COVID-19 and Holiday 2020: Tips for Success

Many retailers are understandably worried about Holiday 2020 in the wake of COVID-19. As the economy worsens, are consumers going to cut back on spending? Will a second wave of the virus continue to halt in-person gatherings and therefore, holiday gift purchasing? Should holiday marketing budgets shift to account for this new environment? In the last few months, Something Digital has been fielding these questions from clients who struggle to plan for an uncertain future. As a strategic-minded agency, we always look toward the data to help us make informed decisions.

A July 2020 report from Gladly and Future Commerce found,

“While uncertainty around in-person Holiday celebrations persists, gift-giving may be more important this year than ever before: 12% of consumers say they’ve already started shopping for this year’s holiday season.”

During an August Virtual Commerce Lab that Something Digital hosted, ShipStation, Klaviyo, and Signify all predicted that this holiday season will be the highest grossing revenue period to date for most retailers.

When it comes to marketing spend, Salesforce notes,

“It’s probably no surprise that marketing budgets are shrinking in some capacity. However, digital spend will increase with a focus on performance media and marketing. Awareness media will still be important to fill the funnel, but efficiency, measurement, and attribution will be necessary as marketing spend gets further scrutiny.”

So, what does this mean for online retailers? Read on for our tips on how to approach Holiday 2020.

Plan for BFCM to Hit Early

Salesforce makes two interesting points in the aforementioned blog post:

  1. A later Amazon Prime Day (likely in October) will push consumers to begin their holiday shopping sooner.
  2. Due to restraints on delivery, gifts must be purchased earlier this year to safely ensure an on-time holiday arrival.

 

Waiting to push promos and amp up marketing initiatives until the week of Thanksgiving is definitely a mistake. In the past few years, we’ve watched the BFCM period balloon from Black Friday to Cyber Monday (four days) to a full month in some cases. In an SD blog post from 2019, Phillip Jackson pointed out that “Black Friday deals now extend throughout the entire month of November.” With an earlier Amazon Prime Day, delivery delays, and more virtual gift giving this year, it seems inevitable that holiday strategy needs to stretch over a much longer period. Ask yourself this: would you rather incentivize shoppers early or follow the same plan as last year and deal with the inevitable returns that come flooding in when gifts aren’t received on time?

Other options that retailers might consider are buy online pick up in store (if applicable) and local delivery.

Re-Evaluate Your Digital Marketing Plan

If you work with a digital agency, now is a great time to start strategizing with them on holiday 2020. What worked in the past might not work in the future; being agile and testing as much as possible is going to be extremely important this year. These are my top recommendations when it comes to digital marketing:

  • Segment your audience as much as possible – by demographic, location, status (new or returning), and device.
  • Regularly test your creative (make sure you have more assets than usual) and optimize based on results.
  • Ensure that view-through conversions are tracking and that ad platforms are using the right attribution model. If you’re still relying on last-click, now is a good time to switch to a data or position-driven model.
  • Think carefully about language. It’s safe to say that in-person holiday gatherings will be few and far between this year (especially for families who don’t live in the same city). Future Commerce and Gladly state, “Now is the time to remind consumers about the love language of gift-giving as a way to connect from afar.” Don’t harp on the depressing aspects of COVID but do remind consumers about the changes the virus has spurned this year.
  • If possible, consider spending money on personalization tools. Landing pages, banners with tailored promos, and customized upsells/cross-sells all help improve traffic return on ad spend (ROAS) for all channels, including digital marketing.

 

If your agency isn’t already talking to you about Holiday 2020, now is a good time to give them a strong nudge.

Optimize Your Conversion Rate

Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) is a great way to ensure that your website is ready for an onslaught of holiday traffic. Instead of running this initiative during the holidays, it makes sense to start now. CRO is the process of improving conversion rate by implementing strategic changes through data analysis, testing, and iteration. This is how it works:

  1. Analyze data to determine barriers to conversion
  2. Create a hypothesis based on data analysis
  3. Propose and run tests to prove hypotheses right or wrong
  4. Evaluate results and determine test success
  5. Implement permanent solutions for winning tests and use collected data to continue optimizations
  6. Measure ROI of each experiment

 

If someone told you that changing a button color or swapping out some language would have a marked improvement on conversion rate, why wouldn’t you do it? CRO allows retailers to make small changes over time that have a proven, measurable impact. Instead of wasting time on site changes that may or may not work, let data guide the way and help favorably position you for Holiday 2020 success.

If you have questions about Holiday 2020 strategy, don’t hesitate to contact us. Although it seems early, there are only 100 days to Thanksgiving, and we want to help you make the most of them.

Digital Marketing Strategy In The Time Of Coronavirus

We’re currently living in a state of scary uncertainty. The Dow has plummeted, the death toll due to COVID-19 is increasing, and many businesses have shuttered their doors for the foreseeable future. As an ecommerce digital marketer, my job during this time is to help clients maintain a sense of normalcy without making them look insensitive or unempathetic. If you’re reading this because you have the same goal, here are some tips for formulating a strategy that won’t get you called out on social media.

Be Careful With Messaging

It’s good to send an email informing customers of what you’re doing to ensure that they stay safe. It doesn’t have to be anything elaborate. Here is a nice example from Catbird, sent March 14, with the subject line, “Our stores are closing temporarily.”

