How to Perform a Proper PPC Competitor Analysis

You’ll often hear that a little healthy competition is a good thing for your business. It certainly doesn’t feel that way when you look at your Google Ads campaign and see your CPCs have almost tripled in the past week and you have no idea why. You might be scratching your head to see that nothing in your account has changed but your CPCs are higher than you’ve ever seen them.

It’s likely that you’ve seen an increase in competitive bidding behavior on your keywords but you might not know to what degree. Well, fortunately, Google provides great insight into how aggressive your competitors are on your campaigns. In this article, we’ll go into detail of how to access this data and how to interpret this information in a valuable way.

What is an Auction Insights Report?

The easiest way to evaluate competitive trends on your keywords is by using the Auction Insights report within Google Ads. This tool allows you to select campaigns, ad groups, or keywords and see exactly how your competitors are bidding on your keywords. Remember, this can only be done to keywords that you are currently bidding on. We also recommend when evaluating Auction Insights, that you do so on a very specific keyword with strong volume so the data isn’t muddied by match types and other keywords.

In the below screenshot, you’ll find a sample Auction Insights report from one of our client accounts (masked for anonymity). Please find brief definitions (per Google Ads) of each metric below:

  • Impression Share is the number of impressions you received divided by the estimated number of impressions you were eligible to receive.
  • Average Position is the average rank of the ad in the auctions, which determines the order of the ads on the search results page.
  • Overlap Rate is how often another advertiser’s ad received an impression in the same auction that your ad also received an impression.
  • Position Above Rate is how often the other participant’s ad was shown in a higher position than yours was when both of your ads were shown at the same time.
  • Top of Page Rate tells you how often your ad (or the ad of another participant, depending on which row you’re viewing) was shown at the top of the page, above the unpaid search results.
  • Top of Page Rate tells you how often your ad (or the ad of another participant, depending on which row you’re viewing) was shown at the absolute top of the page as the very first ad above the organic search results.

How to Evaluate an Auction Insights Report

If you’ve ever tried to review the Auction Insights report in Google Ads, you might find the dashboard format a little difficult to digest. Below you will find a screenshot from Google Ads that shows auction data segmented by device. While this view isn’t too bad to look at, if you wanted to segment by 10+ weeks, it would become quite challenging to pick out any trends efficiently in this cluttered format.

Auction Insights from Google Ads:

Therefore, we suggest reviewing Auction Insights in a different format, one that requires the data to be exported from Google Ads and manipulated via a Pivot Tablet (see below):

Auction Insights, Pivot Table format:

With the above format, you can glean insights quickly and apply conditional formatting to help you identify trends more efficiently. You’ll notice too that we’ve isolated each metric into their own pivot tables. We prefer this approach, as it appears less cluttered and makes the data easier to interpret.

There are a number of metrics you can look at when reviewing an Auction Insights report but we recommend limiting it to 3 metrics in the screenshot above. Impression Share indicates roughly how aggressive your competitors are on your terms. In this case, the week of July 8th shows that our competitors became more aggressive on our terms. Position Above Rate will tell you how often another advertiser in the auction is appearing above you. Judging from what we are seeing during the week of July 8th, it is safe to assume that our competitors started to bid much more aggressively on our terms. Lastly, overlap rate will show you how often an advertiser appears in the same search that one of your ads appeared it. This is valuable in determining if the increased presence of competitors appearing alongside us is having an impact on performance.

Other Competitor Analysis Tools

The Auction Insights report is the only first-party competitor analysis tool through Google Ads but there are third-party tools that also provide valuable insights. SpyFu and SEMRush are just two examples of competitor analysis tools we use to gather insights for our clients. Both tools provide similar features related to ad copy monitoring and keyword bidding insights. We often leverage these tools to gather keyword opportunities that we use for expansion in our accounts. That challenge we find with them is that they often have very broad lists of keywords, thousands of rows long, and it is a bit challenging to mine through them efficiently.

If you are interested in having our team dive into your competitor data, please contact us by email at sales@synapsesem.com  or by phone at 781-591-0752.

What is Structured Data (and Schema Markup) and What Can it Mean for SEO?

Google, Bing, and other major search engines have been encouraging webmasters to use structured data for years now. Still, only 17 percent of marketers are using structured data markup on their websites today. With incentives like enriched organic search results, it’s a wonder why so many websites have yet to take this step.

Or maybe, it’s no wonder at all. Structured data, most commonly known in the form of Schema.org markup, can come with quite the learning curve. Even the most successful marketers and CMOs might not know what structured data is, let alone its benefits. Quite frankly, even some SEO and web development teams do not know what correct Schema or structured data looks like, or how it can impact a website’s organic visibility. That’s why we’re here to break down the basics.

What is Structured Data Markup?

Generally speaking, “structured data” refers to any data that is organized or well-defined. In terms of search engine optimization, structured data involves organizing your web content with specific code or “markup,” so that crawlers can find and process your information more accurately.

Simply put, structured data is HTML code that provides search engines with a better understanding of a webpage and its content, which ultimately can enhance how that page is displayed in the search results. It tells search engines exactly what specific content relates to, so that they can then serve the most accurate and relevant information to users.

Have you ever Google’d a recipe for dinner and come across very enhanced looking search results? Right in the organic listing, you might have seen star reviews, cook time, as well as the meal’s calorie count. Or maybe you’ve searched for real estate listings, and come across a SERP filled with rich, robust results including open house times and listing prices – without clicking through to a site. These results are called “rich snippets” (rightfully so) and are a potential outcome of structured data markup.

Below are some examples of rich snippet results (driven by Schema.org):

schema markup for recipes real estate schema markup

There are all types of structured data vocabulary – for recipes, reviews, movie times, online products, even how-to articles and company information. You can put markup around your logo and contact number or your specific business location (down to the geo-coordinates), as well as the prices and reviews of products you sell online. Google’s Search Gallery features many examples of rich results prompted by structured data.

Structured data can also be applied almost anywhere on your website, and on any type of website. Whether you are a multi-location business trying to reach more consumers, an eCommerce site looking to enhance product pages, or a B2B company looking to increase brand awareness, structured data can work for you.

Many search engines parse and process structured data, which is why webmasters must use standardized implementations (i.e. formats or syntaxes), such as JSON-LD (Google’s recommendation) and Microdata. Webmasters must also use consistent, standardized vocabulary to classify their data. The most commonly used taxonomies are those outlined by Schema.org.

What is Schema.org Markup?

Schema.org is the most commonly used type of structured data markup on websites today. It was developed in 2011 by the big search engines (including Google, Bing, and Yahoo) in efforts to help webmasters categorize important information on their sites, and to further serve users the most relevant information on the web. According to the Schema.org website:

“Schema.org focuses on defining the item types and properties that are most valuable to search engines. This means search engines will get the structured information they need most to improve search,” while “users will end up with better search results and a better experience on the web.”

Essentially, Schema markup is a taxonomy of code formats that major search engines will use to understand a site. While there are other forms of structured data out there – including Open Graph (used by Facebook) and Twitter Cards (used by Twitter) – Schema vocabulary is used by major search engines, and is a key component to any modern SEO strategy.

SEO Benefits of Schema Markup

As Google evolves their algorithm to provide users with quality and relevant content, they recommend webmasters leverage Schema markup to more accurately understand websites. This has clear SEO benefits, including a stronger relevancy signal for Google and enhanced search result listings. Enhanced search results via Schema markup may come in the form as:

  • Rich search results, which include styling, images, and other visual enhancements
  • Enriched search results, including interactive or immersive features
  • Rich cards (a variation of rich search results), designed to provide a better mobile UX
  • A Knowledge Panel, which includes information about a brand and takes up significant real estate in the organic search results
  • Breadcrumbs, which make your navigation or URL easy to digest in the SERP
  • Carousels, which are a collection of multiple rich search results in a carousel style

Now, there are two disclaimers in all of this. Number one, implementing Schema markup does not mean your data will show as rich snippet results. While structured data is needed to qualify for rich snippets like the above, there is no guarantee that Google will immediately show these for your site. This doesn’t mean you’ve done anything wrong, however. This is just a choice made by Google. And as Google evolves and expands its rich snippet results (we’ll get to that in a minute), we believe it’s an effort worth making.

Secondly, it’s important to recognize that Schema markup does not directly benefit organic rankings. Even though it was created by Google, Schema.org is not a ranking signal. That said, using Schema correctly can contribute to a stronger relevancy signal, which Google will use to better rank your site for the right queries. In addition, rich snippets can improve the organic click-through-rate (CTR) of a webpage – which can also lead to better rankings indirectly – and lower bounce rates, as users see a preview of the content right in the search results. They can also help you establish more real estate in the search results.

Will Schema Markup Become an SEO-Must?

While Schema markup is not a ranking signal, recent releases from Google suggest it is becoming more important. (Just a few months back in May 2019, Google announced several updates involving structured data, including new “How-to” and “FAQ” Schema markup, as well as a new “Enhancements” report in Search Console that helps webmasters identify issues with their structured data.) Not to mention, as Google moves towards a mobile-first web, the search engine is increasing its usage of rich results in the SERP, to create a more visual and engaging UX.

Right now, 83 percent of marketers do not use (or plan to use) Schema markup in the near future, and 99 percent of all sites on the web today do not have Schema.org markup in place. If you fall in this majority, know it’s not too late to step out. While the learning curve seems steep, it really only takes a few basic steps to get Schema started on your site.

How to Use Schema.org Markup

When considering implementing Schema on your website, it is important to first consider the Schema markup that is most relevant to you. What type of content will you be highlighting on your website, and what is your goal in doing so? As Google explains, businesses can use Schema.org markup to:

  • Increase brand awareness, by highlighting content such as their business logo, store locations (if applicable), and contact information. This content may pull into Google’s Knowledge Panel, which outlines brand and business information for users.
  • Highlight specific content on your website, such as FAQ pages, Events, Job Postings, Reviews, and Articles, among many more.
  • Highlight product information, such as the price of an item, its name and description, as well as its availability and review ratings.

Once you decide what you are looking to mark up on your website, you can start exploring the potential Schema.org vocabulary and identifying which is most relevant to your business. Your dev team can do this via Schema.org, or can obtain more color through Google’s list of structured data examples here.

There are also free tools to help out with structured data implementation. These include:

  • Google’s Data Highlighter within Search Console, which allows you to tag data fields on your site using your mouse
  • A free Schema markup generator (such as this one), which makes it very easy to choose the Schema you want, and to transform it into the proper code
  • After implementation, use Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool to check your markup is accurate and can be interpreted by Google

If you would like help in implementing Schema markup on your website – or simply to learn more about the SEO benefits of structured data – you can also contact Synapse SEM. Complete our contact form online or call us at 781-591-0752 today.

Synapse Announces New Office Space in Newton, MA

Newton, MA – August 7, 2019 – Synapse SEM, a specialized performance marketing agency, announced today they have relocated their Massachusetts office to Washington Street in Newton.  This move is part of a 2019 initiative to build more collaboration and foster a greater sense of community with their local and remote employees.

 

“We’ve grown every year since our inception in 2011 and we felt it was important to invest in a new office space, where we can accommodate future expansion and develop a more collaborative environment for our team and clients.  It also doesn’t hurt that Buff’s Pub, a local staple, is so close” says company co-founder Paul Benson.

 

Prior to the move, Synapse held office space in a collaborative workspace with several other businesses.  The company co-founders Paul Benson and Mark Casali decided to invest in a larger, more dedicated workspace.  “We had been in the same space since 2013 and it was time to update and modernize our office space.  We want the office environment to enhance the work experience and company culture, and the new space certainly accomplishes that” added company co-founder Mark Casali.

