Items might be in or out of stock or products might be discontinued only to be offered in another colour for the next season. While e-commerce retailers have become accustomed to rapid changes in inventory, the marketing professionals who handle their pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns have not. They need to provide consumers with accurate information about the inventory in order to retain them. Jennifer Johnstone, senior performing marketing strategist at the digital communications consulting firm the Piston Agency, offered some ideas on how to reduce the chaos for retailers and marketers as well as to satisfy customers.
Marketers specializing in PPC craft ads that respond to search terms. Until recently, PPC specialists only had a few options to produce these messages aimed at consumers. They could create “catch all” campaigns that relied on a combination of phrases and broad match terms to pull in a user’s search query. However, this strategy led to ads that were too generic and did not give customers exactly what they wanted.
Another strategy was to build a manual campaign for each product in the retailer’s inventory. This approach was time-consuming and inefficient. In addition, building manual campaigns did not work well for shifting inventory. A customer could click on an ad, only to discover the item he or she wanted was out of stock. The third method is known as product listing ads (PLA). PLAs use a retailer’s data feed to generate imaged-based advertisements specific to the product. They are a different format than traditional search-based ads, and are not positioned in the same way as a traditional search-based ad would be.
In August 2013, Google’s ad technology DoubleClick Search launched inventory-aware campaigns. They utilize a retailer’s existing product feed within its Google Merchant Center account to formulate ad groups, keywords and advertisements of products based on the retailer’s existing inventory. DoubleClick Search automatically scans the inventory feed every few hours. If an item is unavailable, the ad groups for it will pause. Conversely, should the retailer add a new item to its inventory, DoubleClick Search will automatically create a new ad group based on the advertiser’s specifications.
Johnstone recently outlined how best to utilize DoubleClick Search’s new capabilities in a blog post for Search Engine Watch. “The article was written for professionals with intermediate to advanced PPC knowledge that use DoubleClick Search or have access to it,” she said. “Having experience with product data feeds is helpful, but not necessary.”
The PPC specialist expressed confidence that inventory campaigns will become an important part of e-commerce retailers’ advertising arsenal. “Inventory campaigns are definitely a strategy with staying power,” Johnstone commented. She believes it provides a better solution for marketers and retailers. “This isn’t just an ‘add-on’ tactic for many e-comm retailers, but rather a bigger and better replacement for manual campaign builds which were just too inefficient with ever-changing inventory and product updates,” Johnstone asserted.
She pointed out that inventory campaigns are easy to manage. “Once inventory campaigns are set up, there is actually very little to do aside from typical campaign maintenance since the updates are automatic based on the feed updates,” Johnstone commented. “In fact, most of the work I do now for inventory campaigns involves straight optimizing and testing – but of course, no building.”
Despite her confidence in the power of inventory campaigns, Johnstone acknowledged that convincing some e-commerce retailers of their benefit will be difficult. “While I do believe that many e-comm retailers are working toward providing a better user experience through personalization, hyper-targeting, testing, segmentation, etc. in various channels, I also see retailers showing resistance toward large scale implementations, on channels (like paid search) if they are already performing well,” she said. Johnstone believes this attitude is detrimental to success, though. “It’s the ‘If it’s not broken, why fix it?’ mentality that prevents many from experiencing growth,” she remarked.
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