Understanding Native Advertising

We hear a lot about natives, particularly native advertising. In this blog post, let's try to noodle about native advertising, native commerce and native apps. The topic of native advertising has picked up heat early this year after the publication of FTC guidance on native advertising.

What is Native Advertising?

Native advertising is nothing but a mode of showing advertisements matching with the mode and form of underlying platform. For example - promoted tweets that you see in Twitter or suggested products in Amazon or suggested posts in a news website. IAB has defined six standard ad units under the purview of native advertising. They are -

In-feed units 

- these are what I consider the real native ads. They almost look like normal content in the platform; but are actually sponsored ones. For example - twitter promoted tweets.

Paid Search units 

- One of the earliest native ad formats (perhaps even before the term was coined :)). So nothing new here; just that Google or Bing highlights it as 'Sponsored'

Promoted Listings

- Most commonly used in eCommerce sites like Amazon. It is mainly used to showcase related products based on user purchase and browsing behavior.

Recommendation Widgets

- These are similar to promoted listing ad types; but an advertising medium linking text links to external articles/sites. Actually there a set of content marketing/display vendors who play in this domain. Examples include Outbrain, Taboola etc.

In-Ad with native element units

- these are similar to display banner units; but gels well with the content/platform. Once again content marketing/promotion platforms play in this; for example - OneSpot

What makes this domain interesting is how much we can keep the creativity intact. For example, an in-feed ad unit can be designed according to the platform, the publisher site or the app. This brings to the last type - custom ones. For example, the ads shown in Flipboard.

Now that we discussed about what native advertising is and various native ad types; let's shift our focus to one of the important reasons of this topic's uptick -- mobile. We all know content consumption in mobile devices is increasing; and research shows that consumers don’t like traditional display advertising mimicked in mobile (in fact most find it obtrusive). Native mobile ads help in improving the engagement and acceptability of ads in mobile devices.

What are native mobile ads?

Native advertising takes it true format when it comes to mobile. Native mobile ads are those which looks alike in form and format similar to the app or site in which the ad is shown. Since mobile apps provide a variety of capabilities in terms of format,look & feel and access to mobile hardware, native ad formats largely fall in custom one - it can be in-feed, in-game or in-maps etc. - all that matters is creatively include the ad units aligning with your app. Platforms like mopub, inmobi or mobfox are used to develop and show these ads.

If you are interested in seeing live examples from some of the publishers/platforms showing native ads; visit Sharetrough's Native Ad Generator (http://native-generator.sharethrough.com/)

What is Native commerce?

Finally, let's touch on an adjacent topic to native advertising - native commerce as well. The idea is linking eCommerce and content together seamlessly. Similar to in-feed ad units, eCommerce buy links are included in a format aligning with the parent app. So for example, a blog about travel and tourism may show some of the travel packages as ads. This is the marriage of content marketing and eCommerce.

Understanding Data Management Platforms (DMP) aka Data Brokers

Data Management Platforms (DMP) are a set of SaaS offering in the digital advertising ecosystem that have been living for may be around five years now. DMPs have been gaining market noise and Forrester Wave recently published a wave report also.  It's easy to get confused with Tag ManagementSystems that we discussed previously. I believe this post will give a basic understanding of what DMPs are and how they differ from TMS. A DMP's function is three fold - first to  aggregate various data sources, then to integrate them to provide analytics and segmentation capabilities; and finally to deploy actionable insights for various vendors - be it advertising or user experience. 

Let's try to dig a bit deeper into each of these capabilities --

Aggregate data sources

Aggregation of various data sources is the first step that any DMP starts with. Data sources include both online - be it site side analytics, ad serving or optimization and offline - be it transactional data or call center data. These days, all leading DMPs allow collection of data from literally all possible online sources and custom offline integrations.

Integration of data sources

This is the core offering of any DMP. Once the various data sources are integrated, DMPs try to draw conclusions about the profiles of data captured and also provide opportunities to integrate with 3rd party audience segmentation sources like Nielsen. This integration allows Data Management Platforms to provide normalization and segmentation information based on the data accrued. Analysis is done on two fold - based on the first party data that the publisher accrue and then getting input from wider third party data. Let's see a simple example of how this is done.

