The Seductive Danger of Impression Share

Advertising is all about targeting, right? And once you’ve found a targeted audience, you want to get your ads in front of all of that audience. This is the thought process behind Impression Share, that often elusive, seemingly golden metric that Google dangles before us in AdWords reporting.

And why wouldn’t Impression Share be important? You certainly don’t want to cede valuable targeted eyeballs to your competitors, do you? Why, that would be leaving money on the table, so the higher Impression Share the better!

Not so fast.

As we continue our decade-and-a-half long transition from negotiated media buying to auction-based media, it’s worth taking a second look at Impression Share, as nothing may be quite so seductive, or quite so dangerous in our everyday marketing metrics.

Impression Share is an easily understood metric. What percentage of the available audience were you able to put your ads in front of? Impression Share measures exposure as the percentage you successfully marketed to. Simple.

The problem is that, unlike negotiated media where delivered impressions are specifically negotiated (with a make-good period typical when there is a shortfall), in the auctions it usually takes higher bids to capture that elusive missing percentage of Impression Share. That incremental cost may not be worth it. In fact, going after higher Impression Share may cause you to take a profitable campaign into unprofitability.

This is because successful auction-based advertising is performed by knowing how much to pay for advertising relative to the value of the revenue generated by that investment. Unlike the old school media buying paradigm of the most-eyeballs-for-the-lowest-cost, auction-based media is hyper-targeted, competitive, and dynamic. One of the best results of knowing what to pay for advertising is knowing what not to pay.

Which brings us back to Impression Share. If you are getting 100% Impression Share on a wide variety of keywords, chances are you are paying too much. It’s rare for a company to be able to monetize traffic so well that ad positions that garner 100% Impression Share are profitable across the board.

So, what good is Impression Share? If you are optimizing a campaign using value-based segmentation and value-based bidding (as you should be), Impression Share is a great metric for understanding the untapped opportunity available, if conditions change to allow for better monetization. This can happen through focused conversion improvement testing, or speaking to higher-than-average value customers. However you improve the math of conversion, the untapped Impression Share gives a sense of the size of the additional audience that may be out there.

If Impression Share is so dangerous, why does Google promote it? The answer is probably obvious. The only one who always wins the Google auctions is Google. Impression Share promotes tactics that get Google more advertising dollars. But used correctly, Impression Share can be a helpful metric to gauge an additional available audience, but one that can only be tapped into if you can get the math of cost -> conversion -> value to work.

Bidding on Your Brand

Bidding on brand terms in search campaigns is hotly debated.  In one camp are those who argue that these are cheap conversions, so of course you should bid on them.  In the other corner are those who say you will get those conversions anyway through organic, so it is simply a waste of money.

They are both wrong.

You should bid on your own brand terms in order to raise conversions.

Brand terms are the end of a conversation that began somewhere else.  No customer wakes up suddenly aware of your brand, ready to search for you. Some education has happened, somewhere, at some point in the past.  If you are using multi-touchpoint tracking, you might have some insight into the attribution chain leading to that brand search, but often that will fail to provide any insight (if, for example, someone did research at home and searched at work).

At this point, you may not know anything about this prospect other than that they have heard of you and have some interest in your company and products.

What are you going to say to them?

Most companies have multiple messages that speak to their value proposition.  Some will be feature-based, most will speak to benefits.  How sure are you that your organic listing includes ALL the important messages for every audience that might lock in the sale?

Bidding on your paid brand terms gives you the chance to say something different.  You can alternate your message, say something new, provide an offer, or reinforce an ad campaign that might be driving brand activity, such as display, video, or traditional media.

But the important thing is to look at conversions.  If you are investing dollars, you need to get additional value out of it to justify the cost. For brand advertising, this should be measured in increased conversion rates, viewed holistically, with an eye to what is driving the brand conversation in the first place.

As always, it is not about clicks, CPCs, or competition.  It is about profit.

Troubleshooting Google Countdown Ads

Yeah, Google, for adding a feature that is wonderfully useful to the advertiser!  If you haven’t seen these, Google has implemented an automatic countdown feature in their ads, just in time for the holidays.  More details can be found on their website here.  You may, however, have run into issues trying to implement them and need help that Google is yet to be able to provide themselves.   We’re happy to share solutions to the problems that we have run into that may help save you some time.

