Google and the multi-billion dollar pay-per-click money tree.

moneyIt’s no secret that Google has been trying to diversify its revenue stream away from clickthrough advertising, which historically has accounted for the overwhelming majority of its income.

How else to explain Google’s shopping spree over the past decade, scooping up a veritable smorgasbord of industry players like these:

  • AdMob (mobile)
  • Adometry (attribution)
  • Channel Intelligence (product feeds)
  • DoubleClick (display)
  • Invite Media (programmatic creative and media buying)
  • Teracent (programmatic creative and media buying)
  • YouTube (video)
  • Wildfire (social)

So the next question is, “How much have these acquisitions and investments done to diversify Google’s sources of revenue?”

The answer:  Hardly anything.

Consider this statistic:  In 2011, nearly all of Google’s revenue came from online pay-per-click advertising, as reported by SEO firm WordStream.

Now let’s look at 2014 figures:  WordStream reports that the percentage of Google revenues from pay-per-click advertising is actually higher than in 2011, at 97%.

So much for the “diversifying effects of diversity.”

Within PPC advertising, a number of keyword terms are continuing to haul in the big bucks for Google.  A few years back, the priciest keyword term of all was mesothelioma, at more than $100 a click.

Mesothelioma continues to attract a lot of ad dollars, but it’s no longer commanding $100 a pop as it once did.  In fact, it’s no longer on the Top 10 most expensive keywords list.

That list looks like this now (in descending order of bid pricing, starting at over $50 per click and dropping to “only” around $45 for the #10 keyword):

  • Insurance
  • Loans
  • Mortgage
  • Attorney
  • Credit
  • Lawyer
  • Donate
  • Degree
  • Hosting
  • Claim

In developing the ranking, WordStream determined which keywords reside in the stratosphere by compiling data from its own large keyword dataset and the Google Keyword Tool (over a 90-day period) to determine the 10,000 most expensive keywords.

These were then organized into categories like “credit” and “insurance” by weighting the number of keywords in each category, estimating the monthly search volume as well as the average cost-per-click for each keyword.

Notice the preponderance of financial and legal terms – both of them key to sectors that attract and manage a ton of money.

The word degree is right up there, too, underscoring how important the educational complex has become to the ad business.

It must be pretty unappealing to be active in these industries and have to pony up such big dollars to participate in the pay-per-click advertising space.  But how else do we think Google racks up annual advertising revenues that are north of $32 billion?

How does the market sort out which keywords are worthy of commanding $40 or $50 per click?  Essentially, it boils down to this:  Invariably, the most expensive niches paying for the most costly keywords are ones with very high lifetime customer value – where the customer pay-off is high.

Think about it:  The amount of money an insurance company gets from an individual signing up for coverage makes the high cost-per-click rates – even at $50 a pop — worth it.

Business observers point to long-range trends that may make search engine marketing increasingly irrelevant as the growth of multichannel, multi-device marketing picks up steam.

But don’t hold your breath; Google will likely be earning billions off of pay-per-click advertising for years to come.

What’s the Latest Forecast on U.S. Ad Spending?

ad forecastingMost observers agree that 2015 will be a decent-or-better year for ad spending.  But how will it break down by media segment?

Industry and market forecasting firm Strategy Analytics has just released its latest U.S. advertising spend forecast, which it expects to total almost $190 billion.  That’s about a 3% increase over 2014.

But there are wide variations in the growth expectations depending on the media type.

Digital advertising leads the pack, with an expected growth increase in double digits, while at the other end of the scale, print advertising is forecast to drop by approximately 8%:

  • Digital advertising: 13.0% increase in 2015 U.S. ad spend
  • Outdoor advertising: +4.8%
  • Cinema advertising: +3.4%
  • Radio advertising: +1.8%
  • TV advertising: +1.7%
  • Print advertising: -7.9%

Of course, “digital advertising” is a broad category, and within it Strategy Analytics expects certain sub-categories to grow at a faster clip:  Social media advertising looks to be the star in 2015 (+31%), followed by video advertising (+29%) and mobile advertising (+20%).

