Product Listing Ads: The Power of Segmentation

This is a guest post by James Kelly, Senior SEM Analyst of National Positions.

Product Listing Ads have grown immensely in popularity over the last year and many articles have been written detailing the importance of getting them live. At this point the real question is how to maximize exposure and profitability for your ecommerce marketing campaign.

Feed and bid optimization is the first place that many people look. Both of these are of critical importance, but I find that advertisers spend so much time worrying about these issues that the actual campaign structure is often ignored. The decision on how to structure and segment your PLA campaigns will dictate your ability to analyze and optimize the campaigns over time.

Google provides us with the ability to segment PLA’s by product type, condition, brand, ID or custom fields within your feed (adwords_grouping & adwords_labels). The first pitfall that many advertisers encounter is choosing conflicting segments, so that any single product could have as many as five or six bids coming from different targets. While campaigns built in this way may appear incredibly detailed, they are unwieldy and are difficult to manage effectively.


With this in mind, a good first step is choosing a primary targeting method. Each product will inevitably have multiple targets, but there should be one targeting method that you intend to use for the majority of your bid optimization that will have higher bids relative to your secondary targeting methods. The idea here is to try to remove as much of the conflicting bids as possible so that you can actually dial things up when they are converting, or down when they are not. If a single product has six bids and no rhyme or reason as to which one is highest, it will be very difficult to do something as simple as lower the bid on that product by 50% without also lowering the bid on all related products with similar targets.

My primary targeting method of choice is the adwords_labels field filled with a unique ID for each product. In this case, I have the ability to control my bid for individual products to avoid missed opportunities and wasteful spending. Targeting each product individually can allow greater levels of control, but it can be difficult to account for new products or changes in the feed, which is why additional targeting is required.

Secondary targeting methods can be thought of as catch-alls, whose main purpose is to pick up any products that have not been picked up by your primary targets. I generally use a product type or brand as the secondary targeting method depending on what makes more sense for the particular client. The secondary target must have artificially low bids so that they do not overlap any of your primary targeting. I have heard clients express concerns that the bids are too low, but with proper execution, the secondary targets should be more of a safety net than an active target. If you notice that a secondary target is receiving significant amounts of traffic, this should be a sign to take a look at your primary targets to see what is leaking through. To err on the safe side, I also use an all products target with a much lower bid (sometimes a penny bid) to ensure that I have basic coverage for new products that may not have other targets.

Campaign Structure

Once the various levels of targeting have been sorted out, the last remaining question is how to structure the targets into campaigns, ad groups and targets. With a smaller product count, I typically create a unique ad group for each product containing my primary targeting method in a single campaign. Secondary targets will also have unique ad groups so that all bids can be managed from the ad groups tab.

Accounts that have tens of thousands of products will more than likely need additional structure in place, if nothing else to avoid the 20k ad group per campaign limit. There are two approaches for breaking down these larger catalogs. The first is to create multiple campaigns (possibly broken down by product type or brand) so that you can keep your bids at the ad group level. The second option is to create ad groups for each product type/ brand with targets for each individual product within that ad group. Product level bid optimization would need to be done on the target level in this second option.

No matter how you decide to segment your PLA campaigns, it is important to have a primary targeting method in mind to avoid overlapping bids. Structure provides control over the bids, which will give you the ability to affect your positioning and profitability in the long run.

James Kelly, author of this blog post, is an Ecommerce Channel Manager and Senior SEM Analyst for National Positions, an industry leading internet marketing company with over 1,000 clients around the globe including Wal-Mart, Land Rover, Club Med and Samsung. The National Positions SEM department in particular has been experiencing rapid growth by providing significant revenue increases for many small and medium size businesses.