  1. You make a purchase from a leading e-commerce website. To make purchase, you have given some basic personal information to the company
  1. You visit the brick and mortar store of the company to make a further purchase or return something. Now the company can stitch between your online and offline identities
  1. Based on the information we have, you may be classified into a profile like Male between age group 25 and 35, residing in Kerala state interested in value for money smart phones
  1. You see a display ad showcasing various offers for the smart phone model's accessories; but you didn't click it. However DMP captures the impression
  1. You see a 10% discount ad on an accessory and clicks it, but didn't make the purchase. DMP captures the profile as Male between age group 25 and 35, residing in Kerala state interested in value for money smart phones interested in headsets
  1. Since DMPs create individual profiles, an integration with DSP enables the company to display targeted customized sequential ads for you
  1. You are shown an irresistible offer on the headset, you click and make a purchase
  1. Based on these individual engagement tracking and probabilistic modeling, DMPs create further audience segments
  1. This analysis is fed back into the system for enhancing the segmentation algorithm

Don't believe  this will  all work? Check Bluekai Registry to see under which all segments you belong and who all are tracking you. Of course Personally Identifiable Information(PII) may not be shared by the publisher.

Deployment of actionable insights

Once audience profiles and other insights are developed, DMPs allow it to be directly passed on to a DSP or other online channels. Independent DMPs allow buying actions to be linked to multiple DSPs. It's not just limited to media buying; one can integrate with other marketing channels, for example like  Kenshoo for Paid Search.

DMPs can be pure-play vendors like Bluekai (Oracle) or Lotame; they can part of solution, for example Turn which DMP/DSP integrated or part of a wider marketing cloud like Adobe; or it can be in-house built. DMPs  make sense to those organizations which has built first party data over time. Using the first party data collected as the foundation, DMPs allow accurate customer identities across platforms/devices and optimize media.

Understanding Google RankBrain

A discussion on Google algorithms never get to and end :) We have been discussing about Google and search engine algorithms in general now in a series of posts. While Accelerated Mobile Pages got traction in the last few months; there was also another interesting update from Google on another algorithm component called RankBrain. RankBrain is not an algorithm update in itself; its more a component of a wider algorithm that we discussed earlier - Understanding Google Hummingbird.

What is RankBrain?

We know that Hummingbird algorithm aims to change Google from a search query/result engine to a knowledge engine. Rank Brain could be considered as the major part of the algorithm that helps Google to achieve its goal. Rank Brain is the machine learning/artificial intelligence component embedded to capture the semantics better and further perhaps ingest information into features like Google Knowledge Graph. I think this is one component, which SEOs won't be able to go behind directly (except utilizing things like schemas and mark ups)

RankBrain - One of the most important ranking signal

RankBrain is considered to be among the top three ranking signals Google use. There are supposed to be more than 200 ranking signals used by Google. Rank Brain's machine learning code is expected to connect between ambiguous and vaguely connected queries to provide meaningful results/answers. Over-time it is expected to build a memory of its learning within the algorithm. Thus it is expected to understand the intend behind a search query.

Examples of RankBrain

While a clear and evident example of how RankBrain is impacting search queries; its believed is addressing vague long tail queries. One evident way to see the benefit of this is in usage of various semantic combinations of words in a query. See below for an example -

So essentially Rank Brain is just another factor to make searches and search results smarter! If you would like to get a more in-depth understanding of what rank brain is and what it isn't; do check out Moz's article here.

Here are the other blog posts in which we have discussed search engine ranking algorithms and updates -

Understanding Accelerated Mobile Pages

We have been discussing about mobile friendliness & how it affects search results and app indexing in earlier posts. February marked yet another important time period for mobile search and SEO. It was the release of Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) in Google mobile search results. In this post, let's try to briefly understand what AMP is all about.

What is Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP)?

AMP is an open source initiative announced by a group of industry players including big names like Google, Twitter and WordPress to make browsing in mobile devices faster. AMP has gained traction with its increasing number of supporters (like comScore, Analytics vendors, AdTech vendors and so on). The basic problem this project tries to address is a loss of a visitor because of slow page loads. This is a lose-lose situation for all -- the visitor is not able to read what she wants, publisher is losing a potential reader or a customer, advertising revenues; advertisers in the page loose secondary traffic. Google claims that AMP relies on a new open framework built using existing web technologies, enabling publishers to build light-weight webpages.

Components of AMP Framework

 The framework consist of three components - a customized HTML, restricted JavaScript library and a Content Delivery Network (CDN) support from Google.

The customized HTML components restricts some of the tags used as well as add few new tags specific to AMP pages. This makes it a requirement to have two copies of your HTML pages - one, the regular one catering to normal desktop browsers and high speed networks; another one catering to slow networks/mobile devices. Of course, this is only required. When it comes to AMP JS, it's an open JavaScript library with a limited set of capabilities. What this means is your own JavaScript is not allowed :). The core of this is the mandate of async attribute. The final component is the CDN or Cache. The cache from Google is dedicated to fetch, cache and deliver valid AMP pages.