First, they inform us that brick and mortar locations will be closed until March 28. This is essential information that will hopefully prevent people from leaving the house and showing up at their physical locations. Next, they reveal that retail employees will still be paid for their time. Now more than ever, many shoppers may have a hard time supporting brands that don’t take care of their employees. I’m much more inclined to make a purchase if I know that it will help a company continue to pay out-of-work employees. Finally, it gives directions for how those inclined can still shop and support the brand. The brief postscript at the end is a nice touch and fits with their brand history of supporting the local community. This email from Chewy is another good example of careful, pragmatic messaging.

Do you know what people aren’t looking for? A vague email that doesn’t provide any necessary information and is sent in the name of lukewarm solidarity. Here’s an example:

This email was sent on March 13, a day when eight people in the United States succumbed to COVID-19. During this time people are looking for factual information, not emails that are vague and don’t even contain a click to action. The message from Barnes & Noble feels incomplete and makes me think that their marketing team hit “send” too quickly by accident. It isn’t insensitive, but it certainly is unnecessary. I had no idea I was even on their email list until I received that weird email. If there’s no important information to convey, it’s silly to send out an email just because other brands are doing it. Err on the side of caution.

Review Your Automated Campaigns

Especially in the midst of a pandemic, data is your friend. If you sell items that people clearly want (like hand sanitizer or home gym equipment), sending a “back in stock” email notification is a great idea. If you sell expensive cocktail dresses that no one is looking at or purchasing, consider reviewing and pausing some of your automations (especially those spread over longer periods of time) or planned marketing pushes. If someone really wants to make a purchase, they will! Sending three abandoned cart emails pushing them to convert on a $500 dress that they haven’t looked at in a week will not give you the results you’re looking for.

Here’s an unfortunate ad that I saw on Friday:

As you might imagine, the comments on this post were not positive. I recommend reviewing all your campaigns with a fine-tooth comb and pausing anything that could be considered gauche. It’s also a good idea to regularly analyze your metrics and stop putting money into campaigns that don’t work well. If it didn’t work when the economy was flourishing, it’s probably not going to work now.

Don’t Conflate a Pandemic with a Marketing Opportunity

Whether your business is suffering or booming, absolutely do not use COVID-19 as a marketing opportunity. Here’s a list of some mistakes you should avoid:

  • Using promo codes with crisis language
  • Offering advice that you’re not qualified to give or haven’t validated with a licensed professional
  • Leveraging the current situation to frame an upcoming product launch
  • Joining off-brand conversations
  • Pushing products to help “fix” problems

 

Here’s an example of an email that I found especially frustrating:

You know what isn’t going to save the planet? $18 t-shirts. Now is not the time or the place, Everlane. Save it for later.

As a brand (or digital marketer), it’s okay to be concerned about your business. Continuing to run campaigns is understandable and necessary. At this time, I simply urge you to be as conscientious and empathetic as possible. If you have any questions or need advice on strategy, feel free to shoot us an email – we’re happy to help.

Google Shopping

Google Shopping Tips & Tricks Part 3: Bidding & Strategy

After you’ve optimized your shopping feed and configured your campaigns, it’s time to move on to bidding and strategy. This process can be easy or difficult, depending on the type of campaigns you’re running and the internal capabilities of your team. Remember that none of this is finite. If performance isn’t good or you’re struggling to utilize budget wisely, you can always pause everything and get help from an agency or try something that requires less management.

Smart Shopping

If you decide to try running a Smart Shopping campaign, you’re in luck! Almost every single facet of this campaign is automated by Google. There are only four areas where you have control:

  • Daily budget
  • Target ROAS
  • Products in the feed
  • Creative assets

 

It’s hard to advise on budget, because all merchants are unique and have different goals. Typically, I recommend allocating 30-40% of the overall paid search budget to Google Shopping as a starting point. Some merchants may spend up to 60% of their budget on shopping initiatives; it all depends on your goals and what works well during the testing phase.

Once you’ve set a budget, Google will automatically maximize your bids in order to spend the full amount. After running your campaigns for 3-4 weeks, assess your average ROAS. Let’s say that it’s hovering right around 3.6x after the fourth week. At this point, you should go back to your bid settings and configure a target ROAS goal. I typically set this slightly higher than my average return. For a 3.6x average ROAS, I would set my initial goal to 4x. After doing this, you might notice that Google no longer spends your full daily budget. If spending the entire daily budget is a priority, simply lower your target ROAS goal.

As previously mentioned in part II of this series, it is possible to run multiple Smart Shopping campaigns that contain different products, or a mix of Smart and Traditional campaigns. You don’t have to run this type of campaign for your entire product catalog. To figure out what works best, test as much as possible and be sure to document your results each week.

The final area where some control exists is with creative assets. Unlike Traditional Google Shopping, Smart Shopping shows your products in a variety of placements and allows a wider range of asset types (static images and logos, along with product images). Adding and testing different assets is always recommended.

If this type of campaign sounds a bit too basic, Traditional Google Shopping might be more your speed. The primary reason we see clients shy away from Smart Shopping is concern over ad placements. It is very possible that ads could show on off-brand websites, and since Google doesn’t provide good information about any of this, retailers would never know for sure. If brand integrity is a major concern, stick with Traditional Shopping.

Traditional Shopping

Traditional shopping is far more complex and requires significantly more planning and management. Unless you have an in-house expert or plan to work with a very small budget, SD recommends hiring an agency to take on this initiative as it can be very time-consuming.