3 Last Minute Holiday Campaign Tips to Reach Those Last Minute Shoppers

With the biggest holiday shopping season almost nearing to an end, we’ve compiled some last minute campaign strategies for you to reach those last minute shoppers.  Before the year ends, secure a spike in revenue over the next several days with these quick and simple last minute tips for your holiday campaigns:


1.  Increase sales with the last minute shoppers

Tweak your ad copy to make it more relevant to the holiday shopper. Update your ad copy to have a holiday spin on it and attract the last minute shoppers. “Arrives by 12/24” or “Last Minute Stocking Stuffers” are great examples of how you can spice up your ad copy to entice those last minute shoppers to click and purchase.


2.  Increase clicks and engaged viewers from your ads

Your ad design and copy is what compels a user to click or not. Since you’ve already tweaked your ad copy with the above strategy, try varying up the design a little.  Because we’re on the homestretch of the holidays, no need to re-invent the wheel here.  A simple A/B test with the color of the background or the color of the call-to-action button on your banner ads could be the difference between profit and breaking even this holiday season.


3.  Outperform your competitors on price for your most popular items

You already know what products account for 80% of your revenue.  Find these same or similar products from competing advertisers on to see their pricing model.  Based on what you discover, consider pricing your products similarly or offering free shipping or another perk with a purchase. 


With MixRank’s easy-to-use search bar, you can instantly research the competitive market for your products, without spending hours mining through your competitors’ landing pages for the same data. To get started, gain access to MixRank Professional with your risk-free trial here.

Facebook Bidding: How to Rapidly Optimize Campaigns

A lot of the information I have posted so far has been about getting started: setting up tracking, writing ads, building out the initial scaffolding for a properly structured campaign, and so on. But setting up a campaign initially is the easy part. The real challenge comes later, when you are tasked with actually optimizing the campaign towards profitability, managing the bids, scaling up, and actually making the numbers work in a consistent manner.So let’s talk about the next stage of building profitable paid traffic campaigns. I’m going to use Facebook as an example, because managing bids aggressively is crucial for a successful Facebook campaign, but you can easily apply these high-level bidding strategies to any bid-based traffic source. I’m going to go through the exact process I used to rapidly build campaigns from nothing to profitably spending $5000 a day on Facebook.

Start Off Losing Money and Paying For Data

Even the most experienced marketer’s campaigns will not be instantly profitable. In fact, I’ve heard that over 90% of PPC campaigns start off losing money. That means you have to launch 10 diverse campaigns, on average, before you get profitable.The truth about Internet marketing that many beginners seem unwilling to confront is that, when launching a campaign, you shouldn’t expect to get profitable instantly, or even soon. If you do launch a campaign that’s making money right away, consider it an incredibly fortuitous aberration, like a site going incredibly viral. When launching a campaign, remember that you’re not paying for a scalable acquisition channel. You’re only paying for data about what actually works in the marketplace. So don’t be afraid to bid high. It’s much better(and more cost-effective in the long run) to bid high and get enough traffic for statistically significant results than bid low and wait a month before you have gathered enough data to start optimizing. Start with the objective of getting as much data as possible as quickly as possible. On Facebook this generally means bidding $0.30-$0.60 CPC for mot demographics, although you may need to bid closer to $1.00 CPC for the most valuable users (like middle aged women).

Cut Low Performing Ads Quickly, Invest in High Performing Ads

After choosing a broad enough demographic and biddng high enough to get a decent clicks, you can begin optimizing. But don’t be too eager to optimize; if you kill an ad right away before you’ve collected enough data, you’re basing your decisions on the whims of random chance. Be sure to wait until you get statistically significant results before deciding if an ad is effective.Wait until an ad has about 30 clicks before deciding what to do with it. Bidding higher and targeting larger demographics will help you get to 30 clicks and make a decision faster. Yes, this type of extensive testing will cost you more money, especially if you’re testing many ads and targeting options and need 30 clicks on each variation. Sorry; You gotta pay to play.Fear of spending money testing can paralyze you. Think of the opportunity cost of not running profitable ads as soon as possible. The faster you can start running profitable ads, the more money you will make in the long term. If a particular headline or demographic is getting a good CTR, keep spending money on it, even if it’s not converting profitably immediately. Facebook will begin discounting your bids and giving you cheaper traffic soon enough, as long as you can keep your CTR up.On the other hand, if an ad has a low CTR or isn’t performing well, don’t try to keep it alive artificially by bidding high. A good CTR to aim for on Facebook is 0.1%. Cut your losses, kill it mercilessly, and move on. There are so many factors you can test. No need to keep throwing good money after bad.It’s all about CTR on Facebook. Get a good CTR, and the cheap clicks will follow.Expect your CTR to slip over time due to saturation and banner blindness. When you see your CTR declining steadily, don’t bid higher to compensate. Instead, create a similar ad with a slightly different image and start fresh. Sometimes, even reusing the same image with a different color border added is enough to maintain CTR.

