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eCommerce Café: Paul Shapiro

Paul is considered one of today’s most notable experts in the SEO world, and as Director of Strategy and Innovation at Catalyst, he regularly shares his key findings at events, webinars, and his blog. We were lucky to catch him at SMX Advanced and hear how he is leveraging data to surge ahead in his digital strategy.


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For more, follow Paul at @fighto, or check out his personal blog at


Full Transcript

ANDREAS: Paul, great to have you here. You’re working for Catalyst. Can you explain a little bit more what Catalyst does and what your role at Catalyst is?

PAUL:    Sure. So, Catalyst is a full feature search and social agency. So, we manage SEO, SEM, page social for mostly fortune 500 clients. My role at Catalyst is, my title is the director of strategy and innovation. I have an SEO background, but I’ve sort of moved into this role for a more analytics and technology focus. So, I try to roll out new technology and bring that to our clients, and try to think of new and innovative ways to bring ads to them.

ANDREAS: At Crealytics, we mainly work with retailers. So, our audience is probably also quite retail-oriented. So, could you explain to us a little bit how you approach SEO for ecommerce retailers?

PAUL:    Sure. So, SEO for ecommerce retailers is pretty interesting. I think it’s one of the most interesting SEO you can do in particular, just because you’re dealing with these massive, massive websites. And again, quite complicated. Often times you have these issues with crawling, so how does Google crawl the pages. You do these things where Google spent a lot of time crawling relevant search pages or category pages that are no longer existing, and then they never get to these important product pages. So I think, for SEO, investing in log file analysis is hugely important for ecommerce. Investing in information architecture, make sure you have that damn solid, hugely important. And also, I think ecommerce is one of the few verticals where you can really leverage the A/B testing, and A/B testing is a little bit more complicated when it comes to SEO, but because you have so many pages, you can, sort of, reach the statistical significance, or near statistical significance a little bit faster. So ecommerce is a great candidate for A/B testing.

ANDREAS: Maybe a silly question from a paid search guy – what we do usually is, we can estimate pretty accurately what we have to bid on a certain keyword in order to get to a higher position. In the SEO world, this means there is time and effort related towards optimizing certain keywords. Is it possible to estimate the impact of what you’re doing so that you know what return on effort you get on certain activities?

PAUL:  Sure. I mean, it’s not exactly the same, there’s forecasting models you can apply, there’s an understanding of what is the search volume on a certain keyword, and we know that there’s different click through rates at different ranks. And all factored into forecasting and piling that in with your existing analytics – how much revenue are we already generating at this position, and how much could we benefit from this sort of change?

ANDREAS: And how do you leverage data from paid search, for example, in order to prioritize things? So, what data do you take and how do you actually use it?

PAUL:  Yeah, I love using paid search data, personally. Just using, if you’re doing keyword research, like a search query report, that’s an excellent source of keyword information, in terms of affecting change with paid search data. Using paid search as a sort of a A/B testing platform before you go full-feature SEO based test, to sort of inform what sort of changes you’re making. Also, we went through a client where actually completely re-architected their navigation based on some of the things we were seeing with their paid search data, and it led to a huge SEO win for us.

ANDREAS: So, assume you have access to the paid search accounts, and you see all the data, is this everything you would have thought about, doing your SEO job, or are there any other aspects where you have to be close to the PPC team and closely connected?

PAUL:  Synergy is key. There’s no reason to be working in silos. And sometimes paid search sees things much more quicker than an SEO person might see. And the opposite is true. Sometimes the SEO people will see things where the paid search team doesn’t see.

ANDREAS: What could this be?

PAUL:  SEO people tend to be much closer to the site and how the actual site is being implemented. So an SEO person might see well a certain feature isn’t working on the site just because they’re so close to the actual mechanics of the page, and also that’s affecting your conversions on the landing page and whatnot, and then the SEO usually has a bigger hand in the actual copy of the webpage, and that affects quality scores significantly. Just doing SEO optimizations on the landing page, for instance, we’ve seen huge productions in CPC on the paid search end.

ANDREAS: So, when you close a deal with a new client and you launch paid search and SEO, what does the team usually look like? How does Catalyst service retail clients?

PAUL:  Sure. Teams vary according to the retailer’s needs. Usually on the paid search end, we have someone who leads the business, so an account manager, that type of role. And then we have, on the paid search team, we have the account lead. On the SEO team we have an account lead. And there’s a series of managers and lower-tier staff that work with them. So, sometimes we pile in a data analyst that works across all of those, and everyone tries to communicate with one another. And sometimes we have project managers. I think ecommerce in particular, I think we probably leverage our project manager just because of the size and breadth of it, an ecommerce client.

ANDREAS: What kind of tools and technologies is Catalyst using, and how important is this? So, can you do a similarly good job without any tools and tech, or are you dependent on, do you actually need to leverage technology?

