Q4 can be a merciless time for marketers; even if you’re not staring down a couple of make-or-break months as a seasonal retailer, you’re likely battling for user attention, fighting against rising CPCs (costs per click) on platforms like Facebook or taking advantage of a down season to do some serious planning for Q1.
In any of those scenarios, having a firm grasp of the current state of digital is critical to success. And if you haven’t tuned in closely enough to trends, features, releases and more since last Q4, well, bad on you. But we’ve got a shortcut for you: a quick rundown of the 21 most critical developments since Q4 2015, broken down by channel or discipline.
Let’s start with…
For the past few years, most paid social updates of note involve Facebook. But this Q4, a trio of relative newcomers (one of which is related to Facebook) are drawing attention and dollars.
• Pinterest has continued to add more and more features for performance-driven advertisers. On the audience side of things, major updates include custom audiences of your own customer data, as well as lookalike creation off of audience data.
Combined with the ability to target based on Pinterest keyword searches and interests, the options to target the right audience on Pinterest are now plentiful. A few very exciting product updates over the last year or so include promoted video ads and app install ads.
Anecdotally, Pinterest has made strides in the past year to position itself as a discovery and decision engine that extends well beyond being viable for just retail and e-commerce brands.
• Snapchat is another contender for performance-driven advertising dollars this Q4. More recent additions to Snap Ads include the ability for a user to “swipe up” on ads in the Discover section of the platform, allowing them to continue through to an advertiser’s website or app store or to view longer-form video content.
No longer is Snapchat a pure “branding” play for advertisers. Given that multiple publishers told Digiday that up to 85 percent of their Facebook video views occur with the sound off, Snapchat is in a unique position in the video space. It claimed earlier this year that two-thirds of the videos on its mobile app are viewed with the sound on.
• Instagram is well-positioned this Q4 to command some serious ad dollars from advertisers who expect results. In Q4 of 2015, Instagram rolled out its advertising offering to all advertisers. Over the last year, more bells and whistles were added to mirror the plethora of options available from parent company Facebook.
This Q4, advertisers are being encouraged to think of their Instagram and Facebook advertising dollars as one pool that, when used in tandem, can maximize efficiency. A tactic to consider this Q4 is to combine your Facebook and Instagram placements to best optimize your dollars between these platforms for all of your advertising objectives.
If AdWords hasn’t released any game-changers over the last few months, it’s not for lack of effort. Let’s break down some of its new features — and how much of a difference they’ve made.
• Customer match has been a bust so far because of the low volume in both matched audiences and potential lookalike audiences. That could change once Customer Match (and Similar Users) launches on the Google Display Network (GDN), which we hope happens sometime in the next few months.
• Google launched Expanded Text Ads with great fanfare back in Q2, but we haven’t noticed much of an overall increase in CTRs (click-through rates) — and we’re far from alone in the industry. A lot of our search efforts in Q4 will be testing and discovering ways to make the added real estate work more efficiently.
• On the positive side, Drafts and Experiments have been a great tool to test anything you want in AdWords. If your company doesn’t have an aggressive culture of testing, particularly in SEM (Search Engine Marketing) and GDN campaigns, this should let you take your foot off the brakes.
• Rolling back enhanced campaigns and giving advertisers the ability to segment campaigns by device have been a pleasant surprise. We have yet to revert many campaigns back to mobile only, but it’s great to have the option for certain clients. In a similar vein, the ability to exclude tablets from our campaigns has helped greatly with efficiency, since tablet CPAs have always trended much higher for us than desktop CPAs.
The proliferation and usage of data have hit a new gear this year. Marketers have more options for collecting data and more ways to use it. Here’s what we’ve done (and learned):
- We’re starting to push audiences from our DMP (data management platform) to AdWords and our DSP (demand-side platform) for more finely tuned targeting campaigns. This has augmented the accessibility of first-party data and second-party data on those platforms.
- The availability of third-party data and the growth of exchanges have exploded. There are now over 100 partners shoveling third-party data into DMPs, which means marketers have the option not to work directly with data providers.
- We’ve witnessed the emergence of data “fire hoses” — some vendors and DMPs have opened up “real-time” data “pipes” to drive personalization and experience customization based on available user data.