Benefits of AMP

One clear benefit out evident from recent Google updates is the showcase of AMP pages in mobile search carousel. If your web pages are AMP customized, there is a higher probability of it being shown in SERP. The whole idea of AMP project is to make mobile browsing faster and actionable. So if you are AMP adherent, there is a brighter chance of increasing the traffic. It's even speculated in the industry that AMP may become one of the search signals as well!
From an user experience point of view; AMP JS component assess the webpage structure before it actually loads. With this, the skeleton of the page is loaded even before loading assets in it. This improves the view-ability of the page compared to a half loaded ill-structure.

Is AMP important for you?

I think we have to wait and see. As you might have judged from reading so far; the change is clearly visible to many big publishers only as of today. However since WordPress is also a contributor; there is already a plugin to create AMP versions of posts. So if you are a WordPress user, it's easier to get started.

How to get started with AMP?

As you might have guessed, there is a good documentation from Google (visit www.ampproject.org) on how to create an AMP webpage. While it's not complex; it does require a decent understanding of HTML and JavaScript. This website contains everything from what, why and how of AMP; how to validate AMP pages and more. This is a good video on the technical details of AMP pages.

Gosh! I guess Digital Marketing is becoming more and more technical !

The most important and an invaluable promotion!

It's just an amazing feeling. Last week I got a promotion -- not a professional one, but the personal one. I am moving to the next phase of life -- Fatherhood. It makes more special,  as it's a daughter. Though there was no specific desire for a boy or a girl; there was always a secret wish of having a girl 

It was a crazy week with a prolonged hospital stay, medications, confusions and what not. I am relieved that part is finally over! But the warning that i am getting is i am yet to see the real fun! While it's exciting days. it's nervous days too. To be honest, these are the days when you realize all those official nightouts and pressures are nothing compared to this☺.

I am not sure if i will be able to continue writing, reading etc. in the same pace as before since office plus a new born is not going to  be that easy...priorities are going to change...I am hoping I am able to continue writing in the blog....stay tuned!

Revisiting the basics – How critical is setting the right match types for keywords?

We know keywords are the building blocks to all aspects of search engine marketing – whether it is the organic pillar of Search Engine Optimization or the paid pillar of Paid Search marketing. When it comes to paid search marketing, coming up with the right list of keywords and keyword patterns is only the beginning, the more important part is how you want the keywords be treated by the search engines. This is achieved by match types. The concept of match types for keywords hold true across search engines – whether it is Google or Bing.

What are match types?

Keyword match type essentially tells the search engine about how close the ads to keyword relationship should be. Depending on the search engine, there could be different types of match types like broad, exact and so on.Let’s try to understand each of them.

Broad Match Type

This is available in both Google Adwords and Bing adCenter.If chosen this match type, your ad can appear on any keyword variations – exact, synonyms, different word patterns, misspellings or related searches. For example, if the keyword was ballpoint pen; you ad could appear for ballpoint pen, pen ballpoint, ballpoint pen, ballpoint pens, ballpoint green pen, pen, ballpoint and so on.Broad match type keywords are used for increasing the reach.While the main benefit of using broad match type keywords is that it helps you reach a wider audience with a minimal list of keywords, the major drawback of this match type is that your ad may be shown to irrelevant keyword searches. In the above example, for instance – ballpoint pen not smooth. Another drawback of this match type is reduced quality score since such keywords apply to a wide range of possibilities. Broad match type is the default match type for all keywords in both Google Adwords and Bing adCenter.

Broad Match Modifier

This match type is used to tell the search engine that a certain word or pattern should present in the search query for an ad to show up. This helps in improving the keyword-ad relationship and thus the CTRs or conversions. In case of Google Adwords, broad match types are modified using ‘+’. A word appended with the plus sign needs to be present in the search query for an ad to show up. For example ballpoint +pen. The main difference here is this match type doesn’t include synonyms or close variations unlike broad match type. Broad match modifier could be considered if certain words in the targeted search queries are important.One of the main applications of broad match modifier is the brand searches where brand name is preserved. The challenge with this match type is that it can still show ads for some irrelevant search queries. For example, +ballpoint +pen can show ads for ink pen.

Phrase Match Type

This match type enables fine tuning of keyword-ad relationship further. Phrase match types are created by including keywords inside quotes.In phrase match types, the order of keyword components are preserved. For example in the case of ‘ballpoint pens’, ads will be shown only for search queries like buy ballpoint pens or green ballpoint pens. In this match type, ads are shown for close variants and queries with extra words either before or after the phrase keyword.While using phrase match type keywords, there is a chance to improve your Click Through Rates (CTR), since the ads will be shown to more relevant search queries. Another benefit of this match type is that such keyword text will be shown bold whenever it exactly matches with the search query. Having said these, you ad could still show for some queries like ‘ballpoint pens are pathetic’.