PAUL:  I mean, I’m a tech guy. I rely heavily on tech. We have our own set of in-house tools. Often times those rely on 3rd party tools like you guys, and we integrate those into our own tools. But, yeah, we use a myriad of different things, and often times those tools come in with whatever client we’re using, and we stick to their existing stack, or we’ll recommend something that we think would work for them.

ANDREAS: Thanks a lot for your time and for your answers.

PAUL: Thank you.

eCommerce Café: Andy Taylor

At SMX Advanced, we spoke with Merkle’s Assistant Director of Research Andy Taylor, who also spoke on the Mad Scientist panel with our founder Andreas. Catch the full interview behind the scenes, where Andy weighs in on the future of Google’s roadmap, KPIs to prioritize, and the reality behind agencies in the SEM industry.


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For more, follow Andy on Twitter at @PronouncedAhndy.

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eCommerce Café: Frederick Vallaeys

Last month  we attended the SMX Advanced conference in Seattle…meaning we also had the pleasure of digging into the state of Product Ads and eCommerce with Adwords evangelist and Optmyzr CEO, Frederick Vallaeys. Check out the full interview below.

Direct Youtube link.

To stay tuned with Frederick, follow him on Twitter, @SiliconVallaeys.

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Bridging the gap between Marketing and Merchandising

Some may call the concept of the 4Ps of Marketing – Product, Price, Place, Promotion – outdated, but every iteration that adds more complexity to the Marketing concept just reinforces how crucial it is that these four elements work together.

However, what the 4Ps comprehensively describe as Marketing goes way beyond what your typical operational ‘marketing’ department covers. Most everyday marketing teams focus on the Promotion-P, be it media buys or digital advertising or something similar.

The CMO’s task then is to bring together the other three Ps into a holistic approach to Marketing. Two Ps that have stratified out into their own distinct departments are Merchandising (Placement) and Buying (Pricing). The final P – Product – is generally determined by your company, though in market-oriented companies the CMO would have a say on the product-market-fit.

Merchandisers – guardians of the Placement-P, ensure that products appear in the right store/website, at the appropriate time and in the correct quantities. Similarly, the Pricing-P is typically covered by a specialized buying department, sourcing and pricing goods in close cooperation with merchandisers.

Because of these silos, Marketing is not as homogeneous on the working level as the CMO’s overall responsibility might require and the usual communication letdowns and friction losses that happen between any two departments will inevitably occur.

In this post, we’ll discuss the steps CMOs can take to help bridge the rift between everyday Promotional Marketing and Merchandising/Pricing.

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Get the product price right for Google Shopping

New Crealytics feature: Price Advisor

Google Shopping takes product price transparency to a new level. Unsurprisingly, people tend to click on the cheaper product when the same product is sold by multiple retailers. This human tendency, means that Google’s learning algorithms will often surface the cheapest products first even if they don’t have the highest bid.

The result, is that if you sell the same brands or products as someone else, where your product price falls in relation to your competitors, heavily influences your traffic and conversion volumes. Product price becomes, next to the bid, the most important factor to attract shoppers on Google Shopping.

Right Price.png

Which product variant is a shopper more likely to click?

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Voice search becomes voice action: A key talking point at SMX London – Search Engine Land

From combining search and social to leveraging moments that matter, last week’s attendees at SMX London gained a deeper understanding of the numerous ways they can optimize their search strategies.

Described as the “ultimate survival guide to the dynamic and tumultuous world of search marketing,” SMX  — run by Search Engine Land’s parent, Third Door Media — is a conference series designed to highlight the reach and opportunities that can be achieved through search advertising and outline search’s position in the wider marketing mix.

From my own perspective, one of the more enlightening sessions of the London event featured a presentation by Pete Campbell, founder and managing director of Kaizen, on the subject of voice search — a prominent theme given the ongoing battle of the AI assistants.

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Same buzzwords, different meaning: How data is finally catching up to the in-store experience

Crealytics visited RBTE (Retail Business Technology Expo) this week, held in London’s historic Kensington Olympia venue on 8th and 9th May.

Online marketers instantly felt at home amongst the 360 exhibitors and up to 17,000 visitors, similarly, the aspiring eCommerce executive was well catered to by the conference program of 60 talks and workshops. It was only on second glance that something felt out of place about the context in which the familiar buzzwords were used: Customer journey, touchpoints, and data, data, data were as omnipresent as they were free from any reference to the online space, they were rather used to describe the instore experience. And as surprising as that was to discover, it is as understandable in hindsight.