Managing bidding and strategy for Traditional Shopping could easily be its own three-part blog series, but here is a brief overview of the most important insights I’ve learned over the years:

  • Organize campaigns by high, medium, and low priority settings. These campaigns should use different negative keyword lists and match with different types of queries:
    • High – generic queries that don’t contain your brand name.
    • Medium – queries that contain your brand name.
    • Low – queries that contain specific product names or SKU searches.
  • Utilize a mix of automated and rule-based bidding. After identifying products that don’t have a great return, SD recommends separating them and testing each automated strategy to figure out which works best – maximize clicks, enhanced CPC, and target ROAS.
  • Adjust bids based on audience type and take advantage of lookalike groups. If a user is more likely to buy something, bid up and increase visibility in order to win their business.
  • Test geo-targeted campaigns. If certain cities perform better for you, break them out into a separate campaign with a more aggressive bidding strategy.
  • Test new features. For example, showcase ads contain multiple products and often have a higher CTR. Try running these to see if they work for your business.

 

  • Take advantage of promotions, customer and store reviews, and competitive pricing/shipping. These features all increase CTR and drive customers to convert.

 

With Traditional Shopping, the best advice I can give you is to test everything, carefully document results, and slowly optimize. Success takes time and there will certainly be some pitfalls along the way. What works for another retailer may not work for you and you’ll never find out unless you try.

As always, don’t hesitate to contact us if you need assistance or have questions. Good luck!

Google Shopping

Google Shopping Tips & Tricks Part 2: Campaign Configuration

Now that we’ve covered feed management, let’s discuss campaign configurations. When formulating a strategy, it’s important to consider how much time you have to devote to the initial configuration and ongoing optimizations. While agencies might love to organize campaigns as specifically as possible, in-house marketers with smaller teams may prefer simplicity and automation. What works for someone else may not work for you, so always consider the level of effort required before making any big decisions.

Smart Shopping

Google’s Smart Shopping campaigns are for anyone who is in a bit of a time crunch, prefers to automate the heavy lifting, and wants visibility across all shopping placements (search, YouTube, display, and Gmail).

After creating a new campaign, select “sales” as your goal and make sure that your feed (which should be linked from Merchant Center) and country of origin are set. At the bottom of the screen, you will see two subtypes in the AdWords platform:

After you choose “Smart Shopping,” the remaining options are fairly minimal. All campaigns use a “maximize conversion value” bidding strategy, so it is important to set your budget realistically. If you’ve run standard shopping or display campaigns in the past, I suggest using those budgets as a guideline for Smart Shopping. When in doubt, start low and increase over time. Another available option in the “bid settings” section is to “set a target return on ad spend.” Enabling this option right away can stunt your campaign and prevent Google from spending your entire daily budget. I recommend leaving this option unchecked and revisiting it after your campaign has run for at least one month.

After you’ve completed these steps, that’s it! You could technically call it a day, start collecting data, and closely monitoring ROAS.

Product Groups

One other area where you can make optimizations for Smart Shopping is under the “product groups” tab. By default, you’ll notice an enabled group called “All products” that contains everything you’ve included in your approved product feed. If you need to exclude certain products, simply edit the group.

This is where feed custom labels become very useful. Setting these columns to title, category, and/or sku makes it easy to find and isolate specific products. If the products you need aren’t available, you may need to add a column to your feed.

Testing

If you’re already running a standard Shopping campaign without optimal results, consider testing Smart Shopping. Isolate a small group of products, exclude them from your traditional campaign, and include them in your Smart campaign. Monitor the results for at least one month and make a determination based on performance.

Sometimes it makes sense to include certain products in a Smart Shopping campaign while managing others via Traditional Shopping. I occasionally use Traditional Shopping for bestselling products and Smart Shopping for the rest of the catalog. Depending on a client’s needs and performance standards, it may make sense to adopt some combination of the two.

Traditional Shopping

Traditional shopping is more difficult to manage but gives a greater level of control over bidding and optimizations. Since it’s impossible for me to assess which strategy is best for you without reviewing historical data and revenue goals, I’m going to give a brief overview of some common configurations and when you might want to use them:

  • Single product ad groups (SPAGs) are useful for anyone who needs product-level bidding control and has serious time to devote to management. If you have thousands of skus, adopt another strategy because this one will easily suck up all of your time. Instead of separating product groups by category, price, or brand, SPAGs use product IDs. Each product ID becomes its own product group with individual bid settings.
  • Campaigns organized around shopping intent give you control over how much you bid for certain types of users. A user who is already familiar with your brand and searches for a specific product has a high intent to buy, whereas a user who searches for something generic isn’t as good of a fit. By using your campaign’s priority settings and negative keywords, you can ensure that you bid most competitively on users who are likely to purchase.
  • Setting up campaigns by price and profit margin are two other solid strategies. The higher the profit margin, the more I’m willing to spend to send potential buyers to my site. It doesn’t make sense to pay the amount per click for products with wildly different return (unless customer lifetime value proves otherwise).

 

Traditional Shopping puts you in a good position to maximize return, discover new users, and grow your business, but it only works if you have time to manage it. When in doubt, start simple, optimize over time, and if all else fails, test Smart Shopping (or give Something Digital a call ?).

