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Four tips for SEM teams to adjust to a privacy-focused future

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Four tips for SEM teams to adjust to a privacy-focused future


30-second summary:

  • Within the digital marketing space, the conversation around privacy and cookie changes has focused heavily on programmatic and paid social
  • But how will third-party cookie deprecation and new privacy regulations impact paid search?
  • Here is what search marketers can expect and how to prepare

In the digital marketing world, targeting, measurement, and optimization have foundationally relied on the ability to accurately track user behaviors and performance across the web. However, as we all know, platforms like Google and Apple have introduced privacy-focused initiatives over the past few years that complicate targeting and measurement for advertisers.

When discussing the impacts of these changes, much of the conversation has focused on programmatic and paid social, which are undoubtedly the digital channels feeling the greatest impact. What has not been discussed in great detail is the impact on search marketing. How should advertisers adapt their paid search strategies to adjust to these new realities?

Before digging into action items, let’s recap the newest updates and how they’ll impact paid search campaigns.

Chrome’s privacy updates will have a greater impact than iOS.

There are two key privacy changes top-of-mind for search marketers in 2021. App Tracking Transparency (ATT), introduced through Apple’s iOS 14.5 update, requires a user to opt-in before a company can track their data across other apps or websites. Fortunately, the impact of this update on search programs for most advertisers is limited. Advertisers may see fluctuations in universal app campaign (UAC) volume, and search properties with a larger app-based audience (for example, YouTube) will experience some degradation in measurement and targeting. By and large, though, the ATT update is more of an issue for programmatic advertisers than search marketers.

Google Chrome’s third-party cookie deprecation, coming in 2023, will have a larger impact on paid search. From a targeting perspective, remarketing lists for search ads (RLSA) will become less effective without data on users’ behaviors across non-Google properties. As of Q3 2020, RLSA accounted for 20 percent of Google search ad clicks for Merkle advertisers – so this is a significant segment of traffic. There will also be new measurement challenges, especially for companies relying on proprietary reporting tech.

While iOS 14.5 is already a reality for advertisers, there is more than a year left to prepare for Google’s third-party cookie deprecation. There are several steps search marketers can take now to optimize performance within a more privacy-focused environment.

1. Lean into first-party data audience solutions to target

Effective audience segmentation and targeting will continue to be critical in search moving forward. Google offers several in-platform audience options, such as in-market and affinity audiences, that don’t rely on third-party data and can be leveraged by advertisers indefinitely.

However, there’s a greater opportunity for organizations to differentiate themselves by crafting a strong audience strategy using their own first-party data with Customer Match. Many advertisers already use Customer Match to some degree, but the data may not be refreshed regularly, or it may not be segmented in detail. The transition away from third-party cookies is the perfect impetus for fine-tuning a first-party data strategy.

First, advertisers should assess the quality of their first-party data. How comprehensive is the data that’s collected? Are there a lot of duplicate records, or is there a reliable unique record for each customer? All of the slicing and dicing in the world won’t be helpful if the data you’re working with is fundamentally flawed.

Next, marketers should assess opportunities to segment their customer lists in meaningful ways – a single “email subscribers list” isn’t going to cut it anymore. Smart segmentation is always important, but it will become even more critical because it will empower Google to build more tailored similar audiences.

After establishing segments, there must be a plan to refresh those audiences frequently. Determine an appropriate cadence for updating customer match lists and determine who’s responsible for doing it. Currently, this can be done through the Google Ads API or within the Google Ads interface.

Once a foundation is in place for your audience strategy, revisit your approach quarterly to ensure that segments continue to align with attributes important to your customers and your business. This also creates a natural check-in point to confirm that lists are being updated as expected and that they’re all receiving traffic. If needed, audience bid modifiers should be adjusted to reflect current performance.

On the topic of bidding…

2. Test or transition to Smart Bidding to take advantage of Google’s proprietary signals

While we, as advertisers, will have lesser user data available to us without third-party cookies, Google will continue to have a wealth of information about its users and their behavior on Google-owned properties. Google Ads’ Smart Bidding allows advertisers to take advantage of those audience signals to reach the right person at the right bid with machine learning. That’s not to say that segmentation isn’t important with Smart Bidding – it still is. One of the many signals the bidder looks at is all of the audiences a given user belongs to, including customer match audiences.

Advertisers can and should take advantage of custom audience segmentations through Google Analytics, Looker, or Google Cloud Platform (Big Query). And they should automate the pushing of defined customer audiences to Google marketing activation to maximize business data with Google’s Smart Bidding.