Even with these lucrative growth expectations, search advertising (SEM) will continue to represent the lion’s share of digital ad revenues – around 45%.

Also, despite the dramatic growth of digital, the segment isn’t expected to break 30% of all U.S. advertising in 2015.  The more traditional TV ad segment continues to lead all others, although it has fallen below the 50% share of all advertising in recent years.

Here’s what Strategy Analytics is forecasting for ad expenditures by media segment for 2015:

  • TV advertising: ~$79 billion in 2015 U.S. ad spending
  • Digital advertising: ~$53 billion
  • Print advertising: ~$28 billion
  • Radio advertising: ~$18 billion
  • Outdoor advertising: ~$9 billion
  • Cinema advertising: ~$1 billion

Strategy AnalyticsLeika Kawasaki, a digital media analyst and one of the Strategy Analytics Advertising Forecast report’s co-authors, notes that  looking ahead to 2018, TV’s share of advertising revenue is expected to fall further to ~40%, while digital advertising’s share will reach ~35%.

However, it’s not that TV’s volume will be declining — it’s more that digital will be robbing more funds from other segments (particularly radio and print).

Additional details on the 2015 forecast can be viewed here — if you wish to shell out $7,000 for the report, that is.

Social media and marketing: Is the honeymoon over?

social mediaIt’s no secret that companies large and small have been putting significant energy into social media marketing and networking in recent years.

It’s happened for a variety of reasons – not least as a defensive strategy to keep from losing out over competitors who might be quicker to adopt social media strategies and leverage them for their business.

And yet …

Now that the businesses have a good half-decade of social media marketing under their belt, it’s pretty safe to say that social tactics aren’t very meaningful sales drivers.

That’s not just me talking.  It’s also Forrester Research, which as far back as 2011 and 2012 concluded this after analyzing the primary sales drivers for e-commerce.  Forrester found that less than 1% was driven by social media.

And in subsequent years, it’s gotten no better.

A case in point:  IBM Smarter Commerce, which tracks sales generated by 500 leading retail sites, has reported that Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube and Twitter combined represent less than 0.5% of the sales generated on Black Friday in the United States.

Those dismal results aren’t to say that social media doesn’t have its benefits.  Generating “buzz” and building social influence certainly have their place and value.

But considering what some businesses have put into social media in terms of their MarComm resources, a channel that contributes less than 1% of sales revenues seems like a pretty paltry result – and very likely a negative ROI, too.

Going forward, it would seem that more companies should pursue social media marketing less out of a fear of losing out to competitors, and more based on whether it proves itself as an effective marketing tactic for them.

Consider the points listed below.  They’ve been true all along, but they’re becoming even more apparent with the passage of time:

1.  Buying “likes” isn’t worth much beyond the most basic tactical “bragging rights” aspects, because “likes” have little intrinsic value and can’t be tied directly to an increased revenue stream.

2.  A great social media presence doesn’t trump having good products and service; even dynamite social media can’t camouflage shortcomings of this kind for long.

3.  Audiences tend to “discount” the value of content that comes directly from a company.  This means publishing compelling content that clears that hurdle requires more skill and expertise than many companies have been willing to allocate to social media content creation.

Calibrating the way they look at social media is the first step companies can take to establish the correct balance between social media marketing activities and expected results.  Instead of treating social media as the connection with customers, view it as a tool to connect with customers.

It’s really just a new link in the same chain of engagement that successful companies have forged with their customers for decades.  In working with my clients, I’ve seen this scenario play out the same basic way time and again; it matters very little what type of business or markets they serve.

What about you?  Have your social media experiences been similar to this — or different?  I welcome hearing your perspectives.

B-to-B Buyers: Who’s Engaging with What Content?

