The In Search SEO Podcast
The In Search SEO Podcast ‘Tip Share’ of the Week!
With Google Ads automation being as complex as it is, what is important to be careful of when using automation in your ad campaigns?
Summary of Episode 24: The In Search SEO Podcast
- What should you automate in your Google Ads campaigns? What shouldn’t you?
- What automation works best for what
- Where is the future of Google Ads automation heading!
Plus, we talk about the long term impact of Featured Snippets on your site’s traffic.
The Future of Featured Snippets [1:31 – 8:58]
Recently, Mordy published an article on Search Engine Land all about why he thinks Featured Snippets are not going to be as big of a win going forward. While we won’t rehash the article, Mordy wanted to take the opportunity to clarify a few things.
In a nutshell, Mordy’s thinking is that Google has already shown us that they want to directly answer the user’s query within the Featured Snippet. That’s why we have all sorts of Featured Snippet formats that range from headers in the snippets to complete lists without a “more items button.” All such formats leave the user satisfied and without the need to click on the URL (to an extent). At the same time, Google is getting better at targeting what a user wants and its method of indexation is getting more refined. The advent of Fraggles (the process of indexing small snippets) being the best example.
For these reasons, Mordy can only conclude that as time goes on Google will get better and more creative with answering a user’s query directly within the Featured Snippet (i.e., the Featured Snippet content is going to get slimmer and slimmer).
To clarify, Mordy is not saying that Featured Snippets are not and will not be a significant win. Rather, he’s merely pointing out a trend and taking this trend to its most logical conclusion… less folks will click on the URL inside the Featured Snippet as time goes on.
However, anything that appears at the top of the SERP will get clicks… thus… the Featured Snippet, to paraphrase Spock from Star Trek, “have and always shall be… your friend.”
In other words, there are all sorts of users… some, despite the nature of the snippet going forward, are more likely to click than others. Of course, this all depends on the nature of the snippet at hand.
Let’s take an example used in the article. You search for fish with the most mercury and you get a list of fish. Now, here, at least when Mordy did it, he got a list within a Featured Snippet that seemed to be “absolute” or complete. Meaning, Google usually has a little link at the bottom of its Featured Snippet lists that says ‘More Items’. Meaning, if you want the whole list you NEED to click. Here, there was no such link. As such, if you just wanted to know the top 10 fish with the most Mercury you wouldn’t NEED to click.
Thus, the evolving formats of snippets preclude clicks… to an extent!
It really all depends on the user. Moz, for example, recently put out a study showing that younger users tend to click less on Featured Snippets. You can see that the evolution of the format is going along the way of younger users who don’t want to click on things but rather want to see things directly.
So in this case, a user who simply wants to know some fish with high levels of Mercury will not click, all things being equal. They know the fish and they have no indication (via a ‘More Items’ link) that they are missing any information.
Does that mean that someone who wants to get a little bit deeper into the topic won’t click? No. Does that mean someone very worried about Mercury in fish won’t click to get the full scoop… probably not!
As Izzie Smith pointed out so well on Twitter in response to the article, as it stands now, users more interested in surface info will tend not to click with the evolving formats seen within Featured Snippets.
Featured Snippets are a BIG win, but are not in the way the once were. Mordy firmly believes they will continue to lose their traffic power going forward (to a degree) as Google continues to evolve along its current trajectory. In other words, Featured Snippet URLs are less click-worthy to certain user demographics.
How to Navigate Google Ads Automation: A Conversation with Zack Bedingfield [8:58 – 33:02]
Mordy: It’s time for another deep dive into the world of SEO and SEM as the In Search SEO podcast welcomes CallRail’s Search Engine Marketing Manager… the great Zack Bedingfield! Welcome!
Zack: Thank you! This is actually my first podcast so I’m really excited.
M: I saw you’re a big VR person and as someone who has not played a video game in a good 15 years what should I be looking to try in the world of VR?
Z: So it really depends on your interests. You can do intro games like shooting games of that sort. You can try a social space in which you interact with a bunch of people. Or, if you’re into art, you can try Oculus Medium which allows you to sculpt things and that’s being used by professional 3D animators. And there’s also a bunch of art programs you can mess around with.
M: Wow. I would love to try that.
Let’s get into search engine marketing, ad bidding, ad automation, and all that sort of stuff. In the summer of 2018 Google added a lot by way of automated options available within Google Ads. Can you sort of catch us up and let us know what’s been going on?
Z: Yeah, so you can say they added on some things and continued to automate on existing automation text making it better. One of the big things they added was Responsive Search Ads. It’s still in beta now. What it does is allow Google to take a bunch of different headlines and description lines that you wrote and iterate them and test them through variations to find which variations performed the best. That way you don’t have to continuously write new ads all the time.