Whatever your advertising goals may be, there is likely a Google Ads Smart Bidding strategy to suit your business needs. For search marketers not yet using Smart Bidding, it’d be smart to start testing in early 2022 to iron out any kinks and have a full-blown Smart Bidding approach before 2023.

3. Get comfortable with new reporting methods

We’ve talked a lot about adapting to the changes to come with targeting, but privacy updates also create challenges for reporting. There will be a measurement gap that advertisers need to solve. Fortunately, Google Ads has solutions in place to help fill holes with enhanced and modeled conversions.

Enhanced conversions improve reporting accuracy by using an advertiser’s hashed first-party data to tie a conversion event to an ad interaction. Enhanced conversions are powerful in that they make a one-to-one connection between an impression or click and a purchase. Modeled conversions, on the other hand, find their power in scalability; Google has been using them to report on cross-device conversions for several years. When used in combination, advertisers get the benefit of precision where a one-to-one connection exists, while smartly estimating conversions in areas where it does not.

As privacy regulations increasingly muddy the reporting waters, the stakes are higher to work with Google to fill the gaps. If you’re relying primarily on proprietary technology for reporting, consider using Google’s measurement system to get a more complete picture of performance. Understanding the full impact of search is critical for being able to optimize and allocate budgets effectively. Note that Google’s global site tag or tag manager is required to appropriately track conversions.

4. Monitor universal app campaigns for performance changes

Advertisers using UAC to drive app downloads via paid search should closely monitor performance for those campaigns. So far, Merkle has observed a slow downward trend in tracked installs as a result of Apple’s ATT update. To avoid the effects of ATT, some advertisers are increasing their investment in Android or shifting spend there entirely. UAC can continue to be an effective channel for marketers, but reduced visibility on iOS may require bid or budget shifts in order to hit performance goals.

Conclusion

Privacy updates are changing the way marketers approach targeting and measurement. Don’t panic – but do put a plan in place. With the right adjustments, search advertisers can effectively pivot along with the industry. More than ever, advertisers must value first-party audiences driven by search to further customer engagement, experiences, and marketing ROI. Using that first-party data, in conjunction with machine-learning-based bid strategies and modeled and enhanced reporting, will create a foundation to help future proof search campaigns for privacy updates in the years to come.


Matt Mierzejewski is SVP of Performance Marketing Lab and Search at Merkle Inc.

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Small Business Search Trends On The Rise In 2022

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Small Business Search Trends On The Rise In 2022


A new report from Semrush reveals searches related to small businesses, particularly ‘opening’ a small business, are on the rise.

The report details the business categories and specific search queries gaining traction and offers insight into what areas of marketing businesses are investing in.

Data in the report is based on the keyword and search volume intel collected by Semrush.

After analyzing the traffic growth trends to organic search performance over time, Semrush shares which small business categories manage to do better online.

Here are some key highlights from the report.

Search Trends Around Opening A Business

Looking at search volume for various searches that indicate an intent to open a business, the report finds:

  • Over the past four years, the number of “open business” searches has grown by 21%.
  • The majority of “open business” searches occur in January and March.
  • From 2018 to 2022, searches for all things related to starting a small business spiked by 76%.

Most Popular Small Business Categories

While general interest in starting a small business is spiking, search volume indicates aspiring business owners are looking to open boutiques:

  • Almost one-fifth of all entrepreneurs-to-be want to open a boutique.
  • starting an Etsy business looks attractive to almost one-fifth of all the searchers.
  • Vending machines appear to be gaining the most significant traction, as the category broke into the second spot of most-searched small businesses.

Analyzing search trends across regions, the report finds:

  • The “Etsy, cleaning, boutique” triad is present—fully or partially—across each state’s top 3.
  • In exactly half the states, coffee shops also make it into the top 3 most searched small business categories.
  • Montana and Vermont searchers also consider delivery services as a potential undertaking.

Most Frequent ‘Small Business’ Related Searches

Half of all the top small business-related searches are related to financing.

Here are the top queries, ordered by average monthly searches:

  1. Small business loans
  2. Small business grants
  3. Small business administration
  4. Small business ideas
  5. How to start a small business

Small Business Searches Related To Marketing

Keyword stats indicate small business owners try to embrace all the up-and-coming trends:

  • Searches for digital marketing services surged by 1,500% (especially fast during the pandemic).
  • Interest in creating short videos for small businesses grew by 420%.
  • 600% more people were looking up free text message marketing in 2022 than in 2018.