While eCommerce is very mature with respect to data availability and analytics, the in-store experience has been untouched by modern analytics until recently. What we saw at RBTE was a game of catch-up in the early majority stage of adoption: inferring shopper demographics and interest levels via facial recognition, tracking shoppers’ movements, adapting to changed consumer behavior – all this with a focus on the actionability of data collected. The latter was well illustrated in a joint presentation from ASDA and Profitect that highlighted the additional complexity that comes with hundreds of physical outlets, which over time, added layers and layers of legacy reporting. ASDA cut through the noise by working through the triad of 1) reducing reports and metrics, 2) centrally prescribing actions based on the data and 3) making intelligence accessible beyond the PC.

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What Google’s Q1 2017 Earnings Report means for the retail sector

Yesterday, Google’s parent company Alphabet released their earnings report for the close of Q1 2017.

As we predicted, Alphabet’s revenues rose 17% between 1Q16 and 1Q17.  Much of that revenue boost is likely due to the 53% rise in clicks on paid advertising – no surprises there. What’s odd is that while both revenue and clicks went up, cost per clicks went down by 19%.

For those of you who paid attention in Econ101, you’re probably wondering how that’s possible. How can Google receive less revenue, but still make more profit?

Google claims that they have “refined their methodology for paid clicks and cost per click to include additional categories of TrueView engagement ads and exclude non-engagement based trial ad formats.”

But we think the answer is slightly more nuanced than that.

More ad inventory

First off, the sheer number of ads Google shows on a search results page has increased. Ads, most notably of the Shopping variety, have popped up in image searches, YouTube and even Gmail.

This “ad creep” has pushed organic results further and further down the page. In these two screenshots, for example, organic results didn’t even make it above the fold at all. Considering that Google is now reporting that 51% of all clicks are coming from Mobile devices, the lack of organic results means that advertising is particularly taking over the majority of the mobile SERP.

A large part of this creep is due to the growth of visually-oriented Shopping ads, where the image of the product is presented instead of the traditional three lines of text.  Sometimes known as PLAs, not only did this ad format increase the raw number of ads a searcher was presented with, it also increased the amount of space ads took up on the page – by a lot.

See, the reason that Shopping ads are so powerful is that they include an image of the product. And images take up a lot more vertical space than text.  

So if desktop SERPs contain 5 – 9 Shopping ads and 2 – 4 Text ads, your average human now has to scroll quite far down the page in order to click something that isn’t an ad. A task which becomes even more difficult when using a small phone screen – an important factor when you consider Mobile now accounts for the majority of online ad clicks.

More ads that take up more space means two things:

  1. Searchers are more likely to click on ads (equals more revenue for Google)
  2. There are more ads for companies to buy (increased supply initially leads to lower prices while demand catches up)

Visually oriented product ads

Secondly, the move towards Google Shopping Ads has traditionally lead to an increase in clicks in total. In their report Alphabet doesn’t differentiate the number of clicks generated by Shopping vs Search ads, but overall clicks on Google’s web properties (search, Gmail, and YouTube, etc) grew 53% from 2016 to 2017.

That means that Google is getting higher click through rates on existing space, because it can place three product ads in the same space as a single text ad, and consumers are more likely to click on image-based ads than text-based ones. According to our own research Shopping ads now represent around 74% of all ads clicked on Google.


This growth is also likely due to Google serving more product ads and expanding their availability to more general search terms — for example, showing Shopping ads on a search for “running shoes,” not just “Nike Air Max.”

In addition, Shopping ads have proved highly effective. Jessica Levens, director of e-commerce at Reef (a beachwear brand), recently said in the NY Times that “product campaigns helped triple sales that started from online queries, including instances where customers searched without including the Reef brand name.”

Our research also shows that Shopping ads are more likely to lead to a sale, making them a more profitable advertising medium. This is particularly impressive considering that in a side-by-side comparison, Shopping ads are actually more expensive than Text ads.

It’s no surprise then that retailers are snapping up them up. Shopping ads accounted for 52% of all Google search ad spending by retailers in the first quarter of 2017.

The important takeaways from this quarter’s Earnings Report are that

  1. Google has prioritized use of an ad medium (Shopping) that people click on a lot (More click revenue for Google)
  2. Google has used Shopping as a way to expand the number of available ads for retailers to buy (more ad selling opportunities for Google and lower prices while demand catches up to supply)
  3. Shopping has become an advertising medium that retailers can’t live without (always good for Google)

Everyone’s a winner (for now)

It seems all that traffic pushing and ad reshuffling is really working in Google’s favor.

In Google Shopping, Alphabet has created an advertising medium that works on multiple levels.  It’s good for consumers because they can easily find the product they are looking for, and it’s good for retailers who are getting a better CR and ROI than they were with Text ads.

What’s more, this ad medium is working on Mobile, which is a big deal considering it now equates to more than half of online traffic.

The real winners, as always, are Google. They’ve created a system where even though the cost of their product has more than halved in a year, they are selling enough of it to still make money.

What does this mean for advertisers?

Right now, