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Google has officially confirmed the end of ads in the right hand column of its search pages, except for two notable exceptions.

As of February 19th, Google is phasing out ads on the right side of its desktop search results. Instead, all ads will appear at the top or bottom of the results, though Google may include an additional ad above results for “high commercial queries.”

The change will effect users worldwide, in all languages. Google is also saying the change is motivated by a push to bring desktop results closer to the mobile experience, however rumors suggest the low click-through rate (CTR) of right side ads may also be a factor.

There are also two specific exceptions to the change. No ads will appear on the right side of desktop search results except in two cases:

  • Product Listing Ad (PLA) boxes will still show either above or to the right of search results
  • Ads can still appear in the Knowledge Panel

Overall, most users probably won’t notice the difference in search results. However, businesses competing for the already limited organic space on the front page of search results may find the change makes the competition even fiercer.

The decreasing front page real estate means an even higher focus on SEO for businesses seeking high ranking organic listings.

The rollout for the change should be complete today.

Source: Robert Scoble / Flickr

Source: Robert Scoble / Flickr

Most online advertisers consider conversion tracking an essential part of their toolkit. After all, why pour money into advertising if you can’t properly see how effective it is and optimize it? However, there are many businesses who are not using conversion tracking or importing goals from Google Analytics into AdWords. Google says they have a new feature just for them.

The new Smart Goals are powered by Google Analytics and aim to help businesses without a way to measure conversions evaluate their advertising efforts and optimize their campaigns.

Unlike conversion tracking and Analytics goals, Smart Goals don’t measure actions taken directly on an advertiser’s website. Instead, it uses the anonymized conversion data collected from other websites by Google Analytics to identify visits “most likely” to convert based on Google’s estimate.

The announcement explains:

To generate Smart Goals, we apply machine learning across thousands of websites that use Google Analytics and have opted in to share anonymized conversion data. From this information, we can distill dozens of key factors that correlate with likelihood to convert: things like session duration, pages per session, location, device and browser. We can then apply these key factors to any website. The easiest way to think about Smart Goals is that they reflect your website visits that our model indicates are most likely to lead to conversions.

To set up Smart Goals, advertisers will need to link their Analytics and AdWords accounts and must receive at least 1,000 clicks rom AdWords over a 30-day period “to ensure the validity of your data.” From there, select Smart Goals, under Goals in the Admin tab.

Advertisers can even preview well Smart Goals can work for their site before activating it by exploring the new “Smart Goals” page under Conversions in Analytics. This page lets you analyze the behavior of Smart Goals visits and compare those to the visits deemed unlikely to convert. If you like what you are seeing, you can then import Smart Goals into AdWords.

Once Smart Goals have been imported, advertisers can set a target cost per acquisition (CPA) with the Smart Goals being the acquisition. The announcement says, “in this way, you’re able to optimize your AdWords spend based on the likelihood of conversion as determined by our model.”

Google says Smart Goals will be rolling out over the next few weeks. While it may serve as a reasonable solution for some businesses, for most Smart Goals may seem like a bit of a stop-gap solution. To really take control of your online advertising and guarantee you are getting your money’s worth, you will want to use conversion tracking,

If you need help getting started, contact us. We can get you set up and help you optimize your advertising to ensure the best results.

Source: Nordstrom

Source: Nordstrom

Halloween isn’t even here yet, but many retailers are already prepping for the holiday sales surge. According to the National Retail Federation, those retailers can also plan on seeing an even more sales than last year. The NRF predicts sales will jump 3.7 percent to $630.5 billion in November and December 2015.

While the total amount of sales is still expected to rise this year, the increase isn’t as large as the boost in 2014. Last year’s sales grew 4.3 percent compared to 2013.

Online sales are expected to see a large amount of this increase, outpacing the overall growth by rising between 6 and 8 percent this year to $105 billion.

According to the NRF’s report, holiday sales could account for around 19 percent of the retail industry’s total annual sales, projected to reach $3.2 trillion. Those predictions exclude auto, gas, and restaurant sales.

“With several months of solid retail sales behind us, we’re heading into the all-important holiday season fully expecting to see healthy growth,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay. “We expect families to spend prudently and deliberately, though still less constrained than what we saw even two years ago.”

“Price, value and even timing will all play a role in how, when, where and why people shop over the holiday season,” said Shay. “Retailers will be competitive not only on price, but on digital initiatives, store hours, product offerings and much more.”

The NRF holiday sales forecast takes into account many factors including consumer credit levels, disposable personal income, and previous monthly retail sales releases. The numbers do include a non-store category which considers direct-to-consumer, kiosks, and online sales.

Google has made a big deal about its ability to prevent advertisers from paying for ads that aren’t seen by real human eyes, including on YouTube’s ad network, but a new study by a team of European researchers suggests something is amiss. According to their findings, advertisers are still being forced to pay for ads despite YouTube’s systems flagging the view as “suspicious” or fraudulently coming from a bot rather than a human.