Google Shopping

Google Shopping Tips & Tricks Part 1: Feed Management

If I had a nickel for every time a client asked for Google Shopping feed advice, I could quit my job and move to the Bahamas (sorry SD). For someone not used to configuring or managing these campaigns, the process can seem daunting.

If you are a mid to large merchant (2,500+ skus) on a more complex ecommerce platform, managing your own Google shopping feeds and campaigns is probably not feasible. Instead of reading this article, you should reach out to an agency like SD for assistance. If you’re a smaller merchant who handles digital marketing initiatives in-house, read on for advice on feed generation, optimization, and troubleshooting. By the end of this article, you should have a good handle on the basics and feel ready to get started.

Feed Generation

Assuming you already have Google AdWords and Merchant Center accounts, the first thing you need to do is generate a feed. There are two ways you can handle this:

  • Find an app or extension that can generate a feed for you. There are many good options available, but here are two that I have personally used and often recommend:
  • If you have a small product catalog (under 100 skus) and don’t want to pay for an extension, create a manual feed using Google sheets.
    • If you go this route, make sure you use automatic item updates to ensure that availability, stock status, and price remain accurate over time.

 

At the very least, you should configure your feed to generate each day during a time when site traffic is low. If your product catalog is large, consider splitting the process up into multiple batches to reduce server load time.

Feed Optimization

Once you have a tool to actually generate the feed, you must figure out how to configure it. This help doc gives a good overview of the information and format required by Google. These are the ‘optional’ fields I suggest including if they are applicable to your business:

  • Additional image link
  • Sale price
  • Google product category
  • Product type
  • Identifier exists
  • Product variants like material, pattern, and color

 

If you’re on Shopify, this process should be relatively straightforward. If you’re on Magento, chances are good that this is where you’ll run into the most issues. Since each site’s product catalog and infrastructure is different, it’s hard to predict exactly where you’ll run into trouble. Here are some quick tips that may help if you’re struggling:

  • Only include simple (child) products in the feed and use the item_group_id column to tie them together with the configurable (parent) id. There might be a specific instance where a retailer only wants configurable products in the feed, but this isn’t common.
  • If your products don’t have an associated gtin, mpn, or upc, you can set this column to match simple product id.
  • The attributes in Magento are the only ones available for your feed. If you’re interested in including information that isn’t available (like pattern or material), you must first add it as a Magento product attribute.
  • If you run into feed formatting issues (too many characters, letter case inconsistencies), you can probably set a rule to fix it, either via your feed extension or in Google Merchant Center.
  • If there’s information you want to include in your feed that Google’s standard columns don’t support, you can sneak it in using a custom label. I often use custom labels to differentiate bestselling products so that I can set separate bids for them.

 

If you run into any issues with feed generation (errors, lack of progress), reach out to your development team or the extension creator.

Feed Testing

Once the feed has generated, you’ll want to test it for accuracy. If you’re using Rocketweb there is a “test feed” option that allows you to input skus and quickly see whether or not they are present. This feature is good for a quick spot check, but you should also plan to save the feed as a text file, import it to excel, and do a more thorough review to ensure that all wanted products are present and information is correct.

If products that should be included are missing, take the following steps:

  • Review the product in question in your catalog. Does the information that you expect to see in the feed match up with the way you mapped your columns?
  • Check any feed rules that are currently in use. Could they be impacting this product?
  • If you’re using Rocketweb, also check the product catalog listing to make sure that it isn’t set to “skip from being submitted.”

 

Google Merchant Center

Once you’re confident that the feed is in good shape, submit it to Google Merchant Center. If there are errors, work through them, re-fetch the feed, and remember that you can always set rules to correct bulk errors. At this point, you might be thinking something like, “Wow, this is a tedious process.” If so, you are 100% correct. It can often take several rounds of testing, tweaking, and submitting before you get a feed that has all of the necessary information and adheres to the required format. Be patient, continue testing, and when in doubt, review the Google help docs or reach out to your feed provider. With a little bit of practice, you’ll be participating in Google Shopping auctions in no time.

Bidding on Branded

Bidding on Branded Search Is Not Stupid

As a digital marketer, there are a few common questions that I receive whenever I first engage with a new client. When it comes to the topic of branded paid search, the conversation typically goes something like this:

Client: Should I bid on my brand terms?
LP: Yes.
Client: But why should I pay for brand terms when I already rank #1 in organic search? Won’t customers find my site through my organic SERP listing?
LP: Maybe, but why would you take the chance?

Some clients have a difficult time moving past the idea that branded paid search is a waste of money and that as long as organic is performing well, it just isn’t worthwhile. I’m here to tell you that a) this isn’t true and b) it’s time to start thinking about branded search in a more strategic way.

To start, let’s define exactly what “bidding on brand terms” means. Contrary to what some believe, it’s more involved than simply spending money on variations of your company’s name and calling it a day. When I say “brand terms” I mean any terms that are specific to or synonymous with your company. For example, the awesome female founded company Wildfang (they’re not our client – I’m just a fan) might bid on the following brand terms:

  • Wildfang
  • Wildfang.com
  • Wild feminist shirt

 

You might think, “Hey, wait a second … ‘wild feminist shirt’ is not a brand term; however, it definitely is because it’s synonymous with the brand. Product names or product categories are included when they fall under this umbrella.

 

Now that we’re on the same page when it comes to brand terms, let’s dive into the top 5 reasons (in no particular order) why you need to bid on them.

