SMX West – Day Three Recap

Mindstream Media Group’s Allison Eckberg, Heather Ottenhausen and Stephanie Cheek are at Search Marketing Expo (SMX) West, a leading conference for search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing professionals (SEM) since 2007. Mindstream’s search pros will be providing their analysis of each day’s most interesting sessions. Their recap of Day Three is below. For more coverage, check out the recaps from Day One and Day Two.

Session: Focusing on the negative: Rolling out a negative audience strategy


Michelle Morgan | Director of Client Services | Clix Marketing

Recap by:

Allison Eckberg | SEM Specialist | Mindstream Media Group

Mindstream Media Group focuses on helping national brands connect with relevant consumers. Sometimes, this means helping them avoid connecting with the wrong audiences, which is exactly what this session was all about. Allison Eckberg offers her analysis on how brands can reach target audiences by focusing on the negative.

When creating search marketing campaigns, the goal is to reach the target audience for your client’s product or service. However, there are many groups of people you do not want to reach. This is where applying negative audience strategies come into play.

The main objective of using negative audiences is to shape your target audience by removing unwanted groups. Here are four major reasons you might want to remove certain audience groups:

  1. You already know the customer. This can be alleviated with conversion rules – which tag users with platform pixels, and customer lists – which are created by uploading your CRM database.
  2. The audience group has poor engagement with the brand’s product or service. For example, their average time on the website is less than five seconds or they fell off of the conversion action. These audiences can be excluded within AdWords or Facebook platforms.
  3. The audience is not a fit for the company. If you know your target audience, you probably also know your unwanted targets too. This is extremely important because if you’re targeting too wide of an audience, it can lead to wasted ad spending.
  4. The audience patterns don’t match those of your target audience. Ways to avoid this include creating positive and negative audiences and reviewing the insights between the two. For example, if your brand sells luxury products and goods, it would be beneficial to exclude consumers with value-oriented shopping patterns.

As I mentioned above, removing unwanted targets helps shape target audiences. There are a few reasons why this is important for marketers:

  • To match messages to appropriate consumers.
  • To maximize the effectiveness of the targeting strategy.
  • To make campaign management and optimization more efficient.
  • To control message frequency.

To further shape your audience, it’s important to implement audience layering tactics. This method involves putting audiences in the order of importance to your campaigns and then implementing exclusions down the hierarchy. This ensures you’re not over-saturating customers with your marketing message while also maximizing reach to all of the potential audience members you want to target.

By examining and implementing negative audience strategies, we are able to refine our target audience for marketing campaigns. Shaping your audience allows for more accurate targeting within marketing campaigns which will lead to more relevant leads and increased ROI.

Session: AMA with Google Search


Gary Illyes | Webmaster Trends Analyst | Google

Mariya Moeva | Webmaster Trends Analyst | Google

Recap by:

Heather Ottenhausen | Team Leader, Local Solutions | Mindstream Media Group

We weren’t sure what would come out of this AMA with the typically secretive Google Webmaster team, but Heather Ottenhausen and the rest of the crowd were able to get some information from Google’s Webmaster Trends Analysts about their new algorithm update.

In the “ask me anything” session with Google today, Gary Illyes and Mariya Moeva answered as many questions and validated as many assumptions as they could without revealing super-top-secret Google details.

One of the biggest subjects for all Google sessions throughout this three-day expo was Fred – Google’s most recent algorithm update, which until now has been suspected by industry pros, but not actually confirmed by the company. Illyes confirmed there was an update but was not able to release any details. The only minute detail he offered was that “answers can be found in the webmaster guidelines.” Luckily, Barry Schwartz from Search Engine Land was in the audience, and after a little badgering, the audience was able to make the assumption that Fred targeted low-value content that focused on revenue generation techniques.

Although Illyes was pretty tight-lipped each time a question came up about Fred, he did release information about other pressing questions in the SEO industry:

  • Is there really only page authority and not domain authority? Yes, Illyes confirmed that Google doesn’t have a ranking factor for domain authority. Most of the signals are not sitewide and because Google typically tries to be as granular as possible, they don’t generally rank whole sites. They tend to focus on individual URLs and stand alone signals that are related to a specific URL.
  • Does duplicate content penalize a website? No, there’s no penalty for duplicate content, but you should avoid duplicate content because it dilutes ranking signals.
  • Will responsive sites work for the mobile-first index? Yes, Illyes again confirmed that responsive sites will work fine for Google’s mobile-first index.
  • Is the length of content on a page a ranking factor? No, as long as the content is relevant, there is not a required amount of content that has to be on a page. (I found this particularly interesting because Local SEO guide’s study from SMX Day One found that the number of words on a page is a local ranking factor.)