 

The agency also plans to update its website to more accurately reflect its expanded services and current client portfolio.  The agency has over 30 active client accounts and 15 team members across its two offices.  “We’re well positioned to have our best year in company history this year and the new office will be our central hub for team growth moving forward.  We have an amazing new space and we really look forward to growing the team here” added Mr. Benson.

 

About Synapse SEM

Synapse SEM is a specialized performance marketing agency that leverages advanced data analysis and statistics to provide its clients with deeper, more actionable insights.  The agency utilizes its core competencies in paid search advertising, search engine optimization, and social media to launch, manage and optimize integrated direct response marketing programs for its clients.  Using its proprietary data analysis techniques and highly experienced subject matter experts, the agency has achieved best-in-class results and has provided the highest quality of service to its clients since its inception in 2011.  To learn more, visit them at www.synapsesem.com.

Synapse SEM Announces Partnership with Revenue Architects

Boston, MA – May 28, 2019 – Synapse SEM, a specialized performance marketing firm, announced today a new partnership with Revenue Architects a marketing and sales integration company.  This partnership will allow Synapse to provide its clients with best-in-class design and development services while ensuring the marketing programs can be integrated with clients’ marketing automation systems and CRMs.  This solution has been developed specifically for Synapse’s lead generation clients.

 

Synapse co-founder Paul Benson believes one of the biggest benefits of the new partnership is enabling rapid landing page design and development.  “When building landing pages, one of the critical needs is correctly setting up tracking.  For our lead gen clients, this includes integrating the new pages with a marketing automation system so we can track leads fully through the funnel.  This responsibility has historically fallen on the shoulders of our clients’ tech teams.  With Revenue Architects involved, we can completely own the landing page design and development process, including tracking integration.  This will improve work quality and completely remove bottlenecks, enabling us to reduce landing page deployment time from 1-3 months to 2-3 weeks,” says Mr. Benson.

 

As a specialized firm, Synapse aims to provide its clients fully integrated performance marketing services.  “Our primary goal for 2019 is to fill any gaps in our current service offering so we can deliver greater value to our clients.  The partnership with Revenue Architects will help us take a huge leap in that direction” says company co-founder Mark Casali.  Synapse also plans to launch a back-end lead integration solution, which will allow clients to pull additional lead metrics including MQLs, SQLs and sales directly into Google Analytics and other 3rd party systems by year-end.

 

Synapse and Revenue Architects have collaborated on projects for several years, but the new partnership means dedicated resources and more robust design and development capabilities moving forward.  Furthermore, Revenue Architects can assist with additional client needs related to full-funnel marketing and sales programs, marketing automation/CRM strategy, deployment and integration.  Revenue Architects Founder and CEO, John Stone, stated “Synapse has continually demonstrated their drive to bring fully integrated and best-in-class performance marketing services to its clients, and we’re excited to help them achieve that goal and bring their design, conversion optimization, marketing automation and CRM-related services to the highest level.”

 

About Synapse SEM

Synapse SEM is a specialized performance marketing firm that leverages advanced data analysis and statistics to provide its clients with deeper, more actionable insights.  With core competencies in paid search advertising, search engine optimization and social media, the company develops, implements, and executes integrated digital marketing strategies focused on lead generation and new customer acquisition.  Using its proprietary data analysis techniques and highly experienced subject matter experts, the agency has achieved best-in-class results and has provided the highest quality of service to its clients since its inception in 2011.

For more information on Synapse SEM, LLC, call 781-591-0752 or visit www.synapsesem.com.

 

About Revenue Architects

Revenue Architects helps growth companies integrate full-funnel marketing and sales and reach the next level of accelerated, predictable and sustainable revenue.  Revenue Architecture™ is the modern and integrated methodology for full-funnel buyer engagement. By continuously envisioning revenue strategies, enabling revenue systems and executing revenue programs aligned with their business model, companies can better acquire, retain and expand customer relationships, accelerate revenue growth and increase shareholder value.

For more information on Revenue Architects, call 877-REV-EARN or visit www.revenuearchitects.com.

How to Build a Better PPC Spend Tracker

Whether you are on the agency or client side, two of the most important aspects of PPC management are budget management and identifying significant performance fluctuations in real-time (e.g. spend doubled from the prior day unexpectedly). Unfortunately, there aren’t many out-of-the-box options that help monitor budgets and performance fluctuations. In this article we will be discussing how we’ve improved our budget management and trend monitoring efforts through automated reporting, which has been instrumental in delivering better service to our clients.

A Brief History

Prior to our more automated approach to daily tracking, we were doing things the old-fashioned way. Manually scraping data from sources like Google Analytics and Google AdWords (now Google Ads) and adding them to Excel-based tracking documents. This would create inefficiencies and more opportunity for manual error.

I was then tasked with finding a better way to do this and found a marketing reporting tool from Supermetrics. They have many products that can help you with a number of tasks, we’ve found their Google Sheets plug-in to be the most useful for this task. Their plug-in allows us to pull data in customizable formats from multiple sources (Analytics, Google Ads, Bing Ads, etc.). The best part is that it also allows us to refresh the data for different cadences (daily, weekly, monthly, etc.). This eliminates the manual process we were stuck with in the past.

Our Approach

We’ve also included 60 days’ worth of daily performance (some rows hidden) with conditional formatting to help better identify trends. As you can see, we’ve come a long way since only focusing on daily spend. We now include KPIs such as CPC and CPA that are important metrics to monitor daily and weekly, to account for changes in account behavior and competition.
Below, we’ve shared an example of what one of our PPC budget tracking sheets looks like. This is an abbreviated view that has several rows and columns hidden to make the view more digestible. The main components include the ability to switch between campaigns types (in this case generic vs brand), summary rows that show pacing & trends, and a budget summary table (which should be broken out by geos if there are dedicated budgets) that displays spend and CPA trends against the month’s budget.

The biggest benefit from this new template is that it allows us to deliver insights more efficiently and effectively to our clients.

How to set up your own daily spend tracker

Setting up your own daily tracker is a relatively straight-forward process if you have the appropriate Excel skillset. We’ve included the necessary steps to getting your daily spend tracking sheet up and running here:

  1. Sign up for a Supermetrics account
  2. Link your Supermetrics to all appropriate accounts (e.g. Google Ads, Facebook Ads, Google Analytics, etc.)
  3. Create a Google Sheet & start generating data pull queries from Supermetrics
  4. Structure your front-end dashboard tab to show all relevant KPIs (see image above)
  5. Use various Excel formulas (see below for examples) to pull appropriate data into your dashboard
  6. Ensure all data pulls are set to refresh daily (or whichever cadence you prefer)
  7. Be sure to QA your data routinely to ensure it is pulling correctly and that Supermetrics isn’t sampling your data

Some helpful formulas for PPC spend tracking

Below, we’ve included some helpful formulas to help you construct your own daily spend tracking sheet. These simple formulas will help you sum data for specific date ranges, in addition to other functions.

  • First day of month:
    • =EOMONTH(TODAYS DATE,-1)+1
  • Run rate for the past 7 days:
    • =((sumifs(SPEND RANGE,DATE RANGE,”>=”&TODAY()-7))/7)*DAY(EOMONTH(FIRST DAY OF MONTH,0))
  • Sum last X days of a data set:
    • =sumifs(SUM RANGE,DATE RANGE,”>=”&TODAY()-X)

Final thoughts

If you are looking for a better way to track daily performance and budgets, we recommend adopting a similar approach to ours. It’s a critical component to PPC management (as well as other channels like Social and Organic) that often gets overlooked.  Once a more streamlined reporting system is in place; the process becomes much more efficient.

You can do so yourself, but if you’d rather leave to the professionals, please contact us by email at sales@synapsesem.com  or by phone at 781-591-0752.

How to use Google In-Market Audiences for Search

While the concept of RLSA campaigns (Remarketing Lists for Search Audiences), Customer Match, and Similar Audiences have been key SEM strategies for some time now, Google has recently introduced the ability to use existing in-market audiences for search. These audiences were traditionally only available for GDN campaigns.  This gives paid search marketers the opportunity to further test and optimize search campaigns using audience strategies and boost keyword performance in a cost-effective manner.

What are In-Market Audiences?

An in-market audience is designed to connect your campaigns to individuals who are actively searching on terms heavily related to your industry. Google analyzes millions of users, looking at search history and site behavior. They even consider previous conversions, looking at what the users have (and haven’t) purchased. Ideally, these individuals are closer to making a purchase, and are past the research stage. These users are divided into audiences that can later be applied to your campaigns. For example, consider the scenario below.

  • Joe wants to plan a trip to Florida with his family
  • Joe looks at hotels
  • Joe purchases plane tickets
  • Joe looks at tickets for Disney World

Based on his search history, Joe would be a prime candidate for the travel audience. When you couple intent with the current keyword set, you can hone in on the right audience (see details below). The categories of in-market audiences range from things like software and financial services to dating sites and babies. Once you select a major theme, you have an option to narrow down your selection even more. Below depicts the multiple selections users can choose under the Travel theme.

In-Market Audiences in Display vs. Search

In-Market audiences are not new. Google announced this targeting option in 2014. Yet, the ability to use them within search was announced back in May 2018. Our agency has tested using in-market audiences for display campaigns in observation mode, and consistently saw poor results. Consider our findings below.

Using in-market audiences for search is a different story. Here, the keyword set can be used on individuals that are proven to be relevant. Instead of risking “opening the flood gates” to this audience, like in the GDN, we are still ensuring their relevance through the “searched” keyword. In the chart below, you can see that the in-market audience drove in a stronger click-through-rate as well as a stronger conversion rate when testing in a search campaign.While the in-market audience drove in significantly more traffic while in observation mode, it had a much lower conversion rate compared to the previous visitor audience. We found this audience to be high spending and hugely inefficient across the board. This makes sense. Google-generated audiences can be filled with irrelevant users. This is a common factor and risk with anything using “machine learning.”

 

in-market audience strategies

How to Apply an In-Market Audience to a Search Campaign:

  1. Sign into you Google Ads Account
  2. Navigate to the Audience tab in the left-hand panel
  3. Click the pencil icon to create an audience
  4. Select which campaign and ad group to edit
  5. Click the browse tab
  6. Select “what they are actively researching or planning”
  7. Choose your desired audience

When to Use In-Market Audiences:

The answer is always! For search campaigns, you should always be using in-market audiences, or any audience for that matter. Just because you apply an audience to a campaign, does not mean that you need to increase bids on these audiences. For search campaigns, you can overlay audiences, in observation mode, and then analyze performance of these audience segments. This is a great way to test out if in-market audiences, and which in-market audiences, work best for your campaign.

At first glance, it may seem that in-market audiences are only beneficial for eCommerce, consumer-based businesses, but that is not true.  In-Market audiences provide a great opportunity for B2B business to exclude irrelevant searchers. Applying an in-market audience as a negative to a campaign can help to create a more targeted audience, boost conversion rate, and most importantly save money. Software based companies may find that their conversion rate is weaker for specific audiences bucketed into the travel and lifestyle related audiences like beauty, apparel and hotels.  That being said, negative audiences are not limited to B2B companies. For example, it is pretty safe to assume that a wedding venue is not interested in targeting users whose search history has been focused on dating sites. Again, these assumptions can all be confirmed through testing.

Test, Test, Test…

Before you make any bid adjustments or create targeted campaigns using these audiences, it is crucial that you overlay all relevant audience types to your campaigns and analyze the results. The audiences will gather data over time, and then you can factor in conversion rate and click-through-rate numbers to help aid your decisions.

You may be surprised with the results, which is why we always recommend testing as many audiences as possible. There are obvious assumptions. For example, it is likely that a rental car service, would benefit from targeting users who have previously been interested in booking a hotel. However you may find that users who have a previous interest in beauty and travel convert better for your luxury watch website.

