22 October 2020
We’ve managed SEM (search engine marketing) campaigns for more than 10 years now, and one of the questions we get asked on a regular basis is “should we have a branded search campaign?” Or to phrase it differently, “should I bid on my brand name?” And there’s a reason we get asked this question again and again. After all, shouldn’t a company rank really well organically for its own name? In theory, the answer to that is “yes,” but that doesn’t mean branded search campaigns are a bad idea. In fact—spoiler alert—we recommend them in almost every single circumstance. For clarification, when we talk about “branded searches” we’re referring specifically to your company’s brand name (the name of your company)—not the brand names of products you offer. But first, a little 101…. Wait, What Is Branded Search? Branded search is a marketing tactic where you tell a search engine, such as Google or Microsoft, to show an ad when someone searches for your company (brand) name. You then pay if someone clicks that ad. Yep, branded search is just a standard SEM, also known as a PPC (pay per click), campaign that uses your brand name as the triggering keyword. So… Should You Do Branded Search? Yes. End of article. Okay, it’d be awesome if you trusted us enough to just take our word for it, but if that isn’t the case … if our relationship isn’t quite there yet … here are six reasons you should be doing branded search! #1 – Your site isn’t search engine friendly. Look, the number one argument against doing branded search campaigns or bidding on your brand name is that your website should organically rank in the number-one position. After all, who better to provide relevant and current information relating to your brand than you? However, does your site come up at the top of page one for branded searches? Even if your website is a shining example of SEO best practices, the answer is likely “not always,” thanks to competitors, but we’ll get to that in a bit. And if your website isn’t besties with Google, there’s a very good chance the answer is “no.” If your site is slow, unwieldy on mobile devices and lacks original content, there’s a good chance you are not organically showing up as number one for your brand name. You may need to pay for that privilege in the form of a branded search campaign. #2 – Your competitors are bidding on your brand name. Remember a minute ago when we said that even a well-optimized site may benefit from a branded search campaign thanks to competition? Well, let’s talk about that now. Believe it or not, Google is in the business of making money… and that means they’re more than happy to let competitors pay to show ads for your company/brand name. (And to be fair, it isn’t just Google; Microsoft will also let competitors pay to show up for someone else’s name!) This means that even if your website is showing up in the first organic position, since a paid ad shows up at the very top of the page, someone could be showing above you! Even BIG companies and well-known brands have to deal with this type of conquesting by competitors. If you’re in a competitive industry (which means most spaces), a branded search campaign can help you keep competitors from showing up at the top of page one for your company or brand name. Even if you rank number one organically, running a branded search campaign can be a great way to really own the SERP (search engine results page), which brings us to … #3 – You can dominate the SERP. Have you ever seen a webpage that has an advertiser doing a takeover? This is where every single ad slot on the page (and sometimes even the background) are for the same company, product or service. You can accomplish something similar on the SERP. Having a website that ranks well organically, showing information in the Knowledge Graph (box on the right-hand side of the SERP) and running a branded search campaign can allow your brand to essentially “take over” the SERP. This type of SERP takeover can be a psychologically powerful marketing tactic that really makes an impression on searchers. #4 – You can control the impression you make and the post-click experience. You can spend hours (or days) crafting the perfect page titles and meta descriptions to ensure your site makes a killer first impression on the SERP, but Google (and other search engines) may ignore your wishes entirely. Google may decide to show different copy that it has deemed more relevant than your well-thought-out meta description or it may truncate your meta description. In addition, not all branded searches have the same intent—so it may not be appropriate to send every branded search query to whichever page is ranking well organically (most likely your home page). These are things that can be difficult, if not impossible, to control from an SEO standpoint. However, when you run a branded search campaign you have total control over the ad content and which landing page people are being directed to. For example, let’s say your brand has had some negative reviews on Yelp. For any branded search around the term reviews (ex. “Fictional Company Reviews”), you could show a specially crafted ad that controls the narrative. You could direct individuals to a testimonials landing page with legitimate customer reviews. The point here is not to lie to or mislead potential customers—but rather to provide them with a relevant experience that speaks to their needs. You can also provide more information in a paid ad than you can in a run-of-the-mill organic SERP listing. (Note—you can enhance a SERP listing by using things like structured snippets and site search but that’s a whole