Unfortunately, to my dismay, neither Google rep could answer any questions that came up about local search.

Session: AdWords Scripts: Friendly robots


Kristoffer Belau | Director, Digital Marketing | Firewood Marketing

Recap by:

Stephanie Cheek | Paid Search Manager | Mindstream Media Group

Many marketing efforts rely on automation to maximize efficiency and Google ad campaigns are no different. Stephanie Cheek takes a look at how using “friendly robots” can make life easier for anyone managing AdWords campaigns.

There were several really informative sessions on Day Three about Google AdWords Scripts and how they can help advertisers save time and money by automating various processes. In the beginning of the session, the audience was asked to give a show of hands if they were currently using Adwords Scripts – only a small portion of the audience raised their hands. With a feature that could help make an advertiser’s job much easier, why were only a few advertiser’s using it? Perhaps the fear that they lack the technical expertise?

Kristoffer Belau went into more detail about some of the different scripts he is using to help manage his accounts. His presentation was encouraging, as he emphasized the fact that you don’t need to be a developer to implement Adwords Scripts. He explained that he is currently using a variety of scripts (which he refers to as his “Friendly Robots”), despite having “ZERO technical background.”

Kristoffer “called in the Robots” to help him with various tasks, including:

  • Ad testing
  • Ad reporting
  • Negative keyword discovery
  • Keyword mining
  • Match type sculpting
  • Bidding
  • Budgeting
  • Performance alerts
  • Global domain blacklist
  • YouTube brand protection
  • Google Display Network (GDN) domain optimization
  • Landing page outage
  • Monitoring
  • Report automation
  • Offline conversion import

By using scripts, Kristoffer estimates that he is saving an average of 10-15 hours of crawling through spreadsheets or doing repetitive tasks each week. Perhaps more importantly, he shared that he has seen 15-30 percent lower cost-per-acquisition (CPA) results on accounts thanks to more efficient campaign optimizations and increased data availability.

Kristoffer describes setting up scripts with a Lego analogy:

Source: Kristoffer Belau, SMX presentation, “AdWords Scripts: Friendly Robots”

While many in today’s audience may not quite feel ready to use Adwords Scripts as extensively as Kristoffer just yet, he was very encouraging and made a great case as to why we should all start diving in!

SMX West – Day Two Recap

Mindstream Media Group’s Allison Eckberg, Heather Ottenhausen and Stephanie Cheek are at Search Marketing Expo (SMX) West, a leading conference for search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing professionals (SEM) since 2007. Mindstream’s search pros will be providing their analysis of the day’s most interesting sessions. Their recap of Day Two is below. For more coverage, check out our SMX Day One Recap and SMX Day Three Recap.

Special Flash Session: Changes To AdWords exact match


Ginny Marvin | Contributing Editor | Marketing Land

Matt Van Wagner | President | Find Me Faster

Recap by:

Stephanie Cheek | Paid Search Manager | Mindstream Media Group

SMX Day Two kicked off with a panel discussion on a Google update so earth-shattering it warranted a “special flash session.” Mindstream’s Stephanie Cheek was there and provided her analysis of what the update means for exact match keywords.

Google made a huge announcement last week: The exact match setting in AdWords is going through a significant change. Exact match is going to transition from a syntactic match type (matching the search word for word) to a semantic match type (matching the meaning or purpose of the search). Advertisers are going to have to retrain themselves in how they think about and use exact match.

After this announcement, SMX added a “special flash session” to the Day Two agenda to have an open discussion about the potential impact of the change and what advertisers can do to prepare.