The Future of In-Market Audiences:

As Google announces more and more new features, we can see a common theme evolving. Google is moving toward “machine learning” which ultimately is causing marketers to steer away from the strong reliance on the keyword, and shift gears to focus on utilizing on this user intent data provided from Google. We can expect more and more announcements based on “automated learning” to come from Google. We are keeping up with the trends and determining what works and does not work with these new features.

 To learn how Synapse SEM can help improve your audience marketing strategy, you may complete our contact form or call us at 781-591-0752

3 Advanced SEM Targeting Strategies

Strategic targeting in a campaign can have many impactful benefits: increased site traffic, increased conversion rates, improved efficiency and higher return on investment. Monitoring bidding and conversion volume can only go so far to improve efficiency. Below we will discuss three targeting techniques and how they can play an integral role in increasing your return on investment.

1) DAYPARTING/AD SCHEDULING

The purpose of a dayparting analysis is not to see when the most conversions come in, but instead when your business is running at its highest and lowest efficiency. With this analysis, you can then implement ad scheduling. The goal of implementing bid multipliers (by day of week or time of day) is to increase the efficiency of your paid search program which will inherently increase return on investment. Keep in mind the difference between Google Analytics and Google ads regarding how conversions are tracked: Google Ads associates the conversion to the click that led to that conversion, whereas Google Analytics records the conversion when the conversion occurs. This is an important dynamic to keep in mind when determining which data set to analyze.

The example below was a dayparting analysis for time of day that was conducted for one of our clients. Time of day analyses can be done by grouping hours of the day together to get time periods (e.g. morning, afternoon, etc.) rather than breaking the day out by 24 hours, where hour-to-hour fluctuations tend to be relatively random in nature. From this analysis, we were able to determine that mornings generated leads 17% more efficiently than the rest of the day. Late evenings generated leads 48% less efficiently than the rest of the day. With these insights we were able to implement bid multipliers to take advantage of the morning efficiency and improve the current inefficiency during the late evenings.

2) LOCATION TARGETING

Location targeting is extremely effective at not only targeting your ideal audience, but also excluding locations outside of your target audience. People have different behaviors and tendencies depending on where they are located, which is why understanding the intricacies of this targeting type can be crucial when narrowing your audience.

One of our clients in the travel space is the leading seller of attraction packages. Because their products are specific to certain locations around the world, location targeting proved to be pivotal to not only decrease inefficient spend, but to learn more about the tendencies of consumers interacting with their brand. For this client, we set up location targeting as “in-market” and “out-of-market” campaigns. The in-market campaigns target a radius around the city while the out-of-market campaigns targeted the rest of the country. Through this type of targeting, we were able to determine that out-of-market consumers (mostly tourists) converted more efficiently and at a higher rate than in-market consumers (a mixture of tourists and locals). People who are already in the desired location are less likely to purchase a multi-day attraction pass. Due to this type of targeting, we were able to shift budget and focus on out-of-market campaigns and keep efficiency high.

Another client of ours was able to dramatically increase efficiency through advanced targeting. They were aware of another company with an extremely similar brand name, off by just one letter. We were able to determine where the other company had sales offices and conduct an analysis of the traffic from those cities in our own account. The results showed a vast opportunity: the cities with sales offices had traffic spikes with extremely inefficient performance. Consumers were typing in the wrong company name and clicking on our PPC ads, driving cost up while not converting. Through advanced targeting, we were able to exclude these cities which brought our cost down and increase efficiency as well as ROI.

Below are examples of radius targeting surrounding a city as well as exclusion targeting to block traffic from multiple cities.

    

3) DEMOGRAPHIC TARGETING

Demographic targeting allows you to pursue consumers based on age, gender, household income, and more. Google gathers information to make demographic targeting possible in a few different ways: the settings in a consumer’s personal google account, 3rd party sites such as social networking, and browser cookies dropped by Google during a consumer’s web navigation. Due to the nature of this data, demographic targeting may not be 100% representative of your actual audience but is a great way to learn more about who is interacting with your brand. To properly utilize demographic targeting, it is best to set up an observational audience in Google Ads to get a sense of who is clicking on your ads and converting (or who is clicking on your ads and not converting). Depending on the size of your business, it is best to let this audience observe users anywhere from a few months to a few years in order to gather adequate and statistically significant information. It is imperative that you generate enough data and that your results are statistically significant to ensure you make the right account optimizations that are data driven. This data can either guide your demographic targeting or uncover expansion opportunities for your business. For example, you may think that your product is meant for 20- to 30-year-olds and position it as such, but the observational audience may tell you that many people 60+ are purchasing your product as well. With this data you could then create a new campaign with adjusted messaging targeting that 60+ audience through Google Ads demographic targeting. You may also add positive or negative bid multipliers to increase or decrease visibility of your ads to certain demographics.

These three targeting techniques have the potential to significantly increase ROI. This is done through narrowing in on your target audience, trimming unnecessary and excessive spend, and using the information already available to make better decisions.

If you are interested in learning more about optimizing your PPC program, please contact us by email at sales@synapsesem.com or by phone at 781-591-0752.

Putting Mobile-First: A Guide to Google’s Mobile-First Indexing in 2019

Today, consumers are putting mobile first. Increasingly (and habitually), more of us are turning to our smartphones during moments of need – to ask a question, find a solution, reach a local business, and even to book travel or search for a new home. According to Google, 96 percent of smartphone owners today use their mobile device to get things done, with the average American spending 3-plus hours a day on their smartphone. As we move further into 2019, these numbers are only expected to climb.

Fact of the matter is, people prefer mobile. It’s fast, efficient, and always at our fingertips. Google sees this, and is taking major steps to serve users a better mobile experience. The search engine giant, which now receives the majority of its search traffic from mobile devices, is putting mobile-first.

You may have heard of Google’s mobile-first index, which began rolling out in March 2018. Since then, about 50 percent of websites have been switched over to Google’s new mobile-first index, leaving half of websites to go. Which half are you in? If you have questions regarding mobile-first indexing – what it is, how it might affect your online presence, whether your site has been switched – you are in the right place. Below we answer common questions regarding mobile-first indexing.

What is Mobile-First Indexing?

Mobile-first indexing means that Google will predominantly use the mobile version of a website for indexing and ranking. The search engine spiders will first crawl a company’s mobile content – to determine how relevant a webpage is and how it should rank in the search results – before analyzing the desktop version. A website’s organic rankings, both desktop and mobile, will be informed by this mobile crawl. Simply put, it means that the mobile version of your website is now the most important one.

Historically, Google evaluated and ranked web content based on its desktop version. Their index solely contained the desktop iteration of websites, serving any alternate, mobile versions for smartphone and tablet users. Now that most users conduct searches on mobile, the dynamic has changed. Google will primarily base a website’s rankings on its mobile content. If you do not have a mobile (or mobile responsive) website, however, Google will continue to index your desktop content.

It is for this reason that the new index is called “mobile-first.” Google isn’t switching over to mobile indexing completely. It’s simply prioritizing mobile websites first, to serve mobile users the most relevant, valuable, and optimized experiences possible. As Google explained at the beginning of the mobile-first roll-out, “Mobile-first indexing means that we’ll use the mobile version of the page for indexing and ranking, to better help our – primarily mobile – users find what they’re looking for.”

Have You Been Switched to Mobile-First?

If you are unsure whether your website has migrated to mobile-first indexing, check your Google Search Console property. Google is notifying webmasters via a Search Console message. You may also notice a significantly increased crawl rate from Smartphone Googlebot in there, as well, which is an indicator of mobile-first. If you do not have a Search Console account, well, set one up! You can also manually check out Google’s Search Results and cached pages to see if your mobile site ranks.

Most websites included in the first wave do not need to stress over this change, however, as they have been deemed ready for mobile-first indexing. Many of Synapse’s clients who have been migrated, for example, have a mobile-responsive website in which the desktop and mobile content are exactly the same, with the same HTML code. With a responsive site, there are typically no separate versions – instead, the site responds to screen size. More on this in a minute.

If your website was not included in the initial roll-out of mobile-first, do not panic. Google explains sites that have been migrated do not have a “ranking advantage” over mobile content that’s not yet gathered in the mobile-first index. This also doesn’t mean that your website is not mobile-friendly. Google assures that the mobile-first index is independent from their mobile-friendly tests, and many mobile-friendly sites have yet to migrate to mobile-first. Still, site owners should continue to optimize with mobile in mind in preparation for the next wave.

How Will Mobile-First Indexing Impact Your SEO?

As Google notes above, the mobile-first index will not give certain websites a ranking advantage – mobile-first is just a change in the way they crawl and gather data, after all. That said, however, mobile-first indexing may reward websites that have made mobile optimization their priority. So if your website is not mobile optimized yet, you might see a negative effect as the mobile-first index rolls out.

There are a few considerations to keep in mind as Google moves to mobile-first. Perhaps most importantly, consider how your website is set up today. Do you have a mobile website? Does your website use a responsive design for different devices, or do you have separate URLs for each?

If you have a responsive website design, in which your mobile content is the same as your desktop content, you will likely not experience any impact when migrating to the mobile-first index. Google explains that websites using responsive design or dynamic serving are “generally set for mobile-first indexing.” However, if your website has separate mobile and desktop content, there are certain steps you should take to prepare.

Separate Mobile Websites: What to Do About Mobile-First

Does every desktop URL on your website have an equivalent, alternate URL serving mobile-optimized content – for example, www.website.com and m.website.com? With the mobile-first index, Google will no longer index www.website.com as your primary site. Instead, it will prefer the m-dot version of your webpages for ranking and indexing.

If your website serves different content based on a user’s device in any means, whether via an m-dot site or dynamic serving (on the same URL), you must take action to prepare for mobile-first. Google recommends:

  • Ensuring that your mobile site contains the same content as your desktop site. If your mobile site has less content than your desktop site, update it so that it is equivalent – in text, word count, images (with alt attributes), and videos in the usual crawlable and indexable formats.
  • Putting structured data on both versions of your site. Make sure your mobile pages also have structured data (such as Schema markup) and that the URLs in the structured data are the mobile versions on mobile. If you use Data Highlighter for your structured data, regularly check the dashboard for extraction errors.
  • Optimizing metadata on both versions of your site. Ensure that your title tags and meta descriptions are equivalent (and SEO-optimized) across both versions of your website.
  • If you have separate m-dot URLs, also verify that both versions of your website can be easily crawled, accessed, and indexed. This involves using the correct rel=canonical and hreflang tags, using robots.txt directives appropriately, verifying both versions in Google Search Console, and ensuring that your mobile site server can handle an increased crawl rate.

Considering Mobile Friendly vs. Mobile Responsive Websites

With mobile-first indexing being rolled out, Google recommends using responsive web design. This means that a website serves all devices with the same code, and that code adjusts for screen size. Not only are responsive websites easy to manage and maintain, they also have benefits from an indexing perspective. Responsive design helps Google’s algorithms accurately assign indexing properties to a page, rather than needing to signal crawlers to a corresponding desktop or mobile version. This setup also saves resources when Googlebot crawls your website, using one user agent versus multiple agents to retrieve the different versions. With more efficient crawling in place, more of your site’s content can be indexed and kept fresh in the index, explains Google.

Now, let’s not confuse mobile responsive with mobile-friendly. While these concepts are generally similar, in the mobile-first index, they have major differences that can hurt your SEO. You see, responsive websites typically eliminate common mobile UX issues, such as zooming, squinting, and too small clickable links. Mobile-friendly websites, on the other hand, can still have some of those issues, even though the website will function fine on mobile. So if you’re using a mobile-friendly (but not responsive) design, you will still need to update your content in accordance with mobile best practices.

How Can You Optimize for Mobile-First?