1) The exact column order in the submission is critical:

Ad state
Description line 1
Description line 2
Display URL
Destination URL
Ad group

2) Avoid using special characters in your ads (trademark or copyright symbols) otherwise the ad will be mistaken as multi-byte and will be rejected because of length issues.   If you ads are incorrectly being geo-targeted only to Asian countries, this may be the reason.

3) Do not use slanted double quotes around the date in the countdown function.  Only use the double quotes that appear to the left of your ENTER key on your keyboard.

Hope these solutions help!

Case Study: 104% Gross Profit Increase Using Google Shopping / PLAs

Client:  E-commerce retailer that sells seasonal residential products nationwide

Overview:  Our client’s focus is to acquire customers cost-effectively over the spring, summer and fall seasons.  Google’s Product Listing Ad (PLA) program had produced sales for them in the past and once the program shifted to a paid model mid-year, we began managing the campaign on their behalf.  By using a tiered approach in which we targeted products and categories that had historically produced the most sales, we were able to mitigate risk while allowing testing to go on during their slower Fall season.  In addition to the product-specific campaign, we created an ”All Products” PLA campaign, which included all products in their feed at bid prices lower than the product-specific campaign.

Results:  The ”All Products” campaign reached profitability within its first month. PLA monthly sales, as a whole, increased 27% with a 41% higher average order size and 104% higher gross profit per sale than original PLA campaign.  All of this occurred during their “slow” season.

AdWords for Video Tip

The deadline for transitioning AdWords for Video campaigns to enhanced campaigns was August 8, so all AdWords for Video campaigns should now be enhanced. Campaign and device settings for AdWords for Video campaigns are similar to search and display campaigns, which means that you no longer have the ability to show video ads exclusively to users on mobile phones or tablets. If you want to restrict your video ads from showing on mobile phones, though, you can do so by setting the campaign mobile bid adjustment to -100%.

Mobile-Only Enhanced Campaigns?

When we initially learned about AdWords enhanced campaigns, one of our biggest concerns was the inability to cleanly target only mobile phone users with a campaign. We regularly see significant differences between how mobile and desktop audiences interact with our clients’ ads, and in the pre-enhanced campaign world, segregating audiences into different campaigns by device offered us a convenient and effective way to optimize performance around how well our clients could monetize traffic from users on different devices. Since enhanced campaigns, by default, would be set to show ads to users on all devices, our clients were concerned that a flood of new competitors (who weren’t previously advertising to mobile users) vying for placement on mobile search results pages would drive up mobile click costs.

To preserve the gains that we made by creating device-targeted legacy campaigns, we utilized low keyword bids and a high campaign mobile bid adjustment to try and recreate mobile-only legacy campaigns within the new enhanced campaign structure.

Since transitioning all of our clients to enhanced campaigns, we have had varying degrees of success restricting ad delivery to mobile devices only. For some of our clients, AdWords traffic volume from desktop users has been as low as 1% in campaigns intended for mobile users, while in others, the percentage is as high as 20%, with the portion of impressions served to desktop users between 1% and 15%. So far, the difference seems to be keyword bids. With the campaign-level mobile bid adjustment limited to 300%, we are finding that even some significantly reduced keyword bids aren’t low enough to disqualify ads from showing on desktop search results pages.

Despite an anticipated increase in competition for ad placement on mobile devices, our clients haven’t experienced significant increases in mobile click costs, or lower ad positions. For consistent ad position, we’ve seen an average cost-per-click increase of between 4% and 6%.

New AdWords Editor Support for Enhanced Sitelinks

Good news for advertisers who want to take advantage of ad group-level Sitelinks without having to use the AdWords user interface: Google is now supporting enhanced/upgraded Sitelinks in AdWords Editor 10.2, far in advance of the September 23 enhanced ad extension migration deadline.

Google Enhanced Campaign Transition Tips

For months, Google AdWords advertisers have had the option of migrating their old-style legacy campaigns to AdWords enhanced campaigns. As the automatic rollover date fast approaches, more advertisers will be forced to dive headfirst into the complex pool of new options, settings, and rules. Because Google has treated the enhanced campaigns rollout like a true beta, tweaking and adding features and settings since their introduction, it’s critical to approach the transition with a strategy that will prevent you from unintentionally spending more on your AdWords traffic than it’s worth.