So, what kind of change should advertisers expect related to exact match keywords over the next few months?
  • Close variant matching will expand to include rewording and reordering:
  • Function words – prepositions (e.g., “in” and “to”), conjunctions (e.g., “for” and “but”) and articles (e.g., “a” and “the”) – will be ignored:

Google is “selling” these changes as a time saver to advertisers – making it so they won’t have to build out exhaustive keyword lists to reach their customers. The company has reported that early tests show that advertisers may see up to a 3 percent increase on exact-match clicks with comparable click-thru and conversion rates.

Google explained that they will only match to rewording if it doesn’t change the intent of the keyword, but there’s concern that this would mean Google’s machine learning is solely responsible for discerning the intent of an advertiser’s keywords. “San Diego to San Francisco Flights” has a completely different meaning than “San Francisco to San Diego Flights” – if Google gets this wrong, advertisers will pay the price. Many advertisers attending the session expressed concern with relinquishing the tight control they have been accustomed to with exact match.

Google plans to roll these changes out over the next couple of months in English and Spanish, and to other languages throughout 2017.

Here’s what can advertisers do to prepare:
  • Monitor your search query reports closely.
  • Take a closer look at your most popular exact match keywords. Examine them to see if changing the order of the words also changes the meaning. If you uncover cases where it does, add those as negative keywords.
  • Review your search query reports to see what close variants have been triggering your ads. If you find that the variations currently triggering your ads will be affected, add them as negative keywords.
  • Consider using phrase match in cases where syntactic matching is necessary to preserve the meaning of the keyword.

Session: Survive and thrive with SMB PPC


Kirk Williams | Owner and Minion | Zato

Recap by:

Allison Eckberg | SEM Specialist | Mindstream Media Group

Moving from a new paid search challenge to one as old as AdWords itself, Allison Eckberg reviews what it takes to run a successful campaign on a tight budget.

When working with small or medium-size businesses (SMBs), it can be difficult to run a successful pay-per-click (PPC) campaign. The biggest challenge facing SMBs is typically their very limited budget, often less than $2,500 per month. Since you can’t just throw money at it, like you might be able to with a large corporate campaign, you’ll need to rely on hard work and skill to manage SMB campaigns effectively. Here are four tips to help you excel at running SMB PPC campaigns.

SMB PPC Tip No. 1: Set everything up well from the beginning

“The slower the getaway car, the more important a good head-start (is).” – Kirk Williams, Zato

Setting your campaign up for success requires a well thought out and organized foundation. As the session’s presenter, Kirk Williams of Zato, put it: “The slower the getaway car, the more important a good head-start (is).” One suggestion for setting up SMB campaign structure is to segment campaigns by match type to push spend towards the keywords and match types that are driving the best performance. This allows you to have more control over a very limited budget and, in turn, spend your budget more effectively. (When naming your campaigns, it’s also good to use naming conventions that will avoid confusion in the future.)

SMB PPC Tip No. 2: Always be conscious of your budget

It’s always important to keep tight control over campaign spend, but it’s even more so with smaller budgets. Williams provided a few strategies for managing smaller SMB budgets:

  1. Use an SMB automated budget rule strategy – assign campaign labels and pause poorer performing campaigns throughout the month. You can then apply an automated rule to find your designated labels, and push campaigns live at the beginning of a new month.
  2. Turn shared budgets into an SMB win – this will allow you to keep your most important campaigns separate and split budgets amongst your remaining campaigns.

SMB PPC Tip 3: Focus on targeting

Thanks to a more centralized audience, SMBs typically have a significant advantage over their larger competitors in terms of precision targeting. SMBs have plenty of options to optimize their campaigns – keywords, geo-targeting, re-targeting, etc. – to reach specific target audiences.

SMB PPC Tip 4: Provide relevant reporting

Instead of putting time and effort into low budget, weekly reporting, focus more on beneficial monthly or quarterly reporting.

It’s important to provide and review as much relevant data about PPC campaigns as possible while avoiding wasting time evaluating unnecessary metrics.

Here are some additional reporting tips from Williams:

  1. Avoid pointless metrics – it’s important to not waste their time with metrics that are not as crucial to their PPC campaign. Instead, focus on the main goal, or KPIs, of each campaign and how the campaign is meeting, or working towards, that goal.
  2. Don’t over-report – instead of putting time and effort into low budget, weekly reporting, focus more on beneficial monthly or quarterly reporting. This a larger dataset to review, compared to the small amount of information provided by weekly reporting.
  3. Make it pretty – nobody wants to sit down and review a bunch of pages of excel reporting. Instead, focus on providing a visually appealing summary of performance data that can be reviewed in a timely manner.

