways or things we could all do to become better at analyzing the “what happened” and “why” at our metrics?

This is an area of practice makes perfect. The answer is to hire skilled leaders for your team that can inspire and grow your team’s analyst skills. But personal growth helps too: so attending events like ClickZ Live, trainings and courses (such as our Analytics Academy) and reading blogs and books (like Avinash’s definitive book, Web Analytics 2.0).

Although, there is simply no substitute for hands on experience at making data-drive decisions and becoming fluent in the world of digital measurement.

Working at an agency and on hundreds of clients across industries helped me get to where I am, so that’s a path I can personally recommend. Although there’s no reason you can’t build your skills in-house too.

To learn more about the changing face of digital marketing, come to our two-day Shift London event in May.

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