As I’ve mentioned in a previous article, Google uses hundreds of ranking factors to determine a web page’s relevance and position in the SERP. If you have super- pertinent and high-quality content that is not perfectly optimized for mobile, your website still has a chance of ranking in the mobile-first index. However, if your competitors are creating great content, and it’s mobile-optimized too, then you better catch up. Here are some tips to stay competitive as we move towards mobile-first:

  • Optimize your mobile load times. In July 2018, Google officially made mobile load times a part of their ranking algorithm, noting that slow-loading content may now perform less well for both desktop and mobile searchers. To assess your current mobile load times, you can use Google’s free Test My Site tool.
  • Go Responsive. It’s clear that responsive design is preferred, and has an advantage, in this mobile-first era. On top of indexing benefits and ease of maintenance, responsive websites often offer better user experiences, faster load and redirection times, and less of those common mobile mistakes.
  • Don’t ditch your desktop site. If your website is not mobile, Google will not stop crawling or indexing your desktop versions. However, you may see rankings drop as the mobile-first index rolls out (and in that case, you may just consider the move to mobile).

Mobile optimization is becoming a standard in the search landscape. We see that with voice search. We see that with purchase behavior. We see that with the constant updates being made to Google’s SERPs – featured snippets, local pack listings, “interesting finds,” and more. And now, we see that with Google’s roll out of mobile-first indexing – one more step Google is taking to develop the search platform’s ease of use and overall UX. This is their goal, after all, to deliver the best possible experience for users. And if your focus is on SEO, this should be one of your main priorities, too. It’s time to put mobile first.

To learn how Synapse SEM can help improve your mobile SEO strategy, you may complete our contact form or call us at 781-591-0752.

The 2019 SEM Agency Guide: How to Choose the Right SEM Partner

The 2019 Guide to Choosing the Right SEM Partner

Choosing the wrong SEM partner can cost you significant time, money and effort.  And choosing a partner isn’t easy; even if you’ve received a referral from a friend or colleague, you’ll still be wondering whether that agency can meet the specific needs of your business.  Agencies are often very good at selling their services but can come up short when it comes time to deliver those services.  In addition, any agency that’s been around for a while will have some clients who are willing to be references (even if most of their clients aren’t), so reference checks generally provide little value.

To simplify the process, and to help companies choose the right SEM partner, we’ve compiled a list of the most important questions and our point-of-view (POV) on each.  These questions can be used in your initial discussions with SEM agencies, or as part of your RFP process.  We’ve broken these questions into 5 key categories: Agency Expertise, Agency Reputation & Credibility, Current Client Mix, Agency Resources & Dynamics, and Account Management.  Let’s get started!

Agency Expertise

Q: Which services do you consider your core competencies?

POV: If an agency tells you they have core competencies across a multitude of services, they’re likely stretching the truth.  Most agencies specialize in a couple services, even if they’re a full-service agency.  One firm may be excellent at SEM and SEO, but defers to partners or third parties for web development, and vice versa.  If a potential partner primarily focuses on, for example, web development or PR and supplements their services with SEM and SEO, keep looking.  Ideally, you’ll find an SEM agency that specialized in SEM, or only does SEM, and has relevant industry experience (see below).

Q: Do you have relevant industry experience?

POV: Having industry experience has many benefits, including:

  • Leveraging previous learnings to improve your campaign performance and avoid pitfalls
  • Shrinking the learning curve for the agency during the onboarding practice
  • Assisting/owning the development of strategies that are proven to work for similar companies

Overall, we support looking for an agency that has relevant experience for the benefits mentioned above.  This is especially important for certain industries, including B2B and B2C lead gen and retail/e-commerce.  B2B and B2C lead gen businesses require experience with marketing automation and CRM systems as well as a general understanding of lead nurturing and lead scoring dynamics (see below for more info), while retail/e-commerce companies require experience with data feeds, product listing ads (PLAs) and other ad formats.  That said, be sure to speak with potential partners about whether they’re managing programs for your competitors, and if so, how they handle the inherent conflict of interest.

Also, it’s worth noting that looking for relevant industry experience vs. relevant product or sub-industry experience are two very different things.  If you’re selling shoes, finding an agency with retail experience should suffice, and if you only look for agencies that have experience marketing shoes, you may severely limit your options.  The same applies to B2B tech companies.  If you are a recruiting software company, then the priority should be to find an agency with B2B software experience.  Recruiting experience is valuable, but that’s much easier to teach the agency than all the unique factors surrounding a B2B software company.  See below for more details.

Q: Are you familiar with marketing automation systems and CRMs?

POV: This specifically relates to B2B and B2C lead generation-based businesses.  The industry has rapidly moved away from valuing leads and measuring efficiency based on cost-per-lead (CPL).  Instead, many companies are leveraging marketing automation and CRM systems to measure the number of qualified leads (e.g. MQLs, SQOs, etc.) and the cost-per-qualified-lead.  Lead nurturing and scoring are critical aspects of this approach, and your agency has to be familiar with this dynamic, especially as it relates to how they optimize the campaigns and report on performance.  Also, your agency should be familiar with buy cycle strategies so that keywords, messaging and CTAs align with your internal goals.  If you are a B2B or B2C lead generation client, it is critical that you choose a partner that has deep lead generation experience, even if it’s outside your specific industry.

Q: Do you have agency partners, and if so, what do they specialize in?

POV: As discussed above, finding an agency that specializes in SEM should be your first goal.  However, if you need other services as well, you may be concerned that you’ll have to hire more agencies to fill those needs.  However, most established agencies will have long-standing relationships with agencies that offer complementary services, and the agency can bring in those partners to provide you more integrated services while maintaining a single point of contact.

Q: What is your expertise related to attribution?

POV: Attribution is a hot topic right now, and for good reason.  Understanding how customers are interacting with your site and how your marketing channels impact their purchasing behavior is critical.  Your SEM partner should be familiar with various attribution models (first touch, last touch, etc.) and should even be able to help you decide which attribution model is best for your business.  Keep in mind that attribution goes beyond just reporting; it influences how you optimize your campaigns and how you allocate budget across your various marketing channels.  You need a partner that has leveraged different attribution models and understands the differences between them.

Agency Reputation & Credibility

Q: Do you have client references?

POV: Be careful with this one.  Any agency can scrounge up a few client references.  The trick is to understand what you need from your agency relationship and ask the client reference whether they’re currently receiving that from the agency (e.g. if you’re a highly analytical company, you want to make sure the agency has strong data analysis capabilities).  Even if that’s the case, keep in mind that you may not be assigned the same team as that client, so the level of service could vary.  You should ask about the team separately and better understand who is working on your account (see Agency Resources section below for more insight).  You should also ask the agency for a reference from a client that decided to leave the agency.  This usually provides much more insight than speaking to a client they currently work with.

Q: How many clients do you have currently?

POV: This is absolutely something you want to know.  An established agency should have at the very least 15+ active client accounts.  Anything above 20 client accounts means that the agency has a stable client base.  You also would prefer to be a big fish in a small pond, so if the agency has over 50 clients, it’s more likely that you will be put on a lower tier team (unless you have a larger budget than their other clients).

Q: How many new clients have you partnered with over the last 12 months?

POV: This is designed simply to gauge growth.  20%+ annual growth is standard for an SEM agency.

Q: How many clients have you lost over the last 12 months?

POV: This is designed to gauge churn.  You do not want to be working with an agency that churns more than 10% of its business in a year.

Q: Have you ever “fired” a client, and if so, why?

POV: Most agencies have “fired” a client, and reasons for doing so can vary.  That said, the goal here is to better understand their culture.  Seeing how they respond to a difficult question can give you this insight.

Agency Resources & Dynamics

Q: How many in-house employees do you have, and where are they located?

POV: Surprisingly, many agencies rely heavily on freelancers to handle client management.  They do this because it helps them resource accounts more fluidly and better manage their employee costs.  There’s no reason to necessarily oppose having freelancers working on your account, but you should demand some in-house resources as well.  If your account is being managed completely by freelancers, it’s a strong indication that it is not a high priority account within the agency.

Q: Who will be working on my account, and how much experience do they have?

POV: This question is critical.  You ultimately want to know what level of experience you’ll have on your account, and whether you will have channel-specific expertise assigned to your account.  Most agencies assign a supervisor and then specialists to each account.  If your agency manages your PPC and SEO programs, you would ideally have different specialists managing each, since few search engine marketers are operationally strong in both areas.  You should ask for this information for both the inhouse and freelancer resources.

Account Management

Q: How much are you managing in PPC advertising costs per year?

POV: This gives you great insight into how large the clients are.  An established agency should be managing at least $3m in annual PPC ad spend.  Anything above $3m indicates a healthy client base, and anything above $10m indicates a very diverse client base.  You should also ask about their average client’s monthly budget.  This will help you gauge the size of their clients and how you stack up (again, it’s preferable to be a large fish in a small pond).

Q: How many hours per week will be allocated to my account?

POV: Most agencies, whether they disclose it to their clients or not, assign a specific number of hours to each client account.  This insight will allow you to better compare fees across agencies, and will help you determine the hourly rate that they’re charging.  Today, SEM agencies’ bill rates range from $140 – $200/hour.  You should also ask how those hours are broken out across resources (director time, supervisor time, specialist time, etc.).

Q: How are your management fees structured?

POV: For paid search advertising, most SEM firms charge based on a percent of spend with a minimum.  The percentage can vary anywhere from 4%-25% depending on the monthly ad budget.  Charging a percent of spend has become the industry norm, but it can be a very dangerous structure because it incentivizes the agency to spend more of your marketing budget, even if that additional spend isn’t generating incremental business value.  Look for a firm that charges based on scope, so that their only incentive is to help you improve your KPIs.  For SEO services, most of the fees are based on scope (since ad spend doesn’t apply here).

Q: What level of communication and reporting will you provide?

POV: For an agency relationship to be successful, it’s important to have strong communication and consensus on reporting.  The frequency of communication and reporting can heavily influence the management fees, so just ensure you’re comparing apples to apples.  We recommend having calls at least once per month for smaller accounts, but more frequently for larger accounts.  Also, you should inquire about the format of their reporting.  Ideally, the agency will be able to provide you with reports that focus on the KPIs that are most important to you, and data in formats that you can easily repurpose for your own internal needs.  These reports should also be automated to ensure you’re not paying the firm to manually create reports (they could be spending their time on much more impactful efforts).

Q: Is your pricing in line with industry benchmarks?

POV: You will get an answer to this question once you receive proposals from the agencies.  We highly recommend evaluating potential SEM partners much more based on their track record, proposed scope, and their team rather than their fees.  Find the right partner first, and then work on negotiating the fees to an acceptable level (rather than the other way around).  On the SEO front, if you see a vendor’s pricing is significantly lower than the others, see whether their scope includes content writing or any content marketing services.  Content marketing is by far the most time consuming and most costly part of an SEO scope, and it absolutely should be included in the proposed scope unless you’ve specifically requested otherwise.  If the scope doesn’t include content marketing (and specific details on what that scope entails), it is a strong indication that that agency may not be able to generate long-term improvements in SEO.  As unbiased as we can be, pricing should be a factor, but certainly not the leading factor, when choosing an SEM partner.

 

We understand that choosing an SEM partner can be a challenging task, especially considering the sheer number of SEM agencies and all the complexities surrounding scope, pricing and resources.  We highly recommend that you use these questions and any others that are important to your business to add clarity and substance to an otherwise ambiguous and arduous process.

As always, you can contact Synapse SEM with any questions related to our SEM, SEO and paid social services by calling us at 781-591-0752 or by emailing us at sales@synapsesem.com.

Synapse SEM Announces 7th Consecutive Year of Growth

Boston, MA – January 21, 2018 – Synapse SEM, a specialized search engine marketing firm, announced year-over-year revenue growth for its seventh consecutive year.  Coming off its most successful year yet, the agency has now grown every year since its inception in 2011.

The agency attributes its growth to two critical factors, including its exceptional client retention rates (the agency still maintains partnerships with many of its original clients) and more aggressively promoting its newest service offering, paid social management.