While it can be challenging, SMB PPC campaigns can be extremely successful even when working with limited budgets. If we set up our campaigns the right way, target audience accurately and budget intelligently, we can pull off SMB campaigns that are just as successful, or more so, than PPC campaigns from even the largest of companies.

Session: SEO for Google’s mobile-first index and mobile-friendly world


Eric Enge | CEO | Stone Temple Consulting

Gary Illyes | Webmaster Trends Analyst | Google

Leslie To | Senior Director of SEO | 3Q Digital

Recap by:

Heather Ottenhausen | Team Leader, Local Solutions | Mindstream Media Group

Google announced its mobile-first ranking index months ago and it seems like it’s inching closer to go fully live. Heather Ottenhausen attended a session with Google’s Gary Illyes to find out what brands need to do to make sure their websites are ready. 

In November 2016, Google announced that it started testing its mobile-first index, which looks at the mobile version of your website for ranking signals to determine the site’s position in search results.

On Day 2 of SMX, Google Webmaster Trends Analyst Gary Illyes let us know that “2017 will be an interesting year” thanks to the mobile-first index launch, but urged the crowd not to “freak out.” Illyes said the mobile-first index is still in the experimental phase and, while the company isn’t sure when it’ll be 100 percent ready, he assured the SMX crowd that the launch is probably still months away.

Here’s a list of tips from Illyes to help webmasters get ready for a mobile-first world:

  • Copy over content that you want to rank for from your desktop version to the mobile version.
  • Take your time on implementation so that it’s done right.
  • Follow the advice of SEO industry experts.
  • Implement structured data.
  • If you have a mobile responsive site, you should be good to go.
  • And, again, don’t freak out!

Although it is tougher for Illyes to release details about the mobile-first index, Leslie To from 3Q Digital presented some dos and don’ts of mobile, regardless of configuration:

SMX West – Day One Recap

Mindstream Media Group’s Allison Eckberg, Heather Ottenhausen and Stephanie Cheek are at Search Marketing Expo (SMX) West, a leading conference for search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing professionals (SEM) since 2007. Mindstream’s search pros will be providing their analysis of each day’s most interesting sessions. Here’s their recap of Day One.

Session: The definitive guide to local search ranking factors


Dan Leibson | Vice President of Local & Product | Local SEO Guide

Andrew Shotland | President | Local SEO Guide

Recap by:

Heather Ottenhausen | Team Leader, Local Solutions | Mindstream Media Group

Mindstream’s local search lead, Heather Ottenhausen, dissects a study from Local SEO Guide to help brands determine which elements are the most important for ranking well in local search results. 

The session focused on a study from Local SEO Guide that tried to determine the most important factors in local map rankings. The study looked at 35,000 businesses and about 100 variables, using PlacesScout to track rankings and working with the University of California–Irvine to help analyze the data.

The study found the following elements have a strong correlation with local pack rankings:

  • Google My Business (GMB) authority – determined by a number of factors including the number and quality of reviews on the listing; whether target keywords were included in the business name, and if the listing had photos of the business (Andrew hinted at updating photos regularly can help increase local rankings).
  • Website factors – the number of keywords and images on the GMB landing page, not content or quality, just the number of words and images.
  • Backlinks – the number/percent of backlinks with the city in the anchor text and the number/percent of backlinks with the keyword in the anchor text.
  • Citations – surprisingly, the least significant variable was citations (mentions of a business’ information on the web) based on ordinal position; eluding that citations may not be as important as we once thought.

You may ask “what does this all mean?” According to Shotland, it means the organic search algorithm is stronger than the local algorithm. He suspects that organic factors are trumping local ones because Google has dedicated a greater investment in the organic algorithm. This means that SEO factors with the most impact on search rankings will be the ones associated with organic authority – i.e., on-site elements like optimized webpages and backlinks.