Different Types of ContentIn my work with manufacturing companies and other B-to-B firms, I’m often asked what type of informational content is the most worthwhile and valuable from a marketing standpoint and for attracting and converting customers.

The question is relevant for most companies because there are limits on marketing resources (both time and dollars), while the methods companies can use to communicate with their target audiences are far more extensive and varied than they were in the not-too-distant past.

The answer to the question about the best information content is always one of “degree” … because the most valuable piece of content for any single prospect or customer is the one that sparks him or her to buy.

And that one piece of critical content could be one of many things.

Helpfully, we now have a new survey that can help with a bit more quantification.  The research, which was conducted by content marketing firm Eccolo Media, surveyed technical buyers (engineers, managers and directors).

It’s a relatively small sample (fewer than 200 respondents), but the directional results are worth consideration.  I also think that the results can be applied to other B-to-B buyer types as well.

One finding that came as a bit of a surprise to me was that most buyers read just two to five pieces of content before making their decisions.

What kind of content do they consult most often?  Here’s what these respondents reported:

  • Product brochures and data sheets: ~57% consult this type of content
  • E-mail communiqués: ~52% consult
  • White papers: ~52%
  • Competitive vendor worksheets: ~42%
  • Case studies/success stories: ~42%
  • Technical guides: ~35%
  • Custom magazines/publications: ~35%
  • Video content: ~35%
  • Social media content: ~34%
  • Webinars: ~34% 

As for which of these types of content are considered the most worthwhile and influential to buyers, the ranking is somewhat different:

  • Product brochures and data sheets: ~39% rate as highly influential content (top five resources)
  • White papers: ~33%
  • Case studies/success stories: ~31%
  • Technical guides: ~23%
  • Competitive vendor worksheets: ~22%
  • Videos:  ~17%
  • E-mail communiqués: ~15% 
  • Social media content:  ~14%
  • Custom magazines/publications:  ~14%

The Eccolo Media report draws this conclusion from its research:

“Marketers have been good at producing large volumes of content, but not quality content and not the right type of content … The more content we produce, the more likely it is to fail.”

One thing the research clearlyshows is that companies need to spend more effort in collecting and publishing customer case examples and success stories, because those appear to have a disproportionately higher degree of influence over potential buyers — if only they are available to consult.

More broadly, the types of content that are of greater value to buyers tend to be the ones that require more time and effort to prepare.  The adage that “success is 20% inspiration and 80% perspiration” appears to apply to marketing content development as well.

More summary findings from Eccolo Media’s 2015 B2B Technology Content Survey Report can be accessed here.

What are your thoughts as to the relative merits of different types of content?  Whether you’re a B-to-B marketer or a B-to-B buyer, please share your thoughts with other readers here.

Google Comes Clean on Ad Viewability (or Non-Viewability?)

clear view or no clear viewThere have been quite a few reports in recent times pointing to the lack of viewability of online display advertising, and I’ve blogged about this topic before.

And now, we have the $55-billion “advertising vacuum-cleaner company” Google itself admitting as much.

It comes in a study that Google has just released.  The report presents findings from its analysis of display ad programs using its “active view” technology (like DoubleClick) to determine which factors are affecting the viewability of ads.

The results aren’t pretty; more on that below.

But first … why is Google doing this?

I suspect it’s because more advertisers are now insisting on paying only for their ads that have been actually viewed, as compared to those simply served.

Now, to what Google is reporting.  It turns out that fewer than half of all ad impressions served on Google’s display platforms are ever seen, because they’re served outside of the viewer’s browser window.

That is correct:  A huge chunk of Google’s billions in ad revenues that it collects come from ads that no one ever saw.

What digital advertising platforms love to remind us is that their programs are superior to “bad old television and radio advertising” because of their sophisticated targeting capabilities and their superior measurement metrics.

That may be.  But how is it all that different for TV viewers to miss an ad because they took a kitchen or bathroom break, compared to people who never even had the opportunity to see an ad that was “served” in a dead zone?