The experiment from researchers at NEC Labs Europe, UC3m, Imdea, and Polito, was conducted in three stages. First the researchers uploaded videos to YouTbe and set up an AdSense account to monetize them. Then, the team set up AdWords accounts to run ads against the video, before creating and deploying bots designed to specifically view the videos with the ads.

While the researchers concluded that “among the studied online video portals, YouTube is the only one implementing a sufficiently discriminative fake view detection mechanism,” they also found “that YouTube only applies this mechanism to discount fake views from the public view counter and not from the monetized view counter.”

That means that YouTube filters out views it deems as fraudulent for the public view counter, but they are still charging advertisers for those views.

Throughout their experiment, the group observed the number of monetized views was consistently larger than the number of counter views and came to the realization that “views considered suspicious are removed from the public view counter, but monetized.”

public-viewcounter-v-monetized-youtube-dailymotion-e1443113264182-800x372

This isn’t the first time Google has been accused of charging for fraudulent clicks. When similar situations were brought up with YouTube, the company said the discrepancies are likely due to users watching the video ad, but not the video itself. That would lead to the view to be monetized but not included in the public counter.

However, the researchers say that cannot be what happened here because the bot was designed to “view” both the ads and the accompanying video all the way through.

The team also took the fact that YouTube performs part of its view validation after the fact into consideration, however after six months the team saw no compensation adjustments. That happened even after YouTube suspended the AdSense account due to the bots’ suspicious activity.

The team also found YouTube is vulnerable to relatively simple attacks. They say they have given their findings to Google and will continue to refine the tools used for the study and potentially make them widely available.

A Google spokesperson said, “We’re contacting the researchers to discuss their findings further. We take invalid traffic very seriously and have invested significantly in the technology and team that keep this out of our systems. The vast majority of invalid traffic is filtered from our systems before advertisers are ever charged.”

As September begins many retailers are kicking off holiday promotional campaigns, which means the Christmas season is coming even earlier than normal this year. According to ChannelAdvisor’s 2015 Online Retail Survey, over half (59%) of retailers in the US and UK have already begun their holiday campaigns.

It’s not uncommon for holiday promotions to begin early in the year, as consumers begin holiday researching and shopping months ahead of time, but the survey shows retailers are beginning their holiday promotions even earlier than last year. The survey also shows that retailers say their top strategy this year is to offer more holiday sales in an attempt to boost sales.

retailers-most-profitable-day-channeladvisor

As with every year, most retailers are depending on strong holiday performances, with over a quarter (74%) of retailers saying at least 20% of their annual sales come from the holiday season.

While Black Friday sales were lower than expected last year, Black Friday and Cyber Monday remain key sales days for the holiday season. Among US retailers, 41% reported Black Friday was the most profitable day of the year, while 47% of UK retailers said the same.

Retailers have high hopes for this year’s holiday sales performance, with 82% saying they expect sales to increase. Of those, 21% said they expect holiday sales to rise more than 15% from last year.

For the full survey, click here.

 

A report by the US Commerce Department shows e-commerce sales in the US shot up 14.1 percent over the past year while overall retail sales have only climbed one percent year-over-year.

In the second quarter of this year, US e-commerce sales jumped to $83.9 billion in the second quarter compared to Q2 2014, even after adjusting for seasonality, according to the report published Monday.

In total, 7.2 percent of the estimated $1,171.5 billion in US retail sales transactions took place online during the second quarter, rising from 7.0 percent in the first quarter of the year and 6.3 percent a year ago.

retail-sales-ecommerce-us-commerce-department-q2-2-15

When not accounting for seasonal retail variations, the Commerce Department estimates US retail e-commerce sales racked up to $78.8 billion, jumping 5.1 percent from Q1 and 14.4 percent year-over-year. When not accounting for seasonality, the report finds e-commerce sales drove approximately 6.6 percent of all retail sales.

The data was based on a sampling of around 10,000 US retail companies, excluding food services, and may have included firms without an e-commerce presence.

 non-clickable-areas-google-display-ads-800x513

Tell me if this has ever happened to you. As you’re browsing a website, your thumb accidentally hits an ad as you try to scroll past it, launching a new page. You close it out, and try to scroll down again only to accidentally tap the ad on the page yet again, leaving you in a loop of trying to close the page and move past it but repeatedly wind up tapping an ill-placed ad that you have no interest in.

Not only is this scenario a bad experience for the user, but it is also a nightmare for advertisers who are wasting money on valueless clicks.

This has been a growing issue for the online advertising industry as mobile browsing increases, but sites have struggled to optimize their sites (and their advertising) for mobile viewers and errant taps. Now, Google is finally making changes to hopefully solve the so-called “fat finger” ad clicks problem.

  1. First, taps close to the edge of an image ad won’t be considered clicks. Google says it has identified the border area particularly prone to accidental clicks during scrolling.
  2. Second, for in-app install ads interstitial ads like the one on the right above users won’t be able to click on the app icon because the close button is overlayed on that image. Users will need to click the call-to-action button.
  3. Finally, ads will only become clickable after they’ve been onscreen for “a short period of time”. How long that period actually is isn’t clear, but Google says the delay is to give users “enough time to examine the content of an ad”.