Here are seven things to keep top-of-mind when transitioning legacy campaigns to enhanced campaigns, which could mean the difference between smooth sailing and a rocky road.  Feel free to share them with your marketing team!

1. Your ads will show on mobile devices, unless…

By default, all enhanced campaigns will deliver ads to users on desktop, tablet, and mobile devices. If your site isn’t optimized for mobile devices, visitors could have a bad experience after clicking on your ad and reaching your desktop site, which could be hard to see and difficult to use on a tiny touchscreen.

Luckily, Google has opened the door for advertisers who want to opt out of ad delivery to audiences on smartphones. By reducing your campaign-level bid adjustment for “Mobile devices with full browsers” to -100%, you can stop the delivery of impressions to users on their phones. Your ads will, however, continue to show to people using tablets, as the mobile bid adjustment only affects ad delivery on smartphones.

After switching to enhanced campaigns, your Product Listing Ads will start showing on mobile devices. If your product images, descriptions, and titles (or online store, for that matter) aren’t optimized for a mobile audience, you might want to buy some time to revamp your product feed before showing listings to mobile users.

2. Mobile-only campaigns are a thing of the past, but you can limit desktop and tablet exposure.

Legacy campaigns offered advertisers robust options for choosing which types of devices to show ads on (eg.  iOS devices, the Samsung Galaxy 5, T-Mobile myTouch 3G Slide, etc.). In enhanced campaigns, that level of control is gone, and all AdWords advertisers will be forced to show ads to desktop and tablet users whether they want to or not.

Some advertisers attempting to run mobile-only enhanced campaigns have reported a degree of success minimizing ad display on desktop and tablet devices by using a combination of a mobile device bid adjustments and mobile-preferred ads. Nevertheless, enhanced campaigns don’t offer advertisers the opportunity to completely eliminate desktop or tablet traffic. After transitioning a mobile-only legacy campaign, it will be critical to use AdWords reporting to understand the distribution of traffic and cost across device families, especially for advertisers who don’t have the ability to monetize desktop or tablet traffic.

3. Some bid adjustments stack.

AdWords allows enhanced campaigns users to tweak bids via bid adjustment settings at the device, location, and ad schedule level.  If you set a bid adjustment for each, all will affect the price you pay for traffic.

To borrow and build on Google’s example (, if you have a campaign that works well with mobile audiences in Chicago on Wednesdays, you can set bid adjustments for device, location, and schedule to leverage these performance efficiencies without having to create separate campaigns.

Beware of the unintentional consequences of doing so. If you set multiple bid adjustments, the offsets will stack, so your bids may be spiking higher or dipping lower than intended.

Google offers two good examples of how multiple bid adjustments stack:

Example One:

If you know that your campaign performs well on mobile devices in Chicago, you can set bid adjustments to increase your bids for mobile and Chicago to try to capture all available traffic. For example, you could set a +20% adjustment for mobile, and a +10% adjustment for Chicago, resulting in a final bid adjustment of +32% for searches in Chicago on mobile devices.

Example Two:

Say you’ve set a $1 Max CPC ad group bid. You decide to add a +20% adjustment for California, and -50% adjustment for Saturdays. Your resulting bid for a search that occurs in California on a Saturday will be $0.60. Here’s the math:

Starting bid: $1

California adjustment: $1 x (+20%) = $1.20

Saturday adjustment: $1.20 x (-50%) = $0.60

Resulting bid for searches in California on Saturday: $0.60

4. Other bid adjustments don’t.

For campaigns targeting the Google Search Network, AdWords will default to the most specific level where a bid adjustment is set.

If you have a bid adjustment of 100% set for Rhode Island, but a 50% one set for Providence, Google will favor the bid adjustment set at the more specific level. In this scenario, the bid of a keyword triggered by a search from Providence will increase by 50%, but the bid of the same keyword triggered by a search from Newport will increase by 100%.

Campaign and ad group bid adjustments interact in a similar way. If an ad group has a bid adjustment set in a campaign making use of a campaign-level bid adjustment, Google will favor the ad group-level adjustment.

Bid adjustments, though, do not allow you to set budgets for multiple different locations within a single campaign. If you want to do that, you’ll still have to set up multiple campaigns.