I think this is a big win. A lot of us in the industry don’t necessarily see these ads outperforming some of our older ads but I only expect it to get better over time.
The other big thing is people getting on the automation bidding bandwagon. So enhanced bidding has existed for quite some time including things like enhanced CPC and targeted CPA and for a long time professionals didn’t trust Google to do this. Setting individual bids and bid adjustments based on location and demographics. But these strategies have gotten a lot better.
I was at a conference in Dallas about six months ago and someone was constantly testing, in all of his accounts, ‘target CPA’ and he’s starting to see it win.
What we saw is that Google continuously iterates on existing things and continues to add new ones. They finally got to a point where I can advocate for everyone to test a lot of these and you’re going to see that the tech is smart enough to win some of the time.
M: That’s really interesting stuff. When do you or don’t you recommend allowing Google to set up automated bids, putting aside time constraints? Are certain options better than others? To harp on your point of automated bidding, you mentioned target CPA which seems to make a whole lot of sense since the entire point is to generate as many conversions as possible within a certain cost per conversion.
Something like maximizing for clicks seems, to me, to be a risky venture. For that you have to know exactly what your situation is, what the environment is, etc… or you run the risk of paying for clicks that don’t lead to conversions. When does something like that make sense?
The same for impressions… which to me is a vanity metric in many ways.
Where does automated bidding work, where does it not work depending on the target bidding?
Z: It’s going to depend on the vertical you’re in. If you have a bunch of conversion events set up then target CPA can be a bit tricky. Essentially you’re only allowed to set a flat target cost per action/acquisition per campaign. So if you have five or six conversion actions that all convert profitably at different levels then it can get a bit complicated. A lot of the time you can take a lower average and use that for your account. Again, 2019 is the year where there will be a lot of testing to see if these algorithms will win. Google has so much data they can extrapolate to make its algorithm even better. But out of the bidding of strategies, target CPA is what I believe is a very good one.
Enhanced CPC used to be a thorn on the side for a lot of PPC people. It allows Google to bid up or down for individual auctions if it thinks conversions are more likely to take place. So I still run enhanced CPC on a lot of campaigns, but I think the days of manual bidding are pretty much over.
Maximizing clicks is worth testing. If you’re targeting high intent, low funnel terms should theoretically be beneficial.
What I advocate for is to continue to test all of these strategies and build out an experiment and run it for two months with 25-50% of your traffic going to one of the other business strategies and monitor it and see which one wins. Constantly test and I think you’ll see some wins.
M: That does make a lot of sense. Do you really think the days of manual bidding are gone? At every level?
Z: I think so. I’m not bidding on a mass scale with something like Kenshoo as I’m just running the CallRail account. But big agencies are using software to automate and bid at mass scale so I think the days of looking and bidding on individual keywords are long gone. I mean, maybe we’re smarter than some of the robots now, but come on, the robots are going to be smarter than us eventually.
M: Let’s jump down to local for a minute. So Google has created Smart Campaigns where it will automatically select the landing page tied to the ad for local businesses. Is that still in beta? Does this appear to be effective?
Z: Yeah, it has come out. Smart campaigns are the new iteration of what was Adwords Express, which was kind of like the Adwords Lite for the people who didn’t want to get into the complexity of a true Adwords account. Google has historically had a tough time getting into the SMB space where people aren’t spending that much money and don’t want to deal with the complexity of running their own account. Adwords Express, unfortunately, did poorly. Smart Campaigns are their new iteration on Adwords Express. From what I’ve seen it didn’t really improve as it should. I don’t really delve in those campaigns as I run full campaigns all the time. But conceptually it makes sense, let’s get this advertising in front of people who are willing to spend $500 a month which is never a good idea for them to go with an agency. In some instances, yes they’re using a landing page, but I think Google’s fine with them staying on the SERP. I know this is a problem with SEO as well with Knowledge Cards not getting people to your page most often. You might be optimizing your content but then they’re just living on the SERP as all their answers are already available. Even if the users get all their information from the Google My Business listing then Google is still winning as they’re serving the core customer base of searches.
So Smart Campaigns are going to fit the niche they’re trying to fit but if it’s anything like Adwords Express it’s still going to be a little odd. I get where Google’s coming from as they will continue to iterate until they can get into that space better because running a full-blown Adwords campaign for $250 a month is never going to be too pleasant.
M: Since we’re talking about local, what are some specific considerations local businesses should think about when further automating their PPC efforts?
Z: What they have to consider is pretty similar to anyone working on a national or even international scale. Running things like automated search ads and automated bidding are still going to be their plays when it comes to improving account performance based on algorithms that Google has developed.
What they’re going to end up doing is having a lot more campaigns and a lot tinier campaigns when they’re running individual areas with location-based keywords. And I think their algorithms are going to be beneficial for these local people as they’re going to have a lot more local signals.