Exact Match Type

In the case of keywords using exact match type, ads will be shown only if the search query is the exact keyword. We use [] to indicate exact match type based keywords.Thus an ad for [ballpoint pen] will be shown only if the search query is exactly ballpoint pen. Usually exact match type based keywords are where a marketer starts testing out the campaigns. Also this match type helps marketers with limited budget and for targeted marketing campaigns.There is a small difference in how Google Adwords and Bing adCenter treats exact match types.In the case of adCenter, articles (like a, an, the) are ignored. Thus your ad could show up in Bing if the search query is The ballpoint pen while Google will not show it.

Starting late this year, both Google and Bing have started applying a variation to exact and phrase match types called close variant keyword matching.In essence this functionality triggers ads for keywords with misspellings, singular/plural forms, stemming, slangs etc. A natural question that would arise is – isn’t it limiting the advertiser’s control of exact and phrases; no worries, there is a workaround – we can always use negative match type.

Negative Keywords

This is used to filter out traffic for which you don’t want the ads to show up. For example if you are a seller of movie DVDs, you don’t want traffic from searches involving torrent or rent out or free downloads. ‘-‘ used to indicate a negative keyword. Negative keywords not only help you in achieveing a better ROI; but also helps you from becoming a victim of quality score reduction due to irrelevance (CTR will also get affected).In case of Google Adwords, negative keywords can be combined with other match types like exact or broad. For example – -[pen holders], -“ink pens”. But this feature is not available in Bing adCenter as it considers all negative keywords as phrases.

Content Match Type

This is specific to Bing Ads and to content networks. The ad will be triggered if any word in the keyword or ad components match pages in websites Bing’s content network. For example if you are targeting DSLR Camera and the website in Bing’s content network allows ads related to ‘cameras’, the ad will show up.

Are you using the match types effectively and efficiently?

A note on paid search ad extensions

This month has been the one with two important announcements from Google - affecting both Paid Search realm and Organic Search realm. The first one was removal of sidebar ad slots in Google SERPs; the second one was around Accelerated Mobile Pages and new search carousel dedicated to AMP pages. Today, we will touch base on an advanced topic in paid search which has become even more important due to the perceived reduction in as slot - Ad Extensions. Ad extensions are available in both Google AdWords and Bing adCenter. However the options provided in AdWords is more compared to adCenter. Ad extensions helps in improving the visibility of your ads and also the chance of searchers clicking them.

What are Ad Extensions?

As you may have guessed, ad extensions are providing additional information or improving the ads beyond the standard information you can provide for an ad in AdWords or adCenter. Some of these extensions are straightforward, some required you to have a decent technical acumen. Thus ad extensions could be considered to be of two types - manual and automated extensions.

Types of Ad Extensions

Some ad extensions can be controlled by the advertiser, while some are automated by Google. Manual extensions include sitelink extensions, location extensions, apps, reviews, call outs and call extensions. Automated extensions include seller ratings, consumer ratings, social extensions, and previous visits. Some of these extensions are at campaign level, while some can be controlled at ad group level. Let's try to briefly understand each of them.

Sitelink extensions

Sitelinks are perhaps the most used ad extensions. This mimics the organic search result feature in which internal web page URLs are shown in the search result itself. Sitelinks can be controlled at campaign level and ad group level. By using sitelink extensions, an ad can show more than one URL along with headline text as below -

Call extensions

As you might have guessed, these allow your contact phone number to be included along with an option to call on the spot (like the skype call in functionality that it provides). If you are a business with an advertising goal of improving calls/enquiries, call extensions are one way to go. The benefit of this extension is that if the user is seeing the mobile ad, an automatic click to call feature is enabled. If the ad is shown in desktop, a 'Call Now' is enabled.

Location extensions

This extension allows a map pin to be shown in the ad. Again, a relevant extension for local business and mobile ads. The real benefit of using location is extension is that the address shown in the ad is usually the geographically closest one to the searcher. We can set multiple business locations at campaign level and the ad will show the address and phone number for the location that is closest to the customer. Another usage of local extensions is to show the ad in Google Maps. In order for a business to use location extensions in AdWords, it need to have a Google My Business account set up; in the case of adCenter, it’s a direct wizard.

Review Extensions

Review extensions help you to embed a customer testimonial from a reputed third-party site to your ad. Thus this extension provide yet another opportunity to showcase your credibility for an associated search query. This extension allows to either embed the exact quote of paraphrased quote of the satisfied customer.