blog post on its own!). For example, with Google, you can use site extensions like sitelink extensions, call extensions and even promotion extensions to provide the searcher with a wealth of information. #5 – You can generate more leads. If your website isn’t the easiest to navigate, a branded search campaign may offer the opportunity to generate more leads. For example, a call extension may prompt a searcher to click-to-call from his or her mobile device, without ever actually visiting your website. This can be especially beneficial if your phone number isn’t readily apparent, such as in the header of your website. In addition, Google’s lead extensions can allow potential customers to request more information right from the search results without ever leaving Google. This can be especially beneficial if your website is a bit slow and users are likely to click the back button before ever making it to your contact page or lead form. Even if your website is simply magnificent, searchers—especially those using cell towers versus a WiFi connection—may prefer the most convenient way to make contact … which would obviously be right from the SERP! #6 – You can increase overall site traffic. Approximately five years ago, Bing (Microsoft) did a study on the overlap between branded search campaign clicks and organic clicks. Bing wanted to understand whether branded search campaigns cannibalize organic clicks. The study found that there is approximately 11% overlap between the two. However, when a brand ad was present, approximately 31% more clicks were received—clicks that would not have been received without a branded search campaign! Here’s an excerpt from the study: “When brands did not display a brand ad on their results pages, retail brands received 60 percent of the clicks to their top organic listing; on brand travel results pages, 61 percent of people clicked the brands’ top organic listing. But, when the brands had ads in the top mainline position, retail brands received 91 percent of the clicks and travel brands scored 88 percent of the clicks on their results pages. That’s a gain of 31 percent more clicks for retail brands and 27 percent more for travel brands when a brand ad displays.” (Source.) That’s right—by not running a branded search campaign you could be missing out on clicks … a lot of clicks. So … are you on board with running a branded search campaign? Hopefully these six reasons have shown you how important they can be to maximize your search engine presence and the amount of site traffic and leads you receive. If you’re ready to move ahead with a new branded search campaign, do keep these important tips in mind. Our Top Branded Search Campaign Tips. #1 – Have a dedicated campaign. Even though the clicks can be pretty cheap, bidding on your brand name can eat into your overall SEM budget. With that in mind, it’s a great idea to create a standalone campaign for your branded search queries. Having a separate campaign will allow you to control campaign level settings like budget, geo targeting, etc. Extra tip: If your budget is extremely tight and you’re confident in your organic ranking, consider limiting your branded search campaign to just mobile devices. On mobile devices, a competitor’s ad plus the local pack (map with local business listings)—if applicable—can push all organic placements below the fold. And you never want to ask people to scroll! #2 – Don’t just bid on your brand name. Don’t just dump your brand name into a campaign and call it a day. Remember, one of the benefits of branded search campaigns is controlling not only the message but also the post-click experience. Think of different searches a potential customer might make around your brand name. Build different ad groups and ads around those various queries. And of course, use the most appropriate landing page. Someone who is looking for reviews of your company should see an ad assuring them that you have the information they’re seeking … and the landing page should provide that information. However, you probably do not want to show up for all queries related to your brand name, which brings us to … #3 – Use negative keywords! Negative keywords are how you can tell a search engine, like Google, when not to show your ad. This may vary from business to business, but in most places you probably do not want to pay for clicks by job seekers. In that case, you would add things like “employment,” “jobs,” and “careers” as negative keywords to your branded search campaign. To help you start thinking about what negative keywords to add to your branded search campaign, we’ve created a list of 129 potential negative keywords. Sign up below to get a free copy. Extra tip: Don’t just blindly add all of these negative keywords to your branded search campaign. Evaluate each one to see if it’s a fit for your company. Some queries you may want to show an ad for but you’ll want to create a separate ad group and control the user experience. When used appropriately, branded search campaigns can be an asset to your other marketing tactics. They are a cost-effective way to reach people who obviously are at least slightly familiar with your brand … and to control the message and post-click experience those people see and receive. However, to make bidding on your brand name an effective strategy, there are best practices you should follow. If you need additional assistance maximizing the ROI of your SEM campaigns, branded or otherwise, St. Gregory is here to help. Reach out to us today to schedule a free consult. We’ve worked with Google and Microsoft Ads for more than a decade and are Google Ads certified!
