Swing for the Virtual Fences - Google Problem Solving for Modern Merchants

They're constantly thrown curveballs, yet online merchants, just like successful hitters, are confident, patient and step up to the plate with proper mechanics. E-tailers have no other option, but to face the radical changes consumer consumption habits demands, google algorithm updates and anything else pitched them head on.

And while there are plenty of obstacles that concern Internet retailers today, six of which are discussed below, there are as many, if not more, opportunities that modern merchants can leverage to generate traffic from search engines' natural and paid results in order to win the digital marketing game. After all, problems are only opportunities in disguise.


Curveball: Hitting a Wall with CTRs

Swing Away: Advertisers are still investing in paid search, because it works, by evidence of Kenshoo's Q1 2013 report on global search advertising trends. The findings indicate global search ad spend is up 15 percent. Global click-through rates (CTRs) are also up 62 percent, year-over-year, so enterprises with flat-lined CTRs should look at their own campaigns, not paid search in general.

"The click-through rates [findings] was a big 'aha' moment for me," said Kenshoo Director of Marketing Research, Josh Dreller. "Sometimes it feels like you hit a wall trying to increase your CTRs, because you are relying on searchers and users to click on your ad. [These findings] mean marketers are really working their ads. They are choosing the right keywords and negative terms and getting in front of the audiences that will engage."

Merchants who are not seeing their CTRs improve should narrow their keywords to the ones customers are responding to, utilize Google's ad extensions and build more creative integration, such as between search and social. The biggest mover in the latter is Google+, according to Michael Gullaksen the senior vice president, managing director of Covario, an enterprise search agency.


Curveball: No Way Out of Google+

Swing Away: There are multiple reasons why there is no escaping Google+, but for merchants advertising with Google, the top-two are sheer numbers (reports are showing that Google+ is outpacing Twitter as the world's number two social network, behind Facebook) and sophistication.


For example, Google+ endorsements can support an AdWords campaign through social annotations. When Google detects an active and verified Google+ page, these annotations will be shown when its system predicts that a Google+ page will improve campaign performance. Since merchants (and the rest of the Web) don't know how Google values this, it's best to go all in with Google+. Social annotations can help add a layer of credibility to an ad, but if it increases visits to an incomplete Google+ page, or one with incorrect or outdated information, it could have the opposite effect.


These annotations will be automatic under Enhanced Campaigns, so merchants who do have active Google+ pages should ensure their pages have verified URLs, the domains of their Google page URLs match the domain of their ads' URLs and that their Google+ pages have recent, high-quality posts and a significant number of followers, which Google says is at least 100 for most businesses.


Curveball: Mandatory Enhanced Campaigns

Swing Away:The most recent change affecting e-merchants is Google's move toward Enhanced Campaigns. According to an iProspect 2013 whitepaper on the subject, mobile CPCs are projected to rise, as more advertisers begin serving ads on smartphones (intentionally or not). iProspect provides this solution, "Advertisers should review their current smartphone strategy and examine how they can replicate past successes via smartphone bid multipliers, or set their multipliers to negative 100 percent if they don't want their ads to serve on smartphones."

While this move by Google allows for ease-of campaign execution, merchants should know that they cannot segment the tablet marketplace with Enhanced Campaigns, because this traffic is grouped into desktop data. Gullaksen advises merchants to invest in an infrastructure and experience (e.g. no flash) that is both desktop and tablet-friendly, because they will not be able to target and track by that device type, or more specifically, browsers used on tablets.


The Lowdown on Google Ad Extensions: Elevate your ads with these popular extensions for merchants



Curveball: Google PLAs

Swing Away: Anytime something is free, and then you are charged for it, there will be plenty of negative feedback, as was the case with shopping PLAs, according to Gullaksen. However, frequent reports are proving that PLAs increase visibility and conversion rates.

Additionally, now that it's a paid service, PLAs are creating more insight into performance, conversions and ROIs. Specifically, enshoo's 2012 Global Online Retail Holiday Shopping Report states that PLAs continue to generate nearly 1.5 times the CTRs of regular text ads and convert 23 percent better.

While PLAs are just one more channel marketers have to track, merchants should hop on the bandwagon and make PLAs their new best friend.


Curveball: Content is King

Swing Away: With the rise of social media and its integration with search, there are plenty of earned media opportunities that are available for Internet retailers today that weren't accessible to them in the past. Marketers can use organic search efforts (earned) to reach users and advertising to push promotions. For example, Internet retailers should use (or start) a blog to provide the search engines with frequent fresh content and give their consumers relevant information. Additionally, by linking content to a Google+ business page using rel="publisher" tag, Google will recognize a brands G+ page as its official profile, which it will give preference to in the SERPs.

Gullaksen advises that Pinterest is another avenue for marketers to explore, because it allows an inexpensive way to put product images in front of users to drive awareness and demand.


Curveball: Bad Merchants

Swing Away: In March 2013, Google's Matt Cutts said, "We have a potential launch later this year, maybe a little bit sooner, looking at the quality of merchants, and whether we can do a better job on that, because we don't want low-quality experience merchants to be ranking in the search results."

What does this exactly mean for merchants and what should they know and do to ensure they aren't labeled as such?

Industry experts, such as Dreller and Gullaksen, are in consensus that merchants who can sit in a room with Google and confidently show the company their strategies, will have no issues.

"The thing to remember is that Google is very explicit on their guidelines and bad practices," said Kenshoo's Dreller. "They don't want to ruin good campaigns and deincentivize good marketers and good retailers."

The game plan for all retailers should be to review and follow Google's search, social and advertising guidelines and swing away.