Synapse continued its 5+ year-long relationships with several of its flagship clients, including Bullhorn (an industry leading recruiting software firm), Visual IQ (the leading marketing attribution solutions provider who was acquired by Nielsen in 2017), and Adoptions With Love (a non-profit adoption agency with 30+ years in the industry), among others.  The agency also onboarded several new clients, including Akumina and Datawatch, which has helped deepen its experience within the B2B technology industry.

The agency also focused on expanding its paid social service offering, which was its fastest growing service offering in 2018.  Paul Benson, agency co-founder and managing director of the Newton office stated that “We have always been a direct response marketing agency, and the paid social channel fits well within our core competencies because it allows advertisers to target based on very narrowly defined criteria.  While we leverage query data to determine intent for SEM, we’re now able to leverage company size, job titles, clients’ target accounts and other criteria to market more precisely.  Paid social has proven to be a very effective direct response channel and is an increasingly important part of our clients’ marketing mix.”

To accelerate its growth in 2019, the agency plans to make specific enhancements to its core services across PPC, SEO and paid social.  This includes becoming one of the first agencies to fully automate the process for collecting and reporting on back-end metrics (e.g. MQLs) for its lead generation clients, which is currently a highly manual and cumbersome process.  The firm also plans to enhance its landing page design and development services to ensure its clients’ landing pages are not only conversion rate and Quality Score optimized, but also fully integrated with their marketing automation and CRM systems.  This service enhancement is meant to remove the burden of configuring the CRM and marketing automation systems for the various marketing channels.  Co-founder and managing director of Synapse’s Connecticut office, Mark Casali believes that “automation is becoming the standard within digital marketing, and it’s critical that we help lead the way for our clients.  This is particularly relevant and important for our B2B and B2C lead gen clients.”

About Synapse SEM

Synapse SEM is a specialized search marketing firm that leverages advanced data analysis and statistics to provide its clients with deeper, more actionable insights.  With core competencies in paid search advertising, search engine optimization and social media, the company develops, implements, and executes integrated digital marketing strategies focused on lead generation and new customer acquisition.  Using its proprietary data analysis techniques and highly experienced subject matter experts, the agency has achieved best-in-class results and has provided the highest quality of service to its clients since its inception in 2011.

For more information on Synapse SEM, LLC, call 781-591-0752 or visit www.synapsesem.com.

Starting Fresh: Rethinking PPC Ad Copy Testing Pt. 2

In one of our previous articles, we discussed two approaches to ad copy testing; impression split testing and optimize for conversion rotation testing.

To summarize, impression split testing is done to deliver the same number of impressions to each ad in the test. This is done to allow each ad to have an even opportunity to show and the winner would be decided based on KPIs important to the business. Optimize for conversion testing leverages Google Ads’ (formally Google AdWords) algorithm to deliver the best ad copy based on several specific signals (i.e. user location, device, time of day, etc.). Instead of trying to figure out which ad is the best, this setting is designed to have all ads in an ad group work together and allow the system to show the ad that is best for each query.

Historically the impression split testing has been our preferred approach to ad testing. However, we have since tested the new optimize setting to see how effective it could be. This article provided an interesting way to test the results of this setting, which we included an excerpt below to help describe the test:

“Test an ad group with one ad (A) against an experiment ad group with four ads (A, B, C, and D) with rotation set to optimized. You can use drafts and experiments to create these two versions. That way, you’re testing to see whether or not more ads result in more impressions and clicks at the ad group level.”

Results & Insights:

If you refer to the results below, you’ll find performance for the ‘test campaign’ (leveraging the ‘optimize’ setting with 4 ad variations) against the ‘control campaign’ (only running 1 ad variation). As you’ll notice, there wasn’t a significant difference between the two data sets.

We found that the test campaign was able to achieve better CPCs and higher impression volume, but the control campaign had a better conversion rate and CPA. These results gave us confidence that this new ad setting wouldn’t hurt campaign performance, but also may not make it significantly better either.

Recommendation:

Since we didn’t notice much of an impact on performance, we wouldn’t recommend completely overhauling your approach to ad testing. We found that a secondary benefit to using the ‘optimize’ setting is that we can let ad copy tests run longer, because Google will in most cases match the strongest ad to the most impressions. You might find it worthwhile to run a similar test for your account, to see if your results are similar.

If you were interested in learning more about you should rethink PPC ad copy testing, please contact us by email at sales@synapsesem.com  or by phone at 781-591-0752.

SEO in an Age of High Quality Content: Google’s Updated Search Quality Guidelines & E-A-T-ing Your Way to Great Content

In both March and April 2018, Google made broad updates to their core algorithm. Then, on August 1, 2018, yet another core algorithm update – the so-called “Medic” update – was rolled out. What did they all have in common? SEO pros like Glenn Gabe speculate these algo updates all revolved around content quality and relevance.

Often, that’s the extent of what we know.

Google does not always lend much insight into their core algorithm updates. And as a business owner, webmaster, or marketing exec, that can be a bit frustrating. You may be asking, why did I see a dip in website traffic after March 7th? Why did my rankings fall off after August 1st? What did we do wrong that may have caused this?

More than likely, you didn’t do wrong at all. Google has said that with these recent changes, there is no real “fix.” Broad algorithm updates are not designed to penalize websites, but rather, to reward those that meet their standards for a high-quality website – one that’s user-friendly, in good technical health, and chock-full of unique and valuable content. Instead looking for a fix, Googlers continuously recommend that webmasters stay focused on creating high quality content over the long-term.

As Gary Illyes at Google put it, “If you publish high quality content that is highly cited on the Internet – and I’m not talking about just links, but also mentions on social networks and people talking about your branding… Then you are doing great.” Illyes has also iterated the importance of publishing “content created with care for the users.”

So, the questions you should be asking are: What is high quality content? How does Google define quality in an age where millions of websites are trying to make it to the top (of the search results)?

While Google doesn’t give us much visibility into their ranking algorithm, they have released their Search Quality Rater Guidelines to the public. And just recently, on July 20th, these quality guidelines were updated – shedding light into some new areas for webmasters to focus.

To give you some context, the Search Quality Rater Guidelines are 180+ pages of rules that Google contractors will use to evaluate the quality of websites ranking in the search results. These guidelines do not tell us how Google’s algorithm works. And the ratings that stem from these guidelines do not have a direct impact on how a website will rank. Rather, the search quality guidelines are used to ensure Google’s algorithm is working properly, and that the best results are being delivered, with the highest quality websites ranking at the top.

Still, they give us some great information.

In the recent release of their Search Quality Rater Guidelines, Google shares a valuable list detailing the “most important” factors contributing to a webpage’s quality rating. These include:

  • The Purpose of the Page
  • Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness (E-A-T)
  • Main Content (MC) Quality and Amount
  • Website Information/information about who is responsible for the MC
  • Website Reputation/reputation about who is responsible for the MC

Let’s break these down.

High Quality Content Has a Beneficial Purpose for Users

“Beneficial purpose” is a new concept in Google’s Search Quality Rater Guidelines, as well as a key contributor to content quality. In evaluating a page’s content, Google’s raters must consider whether the page has a beneficial purpose or use to being on the website. Is the content valuable to users, and what value does it offer? Was it created for the purpose of helping users, or was it created with other intent – to make money, to rank well in search engines? Is it overly commercial in nature? This is something that we, as content creators and webmasters, must think about in the months moving forward. Great quality content has purpose.

As I wrote in a prior article, “Every piece of content created for your organization should have a purpose. It should have intent. It should be relevant – not only to your product or services, but also to what your customers are looking to read: What are they actively searching for? How often are they searching for it? How are they engaging with your website today? What is working with your current online strategy, and what is not?” This means doing some research before building your content plan, and understanding what your audience wants to read. More on that here.

When developing your content plan, also ensure that any upcoming content is specialized and pertinent to the holistic themes of your website, so that Google consistently sees you as relevant or expert in your niche. And to truly be an expert on a topic, make sure to drop the marketing lingo. High quality content is not commercial or promotional in nature, but rather, discusses topics in a neutral way. This is an important distinction, as it’s suspected that commercial content was devalued in the most recent Google algorithm update.

Expertise, Authority, and Trustworthiness = Quality

E-A-T is one of the most frequent and perhaps the notable acronym found in Google’s Search Quality Guidelines – and therefore should be a key ingredient in your SEO and content strategy. When evaluating the content of a website, Google raters will think about the topic of a given page and the level of expertise required to deliver that content effectively. They will then consider:

  • The expertise of the creator of the main content on the page
  • The authoritativeness of the content, as well as the creator of that content and the website as a whole
  • The trustworthiness of the content creator, the content itself, as well as the entire domain

Google lends examples of what would make high E-A-T pages: A news article is produced with journalistic professionalism, references factually accurate content, and is published on a website with established editorial standards and robust review processes. Online legal or financial advice is yielded by trustworthy industry sources, and is maintained and updated regularly. Medical information is published and written by people or organizations with appropriate medical expertise or accreditation, such as doctors. The list goes on. There is E-A-T to be found within every industry.

Information & Reputation are Key Players in High E-A-T

In assessing the Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness of a page or website, Google wants to understand who is responsible for it. Is the creator an expert in the space, or do they have sufficient experience with the topic? It’s important to note that formal expertise isn’t always required for a high-quality rating, especially in areas like fashion or gossip, where credentials may not necessarily exist. Google’s raters may look to see if content has biographical or contact information for its authors, or whether a website has sufficient information supporting the business and user needs. For example, e-commerce websites should have helpful customer service information to help users resolve issues.

The website, company, and content creators are also gauged on reputation. A high-quality rating cannot be given to a website or author that has a convincing negative reputation, Google states. Jennifer Slegg, an expert in the Google Search Quality Rater Guidelines herself, explains that reputation of content creators is actually one of the biggest updates made in the July document:

“Google wants their raters to not only look at the reputation of the website itself, but also the content creators themselves… This is one area that many sites fall down on. They might have an ‘About Us’ page, but the bios of their authors are sorely lacking.

“If content is created by someone with a great reputation, it makes sense for Google to rank that content higher than from someone with a bad reputation since it is generally a better user experience for the searcher. But it means many will also need to brush up on their bios, too. It is also worth noting that this doesn’t apply just to written content, but other types of content as well, such as videos and social media.

“Google’s focus with this addition is on wanting to ensure content that is created by creators with great reputations is ranking well, especially in a world of fake news and conspiracy theories. Great for those creators with great reputations, but does mean some work for those without a great reputation or a limited one.”

For us, this means ensuring that webpages have clear information that shows credibility and creates a strong trust factor. This may mean enhancing your authors’ biographies, creating more user-minded content about your business, or highlighting important awards or recognition that you’ve received throughout your website.

Pages Need a “Satisfying Amount” of High Quality Content

High quality content, by the Quality Rater Guidelines definition, takes a significant amount of time, effort, expertise, and/or talent/skill. Content should be factually accurate, clearly written, and comprehensive in covering its topic. The amount of content, Google explains, depends on the topic and purpose of the page: “A High quality page on a broad topic with a lot of available information will have more content than a High quality page on a narrower topic.”

When you’re creating content for your website, we recommend evaluating which websites are already ranking on page 1 in Google’s SERP. This will give you good insight into the amount of content you need to rank, as well as types of content you should be creating, on the subject.

A Note from Google on High Quality Content

Creating high quality content is a must for the organic success of your website. What makes a high-quality page? To recap, Google states that “a High quality page should have a beneficial purpose and achieve that purpose well.” In addition, content should have:

  • High level of Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness (E-A-T) – This involves citing authors and their credentials in content, as well as referencing scholarly articles and credible sources (e.g. government websites) to back up any claims
  • A satisfying amount of high-quality main content – In addition to ensuring sufficient content on a topic/theme, make sure the content is consistently pertinent to the holistic themes of your website. This also includes creating a descriptive or helpful title and great content that supports it (no more click-bait!).
  • Satisfying website information and/or information about who is responsible for the website – This includes having a dedicated “About” page with organizational information (contact information, address, history, etc.).
  • A positive website reputation for a website or a positive reputation of the creator of the content – This may involve earning links from credible, third-party websites to build your domain authority.

