Soren Ryherd to Speak at SMX Milan 2015 Conference – Mad Scientists of Paid Search

Working Plant Co-Founder, Soren Ryherd, will be speaking at SMX Milan in November!  Soren will discuss why Out-Of-Channel measurement is critical in to the success of CPA-based marketing given the high levels of out-of-channel user engagement outside of Search, as well as the increasingly common cross-device behavior seen in mobile search. 

SMX Milan will take place at the Meliá Milano hotel on Thursday and Friday November 12 & 13 2015. Please catch up with him after the session, if you plan to attend! 

What “The Next Level” Looks Like for Digital Marketing

“We want to take our marketing to the next level.”

We hear that often. But with digital marketing becoming more complex by the minute, what does the “next level” even look like?

1. It’s Holistic

With cross-device and cross-channel behavior becoming more the norm than the exception, marketing programs that are siloed by channel are going to be increasingly inefficient. For example, Mobile ad exposure can drive desktop engagement. Video ads may well drive brand searches.  But when value created in one channel is realized in another, it creates disconnects for budgeting and performance measurement. Striving for neat and tidy single-channel performance numbers is likely detrimental for your business. Marketers who break through to the next level are looking holistically at engagement across channels, across engagement points, and over time.

2. It’s Even More Data-Driven

Data-driven reporting, or simply looking at Google Analytics reports won’t cut it any more. Data used just for creating reports is data that is being wasted. True data-driven marketing feeds core metrics from advertising, engagement tracking, and customer databases back into ongoing optimization on a daily basis. “Next-level” data will focus on supporting complex modeling with hard data from multiple sources. The days of “do, measure, done” are gone.

3. It’s Financially Rooted

If you’ve been optimizing for marketing metrics without an underlying financial model, it’s time to step it up (take notice “Time-On-Site”). Marketing at its core is a financial  investment in a financial outcome. “Next level” marketing is explicit about the financial model and how engagement and customer value support revenues and profits. To do this, Key Performance Indicators must be tightly aligned with profits.

4. It’s Predictive

The ad dollars you spent today may have no relationship to the sales you made today unless you have the world’s shortest sales cycle. Today’s sales were likely to be largely, or maybe even entirely, from past advertising.  Tomorrow’s marketing relies on predictive models that are savvy about time. An understanding of sales cycle, latency and engagement process is critical to the financial assessment and efficient optimization of your program.

5. It’s Complex

Yes, life would be easy if marketing were simple. But today’s big opportunities in Digital lie in mastering complexity. The better you are at understanding complex user behaviors and tightly optimizing those behaviors for a clearly-stated financial result, the better chance you have to beat your competition. This means understanding the limitations of your ad management tools, reporting, tracking systems, and customer data and moving beyond those limitations.

The “next level” is an exciting place. Welcome to it.

Display & Search: 5 Things that Make them Better Together

Marketers engaged in Search often overlook the opportunities in Display advertising, but with total Display ad spend set to surpass Search in 2016, it’s time for advertisers to take a hard look at Display.

The ugly truth is that advertisers who are used to Search often fail at Display.  Let’s chat a bit about the strengths and differences between Search and Display:

1. Immediate Need vs. Education – Search has been the go-to media for direct response campaigns because you can respond to  a clearly expressed need.  When users tell you what they want, it’s easy to tailor the message and the engagement path.  But Search is limited to those that both know what they want and are taking active steps to find it.  Display, on the other hand, offers the opportunity to get beyond the late-stage buyer.  By educating and engaging a broader market, Display can help grow your overall market opportunity.

2. Linear Engagement vs. Cross-Channel – Search-savvy advertisers often fail at Display because they apply the same tools and metrics to Display that work for Search.  The user path is completely different with Display than Search, however.  With Search, it is not uncommon for over 90% of users to click on an ad and then engage.  This linear behavior has lead to the explosion of analytic-driven marketing programs. With Display, though, the numbers may be reversed, with 70-90% of the users that engage doing so without ever clicking on an ad.  Click-to-engagement metrics can lead to Display being undervalued by a huge factor.  Luckily, more advanced approaches to understanding cause and effect are bringing Display back, as advertisers learn to take advantage of how users actually behave.