For my campaigns, for example, I’m running internationally to try to sell call tracking attribution software and the types of local signals are almost non-existent.
I think if we’re dealing with a local area you might see demographic trends, household income trends, in which case if you have all of these set as observation audiences in your campaigns the algorithm will take that performance into account and adjust bids accordingly. So maybe the traffic in the afternoon in one part of the city is bad and search volume is down. That’s something you may not see if you were looking yourself but the algorithm will see it and make the necessary adjustments you wouldn’t have made otherwise.
M: Where do you think things are heading with automation within the PPC world? Are we going to see more automated options spring up to help you generate ad copy, avoid appearing for certain keywords, etc.?
Z: Yeah, I think it’s going to continue to move towards automation. I’m a big believer in technology where the intention is to serve up the best ad that matches the user’s interest. I think Responsive Search Ads will get better. Right now they allow you to put in a bunch of headlines and description lines, but they don’t allow you to break different call-to-actions or different URLs. But I think in the future you can put in a bunch of call-to-actions and landing pages for one ad. And with that comes a level of complexity but at the same time a level of simplicity.
M: In general, what do you think works well when it comes to Google taking over the ad process? For example, ad targeting seems to be something that is better done via automation.
Z: I’d say actually that ad targeting works worse with automation. And that’s good for us as digital marketers as it’s our human element that can suss out intent. I think eventually the computers will be able to do it better, but as it stands now ad targeting is the thing that humans do better.
Automation-wise, some scripts are super valuable. You mentioned preventing ads from showing in searches, i.e., negative keywords. There are currently scripts that will auto-crawl your account and pull out negatives based off historical lack of conversions. I would imagine that in the future that will be a built-in tool that you can turn on in Google Ads. They do flag keywords and you can manually add these potentially negative keywords to your account that way, but I feel it will be more integrated in the future.
M: What would you recommend to a newbie coming into digital advertising who is first seeing this complex weaving of automation?
Z: I would always recommend focussing on the data science piece of it. I find myself looking at spreadsheets and lots of data figures and subsequently trying to find trends and implement strategies on to the accounts based on the data. I think as ad automation and ad complexity increases we are going to be looking at larger swathes of data and making informed decisions based off that. I think the human element is still going to be relevant for a long time, but the algorithms are going to take our time away from things where computers will outperform us. So focus on the data science piece, learn how to look at data and extrapolate information. Pretty much become a smart computer yourself so you can continue to improve.
Optimize It or Disavow It
M: If you could only do one, which would you do… optimize your ad copy or create an effective bidding strategy?
Z: Can I presume I have a bidding strategy in place but it’s not optimized? Same with ad copy?
M: Yes, it’s a really bad bidding strategy or a really bad ad copy.
Z: So I think I will go with ad copy. My logic is that if your ads are so bad that your clickthrough rates could potentially be around 16-20% and they’re now sitting at 0.5%-1% then you are essentially wasting money. The same can be said for bidding strategies but the bidding strategy doesn’t matter if you can’t get people going to the site to evaluate the quality of the traffic.
M: Thank you very much, Zack. I do appreciate you coming on to the show.
Z: Thank you very much. It was my pleasure.
SEO NEWS [37:00 – 39:35]
GMB Reviews Reported Missing: Reports show that Google My Business accounts that were suspended and reinstated are not showing with their previous reviews. Meaning, the reviews are lost! This is 100% a bug and it is not some sort of unsaid penalty, as this would be unfair to the users who rely on reviews to better understand a business.
Image Boxes on the Rise: Per our SERP Features Tracker and as reported on SERoundtable and Search Engine Land – Image Boxes have surged and now show on more Page One SERPs. The same for Video Carousels on desktop. By the way, Image Boxes saw a loss a few months back and this restores them to previous levels. Actually, it takes them higher levels than seen before their decrease.
Now, the Image Box has shown us a very interesting pattern of being removed from some SERPs then being restored only to undergo another loss. So just by the trends, it would not be ludicrous to assert that Image Box display levels will fall back down again.
A New Category to GMB: Google seems to be adding a new category to business listings called POI (point of interest) establishments. The issue here is that no one really understands why the category is being applied as many of the businesses here are not really points of interest… no offense to these establishments…
Google Bug Impacts Breadcrumbs: It appears that due to a Google bug unrelated canonical URLs are being selected and as a result, irrelevant breadcrumbs are being displayed on the SERP (i.e., since the page is unrelated so to the breadcrumbs are unrelated).
SEO Send-off Question [39:35 – 41:00]
What does Google order when shopping online?
Mordy believes Google orders books online as it needs to know a lot if it’s going to be smart enough to know the answer to everything! So it needs to read books! How else would Google get all that info?
Thank you for joining us! Tune in next Tuesday for a new episode of The In Search SEO Podcast.