Gone are the days of keyword-stuffing and creating content for content’s sake. Today, your web content must offer unique value to users, rather than be solely optimized for search engines. Today, it is high-quality, relevant, and valuable content that’s going to make your website great.

To learn how Synapse SEM can help improve your content and search engine optimization, complete our contact form or call us at 781-591-0752.

Google AdWords Has Changed as We Know It

Millions of businesses around the world have relied on Google AdWords.  In July, Google announced that AdWords would soon become unavailable.  In its place would be a more efficient and streamlined interface with an entirely new brand, Google Ads.  Here we will discuss some of the positive and negative changes in the transition to the new platform.

 

WHAT WAS INCLUDED IN THE UPDATE

July 24th was the day that Ads officially took over and forced users to use the new interface.  There were many new changes and updates with the initial rollout as well as additional improvements since then.  Some of the many changes that occurred were: the ability for new ad copy parameters and options, accelerated mobile page speeds, increased landing page parameters, and a completely new brand, look and feel of the site.

 

INITIAL REACTIONS TO THE NEW INTERFACE

When it was announced that AdWords as we knew it would eventually become obsolete, reactions weren’t positive.  It was challenging to understand why Google was changing a platform that clients were used to and comfortable with.  There are some things that are better in the new interface, but this list is far smaller than the list of negatives.  In the new interface, there is an overview tab that has many visual charts to represent your account data.  You can easily see things like trends in conversions, where spend has increased or dropped off, and how you compare to your competitors, among many other things.  These charts are very helpful for just a quick overview of how the account is performing.  Besides the overview tab, the entire layout of Google Ads is more visually appealing and user-focused than AdWords.  While it took time to get used to, the various components of the platform seem to fit well in their new location and logically make sense, but just because it looks better, does not mean that the changes were necessarily positive.

 

WHAT DOESN’T WORK WELL WITH GOOGLE ADS

Although there are some beneficial components of the new interface, here are 4 places in which it falls short in comparison to its predecessor.

  1. The Search Query Report (SQR) is much harder to navigate. The SQR is found in the keywords tab.  Ideally, the filters applied to the keywords would then apply to the search queries when you switch to that subtab, but this is not the way it works.  You must reset filters once looking at search queries.  If you click on a specific keyword and then go to the search queries, this seems to keep the filters in place, but this doesn’t always work.  The new interface was designed, in part, to save the user time, but this ads time and effort to what use to be a simple report to pull.
  2. Moving quickly between keywords, campaigns, and ad groups is not as easy as it used to be. You can no longer select more than one campaign and see all the ad groups for those various campaigns without adding a filter in the ad group tab.  This takes more time and is less efficient.  At each level you must apply a new filter unless you click into a single ad group or campaign.
  3. Filters don’t go away unless you delete them. No matter how far you navigate off the filtered screen or what you do outside of Google Ads, no length of time will remove your filter.  When using the new platform, it is essential that you check the filters you have before drawing conclusions from your data.  There may be an incorrect filter applied that is skewing your analysis.
  4. The keyword planner is nowhere near as robust as it used to be. When trying to create new campaigns, the keyword planner tool was very helpful in the brainstorming process.  With the update, this tool seems less reliable for a couple of reasons: 1) Search volume for the same keyword is portrayed to be much less in the new interface versus the old.  Search volume is important because it helps us to determine if the keyword is practical to bid on and if it will get enough traffic to drive results.  2) The “find keywords” portion of the keyword planner isn’t as targeted as it used to be.  Now, keywords show that barely relate to the core term, instead of populating highly relatable and useful keyword opportunities.  This now takes more time to manually sift through to get decent keywords.

IN CONCLUSION

While the new interface is more visually appealing (and looks more similar to the Google Analytics experience than it used to), it takes more time to perform the same tasks due to extra steps that were not necessary in the old interface.  The new platform was designed with the intention of creating a high-quality user experience and fast load times which, in turn, would be more efficient.  While I have not seen a major difference in load time one way or another, I have noticed how much longer tasks take due to the extra steps involved.  I believe the overall switch to Ads has the potential to be very effective and promising, but at the current state of the interface, that potential has not yet been met.  Like any new advancement, continuous optimizations based on user feedback are necessary to take a good product to a great product.  If Google Ads can adapt and find a utilize the best of the old and the new interfaces, I believe it can be an incredible tool to aid in search engine marketing efforts for advertisers worldwide.

 

If you were interested in learning more about optimizing your PPC program, please contact us by email at sales@synapsesem.com  or by phone at 781-591-0752.

Get Ahead of the Game with Google’s New Expanded Text Ad & RSA Updates

Google has recently announced yet another impactful change to their ad format. In 2016, expanded text ads were unveiled, essentially revolutionizing the basic paid search ad. With these ads, advertisers were granted a second headline, along with a longer description line of 80 characters. Now, Google has come out again and revealed that the format of newly launched Responsive Search Ads will also be available to regular text ads. Users are now allowed to create an additional headline 3 and ads can contain 2 description lines. That’s right…get excited paid search advertisers. Let the ad copy testing games begin.

What is Changing:

The goal of the new text ads is to give advertisers an opportunity to have more “real estate” in the search engine results page and to have a greater opportunity to deliver their message. The changes will entail:

  • A 3rd headline consisting of 30 characters
  • A 2nd description line
    • Both descriptions will have a 90 character limit as opposed to the historical limit of 80 characters

This means that these new ads can contain up to 300 total characters which makes them double the size of an expanded text ad. Essentially ETAs on steroids. While these additional headlines and descriptions are optional, the extra features provide a great opportunity to gain a competitive advantage in the SERP.

 

What Impact to Expect:

Not only will the ads be inherently larger than the original expanded text ads, but they also will likely drive stronger CTR and overall conversion rate due to the added messaging available. Back in 2016, when ETAs were first available, we saw significant incremental lifts in CTR for the new ads across various clients. Not only is CTR likely to improve, but the option for more content will help to improve quality score. With 2 description lines advertisers have a greater opportunity to enhance ad relevance by using relevant keywords and messaging.  Consider the findings below that document performance when the historical expanded text ads were launched back in 2016.

The expanded text ads drove in a 11% higher CTR than the original ads. More importantly, overall volume grew by 37% which is expected due to the incremental lift in quality score. The enhanced quality score also helped to reduced CPC by 10%.


The notion of the additional headlines and descriptions in search ads came from Google’s latest ad unit, Responsive Search Ads. Earlier in the year Google announced that users will now be able to enter multiple combinations of descriptions that will be rotated automatically by Google’s new machine learning. The idea is that, over time, Google will interchange these headlines and description to find the best optimized ad combination. Advertisers will soon turn away from A/B testing, which is becoming more and more difficult, and rely on Google to automate their ad rotation. While that may be a very scary thought for advertisers, responsive search ads are still in beta and will be rolling out slowly over the next couple of months.The New Future: Responsive Search Ads

In the meantime, users can test out the messaging on their own using the additional headlines and descriptions available within the expanded text ads.

To learn how Synapse SEM can help improve your ad coppy optimization, complete our contact form or call us at 781-591-0752.

A Year in Review: Google Algorithm Updates That Affected Your SEO in 2017

***March 2018 Update: During the weekend of March 9, 2018, Google rolled out a “broad core algorithm update,” which doesn’t happen every day. Older, major algorithm updates like Panda, for example, are now part of Google’s core algorithm. Google has yet to provide details of the March 2018 update, however, did leave us with this:

“As with any update, some sites may note drops or gains. There’s nothing wrong with pages that may now perform less well. Instead, it’s that changes to our systems are benefiting pages that were previously under-rewarded.

There’s no “fix” for pages that may perform less well other than to remain focused on building great content. Over time, it may be that your content may rise relative to other pages.”

Did your website experience a change in organic rankings or traffic over the last couple weeks? Let us know!


Google is quite the beast. It’s updating every day, several times a day, in efforts to serve users quality and relevant search results. In fact, experts say that Google changes its search algorithm between 500 and 600 times a year – aimed at fostering a better world wide web.

Most of the time, Google’s algorithm updates are minor – they update a bug, weed out spam, penalize aggressive ads. Occasionally, however, Google will roll out a major (or, at the least, noticeably impactful) algorithm update. Sometimes these updates are so big they get big beastly names like “Penguin,” “Panda,” and “Hummingbird.” Other times, they go unnamed and under the radar, despite having a notable effect on search. This was the case – at least five separate times – in 2017.

If you noticed a considerable dip in rankings or a significant spike in traffic last year, there’s a very good chance that Google played a part. Keep reading to see the Google algorithm updates of 2017!

January 10, 2017: Intrusive Interstitial Penalty (Confirmed)

At the start of 2017, Google rolled out a penalty against mobile webpages using aggressive interstitials (i.e. “pop-ups”) that might damage the user experience on mobile devices. This type of pop-up ad, they explained, can be especially “problematic on mobile devices where screens are often smaller.”

Google warned, “Pages where content is not easily accessible to a user on the transition from the mobile search results may not rank as highly.” The penalty de-prioritized sites that had:

  • A pop-up covering the main content of the page
  • Pop-ups users must dismiss before accessing desired content
  • An above-fold layout looking similar to an “intrusive” interstitial

March 7, 2017: “Fred” (Confirmed)

Just a month after the unnamed updates occurred, there was chatter among the SEO community that another Google algorithm update rolled out. Gary Illyes, Google’s own webmaster trends analyst, jokingly nicknamed the update “Fred,” but refused to share any specifics.

The only insight Google gave us into the Fred update was that it affected sites violating Google’s Webmaster Quality Guidelines. Studies, however, showed that Fred mostly concerned websites with ad-heavy, low-value content that was produced only to generate ad or affiliate revenue.

October 17, 2017: HTTPS Warnings (Confirmed)

We’ve long known that Google prefers secure, HTTPS websites. Google uses SSL certificates as a ranking signal, meaning that secure/HTTPS sites have an advantage in the organic search results. In mid-April 2017, MOZ found that half of Google’s page-one organic listings were secure/HTTPS. By the end of 2017, 75 percent of page-one results were secured with SSL.

Thus comes October 2017’s update, one of Google’s many efforts to move towards a more secure web. In part with the launch of Chrome 62, Google began warning users of non-secure pages and forms, showing an aggressive “NOT SECURE” notification when Chrome users enter text into a form-field on an HTTP page.

November 30, 2017: Meta Description Length Increase (Confirmed)

My personal favorite Google algorithm update of 2017 happened late-November, when I could finally kiss goodbye that inhibiting 160-character-limit. Meta descriptions – those snippets of text you see under each link on the organic SERP – can now be up to 300 characters. The average snippet is now about 230 characters, and exact length restrictions have yet to be confirmed.

It may seem like a small update, but this lift in character-length will mean more real estate for brands on Google’s SERP. Businesses now have more space to describe their pages/products/services and convince prospective customers to click. This could mean greater CTRs and SEO traffic to your website.

Mid-December 2017: “Maccabees” (Confirmed)

In December 2017, around the holiday season, the SEO world was shaken by another Google algorithm update – or as Google would say, a series of “many and minor” updates to its algorithm. Unofficially called “Maccabees,” these were quality updates – Google knocked out more “doorway pages” from the SERP and penalized sites with few pages/thin content. Doorway pages are low-quality webpages created with the sole intent of ranking for a given keyword. Typically, they lead users to in-between, irrelevant pages that aren’t as useful as the desired destination – acting as a “door” between users and content.