Small Business Site Categories With the Highest Traffic Growth

The report finds the average traffic growth for small businesses across the board was 2900%.

Semrush states:

“This means that over the past 4 years, most of the websites within our client list managed to expand their visitor base.”

Top 10 Small Business Site Categories By Share of High-Ranking Organic Keywords

The report explores which small business site categories have the largest share of high-ranking organic keywords.

Here are the categories listed in order, followed by the median number of organic keywords where the domain ranks in the top 10

  1. Publishing: 45,581
  2. Online Media: 10,116
  3. Veterinary: 9,379
  4. Entertainment: 6,627
  5. Consumer Services: 3,518
  6. Consumer Goods: 3,339
  7. Building Materials: 2,957
  8. Music: 2,593
  9. Human Resources: 2,145
  10. Food & Beverages: 1,839

What’s interesting to note here is how the top 10 categories by high-ranking keywords don’t line up with the fastest-growing site categories by traffic. Semrush suggests this could mean ranking for a high number of keywords might not directly lead to traffic growth.


Featured Image: Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock





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Google Top Stories Topics Sections On Desktop

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Google Top Stories Topics Sections On Desktop


Google Search is now grouping some of its Top Stories sections for some queries by topics. This was working on mobile for a while but is now reportedly working for the desktop Top Stories Google Search results.

Here is a screenshot for a query on [biden] where Google Search on desktop is showing a topic section for abortion articles and a topic section for the US military in Europe. You can click on the image to enlarge or check it out yourself for that query.

click for full size

Yes, the layout is now new, it is from December 2021 but the topics on desktop search is new according to Shalom Goodman, who is a news SEO and would know this.

He shared more screenshots on Twitter:

It makes sense to group some queries by topics for the Top Stories section.

Also, I wasn’t sure if this was new, but the “Topics In News” section on the right is supposedly new:

Forum discussion at Twitter.





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64.2% Of Sites Use WordPress

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64.2% Of Sites Use WordPress


WordPress continues to dominate the content management systems (CMS) market and is currently used by 64.2% of websites that have a CMS, according to data from W3Techs.com.

Shopify is a distant second for June 2022 and accounts for 6.3% of the CMS market.

Wix, Squarespace, and Joomla round out the top five with less than 3.5% market share each.

CMS Market Share June 2022 is available to reprint with attribution; see Creative Commons license for details.

W3Techs notes that 33.1% of websites do not use any of the content management systems they monitor.

WordPress is therefore used by 43% of all websites, and 64.2% of those with an identifiable CMS.

WordPress Plans To Continue Working On Security, Stability

WordPress shows no signs of slowing down and is currently about five years into a ten-year project that involves rewriting its entire codebase.

In a recent interview, Josepha Haden Chomphosy, Executive Director of WordPress, told SEJ,

“…the next year, as with all of the years in a project like that, is making sure we are still as stable and capable as a CMS as people have come to expect while also still pushing forward with a newer more modern way to manage your content online.”

WordPress rolled out version change Arturo 6.0 this month and within two weeks, 36.2% of WP sites had updated to it.

Roger Montti reported that WordPress shared a proposal for a plugin checker that would improve security and site performance by proactively vetting plugins, as well.

Shopify Enters B2B Marketplace With June Update

Shopify released its Summer ’22 Edition in June, adding more than 100 new features for users.

A new feature simply and aptly called “B2B” will connect Shopify Plus merchants with wholesalers and offer integrations with NetSuite, Brightpearl, Acumatica, and others for a more seamless experience.

See Brian Frederick’s coverage here to learn more.

Wix Publishes Structured Data Guide For SEO Pros

Wix, in third place for CMS market share this month, released “Wix Structured Data Guide: How To Use Standard & Custom Markup” in June.

Contributing author Mordy Oberstein, Head of SEO Branding at Wix, shared his comprehensive guide to implementing structured data on Wix here at Search Engine Journal.

“In fewer than three years, Wix went from supporting little by way of structured data to offering SEO pros and site owners the ability to do nearly whatever they want with relative ease,” Oberstein wrote.

He also noted that due to recent platform updates, any content elsewhere on the internet around this topic is now out of date.

See his guide above to learn more about applying structured data to your Wix site.

Stay tuned for next month’s CMS Market Share Monthly report.

Related reading:


Featured image: Paulo Bobita/Search Engine Journal
Data source: W3Techs.com, Usage statistics of content management systems, as of June 27, 2002.





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