1. If you don’t, someone else will.

The space might be free of paid ads now, but if your competitors are smart, they’ll see that you aren’t bidding on your own terms and will swoop in and take advantage. If you could prevent someone from stealing your traffic (especially potential new customers), why wouldn’t you? If competitors, resellers, or affiliates are already bidding in the space, then your involvement is an absolute no-brainer. Unless you want customers to only shop at resellers, you absolutely need to buy ads to remind them that you exist and have something better to offer.

2. Brand terms are cost-effective.

They might not exactly be cheap, but they’re definitely cheaper than the broad, non-branded terms you might use for prospecting. Also, ROAS (return on ad spend) is high, sometimes netting you as much as 10-12x back on your initial investment. If you’re a new brand with a limited amount of search volume, you will probably struggle to spend money and won’t see a crazy high return at first, but clicks and conversions will start to grow as you build the brand. In this instance, branded paid search can actually act as a barometer for the success of your other strategies. If you continue to monitor it, mine your search query reports for new terms, and optimize, you will see incremental success over time.

3. You have full control over brand message.

Sure, there are organic strategies you can employ to try to control SERPs (defined meta descriptions and page titles, structured markup), but search engines don’t always abide by your wishes. Perhaps you’re running a sale that you really want to tout in your sitelinks. The sale link might show up in SERPs, but it will definitely show up in paid search if you set it as a sitelink extension. The same message holds true for landing pages. Maybe you’ve built out a really beautiful landing page for bestselling products, but you’ve noticed that organic searches don’t always direct users to it, even when it’s relevant. If you’re running branded search ads, you have the ability to control the first thing users see when they reach your site.

4. Dominating SERPs is always good.

The more listings you have, the more likely it is that a user will reach your site. If you are running shopping ads, paid search ads, and have a high-ranking organic listing, you’re in a great position. According to Moz, “searchers who see an ad may be more likely to click on an organic listing, or they may be more likely if they see a high-ranking organic listing for the same ad to click that ad.” In other words, ad presence can increase organic search click-throughs. The good news? Google charges for clicks, not impressions.

Imagine this scenario: a user sees your paid search ad at the top of the page and is then reaffirmed that your brand is legit when they also see a top-of-page organic listing. The user then clicks the organic listing and buys something on your site. While this paid search listing impression cost you nothing, it directly impacted a user’s decision to click and buy. Why wouldn’t you want this?

5. Bidding on brand terms increases overall traffic from search engines.

Everyone will tell you that spending money on ads doesn’t directly increase organic rankings, but what about indirectly? A 2012 study from Google plainly states the facts: “89% of the clicks from search ads are incremental, i.e., 89% of the visits to the advertiser’s site from ad-clicks are not replaced by organic clicks when the search ads are paused.” In other words, those people who think that they don’t need to pay for brand terms because organic search makes up the slack are wrong. You might be skeptical of a 6-year-old study, but I can tell you that I’ve experienced this behavior firsthand as recently as last month. Whenever branded paid search ads are paused, we always see a decrease in organic search. If you don’t believe me, check out this 2018 study from CPC Strategy.

If you made it to this point and are still a skeptic, all I can suggest is that you give branded search a try. Set up a campaign and run ads with a modest budget for a few months while also monitoring your organic rankings. If you don’t see a decrease in branded organic search terms after pausing paid ads, please send me an email at lpugh@somethingdigital.com and tell me how wrong I am.

Dark Social

Dark Social: What is it and How Can You Make it Work for Your Site?

If the term “dark social” sounds ominous to you, especially in these days of massive Facebook data breaches, don’t be alarmed. It’s actually quite innocuous. Coined by Alexis Madrigal, a senior editor at The Atlantic, in his 2012 article, “Dark Social: We Have The Whole History of the Web Wrong,” dark social refers to users who share content (i.e. links) with one another via channels that can’t be tracked by Google Analytics or other web tracking platforms.

So when your mom emails you a link for a sweater she’s thinking of getting you for your birthday, she’s doing so via dark social. Ditto for your friend who texts you a link to the restaurant to meet up at.

A good bit of the traffic that shows up in your Google Analytics as “direct channel” comes from dark social, and if you’re responsible for managing the user experience on your website, you’ll need to shed some light on it ASAP. To begin, you’ve no doubt noticed that dark social represents a sizeable (and still growing) way for people to arrive on sites and to discover content. And according to RadiumOne’s research, 46% of consumers age 55 and older share via dark social exclusively.

Of course, not all of your direct channel traffic can be classified as dark social. Visitors may have a specific section of your site bookmarked, or their browsers may complete the URLs of pages they’ve previously visited. Dark social applies only to the portion of your direct channel traffic that stems from social referrals you can’t track.

There are a few ways you can get a handle on your site’s dark social channel, which is to say, get a better understanding of the user behavior of people who arrive on your site via links they’ve received from friends, families or colleagues. Keep in mind, none of these strategies are 100%, but combined they can help provide a roadmap to better engage people on your site whose origins are a complete mystery to you.

Begin by looking at your direct channel by landing page, and weed out any pages that are so specific that you can safely assume no one typed it in directly. For instance, it’s not unreasonable for a consumer to type “zappos.com/frye” into a search bar, but it’s highly unlikely they’d type in the specific URL for, Frye Ally 2 band Sling sandals, which is: https://www.zappos.com/p/frye-ally-2-band-sling-white-multi/product/9010107/color/2927.