What About 2018? Mobile-First (Confirmed)

Mobile is not new to search engine optimization – Google has been moving towards a mobile-first index for over a year. Rest assured, however, that mobile will become an even bigger focus in 2018. Last month, Google officially announced that a new ranking factor will be coming forth this July. They are calling it the “Speed Update,” designed to demote the organic rankings of extremely slow mobile pages.

If you have a responsive site that serves content quickly, you should be in good shape. However, we recommend running Google’s (newly updated) PageSpeed Insights tool to check your website’s mobile load times and mobile friendliness, to avoid any potential rankings loss.


Without a doubt, 2017 was a year of content quality. In addition to the five Google algorithm updates listed above, there seemed to be near-monthly algorithmic, yet unnamed and unconfirmed, updates happening last year. We saw it in early February, mid-May, and again in August – high-quality, content-equipped websites gained SEO visibility, and websites with deceptive advertising, low-quality content, thin category pages, and negative UX experiences fell off.

Those ‘He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named’ updates, though, are happening all the time. They are Google’s way of building a better web, and something that all online businesses, marketing directors, and SEOs must acclimate to. Google’s own Gary Illyes says 95 percent of Google algorithm updates are not actionable. But if you have a great website with fresh, relevant, quality, and optimized content, you will see results:

“Basically, if you publish high quality content that is highly cited on the Internet – and I’m not talking about just links, but also mentions on social networks and people talking about your branding… Then you are doing great. And fluctuations will always happen to your traffic. We can’t help that; it would be really weird if there wasn’t fluctuation, because that would mean we don’t change.”

For business and marketing executives, knowing Google algorithm updates as they occur can help explain changes in organic rankings and traffic – significant spikes, drastic dips, a slow and painful downward spiral onto page 6 – and help you take steps towards improving your SEO.

To learn how Synapse SEM can help improve your search engine optimization, complete our contact form or call us at 781-591-0752.

How the AdWords Budget Update is Impacting Advertisers

Back in October Google announced they were making some changes, and campaigns would now be eligible to spend up to twice their daily budget. Here we discuss the background on that change, feedback from around the industry, and how it has impacted Synapse clients.

 

The Update:

Beginning October 4, 2017, Google announced their AdWords budget update, which stated  that campaigns would now be eligible to spend double your set budget. This was a good thing they argued, as some days internet traffic is stronger than others, and Google would proactively adjust for any fluctuations in traffic. Overdelivery – allowing up to 2 times the clicks per day that your budget allows- would result in fewer missed opportunities for leads.

 

How will Google prevent overspend if as of now campaigns can spend twice your budget? They calculate based on your daily spend times the average number of days in a month (365 days/12 months = 30.417). Google also regularly recalculates, so if you get incremental budget later in the month, they’ll adjust based on the new set daily budgets. “At the end of the month” says Google “despite those unpredictable waves, you’ll find your costs at right where you expected them to be.”

 

Industry Reaction:

Initial reactions to Google’s update were not seemingly positive. This was a large jump from the previous 20% potential overspend for AdWords campaigns. Many felt that Google was making it more difficult for them to properly budget accounts, and had major concerns over various budgeting scenarios.

 

More recently, Ginny Marvin posted a 2x budget change article on Search Engine Land which outlined some of the responses she heard from various industry contacts. The more positive responses seemed to stem from advertisers that were using additional 3rd party tools for bid strategies as well as more robust budget management tools. Negative feedback for the 2x budget AdWords update included advertisers that felt this update caused a need for more time spent on budget monitoring. Spend issues noted were particularly prominent with new campaigns, and any automated campaigns. Some even had their entire budget spent by google in the first few days of launching a new campaign, and exceptionally high CPCs in campaigns such as the Smart Google Display Network campaign.

 

Additionally, advertisers had concerns in accounts where they saw strong performance on certain days, and proactively pushed or pulled back budgets to reflect those trends. Google might claim their formula would automatically adjust for that, but as SEM experts, should our M.O. really be to let an ad serving platform do the thinking?  Seems like a conflict of interest.

 

Synapse Reaction:

Similar to Ginny Marvin’s feedback from various advertisers, Synapse has seen mixed results with this Google update. Some accounts have been impacted very little, and for those accounts we’ve barely noticed any shift in spending or traffic with this 2x budget update. Other accounts have been much more difficult to manage in terms of budget, and it has required additional operational hours to continuously check pacing to ensure we aren’t in danger of overspend. Many small-to-mid-sized businesses have strict budget limitations on a monthly basis, shifts in geographical priority, incremental dollars applied during the month, and some have budget reduced mid-month. Some want to pace evenly throughout the course of the month, and some require uncapped campaigns early on, and then get capped later in the month. Add in accounts that have 100+ campaigns, and all of these factors make the Google 2x budget update more difficult to adjust for on a regular basis.

 

In certain accounts, Synapse has seen exceptionally high spend early in the month. Google would say to this, leave the budgets as-is throughout the course of the month and we’ll charge you for average monthly spend and credit you anything above that. But Synapse typically tries to keep campaigns as uncapped as possible, to control spend at the CPC level. This ensures any impressions you’re losing are due to rank and not to budget. To keep these campaigns uncapped, Synapse often sets daily budgets higher than they should be, and make bid and other optimizations to bring spend down. Google would not be calculating based on CPC adjustments however, they’d be calculating a monthly budget based on what daily budgets we set. To adhere to monthly budget restrictions, Synapse will often start scaling back certain bids and certain campaigns towards the end of the month. With Google’s update, Synapse now often needs to be even more aggressive and proactive in scaling campaigns back towards the end of the month to ensure no overspend.

 

It is no longer as simple as calculating how much budget is left, and dividing by the number of days left. It’s a guessing game as to how much Google will exceed its budget this time. While we used to adjust throughout the month and scale back very slowly, now campaigns are becoming abruptly capped, and our clients may be missing out on key leads as a result.

 

In Conclusion:

There have been both positive and negative reactions to this Google update, but ultimately the consensus seems to be that this change has made advertiser budgeting and pacing much more difficult. While we understand Google says they will not charge for any overspend, we cannot rely on a calculation after the month is over to determine whether we overspent our clients’ budgets. We need to instead, proactively ensure there is no possibility of overspending. That, after all, is part of why our clients are trusting us to invest their dollars to begin with. The purpose of a cap is that it should not and can not be exceeded. If Google is willing to spend up to twice that cap, it seems to defeat its own purpose. It may benefit Google in the long run to look into an alternative budgeting solution that will work better for the industry as a whole.

 

If you’d like to learn more about how Synapse SEM can help you improve your paid search strategy, please complete our contact form or call us at 781-591-0752.

Starting Fresh: Rethinking PPC Ad Copy Testing

If you are like us, then you can appreciate how useful AdWords can be to determine the right message to distribute to your customers. Ad copy testing is an important component of optimizing your campaigns and should be done regularly. The question is, what is the best way to do it?

In this article, we’ll be going through our preferred method as well as an additional method recommended by Google. We will spend time speaking to the pros and cons for each but plan to put this test into action and write a follow-up article on results for next quarter.

Our Preferred Approach (Impression Split Testing):

The most important thing for us, when it comes to ad copy testing, is to ensure each ad tested has received an even share of impressions. This is done by setting your AdWords campaign to ‘rotate indefinitely.’ This gives each ad the same amount of opportunity to entice the user to visit your site and convert.

The issue with this method is that sometimes one ad can throw off the impression split if its relevancy is much higher than the rest. This happens when a group of queries matches up better with one ad variant, then it does with another. If you refer to the table below, you can find an example of an ad test with uneven impression distribution.

If you were to make your decision purely based on CTR and Conversion Rate, you might think that Test 3 is the best ad. However, if you look at the impression difference between Test 1 and Test 3, you’ll see that Test 1 received almost 5x more impressions! This happens typically when one ad has a much stronger Quality Score relationship with the keyword than the others.

Some would argue that the most relevant ad, independent of ad-level metrics, should be the winner here. We would likely relaunch this test once more to determine if the results were merely a fluke.

The Other Approach (Optimize for Conversions):

One other method worth considering is using AdWords’ optimize for conversions setting. With this option, you can leverage Google’s algorithm that will automatically serve the ad that’s been deemed most relevant in most of the auctions. The benefit to this is that this setting will optimize your ads for clicks in each individual auction using signals like keyword, search term, device, location and more.

The downside to moving forward with this method as your primary ad testing setting is that you are trusting that Google’s algorithm will provide you the best results. You won’t be able to distribute an even share of impressions. This isn’t all bad since the goal is to achieve the strong results for the ad group.

Next Steps:

Being the skeptics that we are, we’ve decided to take our Google rep’s recommendation and put this method to the test. Our rep shared this article, and in it, the writer discusses a suggested methodology for testing using optimize for conversions. The test they suggest is as follows:

“Test an ad group with one ad (A) against an experiment ad group with four ads (A, B, C, and D) with rotation set to optimized. You can use drafts and experiments to create these two versions. That way, you’re testing to see whether or not more ads result in more impressions and clicks at the ad group level.”

For our next article, we’ll be putting this method to the test. The idea will be to determine if the optimize for conversions method yields more favorable results than our standard method. If you were interested in learning more about you should rethink PPC ad copy testing, please contact us by email at sales@synapsesem.com  or by phone at 781-591-0752.

How Blockchain Tech Will Disrupt the Digital Marketing Industry

If you’ve had any sort of insight into tech over the past year, you’ve probably heard of blockchain technology. If you don’t know, blockchain powers Bitcoin, but it is not Bitcoin, nor is it strictly related to currency. Its explosive growth has lead people to start thinking about using the technology in new, and unique ways. To understand how this new tech will impact and disrupt digital marketing, it’s important to understand what blockchain is.

What is Blockchain?

Blockchain is a “distributed ledger that can record transactions between two parties efficiently, and in a verifiable permanent way.” In other words, it places all transactions within a decentralized database in a series of “data blocks” that cannot be altered or changed in anyway (i.e., immutable). Over time, as the number of transactions grows, so will the blockchain.

In today’s world, all records are kept in centralized databases that only a few select people or organizations have access to. Due to this, people need to be able to trust the central authority that the databases are of maximum integrity and will not be mishandled in any way. However, the recent Equifax debacle has shown that centralized systems cannot be trusted.

By placing these transactions within the blockchain, it will essentially create a “trustless” system through encryption, thus eliminating the need for middlemen and organizations like Equifax, thus improving efficiency and security. Although data, like ads, become “public” on the blockchain, they are still hidden (i.e., encrypted) and represented by a series of numbers and letters (e.g., 0xjd725bfkk2tf3hb599g). Exactly how a decentralized system like blockchain can help improve security and efficiency without a middleman is a bit beyond the scope of this post, but if you’re interested simply do a Google search for “blockchain security.”

To understand why this is so impactful, let’s take the example of organic foods. As it stands today, any company can label a food as “organic” but this may not actually be the case. In the end, the consumer will never know the difference. If blockchain is used in the supply chain for organic food, the entire history of every specific food, from the farmer who planted to seeds to the supermarket it ends up in, is entirely visible to everyone. Therefore, we as consumers will know with certainty if a food is organic or not.

Application to Digital Marketing

If you’re at all familiar with the current digital marketing ecosystem, you’ve probably seen the infographic below:

 

Digital Marketing Ecosystem

 

That’s a lot of middlemen. And for every middleman that an advertisement must go through to reach the target audience, there is a slice of the ad budget taken out for each of them. In other words, you’re only able to spend about 50% of an ad budget on the target. The rest is used to pay these middlemen. Unfortunately, exactly how much is not transparent to the advertiser. Not only that, there is rampant fraud within the digital marketing industry due to bots. In 2017 alone, losses due to bot fraud reached $6.5 billion globally.