Call out Extensions

Call out extensions help you to highlight you value propositions. In effect, this helps to increase ad content by another line. However its limited by 25 characters and whether it get shown or not depends on Google's editorial policies. We can use callouts along with other ad extensions like sitelinks. Also there is an option to add callouts at account, campaign or ad group.

App Extensions

Similar to Call extensions, these allow a marketer to link ads with apps; thus providing a better chance of a searcher downloading the app. Thus an ad using app extension increases the probability of either visiting the company's website or downloading the app from Google Play/iTunes. This ad extension is very handy in the case of mobile apps since AdWords detect the mobile OS from which a user is seeing the ad and automatically points to the appropriate app URL.

Automated Extensions

Recently there was news that AdWords may be testing out yet another ad extension. It looks like Google is testing our automatically showing some links in ads based on titles of web pages. This brings to discussion the next set of ad extensions - automated extensions. These are ad extensions automatically shown in ads without a requirement from advertisers. These can be considered signals of authority/credibility of websites. Automated extensions include the following -

(source - Google)

There are two types of ratings extensions - Consumer ratings and Seller ratings. Both of these are relatively new ad extensions added by Google. Consumer ratings provide a value for the website in a 1-10 relative rating scale. The rating is pulled from Google's Consumer Survey application. Google Consumer Survey product is Google's answer to doing online marketing research. Consumer ratings are available only in a selected set of countries. On the other hand seller ratings are pulled based on a collection of third-party review sites. We need not do any set-up specifically for seller ratings. The set of sources from where Google aggregates the rating is provided here. There are few other criteria like page views in order for your ad to start showing the seller ratings.

Previous Visits
Similar to the concept of re-marketing, this ad extension shows in the ad content whether, when and how many times you have previously visited the website for which the ad is shown.

Social Extensions
Social extension essentially shows a gist of your Google + follower-ship. Again, showing Google + details is guaranteed only if you have set-up the business profile, have a vibrant page and so on.

Dynamic Sitelinks
In a way this is an expansion of sitelinks. Based on the search query, AdWords try to map web pages on your site and show that in the ad content. Here the relationship that Google looks for is how relevant and popular are certain pages in the site with respect to the search query for which the ad is shown. We need not create additional links, AdWords directly picks up the links. The added benefit of this extensions is that you will not be charged if an user clicks on the dynamically generated sitelink in the ad!

Are you utilizing ad extensions to improve your PPC ROI....?

Book Review Google Semantic Search by David Amerland

Semantic Search - Search Engine Optimization Techniques That Get Your Company More Traffic, Increase Brand Impact, and Amplify Your Online Presence written by David Amerland is a book about web/search 3.0. In 200 pages,   the author provides a good overview of the new search norm for the marketing professional. Written in a slightly theoretical style, the books provides the nitty gritties of semantic search,  it's components and how it all span out from search engine optimization perspective.

If you were looking for a more in depth technical overview of how semantic Web or search works; you will be disappointed.  I feel this book is written  for a marketer in charge of various digital media, including SEO.

The book is roughly written in three parts - first one dealing with an introduction on how search engines are transforming from a query engine to knowledge engine. 
The second part deals with how content marketing is driving new search marketing and how various channels such as social media get interlinked in building trust. The last part briefly discuss about how search is becoming more and more invisible and challenges in building an ideal knowledge engine.

The book revolves around three pillars - trust, reputation and authority. Five learning from reading the book are --

  1. How the search engine is changing from a mere keyword based link result showing tool to an universal search providing instant answers
  2. Why trust, reputation and authority are the key factors in getting your business web entities in search results; and how to build them
  3. How various marketing channels like content, social media and other Web assets are interlinked
  4. A checklist from all angles to build the right SEO strategies for semantic search
  5. A brief overview of Google specific algorithms and components like TrustRank, Knowledge graph etc.

Two places I felt the book fell short are

  1. Providing the technical depth either for an engineer or a marketer. The only technical knowledge on semantic search from this book is that it's components include a Resource Description Framework (RDF), Uniform Resource Indicator  (URI) and an Ontology module
  2. Few checklists are at a very high level demanding the reader to noodle through  a lot of other resources to get it implemented. This writing style creates a doubt on whether the book is written for an executive,  rather than an SEO professional 

Overall a good book, but I felt most of the topics are already covered in depth from various industry practitioners. Also keep in mind that some of the topics discussed  may appear outdated, requiring refinement or irrelevant anymore because of the nature of industry. For example, the importance of Google + or rel=author tag.