5. Ad extensions must be upgraded, too, but there’s no AdWords Editor support (yet!) for enhanced ad extensions.

Advertisers using enhanced campaigns have the ability to create ad extensions for ad groups, customize Ad Sitelinks and app extensions for mobile devices, and schedule the delivery of ad extensions. The new features allow advertisers to be more nimble, making it easier to use ad extensions to promote time-sensitive offers.

One of the most (if not the most) popular and widely-used ad extensions, Sitelinks, is undergoing a major transformation. Enhanced campaign Sitelinks have a 25-character limit, down from 35 characters. Whereas legacy campaign Sitelinks were subject to the dreaded Christmas light effect (when one was disapproved in a campaign, they all went down), each enhanced campaign Sitelink is reviewed individually. Additionally, advanced reporting for ad extensions gives enhanced campaign advertisers the ability to understand which Sitelinks are most effective, a boon for optimization-minded campaign managers.

The latest version of the AdWords desktop editor, AdWords Editor 10.1 doesn’t support upgrading to, adding, editing, or deleting enhanced campaign Sitelinks, though. AdWords Editor 10.2, set for a mid-August release, will, so even though the campaign migration deadline is July 22, the deadline for upgrading to enhanced ad extensions was pushed back to September 23.

If you rely on AdWords Editor to make sweeping changes in large accounts, but need to make multiple changes to take advantage of ad group level Sitelinks or Sitelink scheduling, you’ll have to painstakingly do so through the AdWords Editor interface.

7. Bidding on the Google Display Network has already changed.

In addition to device, location, and schedule-based bid adjustments, recently-updated Display Network bidding options add an additional level of complexity to the management of Display Network campaigns. Custom bidding gives advertisers control over how much to pay for traffic from users generated by different types of Display Network targets when an advertiser is using multiple types of targets in the same ad group.

If default bidding is not chosen, all targeted elements in your ad group will receive the ad group level bid, and users who click on your ad will be directed to the page reflected in the ad destination URL. In order to set element-level (i.e. keyword, placement, or audience-specific) bids, the custom bidding option must be selected for your Display Network ad groups.

While custom bidding isn’t an enhanced campaign-only feature, using default bidding in combination with mobile bid adjustments could cause you to spend far more or less than your Display Network traffic is worth.

Updated Google Merchant Center Feed Specs

We’ve all been there: you search for a product, dig through dozens of thumbnails, find one that looks exactly like what you want, click to enlarge, and see a photo so pixelated that Seurat would be jealous. A small or pixelated image can be the difference between making the sale and driving your potential customers to a competitor.

In their latest product feed specs update, Google recommends that advertisers use product images of at least 800 pixels in height and width to accommodate users searching on devices with high-definition screens. So put those beautiful pixels to work. It’s time to adapt your Google Merchant Center feed for the hi-def world.

Selling multipacks, custom goods, or non-family safe products, too? Check out how the new specs affect you.

Case Study: Leveraging Google Shopping Ads (Google PLAs)

Client: B2B retailer selling medical devices and accessories

Overview: Our client’s success is built upon converting qualified visitors into sales from their online marketing efforts, including comparison shopping engines.  One of the larger networks, Google Shopping (formerly Google PLAs and Product Search before that), transitioned from a free model to a commercial model that requires merchants to pay for traffic on a cost-per-click (or cost-per-acquisition) basis, and to migrate to Google Shopping, which show search ads that contain product-rich information and are managed in AdWords.

Knowing that this transition to a paid model could have an impact on our client’s ability to capture sales on the Google Network, we worked closely with them on the set-up, implementation and optimization of this AdWords program to ensure their continued visibility and profitability on Google Shopping, in advance of the program’s transition.

Our strategy included:

  • Adding custom fields to product feed based on important product attributes necessary for tracking and monitoring product performance
  • Defining and breaking out potential audience segments at the product-level for granular targeting, bid optimization and messaging in AdWords
  • Expanding the campaign in a tiered fashion, focusing first on high profit- producing products and categories

ResultsThe campaign reached profitability after the first full month of deploying this strategy. Initial results showed that Google Shopping ads provided a 10% and 4% increase in total paid Google online sales and revenue, respectively. These results, backed by the weight of our success with other e-commerce clients, have shown that ads in Google Shopping can be a great cost-effective and efficient way to grow e-commerce business in both the B2b and B2C space.