- As our CEO, David Rodnitzky, has often said, “Mo’ channels, mo’ data, mo’ problems” — and that’s compounded this year. We’ve seen a much bigger focus on attribution, with social, video and content demanding more marketing dollars for the top of the funnel and driving value that can’t be accurately measured in last-click conversions.
There’s always a lot going on with mobile, but we’ll focus on one player in the news lately.
- Between the release of search ads and its “limit ad tracking” feature in the iOS 10 update, Apple is making serious positioning moves that should shake up the mobile ecosystem. Again, the true effects of this might not shake out for a few months, but this definitely needs to be on every CMO’s radar.
Aside from the integration of more data described above, ad blocking has been one of the biggest issues at play for display in 2016. Some developments and trends:
- eMarketer projected a 34 percent growth (US) in the number of people using ad blockers in 2016, and the usage is proportionately higher among Millennials.
- Most ad blocker users only block desktop ads (not mobile). Of those who block, 90.5 percent block desktop and 29.7 percent block mobile. (Note: There’s overlap).
- The most common reason for using a blocker is that the user is annoyed by ads that block content. Given that reason, most publishers are looking at both technical solutions (blocking ad blockers, requesting that customers add them to the blocker whitelist) and UX remedies, including less intrusive ads, focusing on faster load times and making sure the ad is relevant (read: better targeted!) to the consumer.
- All of the above points lead to a continued rise in the importance of native ads, as well as good targeting data.
With the exception of the last bulleted item below — which by its nature is more immediate — SEO developments are going to be tough to manipulate in time to reap the benefits in Q4. But marketers who don’t start planning for how to adapt to these now will have some serious ground to make up going forward.
• RankBrain rules — and it’s changing the SEO game. We’ve been saying for months, since the introduction of RankBrain last Q4, that search engines will get smarter. The conflation of search terms has been slow and steady, but now it’s not only becoming far more prevalent, but it will also change the way we optimize and keyword map.
Take, for example, this SERP:
The carousel at the top of the SERP is, of course, nothing new. Search engines now know that when a user is searching “things to do,” they are actually looking for points of interest. That semantic connection was made a while ago, and the change to the SERP has been somewhat commonplace.
Now look below the fold for that same query:
The change to actual listings is dramatic. Take a look at all of the descriptions. In the top two listings, the bold terms are not the query we searched for; instead, they are the actual points of interest that we saw noted above. Despite having optimized descriptions for “things to do,” in this SERP, Google’s elected to show, instead, in bold the points of interest people are commonly looking for.
While this seems to be a small semantic (and logical) jump, it has profound implications for how we can expect to be served listings in the future. If our mappings need to not just accommodate permutations and adjectives of queries, but also related queries and end-goal queries, our jobs as SEOs just got a whole lot harder.
• Google recently announced that AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) would have a slight rankings edge over websites with deep links to their apps. This will likely force brands to make a decision regarding their mobile experience vs. their app.
In an app-driven marketplace, many brands would likely opt to continue to optimize their primary product (their app) rather than trying to get their mobile web experience on AMP. This announcement will draw the line between brands that will focus on their mobile web vs. those that will focus just on their app; the brands that do both may be wasting their energies, if, at the end of the day, only one experience will win.
• Both Panda and Penguin are part of the core algorithm, but only Penguin is going to be pushed real time. This is huge for brands that have been (or could be) hit with a penalty. This means that, at any time, if your brand has been engaging in questionable link acquisition practices, you could be hit with a penalty.
Instead of fearing the looming updates, brands will have a real-time issue to deal with. Checking and rechecking your rankings, especially if you have an aggressive link-building campaign, will become commonplace. On the bright side, this also means that brands can recover from a penalty a lot more quickly than they have been able to previously.
The discipline of conversion rate optimization has one new important feature and one growing trend that you’ll be seeing all over your browsers in Q4.
- One of the leaders in the CRO space, Optimizely, recently unveiled Optimizely X, which features updated/new real-time behavioral targeting and personalization features and has been touted as a “unified experimentation platform.” It’s still brand-new, and we don’t have much to report on our experience with it yet, but it’s clear that it’s designed in part to help drive…
- the increased focus on personalization, which transcends channels and focuses less on what people buy than why people buy. Behavioral data, more sophisticated tools and technology, and a shifting mindset are changing everything from messaging to site UX to allocation of marketing budget.
Phew! Long list. And although it’s not nearly exhaustive, it should give you plenty to track over the next few months.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.
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Author: Scott Rayden