While most of these changes are relatively common sense (why on earth was the app icon ever considered a click?), but they are still welcomed by the advertising community who have been complaining about “fat fingers” since display ads came to mobile.

Facebook Beacons

Facebook is expanding its Place Tips program, and that means retailers will finally have access to free beacons that push posts and photos related to their business when someone accesses Facebook in or near that location.

For example, if you are checking your Facebook quickly while you are waiting in line at a participating retailer you will see “more info about places you visit, including your friends’ photos, experiences and moments from that place.” Users will also be prompted to like the business’s Facebook page.

As Engadget reported, users will receive a “tip” notification for the place you are at when you open Facebook on your phone. If you tap it, you’ll be shown a series of cards related to the location. The cards will include current posts and photos from your friends who have also visited the location, as well as basic information about the business.

For now, the cards offer limited value from the perspective of the retailer, especially as advertising is not permitted. However, it gets retailers directly on users streams and is delivered based on an opt-out basis to users. That means there is still quite the potential for the program.

To make the service work, Facebook determines your location using a combination of cellular networks, Wi-Fi, GPS, and Facebook Bluetooth® beacons.

For now the Place Tips program is limited to the Facebook app for the iPhone and location services must be enabled for the tips to appear.

Mike Blumenthal did a great job explaining the importance of the announcement to small and medium businesses:

This marks the first time that beacon technology to interact with customers is being made available at scale to every business. While it might not appeal to a Macy’s that can implement their own beacon hardware and software stack, it now makes the option available for every Mom & Pop to participate with in-store customer interactions.

You can request your free beacon using this form.

Examples of injected ads ‘in the wild'

Examples of injected ads ‘in the wild’

A new study from Google and the University of California, Berkeley and Santa Barbara has found that over 3,000 advertisers have been the victims of ad injection software, including major brands such as Sears, Walmart, Target, and eBay.

Ad injectors have long been a boon for webmasters, as the troublesome and occasionally malicious programs insert unwanted ads into web pages costing publishers in ad revenue and causing advertisers to pay for traffic from ads they never intended to buy.

The study exposes a network of companies that profit from and facilitate these unwanted ads and to show just how widespread the issue is. Google says it has received more than 100,000 complaints from users about ad injectors since just the start of this year.

Ginny Marvin from Marketing Land thoroughly breaks down how ad injection works:

The ad injectors comes in the form of browser extensions and software applications that infect a user’s browser. Google found more than 50,000 browser extensions and 34,000 software applications that had hijacked user’s browsers to inject ads. In nearly 30 percent cases, the software bundles were “outright malicious”, not only injecting ads but stealing account credentials, hijacking users’ search queries and reporting user activity to third parties for tracking purposes.

Google found the ad injector software being distributed onto users computers by 1,000 affiliate businesses, including known adware browser extensions, Crossrider, Shopper Pro and Netcrawl. These companies aim to spread as many ad injector software downloads as possible in a number of ways, including bundling their applications with popular downloads (who hasn’t fallen victim to the pre-checked box for an add-on during a software download?), blatant malware distribution and extensive social media campaigns. They then collect affiliate fees when users click on injected ads.

The ad injectors get the ads from about 25 ad injection library companies such as Superfish and Jollywallet, which in turn source and target ads from relationships with a handful of ad networks and shopping programs. It’s these libraries that pass on a fraction of the profits to the affiliates.

Google found that 77 percent of all injected ads originated from just one of these three ad networks: Dealtime.com, Pricegrabber.com and Bizrate.com.

This network is massive for even the most sophisticated spam and shady marketing systems. Google used a custom-built ad injection detector on Google sites and found that 5.5 percent of unique IP addresses (representing millions of users) accessed Google sites that had some form of injected ads.

Don’t think your Mac is safe either. Google also saw that 3.4 percent of page views on Apple machines and 5.1 percent on Windows machines showed clear signs of ad injection software.

To combat the problem, Google says it has taken down 192 deceptive Chrome browser extensions from the Chrome Web Store and instituted new user protections to prevent similar extensions from making it into the store in the future.

The full report will be presented later this month at the IEEE Symposium on Security & Privacy, but you can read Google’s announcement of the study results here.

FBVidVsYouTube

YouTube has been the prime place to be for video advertising for years, but Facebook is making a strong effort to take the throne. It also seems to be working. A new survey from video advertising company Mixpo suggests Facebook video may overtake YouTube as the number one video advertising platform as early as this year.

Facebook Video vs YouTube

The survey polled 125 agencies, brands and publishers on their plans for video advertising this year. According to their results, 87 percent said they plan to run video ad campaigns on Facebook, compared to 81.5 percent on YouTube.

Facebook video’s rise has been incredibly quick, following a revamp of the service early last year. Since then, the platform has claimed incredible viewing and sharing stats for videos which are attracting many advertisers.

The findings of the survey also show more businesses and advertisers are seeing the value in video advertising, as more marketers report planning video advertising campaigns across all platforms in 2015. Similarly, the number of advertisers without plans for video advertising this year has fallen to nearly non-existent.