Once you create and apply the segment, you can then begin to look at it by user type. Specifically, separate first-time visitors from returning ones, which you can do by going to Audience Type/Behavior/new vs. returning user in Google Analytics.

Of your returning customers, it’s safe to assume that 10 – 15% originated from a saved link or via a link they’ve previously visited and that their browser automatically completed. The rest should be considered dark social, and should be watched over time. To do that, either create a custom channel grouping in Google Analytics, or build out another segment to use whenever you perform a channel-based analysis.

How to make dark social work for your site

Whether you manage an ecommerce or a straight content site, it’s important for you to understand which content resonates with your visitors, and what they’re willing to share. If, for instance, you’re an ecommerce brand and you notice a sizable number dark social shares for the same landing page, then you’ll know to optimize that landing page for people who share it via dark social.

BuzzFeed has embraced dark social sharing in a big way. The site’s editors view the URL as a tool to pique interest in the articles its readers might share. At times the URL bares little resemblance to the article itself. For instance, this article:

“It’s Raining So Hard In New York City It’s Pouring Into The Subways And People Are More Miserable Than Ever”

Had this URL:

https://www.buzzfeed.com/tanyachen/where-concrete-jungle-dreams-are-made-of?utm_term=.fvZQrXPgO#.kb5P7Grdj

Another tactic is to create content that’s designed to be shared, such as the BuzzFeed story, “18 Exhaustingly Funny Tweets From Parents With A LOT Of Kids” (URL: https://www.buzzfeed.com/mikespohr/tweets-for-parents-with-a-lot-of-kids?utm_term=.erBadl6g8#.ubVoGRVLl).

If you notice that a large portion of your users share your content, use the opportunity to identify why it appeals to specific users, or to optimize it for more shares based on other behavior insights you may have about your site. At the end of the day, optimizing your site for dark social is all about discovering who your users and how you can better target to them. It’s about identifying, creating and serving your visitors with content they’ll find relevant and shareable.

If you want to learn more about dark social check out our dark social webinar or contact us.

Google Shopping

Why Aren’t Your Google Shopping Campaigns Performing as Expected? A Troubleshooting Guide

If you’re like most online retailers, your company invests a fair amount of money in Google Shopping campaigns, and for good reason: Your ad will appear in the consumer’s viewpoint at the exact moment he or she is about to make a purchase.

But what happens if, despite your investments, your campaign dollars just aren’t delivering the ROI you expected? Rather than jettison your initiatives, spend some time troubleshooting your campaigns. It will take you some time and most of all, lots of testing, but it can make the difference between okay sales and a truly banner year.

A Few Words Before We Get Started

On the face of it, launching Google Shopping campaigns seam simple enough: generate a product feed, send it to the Google Merchant Center for verification, and watch the sales come in. We wish it were that simple, but it’s not.

The truth is, Google Shopping is inherently complex. If you’ve ever Googled “Google Feed optimization” you will have discovered numerous agencies dedicated to the task. And there’s no shortage of thought-leadership articles on the best ways to configure a feed by industry sector.

But if you plough through all of those thought leadership pieces you’ll understand an important take away: There’s no one prevailing approach that works best for all retailers. There’s simply no way to get around the trial and error that’s part and parcel to successful Google Shopping campaigns.

Get a Product Feed Generation Tool

The first step to launching a Google Shopping campaign is to generate a Google Shopping Feed (aka product feed), which can be notoriously complex and rule-ridden. There are many companies that offer Magento extensions to help ease the burden, and you should use one. At Something Digital, we like this Google Shopping Feed for Magento , which, by the way, is also recommended by the Google AdWords team.

Of course, there are others fine tools, such as ChannelAdvisor, but we prefer the aforementioned shopping feed because of the way it walks you through the entire process to ensure your Google Shopping Feed is accurate and complete before you submit it to Google Merchant Center. This is critical, since the Merchant Center checks your product feed to ensure it complies with all of Google’s requirements for campaigns. And it offers a terrific integration and configuration guide.

You can (and should) opt to regenerate your product feed on a daily basis to check for product or pricing updates. If you aren’t checking it daily and it’s out of compliance, you’ll need to spend time correcting it, potentially missing sales while you do so.

Once you’ve generated a product feed, you’ll need to link it to your Google Merchant Center, which you can do via your Google AdWords account.

Your product feed is used to generate the visual and informational components of your AdWords ads, and Google Merchant Center ensures it’s configured properly, and meets all of Google’s requirements. It will also tell you if you’re missing components or data that will help your ads perform better.

Troubleshooting Google Shopping Campaigns

There are many reasons why your Google Shopping campaigns deliver poor results, but some are more common than others. Let’s look at the issues we hear about most frequently.

Setting an Optimal Bidding Strategy

High spending with poor return is one of the most common complaints we hear. Poor ROI may be due to many different factors, and troubleshooting will be required.

Begin by examining your competitors on a campaign level. You may find, for instance, that you’re competing against an Amazon Google Shopping Ad, and that competition is driving up the price. That’s why it’s important that you look at:

  • Who your competitors are
  • What their bidding strategy is
  • How much they are spending per click

 

This exercise will help you home in on your own bidding sweet spot. To find this data, go to the Details tab of the campaign from within Google AdWords. That tab offers an Option Insights section, which provides a breakdown of all the companies that compete with you for Google Shopping real estate. It also provides the impression-share percentage (the percentage of impressions that you and your competitors win).