The next question is, “What can advertisers do to help minimize the incidence of phantom online advertising?”

Helpfully, Google provides some clues in its report.  For instance, the highest viewability for ads is immediately above the “fold” – in other words, at the point where the viewer must begin to scroll down to see the rest of the page.

Surprisingly, viewability right above the fold is slightly higher than at the very top of the page.  But it’s massively less so just below that magic spot.  Google pressented five charts in its report to illustrate this drop-off phenomenon; the one reproduced below shows viewability of vertical position ads sized 728 x 90 pixels:

Average viewability by vertical position on online ads

 

Less surprising, perhaps, is the fact that vertical ads have higher viewability than horizontal or block ads, for the simple reason that they stay on the page longer:

Most viewable online display ad sizes

 

By publishing this data, Google purports to want to help their advertisers understand high- and low-value inventory better so they can target their campaigns more appropriately and effectively.

Google is also encouraging publishers to strive for delivering viewability rates in excess of 50% by offering ad inventory that will perform more effectively in its respective positions.

My only question is … why has it taken Google so long to set these standards and to publicize them in the first instance?

Sure, Google’s only the middleman between publishers and their viewers.  But it’s a pivotally important one.

America’s Smallest Businesses Get Hands-On with Digital Marketing

DIYAs more MarComm activities increasingly migrate to the web and to social media platforms, small businesses are increasingly taking a DIY approach in their marketing programs.

That’s the major takeaway from a survey of nearly 2,600 small business owners conducted by Insight By Design for Webs, a subsidiary of Vistaprint.

For purposes of the study, small businesses were defined as those having 10 or fewer employees.  The results of the field survey, which was conducted in the spring of 2014, were published in Vistaprint’s 2014 Digital Usage Study.

vistaprint-logoTwo-thirds of the small business respondents reported that they are actively using digital products to market their businesses.  Of those who have websites for their business, nearly 60% of them created their own websites using DIY tools.

An even larger proportion — 80% — act as their own webmasters.

Small businesses consider customer acquisition and generating new customer leads as the most important reasons for maintaining a web presence.

In the social media realm, Facebook is the most popular platform for promoting small businesses — so said nearly 90% of the survey respondents who are active in social media marketing.

Facebook is viewed as not only a vehicle for building brand awareness and acquiring new customers, but also for building a network of followers and engaging with them over time.

The survey’s respondents reported that all of the other major social platforms lag far behind Facebook in importance:

  • Facebook: ~88% consider it to be a highly important social media channel for their business
  • LinkedIn: ~39%
  • Twitter: ~31%
  • Google+: ~22%
  • Pinterest: ~20%
  • YouTube: ~17%

In line with its perceived importance as a marketing channel, about two-thirds of businesses that have Facebook business profiles are also engaged with paid advertising campaigns on the social platform — or are considering doing so.

No question, small businesses have concluded that social media marketing is the best way for them to create brand awareness and expand their reach in a very low-cost yet effective manner.  So don’t look for any slowdown in the adoption of social strategies going forward.

From Consumer Reports: The MarComm Tactics People Dislike the Most

imagesMost of us have a few “pet peeves” when it comes to the advertising and promotional tactics we find obtrusive or just plain irritating.

Recently, Consumer Reports studied this issue.  In June 2014, it published an article citing the marketing tactics Americans say they like the least.  The findings were collected via its own survey of a cross-section of U.S. adults age 18 or over.

Of the tactics covered in the survey, some might be considered only mildly irritating … but others are horribly intrusive.