Source: Dan Leibson, SMX presentation, “The Definitive Guide to Local Search Ranking Factors”

According to Liebson, and contrary to a prominent 2015 ranking study from Moz, it’s not all about proximity – relevance and prominence are still important. The search results above appear to be showing the closest pet stores, but a closer look reveals otherwise. If you reference the screenshot, the green dot was Liebson when he conducted the search, and the pink arrows are pet stores that are closer in proximity to his physical location, but they are not appearing in the search results. This study further proves that traditional SEO, relevance and prominence all play a major role in local search ranking.

So, based on Local SEO Guide’s findings, if you’re looking to prioritize items to boost local SEO rankings, choose website and backlink work – they’ll help your brand’s rankings in both local map pack and organic results.

Session: ETAs: Evolved text ads


Mark Irvine | Sr. Data Scientist | Wordstream

Recap by:

Allison Eckberg | SEM Specialist | Mindstream Media Group

Shifting from local search results to paid ads, SEM Specialist Allison Eckberg provides her insights into the importance of writing more conversational ad copy to match the way consumers search.

With the rollout of expanded text ads, marketers have had to update their ad copy strategies. We’ve been so accustomed to writing in a standard text era, that we now need improved tactics for writing ads in this new age of more conversational search.

In the past few years, the way people search has evolved. Today’s searchers are more likely to enter specific questions, rather than generic keywords, which has led them to use longer and more conversational search terms. The future of search marketing is trending towards more natural language and the way we write ad copy should reflect this trend.

Source: Mark Irvine, SMX presentation, “ETAs: Evolved Text Ads”

It’s crucial for us as marketers to focus our writing efforts on more than just “keyword stuffing” ad copy. In fact, keyword relevance is the least important factor of quality score for ads. Having high-quality ad copy and a relevant landing page experience is four times more important than merely having relevant keywords in your ad copy.

Components of ad quality score

Source: Mark Irvine, SMX presentation, “ETAs: Evolved Text Ads”

As marketers, we need to adjust our frame of reference to write expanded text ads relevant to our clients and their customers. When writing ads, you have to consider how your audience is searching – and in today’s world it’s in a very conversational manner. The most common words in paid search ads are a brand’s keywords, which are typically nouns related to the business.

However, the most frequent words used in searches are not keywords – they’re prepositions, articles and conjunctions. Marketers need to embrace this search behavior and focus on more than just keywords when writing ad copy. Try including powerful pronouns in your ad copy. This will help personalize your ads and allow the copy to speak more directly to the target audience.

Three Most Powerful Pronouns for Ads
  1. Him/Her
  2. You
  3. We

Session: Speak to your audience in their own words


Brad Geddes | Co-Founder | AdAlysis

Recap by:

Stephanie Cheek | Paid Search Manager | Mindstream Media Group

Continuing on the topic from Allison’s recap, Mindstream’s Paid Search Manager, Stephanie Cheek, examines how we can take conversational ad copy a step further by writing copy that speaks to the specific way different consumers communicate.

With the release of demographic targeting on Google search, advertisers need to change the way they think about writing ads. We are accustomed to writing general ads that attempt to speak to everyone. Ultimately, these ads end up not really speaking to anyone.

Being successful in any advertising campaign is all about reaching the right consumer at the right time. With the ability to target by age and gender demographics, not only can we reach consumers at their moment of intent, but we can truly speak to them. This is a powerful combination.

To do this effectively, marketers need to understand there are differences in the way that individual demographics communicate. For example, there’s a big difference in how an average 18-year-old talks versus how an average 60-year-old talks. Advertisers need to start writing ads in the language of their target audience to compel them to click.

A good way to visualize this is by looking at the difference in communication styles between genders. A study on words and phrase correlation analyzed Facebook messages from 75,000 volunteers and highlighted some of the biggest differences in the way women and men tend to speak.

  • Women talked about brands, while men talked about objects
  • Women used emotional words, while men used more action-oriented phrases
  • Women focus on how something makes you feel, while men focus more on what it can be used for
  • When talking about significant others, women use “her” or “amazing,” while men use possessive terms like “my”
  • Women were more encompassing and softer, while men swore more and used more direct language

Source: Brad Geddes, SMX presentation, “Speak To Your Audience In their Own Words”

When writing ads, it’s important to remember who the target audience is and make sure we “speak” to them. Getting away from generic ads that we’ve become accustomed to and writing ads that speak to our target audience can make all the difference in your results.

Want more? Check out our recap of Day Two and Day Three.