01 September 2020
Help. The clicks my vendor is showing don’t match what I’m seeing in Google Analytics! Unfortunately, this is a very common problem. In fact, we’d say it’s the norm! Usually, the number of clicks the vendor is reporting is significantly higher than what you’re seeing in Google Analytics, which can be quite distressing. However, there are a myriad of potential causes behind this discrepancy and unfortunately, more than one factor may be at work here. Here are some reasons that the number of clicks in a vendor report won’t match what you see in Google Analytics. Common Reasons Vendors Don’t Match Google Analytics Clicks Are Not the Same As Users If you’re running display or pre-roll video ads, the vendor is mostly delivering those ads over an ad server or ad exchange and is most likely tracking clicks, which are calculated based on server logs. On the other hand, Google is tracking “users.” A user is not necessarily the same thing as a click. A user is a unique person that has come to your website. To put it more accurately, it is a unique device and/or browser. Let’s dig a little deeper. Scenario 1: John is surfing the web using Mozilla Firefox on his laptop. He clicks your display ad three times. Your vendor would count this as three clicks, but Google Analytics would only count this as one user. That’s because the first time John clicked your ad and Google Analytics fired, he was “cookied.” A code snippet was appended to him so that Google could recognize him. Now, any time John visits your website on his laptop in Mozilla, he’ll just be counted as one user unless he clears his cache or the cookie expires. Scenario 2: John is surfing the web using his iPhone and a Safari browser. He clicks your ad two times. Then, later that night, John is on his laptop in a Chrome browser and clicks your ad once. Your vendor would count this as three clicks, but Google Analytics would count this as two users. Once on the iPhone in Safari (even though he clicked the ad twice) and once on the laptop in Chrome. Unless John changes his device and/or browser or clears his cache he’ll keep being counted as one user in Google Analytics… but your vendor will count a new click each time he clicks on your ad. Now, there are instances where Google can track users across devices—and Cross Device Reporting within Google Analytics can give you additional insight into that. And of course, Google is getting smarter all the time at being able to track people from a myriad of sources, but the general principles outlined in this section still hold true. Conflating clicks with users is the quintessential apples/oranges issue in third-party reporting. Google Analytics Is Not Firing In order for Google Analytics to count a user, the Google Analytics tag must fire, which happens as the webpage loads. This means if a visitor clicks your ad and then quickly hits the back button your vendor will most likely report a click while Google Analytics will show nothing. In addition, if the visitor prevents the page from fully loading by quickly moving to another page or by pressing the browser’s “stop” button, Google Analytics may not fire. Again, your vendor would report a click because the person did click your ad but Google Analytics would show nothing because it never fired. Google Analytics Is Not Set Up Properly If Google Analytics is not set up properly, it may not accurately count users or document where they came from. This could be something as simple as Google Analytics not being installed on your landing page or something more complicated, like a cross-domain tracking issue. Traffic Is Being Sent To The Wrong Page This sounds silly, but if you’re seeing large discrepancies, always ask the vendor to verify the URL they are sending traffic to. We’ve seen cases where clients have accidentally provided invalid URLs or URLs to a different website and therefore traffic was going to an unintended location. Tip: Avoid URLs that redirect as this can cause reporting problems within Google Analytics and exacerbate the discrepancy. Traffic Being Counted As “Direct” A lot of display ad traffic happens on mobile devices, specifically in apps. This can be problematic because when a user clicks an ad in an app, their browser may open. (In other words, the website doesn’t always open within the app.) Sometimes, Google Analytics gets confused about where this user came from and just dumps them in the “direct” traffic bucket. In other words, Google Analytics thinks, “hey, this person just opened up their browser and went directly to this website.” It isn’t able to see that they really came from an app, specifically an ad within an app. This recently happened to us. A longstanding vendor reported 17,833 clicks for a given campaign. During that same time, Google Analytics was only attributing 5,734 users to that vendor. That’s a discrepancy of 67.8%—far larger than what we normally see from this vendor. Closer examination showed that this client had a HUGE number of direct visitors for the campaign period. The number of direct users was approximately 9x higher than what it normally is. After accounting for all of the previously mentioned reasons for a discrepancy and talking to the vendor, we determined that Google Analytics had been counting in-app clicks as “direct” traffic. This had not happened