Find Gold Nuggets with Reports

Once you’ve gotten a decent amount of clicks and pruned the terrible CTR ads, you can begin aggresively optimizing your targeting. You’ve probably heard the adage that 50% of the money you spend on advertising is wasted; you just don’t know which half.Well, with Facebok Ads, you can find out where your ad dollars are being wasted. If you’ve been getting traffic for a few weeks, and maybe getting close to breaking even on some ads, it’s time to really dive into Facebook’s click reports. You can find the “Reports” link on the left sidebar in the Facebook Ads UI. I usually find the Responder Demographics report most helpful- it will break out exactly which users are giving you the most clicks and best CTR (and the cheapest impressions). Double down on targeting them, while still keeping an eye on conversions.If you’ve started by targeting a broad demographic to get enough data, now is the time to whittle down your targeting to tightly focused ads(i.e targeting a specific age, location, or interest) based on those reports.As always, be wary of making decisions based on statistically insignificant data. Use Facebook’s reports combined with your own analytics to figure out who your most valuable clicks are coming from.

See How Low You Can Bid

Ads that have a few weeks of solid performance history are the perfect target for aggressively optimizng your bids. Don’t just settle for the amount Facebook is bidding you down to. Bid lower, wait a few hours, and see if you’re still getting impressions. Keep lowering your bids for ads that have already been running succesfully until you stop getting impressions. You now know your bid floor at that CTR. You’ll be surprised at how low it can be.You can often bid 40-70% lower than Facebook’s suggested bids without losing a lot of traffic.Even in 2011, it’s still very possible to pay pennies a click and get good volume on Facebook- as long as your ads and targeting are strong.

Scale and Replicate

After a few weeks of constant tracking and optimization, you’ve probably got a campaign that is at least slightly profitable. You’re finally ready to start scaling it up and really realizing the benefits of the vast amount of traffic Facebook can offer. Because you’ve already identified the most effective ads and targeting options, scaling up is a lot less risky. You’re already entrenched, established. If you can monetize international traffic, translate your ads and build campaigns for other countries. You’ll find lots of incredibly cheap traffic there if you know where to look.Or, soften your targeting. Instead of targeting 18-25 year olds, test your strongest ads targeting 17 year olds. Use keyword research strategies to find other related keywords or interests. Check your referrers and see which apps/pages your clicks are coming from. If people are disproportionately clicking your ads when using a certain app/game, maybe you can negotiate a direct ad buy with the developers.

The Ultimate Guide to Facebook Ads Bidding

I’ve gotten a few questions about this, so I thought I would address this in an in-depth guide. There are too many people wasting too much money on Facebook ads because they don’t have a bidding strategy in place. Here’s what typically happens to the novice Facebook advertiser: He gets excited about “social marketing” and throws up a few broadly targeted ads on Facebook, leaving the default suggested bids on, gets a terrible CTR, spends tons of money very quickly without getting enough data for statistical significance, and runs off sniveling and whining on some forum about how Facebook Ads don’t work.Let’s learn right now how to avoid those mistakes, develop the right bidding strategy, monetize, and scale.

Suggested Bids Mean Nothing

This is the most important thing to remember on any PPC platform: The suggested bids mean nothing. Absolutely nothing. They are completely random, arbitrary numbers put in place by executives to justify their revenue projections. Don’t even look at suggested bids. Ignore them. They are in no way related to what anyone is actually paying on Facebook. Actual minimum bids to get impressions are based on a complex interplay of CTR, account history, available inventory, etc, and not on a single number Facebook throws at inexperienced advertisers hoping they’ll bite.Just how arbitrary are Facebook suggested bids? Consider this: A friend setting up a new Facebook Ads campaign saw suggested bids of $1.14-$1.78. For comparison, I tried to create a new ad with the exact same targeting options, and was given suggested bids of $0.28-$0.41. Maybe my account spending history or quality score helped me get cheaper traffic. Or maybe Facebook suggested bids are created by a random number generator and don’t really matter.

Stick to CPC Bidding

It might be tempting to go for CPM bidding, because you can get lots of relatively cheap traffic without obsessing over CTR as much. But, in most circumstances, sticking to CPC bidding will give you much higher quality traffic. The reason for this: Some months ago, Facebook made a tweak in their algorithms which affect how ad impressions are distributed. CPC ads are now much more likely to be shown in premium placements on the site: profiles, news feed, and so on. These placements generally deliver a much better CTR and more clicks.CPM ads are more likely to be shown in parts of Facebook that result in lots of impressions but not as many clicks- games and apps. When your ad has to compete with a plethora of visual stimuli from Farmville, it’s a lot less likely to get noticed and get clicks.You can easily confirm this by checking the referrers in your analytics when running ads. If you see a lot of low performing apps traffic, consider changing up your ads.

Bid High for Small Groups, Low for Big Groups

This should be intuitive, but most people don’t seem to act on this simple concept: A larger group of users will have more impressions available than a smaller, less targeted group. If you target males age 18-49, you should be able to bid less and still get traffic compared to, say, only targeting 22 year old single males. This is a good way to get data about what images or headlines work before increasing your bids to campture more traffic.The converse is also true: If you’re going for a small, highly targeted demographic (ex. using interests/like targeting), you need to start out bidding very high(even if it’s very unprofitable) to beat the broadly targeted ads you’re competing against that will also be shown to the same people. If your ads are relevant enough to the interests/likes you’re targeting, you should get a good CTR (0.1% is OK, 0.2% or above is fantastic) right away, without having to split test a lot of images or headlines. This will enable you to rapidly bring your bids down significantly- probably as low as 10-15 cents a click and still get volume. To be continued…Next Week: I walk you through setting up a Facebook campaign and optimizing the bids to profitability.

How to Succeed in a Crowded Market (part 1)

If there’s one thing affiliate marketing teaches you, it’s how to survive in the face of fierce compatition. As an affiliate marketer, I frequently found myself competing against hundreds if not thousands of affiliates, all of them promoting the same product to the same customers on the same traffic sources.All of the fundamental principles of traditional marketing, like differentiation, a USP, price testing, etc mean nothing, because everyone is running the same ads for the same exact product, linking to that same landing page.There is no fluff like branding or engagement. This is raw, pure performance marketing, where the only things that matter are clicks and conversions. Even the most successful affiliate campaigns are fleeting- blink, and someone with a slightly more optimized campaign will destroy you.Affiliate marketing in a competitive niche is something of a trial by fire. Words like “traction” or “angel funding” are unknown. You either convert enough of your traffic into sales to turn a profit immediately, or you die and a hundred marketers who are hungrier than you vie to take your place.If you can build a profitable business in that space, you can do it anywhere.This is the business environment I cut my teeth on marketing in, so you could say I know a thing or two about succeeding in the face of stiff competition.It may seem impossible to succeed in a space that already has established, better funded competitors. But, as a newcomer, you have several incredibly powerful advantages over your competition. Utilize them, and you will be able to outmaneuver the most determined competitors every single time.Here’s exactly how I was able to enter the most saturated verticals out there- dating, insurance, fitness- and build $1000-a-day campaigns despite the presence of sophisticated, entrenched competitors.

Don’t Educate The Market: Capture Traffic at a Later Stage of the Buying Process

You probably know that customers go through several distinct phases when researching a product and committing to buy. Remember Glengarry Glen Ross:[youtube=]The stages of the buying process are:

  1. Attention
  2. Interest
  3. Desire
  4. Action

If you’re in a competitive market, you will have competitors advertising to customers at every stage of the buying process. Many of your competitors, particularly big brands, are spending a lot of money to educate the market – to show potential customers that they have a problem their product or service can solve. Before committing to a purchase they will research all the alternatives, especially if they are B2B customers. While these people are doing research, they’re costing your competitors serious money in ad clicks and impressions, but are not converting into sales, because they’re still in the research phase of the sales cycle.Don’t bother trying to educate the market- let your competitors spend money convince customers they need a product or service in your industry. Then, when they’re finally ready to buy, when they’re finally at that ACTION stage, swoop in and get the sale. Here’s exactly how you can do this:

  • Consider buyer intent Bid on keywords that demonstrate strong intent to buy- “buy voip service” vs “voip service provider comparison”. Generally, the later you get into the sales cycle, the more expensive keywords become, but the jump in conversion rate usually makes up for this.
  • Don’t bid for top position There are many reasons why you shouldn’t bid for the #1 position in a group of ads, and this is one of them. Frequently, consumers will click on the top 2-3 ads for a search result as part of their research process, just to understand the marketplace. Then they will click on another, lower position, ad and actually make the purchase. For this reason, many more sophisticated advertisers test how bids and ad position affect conversion rates. Many find that position 3-4 is the “sweet spot” that actually converts better than being in position #1.

Next week, I discuss how to convert your rivals’ greatest strengths into unbeatable competitive advantages you can use to dominate the market.

Startup Marketing Lessons Learned Part 2: AdWords is Only the Beginning

I recently had the pleasure of assisting over 150 Hacker News members with marketing their startups. I was surprised to learn that I was giving the same advice over and over again. I’m collecting the most specific, actionable and useful marketing advice for startups in a 3 part series. This is part 2.Last time, we discussed marketing fundamentals you needed to get right before beginning to drive traffic to your project. I hope you’ve implemented some of those suggestions into your product marketing.I don’t want this blog to consist solely of vague textbook marketing advice. This week, we’re going deeper and diving right into specific methods you can use right now to generate a stream of interested customers for your startup. Let’s get started.

Test and Track Everything

…advertising is traced down to the fraction of a penny. The cost per reply and cost per dollar of sale show up with utter exactness. One ad is compared with another, one method with another. Headlines, settings, sizes, arguments and pictures are compared. To reduce the cost of results even one percent means much in some mail order advertising. So no guesswork is permitted. One must know what is best.

Can you guess which AdWords guru wrote the words above?That quote is from the seminal work Scientific Advertising by Claude Hopkins, written in the 1920s. You would think that, 80 years later, people would realize the importance of tracking, especially with how easy modern analytics software makes it.And yet, startup after startup is creating ads that link to their homepage, without any tracking variables appended. They can only guess if their ads are effective, and they’re collecting exactly zero data.Any ad campaign, even if it’s set up by an expert, will probably start out losing money. When you launch an ad campaign, you’re not just paying for customers, you’re paying for data about what works and what doesn’t, tested in the marketplace.As you collect data and optimize, the campaign will eventually pull into the black. But if you’re not collecting click and conversion data, you’ll never know what you need to optimize, and you’ll continue bleeding money forever.Don’t just track based on which campaign gets the highest CTR. You need to drill down to the individual ad and keyword level, and track both CTR and conversion rate for each ad. This is done by appending a unique id to the URL of each ad variation. If you can’t tell me exactly which headline is bringing you the most loyal customers, you’re doing it wrong. If you track everything down to the ad level, you’ll be able to know exactly where your most profitable customers are coming from. This is especially critical for recurring billing/subscription services, which many startups are. Again, optimize for CLV.Setting up tracking is super easy. Google Analytics has a simple URL Builder you can use to append tracking variables to any link. You’ll want to focus on the utm_term and utm_campaign variables.If you want even better, more customizable, real-time data, my friends at MixPanel are happy to help.If you remember nothing else from this post, remember this:Track Everything Now. Every second you’re not tracking, you’re losing money.

Search Is Just The Tip of the Iceberg

Here’s an example of what the typical startup founder told me about their marketing campaign:

Out startup sells time tracking software for dog walkers. We’re already advertising online. We’re bidding on “dog walker time tracking” on Google Search and getting 3 clicks and 0 conversions a day. How do we get more traffic?

It’s not surprising that you’re not getting lots of traffic, because you’re stuck in a search-only mindset. You can thank Google’s excellent branding for that, because they would love to have you believe that the only way to get customers online is through buying search keywords.Here’s the truth about advertising online: most of your traffic and customers will not come from search. They will come from social networks(more on that soon) and other sites- and I don’t mean just the Google Content Network. Want to know a cheap, high volume traffic source your competitors aren’t using? Two words: media buys. Yes, I’m talking about banner ads and yes, they still work.You don’t have to have a big budget to start buying banner ad space. Start approaching smaller blogs in your niche, and offer to pay them a fixed amount to paste your ad code into their site for a month. Again, track everything.When you do a simple media buy, you don’t have to worry about maintaining a high CTR or relevance between ads and landing pages, you just need to get enough clicks and conversions to stay profitable.I’ll have a post exclusively about media buying coming soon, but for now, start looking around and negotiating. You’ll be amazed at the great deals and cheap traffic you can find.

Competitor Bidding Works, Take it To The Next Level

Bidding on the names of competitors on search is an effective tactic. You’re reaching customers who are at a later stage of the buying cycle. They already know they need your product or service, and now they’re just comparing the alternatives and reading reviews before committing to a purchase. Let your competitors spend money educating the market and finding qualified prospects, then snatch the customer from their grasp when he’s about to buy.[pullshow]Competitor bidding is a good start, but it’s only a start. Here’s how you can easily and inexpensively outfox your competitors on most traffic sources:[pullthis]Don’t stop at search. Follow competitors’ ads around the web.[/pullthis] Search for competitor names, features, products, etc, or get their keywords from a keyword research tool. Look at the search results for their name and main keywords. Are there any sites there that have AdSense? Any blogs that have written reviews of a competitor’s product? Those are all prime advertising opportunities.Approach them directly and offer to buy banner space, either on the whole blog or just on that specific post. Prospective customers searching for information about competitors will instead come across ads for your product, and some will inevitably convert. If you see a competitor’s ads on an AdSense block on a page, you’ve found a fantastic traffic source. Approach the webmaster and offer to buy a banner ad to replace the AdSense. You’ll be able to pay the webmaster more for the space because Google isn’t taking their 30% cut, so it should be a no brainer for them to accept your offer. Now not only have you cut off a competitor from a lucrative traffic source, but you’ve also uncovered a proven source of converting traffic. Repeat this enough, and you’ll be able to completely dominate your competitors outside of search while spending less than them.

Start Retargeting Right Away

Retargeting is the practice of showing ads to people who have already visited your site(but probably didn’t convert). Retargeting is very cost effective, and delivers incredibly high-converting traffic, because you’re only paying for impressions shown to people who have expressed an interest in your product. When building a retargeting campaign, create banners that prominently feature your name, logo, and color scheme. People who have seen that design before will notice and click. There are two easy ways you can use retargeting right away:AdWords has a retargeting option you can turn on for a campaign. Or, for greater reach, AdRoll has an easy self-serve retargeting system that ties into major ad networks. You just add their pixel to your site, they leave a cookie, and show banner ads that follow your visitors around the web, g
ently yet firmly reminding them to sign up for your site.There is so much involved in getting traffic online. I’ve only begun to scratch the surface of what’s possible. If nothing else, I hope this post has inspired you to explore other traffic sources with tracked, tested, creative campaigns. Next week: I show you how to easily increase your current traffic tenfold, discuss advanced optimization tactics to squeeze more out of your current campaigns, and finish with a little-known traffic tip I’ve never told anyone before.