From there you can do additional research to discover what your competitors bid for each click, but it will require additional tools that provide approximate bidding information.

What happens if you learn that deep-pocketed competitors – eBay, Amazon, Jet.com – are going head-to-head with you? You can:

  • Stop running all of your products in your Google Shopping Campaigns and focus on niche products that are unique to you.
  • Think of Google Shopping as a branding tool rather than a performance one. Of course it will lower your ROI, but it may raise awareness of your shop among consumers.

 

Product Grouping in Feed

Let’s say you’re a retailer that offers many different brands across a range of apparel items. There are many ways to group them: by brand, price and product category (clothing, shoes, accessories); which is right for you?

There’s no one answer for every retailer, which is why we recommend testing multiple configurations to see which delivers the best results. It’s entirely likely that you’ll have multiple product-specific campaigns, each using a different configuration.

For instance, you may need to compete on price for a popular style shoe, in which case, grouping these styles by price is the right strategy. Meanwhile, you may offer a wider variety of jackets than your competitors, and grouping them by category is the way to bring more shoppers to your store.

Touts & Shopping Promotions

Are your ads distinguished from your competition? Are they attracting consumers to your site?

Touts are callouts that draw attention to your ads. There are two types: promotion, such as free shipping, or consumer reviews. You can configure touts using Google Shopping Promotions Feed, but note that this is an additional step.

The Shopping Promotions Feed – like Google Shopping in general – has many rules that must be followed, and it can get rather confusing. You can’t simply offer site-wide free shipping because Google requires an offer code associated to each product There are ways to get around Google’s configuration requirements, but it’s a learning curve to figure out how to get the information you want to show up to actually show up.

Simple vs Configurable Products

This is an area where that may (or may not) make a difference in your site traffic volume. Depending on how your products are set up, you may have the option to configure your products so that your ads reflect the exact information a consumer searches on (e.g. “Joe’s Denim skinny jeans size 28”). This option is warranted if consumers typically want to ensure a site has their size prior to clicking on an ad.

Internal Competition

The final issue we see occasionally is internal competition for ad space, which occurs when a retailer has multiple sites that offer common products. Be sure to check the impression share (mentioned above) on a regular basis to ensure you’re not sabotaging your own AdWords spend.

These are steps you can take on your own. If you check for these trouble spots and still can’t improve your ROI, then we suggest you engage an expert.

If you have questions about your Google Shopping Feed let us know!

Like this blog? Check out this blog on website personalization.

A/B Testing

Why You Need to Check Your Site Analytics Daily

Ecommerce managers have a lot on their plates, and you’re probably no exception to that rule. As someone who spends my days working with ecommerce teams, I know how stretched you are, and so I’m not quick to recommend that you take on new tasks. But there is an exception to this rule: If you don’t check your site analytics daily, start doing so immediately. Trust me, this small amount of extra work can (and probably will) save you an abundance of time, sales and frustrations later on.

Daily health checks are especially important if you’re doing any sort of digital marketing, running a social media campaign, or making any kind of tweak or technical change to your site. Since there’s little change that you’re NOT doing one of those things on a continuous basis, make a review of your site analytics part of your daily routine to ensure there’s nothing amiss with any of your initiatives.

Here’s why: Let’s say you make a small change to where your email signup button or link is located. That tiny tweak may end up causing numerous problems for your visitors, resulting in fewer signups (and consequently, fewer opportunities to market to new prospects). This isn’t just theoretical; I’ve worked with clients who’ve gone a long time without realizing they were missing new email signups.

Fortunately, checking your site analytics doesn’t have to be a burden. I highly recommend to all clients setting up a custom report in your analytics program, whether that’s Google Analytics, Magento Business Intelligence or Adobe Analytics. All of these solutions will generate and email the reports to you automatically, so you don’t even need to sign in to your analytics console.

Types of Analytics to Check

Obviously, the metrics included in your report should be those that are most important to your brand. That said, I do recommend that all ecommerce managers get a top level report of all your channels, and include top KPIs such as traffic, conversion rate, number of transactions, revenue, social sign ups, etc).

Additional reports for specific channels are also warranted. For instance, if you spend a lot of money for paid search, you’ll definitely want to receive a dedicated paid search report that provides additional metrics, such as your cost per click, competitor percentage, and so on.

Avoid Unpleasant Surprises

Here’s a promise I can make: checking your site analytics daily will help you avoid rather unpleasant surprises. At Something Digital we’ve seen numerous instances where a client launched a new site and then monitored sales by looking at their Magento dashboards. At first glance the site looks as if it’s performing as planned, as evidenced by new sales coming in. A few days later they check Google Analytics only to discover that their GA tracking code wasn’t setup correctly and is reporting 0% revenue for those past few days. This is critical site data that should be used to optimize the site but is lost forever.

We’ve also seen costly surprises crop as a result of changes made to critical processes, such as the checkout page. Ecommerce managers, eager to boost conversion rates, optimize their checkout pages without realizing that a technical issue is causing problems for users at a specific stage.

But a glance at the site analytics will clearly show that visitors are encountering problems at a specific stage in the checkout funnel, and you’ll know exactly where to focus your efforts. I remember a client coming to me after spending an enormous amount of time trying to identify why sales were falling, when the answer was waiting in his Google Analytics all along.