Let’s start with the marketing tactics that the survey respondents roundly disliked:

#1. Telemarketing robocalls:  ~77% dislike

#2. False claims of winning a prize:  ~74%

#3. “Official” direct mail that appears to be an invoice or a check:  ~71%

#4. Pop-up ads on websites:  ~70%

#5. Ads for nutritional supplements making exaggerated claims:   ~70%

#6. Videos that play before viewers can view their desired web content:  ~66%

#7. TV advertising that plays louder than the program itself:  ~63%

Another three marketing tactics were also disliked, but by a smaller proportion of respondents:

#8. Fast-talking disclaimers on broadcast ads:  ~50%

#9. Infomercials:  ~42%

#10. Ads for sensitive personal medical conditions:  ~38%

Wrapping up the list were these four tactics which respondents considered least objectionable:

#11. Products advertised as “American made” that actually aren’t

#12. “Free” offers – but with strings attached

#13. Targeted online ads that show based on viewer purchases, behavior or demographics

#14. Product placement in TV programs and movies

#15. Billboard advertising 

Of all the 15 MarComm tactics evaluated, my own “Top 2” personal dislikes are #4 and #6.

I’m in the marketing field myself, so I guess I should be tolerant of these techniques … but I think my time online is way more valuable than that!

How about you?

Many online banner ads are “invisible” — just like all the other kinds of advertising.

poor online display ad clickthrough ratesI’ve blogged before about the dismal performance of web banner ads, with their miniscule clickthrough rates resulting from “banner blindness.”

The situation has caused more than a few marketers to shy away from engaging in any sort of banner advertising online — and it’s not hard to understand why.

But as Ben Kunz, a vice president at media buying and planning agency Mediassociates likes to point out, other forms of display advertising have similar challenges.

The fact that omnibus marketing information resource eMarketer has predicted that digital ad spending will increase to ~$132 billion this year is proof that many advertisers continue to see the value in online display advertising.

So what is Kunz’s major argument? Simply this:  Digital ads have the same challenges that television, radio and print advertising have as well.  In Kunz’s view, there’s huge waste in advertising because of advertising’s very nature.

He is correct. The vast majority of ad impressions that are “served” are never really seen or heard — regardless of the ad medium.

Ad visibility online is an issue for sure. Proving the point, internet analytics company comScore evaluated some 290 billion ad impressions on thousands of web sites … and found that ~54% of them weren’t visible.

There was some differentiation the comScore detected between different types of sites. Ads served up on “Ppemium” web publisher sites performed better (only ~39% of theirs weren’t visible).

Ads that aren’t visible occur for a variety of reasons, one of which is fraud (fake web traffic). But more often, it’s because of slow load times on digital devices or because the ads fall outside a viewable browser window or further down that page, necessitating scrolling that many viewers simply don’t do.

The Swedish firm Sticky has investigated banner blindness from another angle — studying the eyeball movements of ~500 subjects. Its research found that of the digital ads that do appear within a viewable window, only ~51% of them are actually “seen” by the viewer.

Mashing it all up, it means that roughly three out of four online ads are “invisible” to viewers. It’s a lot of waste for sure.

But then … what’s the alternative? Do other advertising tactics and channels actually do better?

Nope. According to Kunz, at least three out of four newspaper ads aren’t seen, either.

Ben Kunz
Ben Kunz

Here’s how he arrives at that conclusion. The average U.S. newspaper has ~60 pages, with an average number of ads per page of around 20 (this includes large ads and smaller classifieds).  Around half of the pages are unopened when someone reads the paper, meaning that those ads are “unviewable.”  If half of the remaining ads are ignored as well, the viewability stats are effectively tied.

Kunz also contends that ~30% of radio advertising is “invisible,” citing an Arbitron study that quantified the extent to which listeners switch stations when advertising came on, then flip back later.

The findings were such that Arbitron started recommending that media planners change their measurement from 100 GRPs to 70 GRPs, reflecting the fact that ~30% of radio ads paid for never make it human ears.

TV advertising? It’s the same phenomenon.

Trips to the refrigerator or the bathroom abound during commercial breaks — not to mention channel flipping or TiVo-ing.  Kunz contends that such ad-dodging techniques reduce TV ad viewability by as much as 75%.