in previous campaigns. We told the vendor to stop serving our ads in apps and we’ve since seen a much smaller discrepancy between the vendor’s report and Google Analytics, as well as normal levels of direct traffic. There’s Fraudulent Activity If you’ve ruled everything else out, it’s sad to say, but there could be fraudulent activity going on. There are two possibilities: There were invalid clicks on your ad. Most ad servers have safeguards in place to filter out invalid clicks (like those by a bot). Typically, your vendor will deduct these invalid clicks from the total in your report. However, Google Analytics reports all users. This is an instance where the number of Google Analytics users may be higher than the numbers reported by your vendor. Your vendor has inflated the number of clicks. This could be some kind of glitch with their reporting system OR an intentional action to make the campaign appear to have performed better than it did. It’s sad that this one has to be on the list … but there are less than reputable vendors out there. So, Why Use Vendors At All? If a vendor’s report isn’t going to match up with Google Analytics, why use them at all? Great question. At St. Gregory, we’re always striving to provide the best possible results for our clients. If we can do something in-house better and cheaper than any vendor, then we will (and we frequently do!)—but if a vendor has access to some audience or technology that we don’t, we’re going to talk to them. We don’t want to limit our clients out of fear. That’s why we have stringent measures in place for evaluating campaign results and making sure vendors are really performing, regardless of what they report. How Can I Make Vendor Reports Match Google Analytics? Sadly you can’t. Seriously, we’ve never seen a third-party vendor report match up perfectly with Google Analytics—and that’s okay. They don’t have to match up … as long as the vendor is still providing value. Here are some steps you can take when working with third-party vendors to make sure you get the best results: #1 – Know that the numbers aren’t going to match going in. You’re going to have a discrepancy. Be prepared for it. Prepare stakeholders for it. #2 – Use UTM parameters on the URL you give the vendor. When you’re setting up a campaign with a vendor, you’ll provide them the URL (or URLs) you want to drive traffic to. Append UTM parameters to this URL so that you can more accurately track the traffic they’re driving to your site. When you send the URL to the vendor, point out the UTM parameters. Tell them not to alter your URL in any way! (Otherwise, they might strip the parameters off of your URL.) UTM parameters allow you to control exactly how the traffic shows up in Google Analytics, which makes tying users back to a particular vendor a lot easier! #3 – Check your landing page. Hit your landing page before the campaign launches and make sure Google Analytics is firing properly. You can use Real Time reporting (within Google Analytics) to find yourself on the page. #4 – Check your site speed. So … when you checked that landing page, how fast did it load? Did you know that on mobile devices, people expect a website to load and be functional in three seconds or less? If your webpage is a bit laggy, try picking a faster page (or taking steps to speed that page up). If you can’t do that, just understand that you might be a victim of people clicking your ad but then clicking the back button before the page can fully load. #5 – Consider telling the vendor to not show your ad in apps. After the large discrepancy we saw, we’ve become more cautious about in-app clicks. In fact, at the moment, we’ve told our vendor to not show our display ads in apps at all. We’ll probably retest this in a month or two. Update: In September 2020, Apple rolled out iOS 14 which included a lot of additions that are meant to protect user privacy. Unfortunately, these additions can cause tracking issues for advertisers. It’s too early to spell out exactly what all these issues may look like and how to avoid or overcome them, but be aware that iOS 14 may cause problems for you! If you’re seeing wonky numbers and your site gets a high volume of iPhone traffic, consider testing a campaign with iOS 14 users excluded, which is a capability most vendors possess. #6 – Evaluate the vendor on what you can document. Your vendor’s report says you got 1,000 clicks? So what. What does Google Analytics say? We take the number of impressions the vendor served with the number of users (or sessions) and conversions from Google Analytics to figure out how the campaign performed. If the cost per user (or session), CTR, cost per conversion and conversion rate are in line with what we would expect from that type of campaign, then we’re good. It doesn’t matter how many clicks the vendor reported. If the numbers are below what we’d expect to see, there are more questions to ask both of the vendor and of ourselves—for example, was there something wrong with the creative? (But that’s a different story!) Need help deep diving into your Google Analytics or vendor reporting? Our number nerds would love to help you out. Our entire digital marketing department is Google Analytics–certified and (better yet) passionate about data analysis. Contact us today to set up a free consultation.
