How to outdo the PPC robots in shopping ads

Automation driven by improvements in artificial intelligence and machine learning will bring significant changes to how we manage pay-per-click (PPC) in 2018 and beyond.
There’s still a role for humans to play, one of which is to use what we’ve learned from years of experience to bring an account as close to perfection as possible before letting the machines take it from there.
Shopping ad performance may appear to be largely dependent on how well the automated algorithms work, with little room for account managers to optimize things. This is because the targeting is done automatically by Google, based on whatever products are in the merchant feed and how those relate to shoppers’ queries.
But there are still ways for account managers to tweak things to move the needle in the right direction.
In today’s post, I’ll explain seven ways to improve the performance of shopping ads.
Eliminate ambiguous and expensive queries
I remember several years ago, one of our customers wrote about

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Is holiday paid search more competitive in 2017 than 2016?

The busy 2017 holiday shopping season is now in full swing, and we’ve already witnessed impressive Y/Y sales growth on key shopping days.
As advertisers dig into their own performance, many are taking stock of the competition to get a sense for what other brands are doing. This was a key topic for a #ppcchat Twitter conversation immediately following Cyber Weekend, in which host Kirk Williams posed the following question to chat-goers.

As you can see, most brands felt they saw more competition this year than last year, though 39 percent felt it was about the same. Zero respondents felt that there was less competition this year than last.
Taking a look at Auction Insights reports from Google for a sample of large Merkle retail advertisers, we can get a sense for how many brands were bidding on paid search keywords this year compared to last. As always, the metrics found in these reports and the stories they tell will

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Omnichannel shoppers collide with Black Friday and Cyber Monday, setting new records

Black Friday and Cyber Monday continue to gain cultural significance across the US and the globe as shoppers and retailers deepen their relationships through enhanced technology, stronger/more personalized deals and a singular online-offline approach. As for 2017, all major metrics trended up, including click volume, mobile purchases, foot traffic and overall sales. Cyber Monday 2017 marked the biggest shopping day in US history, with over $6.59B in sales, including a record-breaking $2B in mobile sales.
Bing (my employer) also saw strong positive trends, with a YOY jump in clicks across Black Friday, Cyber Monday and the entire month of November. In the US, clicks were up 9 percent (cross-device) between Black Friday and Cyber Monday when compared with the same time period in 2016, and we also saw clicks up 12 percent YOY for the month of November. The rise in clicks is likely due to large retailers who extend Black Friday deals earlier and later — a

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Shopify meets call tracking

As we enter the 2020s, e-commerce is set to generate more than $480 billion in the US and nearly $2 trillion globally. And while Amazon takes a lot of credit for online everything, they’re hardly the only game in town. A significant chunk of online retail is generated by smaller players, thanks in part to platforms like Shopify that make it easy to sell in the digital space, as well as in person — and that have the potential to merge the online and offline experience into an omnichannel version of commerce. Let’s take a look at how we got here, and how e-commerce platforms and retailers should be operating in this new, seamless marketplace.
Shifting to Shopify
In 2004, Tobias Lütke, a purveyor of fine snowboards, wanted to sell his wares online. Today, that would be simple; in the pre-Shopify world, e-commerce platforms were clunky and difficult to integrate with other services and platforms. Rather than continue to

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Four key holiday paid search trends to keep an eye on

During the holidays, there are a million different data points advertisers can look at to see how paid search is performing throughout this crucial shopping period. Depending on business goals and the type of products sold, which of those data points are most important for a particular site can vary widely from one brand to the next.
That said, there are a few overarching trends that apply to many advertisers and which help to set the stage for performance expectations over the coming weeks. Here I’ll outline four interesting paid search trends I’ll be keeping an eye on.
Will Black Friday continue to close the paid search sales gap on Cyber Monday?
Black Friday is for doorbusters. Cyber Monday is for online deals. That’s the way this thing is supposed to go, right?
The lines are blurring on those distinctions, with Black Friday Google paid search sales growth far outpacing that of Cyber Monday last year.
Paid search sales growth from 2015

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5 ways to sell more this holiday season with Google’s updates to shopping ads

With the biggest e-commerce days of the year just around the corner, it’s not too late to take advantage of some of Google’s newest ways to help you sell more stuff online.
Attract users earlier in the buying process with showcase ads
For consumers who are further along the path to an online purchase, Google is good for finding the best price and doing more in-depth research, but it traditionally hasn’t been the best place to help consumers make choices earlier in their decision process.
But with Showcase Shopping ads, Google is delivering a better discovery process for these shoppers. This ad format was introduced in limited beta in 2016 and is now available to every retailer. The idea behind it is that it allows advertisers to use a mix of lifestyle images and products to showcase its brand for generic e-commerce searches where ads for specific products wouldn’t be relevant.
Showcase Shopping ads allow retailers to promote their brand to

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Amazon vs. search: Why you shouldn’t put too many eggs in one shopping basket

No matter where they’re located or what market they serve, retailers around the globe have questions about how consumers use search and Amazon.
At Bing (my employer), we’ve found that retailers — regardless of size — ask us about the same three things:

Where do consumers look for products online?
How do users behave differently on search vs. Amazon?
Can my search and Amazon channels benefit each other?

The answers are likely to surprise you.
The consumer decision journey looks incredibly complicated to us marketers with its interweaving between research, comparison, intent and transaction, but it feels far less complicated from the consumer point of view.
As consumers, we follow certain behavior patterns almost subconsciously:

If we have questions around what it is we need, or want more information before we make a selection, then it’s natural to turn to search.
If we know what we’re looking to buy, often we have a predefined preference for which retailer website to begin looking for it.

For many customers,

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Reviews & other UGC more influential for consumers than search engines & ads [Study]

It’s well-established that ratings and reviews are widely consulted and have a significant impact on consumer purchase decisions. A new study from TurnTo affirms this and provides some additional color and nuance for the discussion.
Called “Hearing the Voice of the Consumer” and conducted by Ipsos, the study involved 1,070 US consumers who had bought something online in the past 12 months. User-generated content (UGC) is defined here to include ratings, reviews, photos, videos, social posts and Q&A participation. The most common forms were reviews and ratings, however, with 71 percent and 69 percent of survey respondents saying they’ve submitted those types of UGC.
Online ratings and reviews are a form of word of mouth, which is the most trusted source consumers consult before buying. Indeed, 90 percent of survey respondents said UGC had at least some influence over their online purchases. Roughly 53 percent rated it “extremely influential” or “very influential,” a higher percentage than for any other category. After UGC, search engines had the greatest influence over purchases.

UGC helps increase consumer confidence

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Initial Interest Confusion rears its ugly head once more in trademark infringement case

Two years ago, Multi Time Machine brought a lawsuit against Amazon for trademark infringement, alleging that web pages on Amazon.com for “MTM special ops watches” keyword searches could be too confusing to consumers, since the MTM watches are not sold on the site. Now, a similar complaint was brought by Bodum versus Williams-Sonoma for French press coffeemakers. These cases illustrate significant risks for e-commerce sites.
Multi Time Machine’s complaint was based on a few different search results pages at Amazon that involved keywords associated with Multi Time Machine’s trademarks. When one searched for “mtm special ops watches” (and similar keyword searches that could be related to their marks), Amazon displayed what are essentially related search results. As mentioned before, MTM watches are not sold on Amazon — but the site associated those keyword searches with other watches that might be considered similar.

Initial Interest Confusion
Multi Time Machine claimed that this caused “Initial Interest Confusion” (IIC), which is a controversial theory of trademark law.

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7 ways small retailers can compete with retail giants using Google Shopping

To a small niche retailer, it can seem daunting (almost pointless) to invest too heavily in Google Shopping. After all, how could you ever compete with the major players who have far more money, products and people than you do?
Well, the good news is, it is possible to be competitive in Google Shopping as a small business. In fact, done right, Google Shopping can actually be the most effective digital advertising platform in terms of Return on Ad Spend (ROAS).
Here are the top strategies for success as a small to medium-sized retailer in Google Shopping.
1. Focus on your niche
As a small retailer, you likely sell a very limited selection of niche products. Whether these are your own personal brand or from independent designers, this exclusivity is your strength.
Selling products that aren’t sold by Amazon or a hundred other retailers means there’s less competition to appear in Google Shopping for relevant searches. Even better, if you create and

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