The bottom line on all of this: Waste in digital advertising is a significant issue … but it’s a similar issue with other ad vehicles as well.

Add to this the fact that digital advertising offers the best metrics (accountability for every click and conversion action), and it should come as little surprise that digital ad spending continues to grow (and why eMarketer expects it to reach about a quarter of all ad spending this year).

Does Kunz have a point about offline and online advertising sharing similar “blindness” characteristics? What are your thoughts?  Please share your perspectives with other readers.

Couponing Practices: Tradition Trumps Technology

couponingWith big changes happening every day in the way that consumers are interacting with brands and products, a big question is how quickly they’re changing their habits when it comes to the use of coupons.

Perhaps surprisingly, the results of a new 2014 Simmons National Consumer Study conducted by Experian show that “traditional” couponing activities remain far and away the most prevalent consumer activity.

First of all, the proportion of U.S. households that uses coupons of any sort is right around three-fourths (~74% according to the recent Simmons survey).

And we all know the single biggest reason why people use coupons:  to save money.  That rationale dwarfed any other among the survey respondents:

  • I use coupons to save money: ~64% of respondents mentioned
  • I use coupons to try new products: ~23%
  • Coupons incent me to try new stores: ~7%

But then the data points begin to deviate from where marketers may think their consumers’ minds are at (or where they might wish them to be).

Consider how many of the following popular couponing practices are distinctly “old school”:

  • I use coupons from in-store/on-shelf coupon machines: ~55% of respondents cited
  • I take advantage of rebates on products: ~50%
  • I use free-standing inserts from newspapers: ~46%
  • I use on-package coupons: ~37%

coupons on smartphoneCompare that to the far-lower engagement levels with “new school” couponing practices:

  • I use coupons delivered by Internet or e-mail: ~30% of respondents cited
  • I use my smartphone to redeem coupons at the store: ~17%
  • I have used a smartphone coupon app in the last 30 days: ~9%

These results show that if companies decide to embrace coupons as part of their marketing effort, they’ll need to pay as much attention (if not more) to traditional couponing methods than to newer practices.

Old habits die hard … at least in this arena.

The key to environmentally friendly products’ desirability? Deemphasize the green.

Selling green productsIt turns out that one key to the success of marketing so-called “green” products is actually to deemphasize the environmental messaging — at least when targeting consumers in the United States.

According to a number of surveys conducted by branding and marketing communications firm Landor, American consumers value possessing “green” attributes the least valuable of a series of brand attributes studied.

This despite years of social engineers and marketers of environmentally friendly brands attempting to “educate” consumers on environmental consciousness and the importance of sustainability.

At this point, it’s probably better for products to promote themselves based on other attributes besides “green” attributes … or at least to stop leading with that argument.

Instead, what are the values that resonate the most with American consumers?  According to Ted Page, a principal at content marketing firm Captains of Industry, there are three in particular — none of them having much to do with environmental issues — at least on the face of it:

  • Freedom
  • Independence
  • Saving money

But for green products, it’s possible to tie everything up in a nice bow by being able to lay claim all three of these attributes as brand attributes while not compromising the environment, either.

Nest Learning ThermostatAn example of this message strategy in action is the Nest Learning Thermostat, which promises saving energy in the context of achieving increased home efficiency, automated temperature management and lower energy bills.  The “green positioning” is nice — but it’s the other product attributes that really hit pay-dirt.

Tesla logoAnother example is Tesla electric automobiles.  Tesla is promoting the performance of its high-torque electric engine as superior to other sports cars manufactured by BMW, Lexus and Audi.

The fact that Tesla’s high-performance engine happens to be emissions-free is just icing on the cake.

Thanks in part to this messaging platform, sales of the Tesla Model S auto now outstrip those of the Mercedes S-Class, Lexus LS, BMW 7-Series, Porsche Panorama and the Audi AB.

One has to wonder if this would had happened had Tesla chose to lead with “green” messaging instead.

It would be nice to think so, but … probably not.