25 August 2020
Things have been heavy—both at home and at the (virtual) office the past few months. While we’ve been hunkering down and keeping our distance, we’ve also reassessed what we want out of life—and how we can improve our mindset and focus. After all, good can come from mess. According to Pinterest (most known for finding the latest instapot recipe or yarn wall hanging DIY), with COVID-19 creating new life stressors, more people than ever before are turning to the beloved inspirational platform for well-being and self-care. From February to May, searches have shifted from how to keep a succulent alive to mental wellness/meditation ideas (+44%), gratitude (+60%) and positivity (+42%). And the positivity doesn’t stop there. In challenging and uncertain times, sparks of creativity and a now-or-never attitude are ignited. No longer are we waiting for the “perfect time” to grow our family or build that house … instead, we’re taking life by the horns and making it happen now, damnit. Case in point: Pinterest says that searches for “starting a new business” are up 35% on average, as are searches for “future life goals” (2x), “life bucket list” (+65%), “family goals future” (+30%) and “future house goals” (+78%). And, searches related to gratitude are higher than ever—a huge leap of 60% from February to May. So how can brands and businesses take these keyword learnings and apply them to their own? According to our own resident digital marketing guru, Alex Webb, curating content that incorporates keywords and content trends will make all the difference. “People are trying to find something positive among the onslaught of negativity being constantly shoved in their faces,” she says. “Hence searches like ‘wellness/meditation/gratitude/positivity.’ Additionally, people are looking for ways to save and/or make money. The economy is uncertain, at best, right now. Even employed people may be thinking about tightening their belts. People are looking toward the future, when they presume things will be ‘better’ … which explains all the searches with the word ‘future’ in them.” Given these observations, Alex says advertisers should do three things: Avoid scare tactics. Focus on the feel-good messaging. In the past, scare tactic ads could create a sense of FOMO and drive users to take action now or create a sense of concern, again motivating users to do something now. However, people are worried enough these days. Focus on the good—the value—your company can provide. Provide and emphasize value. Can you offer free shipping, discounts, etc., right now? Do it! And let everyone know about it. Understand that the buying cycle might be longer. As people daydream about better days ahead, they may stumble across your ads or website … but they may be further away from committing than your pre-pandemic customers. Think about how you can nurture them in the long run. How can you stay top of mind until theyare ready to convert? Do you have an email list they can sign up for? Perhaps some longer-term retargeting ads are in order. Anything to allow you to stay in touch with them. “Knowing your audience’s mindset is imperative to building good relationships,” Alex says. And likewise, getting those insights is simple: Look at platform trends (like Pinterest). You can also check out Google Trends. Look at which pages on your website are getting the most traffic. Do you see a theme? If you’re running a Google Ads campaign, check your search queries reports. Here’s an example: At the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, our pest control client saw a spike in search queries around DIY treatments. We hypothesized that this was because a) people didn’t want a stranger coming to their house during the pandemic or b) people wanted to save money, if possible. Maybe both. Our team wrote several blog posts about using essential oils to treat pests and DIY pest control. We provided real value by telling searchers the truth—some DIY methods can work as a stop-gap measure but they usually don’t clear up an infestation. Obviously, the client would rather you become a customer, but they didn’t balk at us talking about alternative methods. In April, their organic blog traffic (number of users) was up 50.7%. Specifically, one blog post about essential oils and pest control was up 68.1%, driving 3,596 users. (Keep in mind, this is a regional pest control company … not a national chain … not an exciting startup or social media platform.) Those significant gains continued and even increased further in May and June. In a recent survey by Channel Factor, 80% of consumers head to their favorite vloggers on YouTube to improve their mood—and it’s no wonder. Fun, lighthearted content with zero commercial interest is just what 2020 ordered. Lockdown life led to a huge uptake in media consumption—including a 44% worldwide increase in social media use according to Statista. With more people browsing through social media, knowing who your audience is more important than ever. And the better you know who your audience is, and, more important what they’re looking up on Pinterest or YouTube these days, the easier it will be to create more targeted, more relevant content for them to engage with … and that means more eyes on your business. Which is just the way it should be. This post is part of a series on marketing during and after the pandemic. To read the others, follow this link.