Finally, there is an exponential rise in people using ad blockers due to being served “annoying” or “irrelevant” ads ruining the user experience. In 2016, 615 million devices had some sort of ad blocking software installed on browsers. This number is expected to increase as people become more aware of ad blockers and as the tech savvy population continues to grow. However, despite these negatives, digital advertising remains one of the best (if not the best) ways to reach a target market for any business or industry.

One idea that is currently being developed is monetizing the sole resource users provide to view ads: their attention. There are several companies looking to do this, but Brave/BAT (Basic Attention Token) is the current leader for this unique model.

The gist is that users will choose to opt into being advertised to through the privacy-focused Brave browser, and the compensation for doing so is BAT, which is a token (i.e., cryptocurrency) built on the Ethereum blockchain. Users generate BAT as they view ads and can use BAT to pay publishers for premium content and services (or cash out into fiat currency). Users can also “tip” publishers who are opted into the BAT network. Publishers can not only gain BAT from tips, but also for serving ads through their website. The thought is that BAT has value because people’s attention and time has value. Also, ads can be better targeted without releasing people’s valuable data, since data will be kept strictly within the browser/device itself vs. shared with advertisers.

The use of blockchain will allow for unique identification of individuals, while preserving personal identities, through encryption, thus ensuring no bot fraud. Additionally, by placing ads on the blockchain itself, these ads can be served directly to users, which eliminates the need for middlemen. Finally, by offering a system of compensation through a token valued by a user’s attention, ad blocking should theoretically decrease.

Whether or not Brave/BAT or other related digital marketing blockchain tech takes off is yet to be determined (Brave/BAT is currently live and in use, however). One thing is for sure though: blockchain is here to stay and will eventually replace the current digital marketing ecosystem, which is riddled with inefficiencies and fraud. This is a good thing for everyone involved; as ad quality is forced to improve, users get compensated for their attention, and publishers generate more revenue, thus improving the quality of publishers’ content.

 

If you’d like to learn more about how Synapse SEM can help you improve your paid search strategy, please complete our contact form or call us at 781-591-0752.

 

 

4 Proven Methods to Maximize Your RLSA Efforts and Boost Conversion Rate

In PPC, RLSA campaigns can sometimes be overlooked. Companies often latch on to the idea of flashy image ads to advertise their offerings, but little attention goes to how powerful remarketing can be for a search campaign. It truly surprises me how many businesses fail to recognize RLSA as a valuable paid search strategy. The given benefit of RLSA is that you are targeting users who have historically been to your site. Right off the bat, you know they are interested, and more likely to convert. Simply enabling RLSA and mirroring a current campaign structure can help to improve conversion rate. What many PPC experts do not know is how several simple strategies can boost conversion rate even more. Below explains 4 proven methods of creating a fully optimized RLSA campaign.

1.Excluding Audiences Based off Session Duration

Although it seems simple, excluding an audience compiled of users who have spent, for example, 5 less than 60 seconds on your site can be extremely impactful when it comes to increasing conversion rate. The ultimate goal of effective paid search is to target quality traffic, so why not weed out the bad when it comes to your RLSA campaigns?

In order to determine the proper session duration, we recommend analyzing custom segments within Google Analytics to determine what drives the lowest conversion rate.

Before implementing any sort of new exclusion we recommend confirming results with a test. You can use the AdWords Drafts and Experiments feature to replicate an existing high-volume campaign as a draft. A specific audience, targeting returning users with < 60 seconds on the site, was excluded from the draft campaign. It is important to choose a high-volume campaign so that results can be generated and deemed statistically significant as soon as possible. Check out the results of the test after a couple of weeks running.

rlsa strategies

As suspected, the campaign with the exclusion was lower volume, but produced much more qualified traffic. Conversion rate improved by 20%.

2. Highly Focused Cart/Checkout Abandoner Campaigns

If your site produces a decent amount of traffic, a strategy targeting cart or checkout abandoners can be key to improving conversion rate. According to the Baymard Institute, roughly 70% of users abandon a site after reaching the checkout point. Applying an audience of users who have reached the final checkout page, but have not converted, to an RLSA campaign can yield positive results.  Since this audience is highly invested in your product, you can increase bids drastically to target this user. Consider the campaigns created below.

It is clear the volume is much lower than a regular search campaign, but the conversion rate and CPA improvements are extremely beneficial. Conversion Rate increased by 60%, while CPA is 38% lower than the search campaign. CPC increased because we are naturally much more aggressive with our bids in the Cart Abandoner campaign. Not only does excluding cart abandoners improve conversion rate compared to regular search campaigns, but it also can help to improve overall account performance.

3. Understanding the Differences between Bid and Bid and Target

Possibly one of the most crucial aspects in developing a profitable RLSA campaign is knowing when to use the campaign setting of “Bid Only” (now called Observation) or “Bid and Target” (now called Targeting). Consider the scenario:

  • You have an existing search campaign and you want to apply an RLSA audience to the campaign. If you choose “Observation,” the campaign will function as a regular search campaign, and the bids will be adjusted, based on your audience bid modifier. So, if a returning user searches for a keyword, the bid will be increased based on the modifier. If a new user searches a keyword, the regular Max CPC will be applied. Choosing this option will not cause the campaign to only target returning users.
  • You have a new campaign where you would like to solely target returning users. For this method, you would apply the RLSA audience to the campaign and make sure the setting is set “Targeting.” This method is useful when creating custom copy or testing out overly generic keywords. Also, this method will inherently be much lower volume than the “Observations” setting.

Both settings can be key in helping boost conversion rate. It is just critical to know the differences between the two.

4. Using RLSA Audiences with DSA Campaigns:

DSA (Dynamic Search Ads) use the content on your site to target individual users. For example, if your site advertised bracelets and somebody search “gold charm bracelets” the DSA campaign would display an ad, with a dynamically created headline, and send the user to the page that Google determines the most relevant. This time saving strategy is a great way to expand your reach. Since you are not bidding on a specific set of keywords, DSA is perfect for keyword expansion.

A great way to combat the low volume nature of RLSA campaigns is to combine it with DSA campaigns. DSA is often criticized for being too risky, and it tends to generate high traffic.

RLSA is a key paid search strategy that, when used properly, can heavily enhance overall campaign performance. Overlaying the strategies discussed above can help to create high focused campaigns designed to boost account conversion rate.

 

To learn how Synapse SEM can help improve your RLSA marketing strategy, you may complete our contact form or call us at 781-591-0752.

Using Data to Drive Your Content Marketing Strategy

When most people think “content,” they think “creative.” I know I did. Coming from a creative writing background, I was a firm believer that the best content was driven by out-of-the-box thinking and a convincing storyline. I knew that to be the best, to stand out, organizations needed to consistently put out engaging, memorable, and good-quality blogs, eBooks, whitepapers, what-have-you. But an overarching strategy holding all that content together? And numbers and data being a driving force behind that content strategy? Years ago, I would have told you that wasn’t my expertise; writing was.

I’ve always known that writing and marketing go hand in hand, but never did I realize the extent in which data – more specifically, user data – could inform the type of content that business’ develop. And even more, how that data-driven content, combined with writing quality, could impact a company’s bottom line.

To put it into perspective, consider one of our B2C clients. For two-and-a-half years, Synapse has been working with them to develop an SEO-optimized, data-driven content marketing strategy – and over that 30-or-so months, we have seen their online visibility skyrocket: First-page organic Google rankings for their blog have increased more than 15x since our content marketing scope began. Organic traffic to their website has increased 470 percent. And that’s primarily because of content – informed, intended, impactful content.

Metric

Benchmark

June 2017

% Change vs. Benchmark

# of Organic Unique Visitors

1,027

5,856

470%

# of Blog Keyword Rankings (Google)

24

123

413%

# of 1st Page Blog Rankings (Google)

5

77

1440%

Every piece of content created for your organization should have a purpose. It should have intent. It should be relevant – not only to your product or services, but also to what your customers are looking to read: What are they actively searching for? How often are they searching for it? How are they engaging with your website today? What is working with your current online strategy, and what is not?

These are all questions you should ask before building out a content development and content marketing plan. By understanding your customers’ interests and needs, and creating content around that information, you can seamlessly integrate your brand with your audience’s online experiences – their newsfeeds, their organic searches, their overall online journey – and become relevant without disrupting their paths.

The question is, how do you do it? Data.

To me, one of the most intriguing facets of marketing is consumer intent, and the fact that digital marketers can actually discover, decipher, and track that intent through the use of online data. Fact is, consumers leave a data trail behind each time they take an online journey. This data trail consists of how they found your site, their exact search queries, digital interactions, social media activity, online purchasing history, time on your website, and more. Combined with SEO data like keyword volume and rankings, an organization can use this information to build a data-driven content marketing strategy with their target market in mind – a content strategy that will not only reach their target audience, but also appeal to that audience’s demand.

Despite the benefits of a data-driven content marketing strategy, research shows that 38 percent of content marketers rarely use data to guide their initiatives. And, according to a study by Forrester, companies typically analyze only 12 percent of the data they have available.

Part of the problem circles back to the art vs. science conversation around content – many organizations have creators to produce content, but lack a team of analysts to interpret and communicate data in a meaningful way, so that it can be used to inform a content development strategy. Another common issue is that the creation of data-driven content just gets overlooked. Marketing teams are busy – already juggling the brainstorming, the production, and the outreach that comes alongside content marketing. Thus, the inherent connection between data and editorial planning gets lost. Sometimes, businesses both big and small just don’t know where to start in terms of making that connection. That may be what has brought you here.

If you are looking to build an audience-first, data-driven content marketing strategy, the best place to start is knowing the types of data that are already available online:

  • First and foremost, you can look at your existing content. Which pages on your website drive the most organic traffic? Which pages or blog posts drive the most engagement, whether through back links, comments, or on social media? How much time do users typically spend on a given blog post?
  • If you’re running on Paid Search, take a look at which keywords in your account drive the most activity – the most impressions can indicate more volume, the most clicks can indicate more relevance, the most conversions can indicate which themes actually resonate with your audience most. Use those top-performing keywords to drive your future, organic content.
  • If you use tools like Google AdWords or Search Console, you can also look at search queries – the exact phrases people are searching for and using to arrive at your website. A Search Query Report (SQR) can reveal how consumers thinking, what they are looking for, and where the demand is in terms of keyword phrases. Popular themes in your SQR can then guide content that parallels user intent.
  • Organic rankings can also provide actionable insights when it comes to content planning. Marketing tools like MOZ or Aherfs will show you where you are successful in your current content strategy (which keywords you have covered), and where you need to close the gap. For example, if you are ranking at the top of page 2 in Google for a given keyword, you can really push that to page 1 with the addition of relevant content. You can also use SEO rankings data to see where you stand against competitors.
  • It’s important to not underscore the value of competitor content – their websites, their blogs, their resource library, are all right at your fingertips. Take a look at what type of content competitors are developing, how often they are churning it out, what types of themes they are going after, as well as their content’s presence in the organic SERP. Are there certain topics that are not currently covered on your website? Are there certain keywords you can outrank them on in the search results? Competitor content can provide insight into spaces you have not yet explored, as well as popular areas in which you can compete – yet only 47 percent of B2B marketers today use this data to guide their content marketing plans.

These are just some of the many sources you can use to inform a data-driven content marketing strategy. Further website analysis, keyword research, customer feedback, and A/B testing can also prove beneficial in building a content plan. No matter what sources you use, it is important to remember that data and content marketing go hand-in-hand. And to be successful in today’s marketing arena, content must have a strategy to support it.

A data-driven content marketing plan, according to the Content Marketing Institute, helps “to attract and retain a clearly defined audience – and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.” Content is the future of marketing, and it is data that tells the story behind it. It’s time we start listening.

To learn how Synapse SEM can help improve your content marketing strategy, you may complete our contact form or call us at 781-591-0752.