3. Create Demand – Advertisers that still use last-click attribution love their Brand traffic, but often don’t think about the drivers behind it.  Display engagement often happens through a follow-on Brand search, meaning Display can be a very strong driver of both brand awareness and brand engagement. (Pro-tip: Utilize Display ad messaging in Brand Search ads for seamless engagement.)

4. Accelerated Home-Page Testing – Companies addicted to split testing tend to focus on purpose-specific landing pages, often because targeted Search campaigns can benefit from them. With Display, more focus is placed on the home page (because of the high levels of engagement without a click) creating a bigger audience for testing.  As a result, tests can run faster, creating a conversion win for all marketing programs that drive traffic to the home page.

5. The Display + Search One, Two Punch – With Display campaigns creating demand, and Search campaigns capturing demand, the combined Display + Search approach creates a powerful combination for growth.  As we emerge from the channel-centric world into one that embraces multi-channel, multi-device behavior, this alignment creates tremendous value when executed correctly.

Soren Ryherd – Mad Scientist of Paid Search SMX Advanced

Professor of Search Marketing

Andrew Goodman, Soren Ryherd, Andy Taylor

Working Planet CEO Soren Ryherd recently took the stage at SMX Advanced as one of the “Mad Scientists of Paid Search”. For the last nine years, SMX Advanced has showcased leaders in innovation in paid search on the Mad Scientists panel, one of the main stage events at a conference focused on advanced trends and tactics in digital marketing.

Soren spoke about the increasing need for Out-Of-Channel measurement due to high levels of Out-Of-Channel user engagement outside of Search as well as the increasingly common cross-device behavior seen in mobile search. He particularly focused on the detrimental effects on CPA-based bidding systems when Out-Of-Channel effects are ignored.

Soren’s presentation on “The Interruption Curve and Digital Optimization” can be seen here.

Moving Beyond Search

Data-driven marketing in the last decade has largely been thought of as a search marketing phenomenon. The growth of search fueled many of the tactics and tools adopted for digital since the launch of paid search in the early 2000’s. But now is the time for companies to step back and re-evaluate the digital landscape. If you’ve been heads-down in search marketing, you are in for a big surprise!

Paid digital advertising is both better and more varied than ever. Innovations in targeting, retargeting, ad formats, and measurement have broken open the dam, and advertisers should be embracing both new media formats in their digital campaigns as well as more advanced forms of measurement, evaluation, and modeling. Opportunities abound for companies willing to look beyond search, but to maximize these opportunities, some coveted metrics and tools will need to be cast by the wayside.

New Opportunities

If you have been heavily reliant on desktop-based search, then welcome to the party! From video to internet radio, to promoted tweets, pins, and posts, from pre-roll to rich-media display ads, the digital opportunities are almost endless for connecting to a targeted audience. Some favorites of ours at Working Planet include more sophisticated retargeting display ads, YouTube ads from text overlays to pre-roll video, Google Shopping product listings, and LinkedIn B2B paid advertising. All of these have proven to be remarkable areas of growth for clients willing to break out of the search box.

New Measurement Required

If you are moving out of search, be aware that your measurement and optimization program will need to mature as well. Many, if not most, non-search forms of paid digital media involve a more complex pattern of user behavior than the click- visit-buy approach that is common in desktop-based search advertising. Often, this will require looking holistically at your sales across channels, and looking for cause and effect in different channels. Be prepared for customers who engage without ever clicking on an ad, and don’t be locked into looking only at known channel behavior.

The good news is that there are sophisticated ways to assess and optimize multi-channel campaigns that take advantage of complex user behaviors. Attribution Modeling exlores the path of multiple visits across channels in the creation of value. Media Mix Modeling looks at the influence of marketing on cross-channel and cross-device behavior. Tools like these allow for the same kind of efficient optimization in non-search media, reducing risk and maximizing value.

We’re excited about the unceasing pace of innovation in digital media. Every new ad platform creates new opportunities. So look beyond search. Search is great, but there are so many other audiences to tap into.

To “Portfolio” or “Not Portfolio”?

Over the last few years there has been a lot of attention in the paid digital world over the “Portfolio” approach to paid search campaign management.  Some view this as way to maximize opportunity, while others try to draw analogies with stock portfolios as a way to manage risk.  Unfortunately, there is still a lot of confusion over what a portfolio approach is and whether it is actually good or bad.  And that is not surprising, as the definition of a portfolio approach changes depending on who you talk to.

Most portfolio approaches look to move above the keyword level of granularity in order to broaden audience exposure and to “pull out of the weeds” of keyword-level detail.  On the face of it, there is real value in doing this. It is common to have many keywords with very little engagement data. Assessing small data sets is tricky, so this broader view may make it easier to identify trends or performance numbers.  A broader view can also help in identifying performance issues in relatively short time periods, where, again, there may be little data at the keyword level.

But here is where it breaks down.

Some companies use Portfolio approach in a way where an average performance number of an aggregated number of audience segments is used instead of more granular data, even when the more granular data is actionable.  For us, the word “average performance number” is a huge red flag.  Audience segmentation is at the heart of gaining efficiency in digital campaign optimization, but this type of Portfolio approach goes in the opposite direction. This can lead to a very dangerous effect: subsidized performance.  Subsidized performance is when a poorly performing audience is masked by a strongly performing audience through the use of an average performance number.  Want to make your non-branded campaigns look good?  Fold their performance in with your branded campaigns.  Want to make PPC look good?  Fold in the organic performance (and sales) numbers.  Subsidized performance lurks everywhere, and it is important to be able to pick apart the average value to improve performance.

So, is Portfolio a bad approach?  Our take is that one should proceed with caution.  We work at the level of actionable data, which means that what we might call a Portfolio will change depending on how we are using the data, so we don’t tend to describe our approach as Portfolio. Since many Portfolio campaign structures (in bid management tools, for example) tend not to be picked apart for optimization purposes, and what constitutes a individual portfolio cam be very subjective, we’re wary of canned approaches described as Portfolio.  A more fluid approach that works at the level of actionable data will be far more useful in avoiding subsidized performance and finding true gains in profitability.

Soren Ryherd to Speak at SMX West 2015 – Conversion Tactics for SEM

Working Plant Co-Founder, Soren Ryherd, will be speaking at SMX West in San Diego on March 4th! As part of an exciting panel on Conversion Tactics for SEM, Soren will be focused on how embracing the complexity of user behavior can help in your conversion improvement tests. Soren will be introducing the concept of the “Interruption Curve” and what that means for the proper analysis and testing of your digital campaigns.

Soren will be joined on the panel by conversion guru, Tim Ash, as well as by Luke Alley and Matt Van Wagner. Catch up with him after the panel to chat and ask questions!

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!

ROI and other Dangerous Metrics

Recently, I answered this question on Quora: “If the cost of PPC is £10, what is the ROI?”

A simple question, right?  But assessing ROI for PPC campaigns has hidden dangers, so I used the opportunity to not just answer the ROI definition question, but to point out some common misconceptions in optimizing to a pure ROI metric.  Here’s how that went:

ROI (Return on Investment) has a specific definition, but is often used fairly loosely to mean the profitability of a company or program.


ROI = (Revenues – Costs) / Costs

So, If you made £20 from your £10 investment in PPC, your ROI would be:

(20 – 10) / 10 = 1, or 100% ROI

This differs a bit from Return On Ad Spend (ROAS) which is a commonly used metric:

ROAS = Revenues / Ad Spend

For the same example: ROAS = 20/10 = 2

ROI is usually expressed as a percentage, and ROAS as a number. Note that an ROAS under 1 is unprofitable, while any positive ROI number indicates profitability.

Now, since you asked about PPC specifically, let me point out the DANGER in both of these calculations. So here is a question:

“Which is better, 100% ROI or 200% ROI? What about an ROAS of 2 or an ROAS of 4?”

Like most people, you are probably going to say “Well, Soren, that’s a dumb question, of course the higher number is better in both cases”.

And you would be right, as long as the cost number is equal in both cases.

The big danger with ROAS and ROI is that they are often used to compare situations that are not apples-to-apples with regard to cost. Volume is completely missing in these equations.

In PPC, optimizing to ROI as a percentage can put you out of business. Don’t believe me?

Here’s another question. “Do you want profit of $1,000,000.00 at 100% ROI or profit of $100.00 at 400% ROI?” No brainer. I want the $1M profit regardless of ROI.

The real goal is the total amount of profit, not ROI.

Unfortunately, this important point is lost on many CEOs, CMOs, and, surprisingly, CFOs when speaking to their marketing teams or partners. ROI can be a good measure of efficiency when used appropriately, but it is not the goal.