11 June 2020
In this series of posts, I’ve addressed some of the reasons why what Google Analytics reports may not align with the numbers you’re receiving from advertising partners. In this edition, I’ll address two more potential causes that may be more difficult to resolve. Clicks Counted as Direct Traffic A lot of display ad traffic happens on mobile devices, specifically in apps. This can be problematic because when a user clicks an ad in an app, their browser has to open—the website doesn’t open within the app. Sometimes, Google Analytics gets confused about where this user came from and just dumps them in the “direct” traffic bucket. In other words, Google Analytics thinks, “Hey, this person just opened up their browser and went directly to this website.” It isn’t able to see that they really came from an app, specifically an ad within an app. This recently happened to one of our clients. A long-standing vendor reported 17,833 clicks for a given campaign. During that same time, Google Analytics was only attributing 5,734 users to that vendor. That’s a discrepancy of almost 68 percent—far larger than what we had ever seen from this vendor. Closer examination showed that this client had a HUGE number of direct visitors for the campaign period. The number of direct users was about nine times higher than the site average. After accounting for all of the previously mentioned reasons for a discrepancy and talking to the vendor, we determined that Google Analytics had been counting in-app clicks as “direct” traffic. This had not happened in previous campaigns. We told the vendor to stop serving our ads in apps and we’ve since seen a much smaller discrepancy between the vendor’s report and Google Analytics, as well as normal levels of direct traffic. Is It Fraud? If you’ve ruled everything else out, it’s sad to say, but there could be fraudulent activity going on. There are two possibilities: There were invalid clicks on your ad. Most ad servers have safeguards in place to filter out invalid clicks (like those by a bot). Typically, your vendor will deduct these invalid clicks from the total in your report. However, Google Analytics reports all users. This is an instance where the number of Google Analytics users may be higher than the numbers reported by your vendor. Your vendor has inflated the number of clicks. This could be some kind of glitch with their reporting system OR an intentional action to make the campaign appear to have performed better than it did. It’s a sad truth, but there are vendors in the marketplace who are less than reputable. It’s not the most frequent reason behind reporting discrepancies, but it does happen. By understanding the logic behind the reports your web team and your vendors are delivering, you will be better equipped to protect your budget and yourself. This post is part of a series on digital marketing analytics. To read the others, follow this link.
21 May 2020
Multiple digital campaigns running on different platforms can make measuring results more complicated than we’d like. The challenge is particularly acute when comparing your own Google Analytics to reporting from a third-party partner. In a previous article, I discussed how one of the main causes of discrepancies is conflating Google Analytics users with third-party clicks. While that’s a common issue, there are several other reasons outside data that may differ from your own metrics—and sometimes wildly. Google Analytics Is Not Firing In order for Google Analytics to count a user, the Google Analytics tag must fire, which happens as the web page loads. This means if a visitor clicks your ad and then quickly hits the back button your vendor will most likely report a click while Google Analytics will show nothing. In addition, if the visitor prevents the page from fully loading by quickly moving to another page or by pressing the browser’s “stop” button, Google Analytics may not fire. Your vendor would report a click because the person did click your ad but Google Analytics would show nothing because it never fired. Google Analytics Is Not Set Up Properly If Google Analytics is not set up properly, it may not accurately count users or document where they came from. This could be something as simple as Google Analytics not being installed on your landing page or something more complicated, like a cross-domain tracking issue. Traffic Is Being Sent to The Wrong Page This sounds silly, but if you’re seeing large discrepancies, always ask the vendor to verify the URL they were sending traffic to. We’ve seen cases where clients have accidentally provided invalid URLs or URLs to a different website and therefore traffic was going to an unintended location. Not every tactic we roll out as marketers is going to work perfectly the first time. To get the best value from your marketing investment, you have to make choices. And to make the right choices, you need data you can trust. And confidence that it’s being presented accurately. This post is part of a series on digital marketing analytics. To read the others, follow this link.