Checking your site analytics is the first place to go when troubleshooting technical issues on your site. I’ve seen clients waste a lot of time digging into other areas when they could have looked into their analytics platform and instantly seen what the problem was.

Setting Up Custom Report in GA

Most clients use Google Analytics and it’s incredibly easy to create a custom report for your site analytics. To begin, Google offers an online tutorial that walks you through the process. Google’s new Data Studio turns your site data into dashboards and reports that are easy to read, easy to share, and fully customizable, and offers a gallery of reports to choose from.

Moreover, other ecommerce managers have created and shared their custom reports which you may be able to use as a starting point for your own. In other words, creating a custom report may be as easy as finding a report template to import into your profile.

I hope I’ve convinced you to begin checking your site analytics on a daily basis. It’s the single most effective way to ensure your site and marketing initiatives are performing as planned, and to identify and resolve issues if they’re not. If you’re having issues with you analytics or want more information reach out to us, we’d love to help!

Black Friday

2017 Black Friday – Cyber Monday Recap

GENERAL OBSERVATIONS

As many others have noted, Black Friday Cyber Monday (BFCM) was kind of insane (in a good way) this year. Adobe reports $2.87 billion on Thanksgiving Day, $5.03 billion on Black Friday, and a whopping $6.59 billion on Cyber Monday.

And this year, sales actually started as early as the Monday before Thanksgiving, turning BFCM into a true Cyber Week. Here are some quick stats that I found most compelling:

  • Digital Commerce 360 reports, “mobile devices accounted for more than 61% of traffic to retail sites Black Friday morning and more than 46% of sales.”
    • Next time a client tries to tell me that no one wants to shop on mobile, I’m going to remind them of this metric.
  • According to Adweek, retailers sent nearly three billion emails on Black Friday alone, along with 82 million SMS push notifications.
    • Shopify reports a 4.29% average conversion rate for email during BFCM, with the next best channel coming in at 3.04%.

  • Retention Science states, “48% of the entire U.S. online apparel retail market was discounted by an average of 45% off. This is compared to 44% of the market with an average of 36% off last year.
    • This year, I personally noticed better, deeper discounts offered by luxury brands. Matt Benson, MatchesFashion, The Outnet, and SAKS OFF 5th all offered up to 50% off over BFCM.

 

SD CLIENTS

Looking specifically at SD’s clients, I noticed some general trends worth noting. Here are a few of the biggest takeaways:

  • Thanksgiving was the biggest YoY growth day this year. Last year, many clients waited until Black Friday to kick off deals; this year, sales started as early as November 20 and ran as late as December 5. Only a small handful of our clients opted to wait until Black Friday to kick off sales in 2017.
  • This year, I saw more specific deals – i.e., discounts on designated Cyber Week categories and tiered promotions. Clients that offered a flat % off deal with no strings attached saw nearly 50% more YoY growth than clients that didn’t.
  • Triggered emails saw average conversion rates in the double digits over BFCM. Email in general (including transactional, marketing, and triggered emails) was the best performing channel for most clients.

 

COOLEST STRATEGIES

Digital campaigns didn’t wow me this year, but there were a few that stood out:

  • For the third year in a row, REI pushed customers to #optoutside (and give them great, user generated content) on the biggest shopping day of the year. They closed brick and mortar locations and encouraged customers to shop sales before and after BF.

 

  • Brands like Everlane and Catbird donated proceeds from sales to charity. Everlane had a stated donation goal for the day and their website included a countdown meter:

 

  • Sephora’s model is also genius. Every year, they mark many items down to $10 or $15 and release a preview of the sale beforehand to create hype. Free shipping at Sephora starts at $50, so they ensure users spend at least that much (and likely significantly more). This isn’t Sephora’s first time at the rodeo.

MISSED OPPORTUNITIES
  • Respond to customers on social media! If someone complains, reach out to them directly and on your social feed and do your best to rectify the situation. BFCM likely drives many new users to your site and it’s important to retain them instead of making an enemy for life. Over BFCM, I saw many brands that just couldn’t keep up with feedback on social. Consider hiring a community manager or freelancer to help with the workload over the holidays.
  • Offer additional incentives to top customers. If you have these customers segmented out in your email list, offer them an additional discount, free gift, or store gift card as a thank you (and an incentive to buy more). Several brands used to do this (I’m looking at you, Madewell) but didn’t this year.
  • Increase your email sign-up discount or offer additional promos (like free gifts or gift cards with purchase) during BFCM for users that opt-in to marketing emails for the first time. I can’t think of a single brand that offered this type of incentive and it feels like a real miss. As we previously stated, email had the highest average conversion rate over all channels for our clients and building that list throughout the year is absolutely crucial to long-term success.
  • Create more Instagram stories. If you’re still struggling with the algorithm change, this is the best way to increase engagement and ensure that your posts don’t get buried. If you have a verified account, utilize stories to tout specific deals with links. Oh, and please don’t just post static product images. Be creative! If your content sucks, it doesn’t matter how great the deal is… users aren’t going to click.

 

If BCFM wasn’t great for you this year and you’re looking to make some changes in 2018, get in touch with us. For more marketing ideas and ecommerce strategy tips, check out these previous blog posts:

A Checklist for Uncovering Ranking Issues in SERPs

Dark Social Webinar Recap

Magento BI and Why You Need It

The Case for Email Marketing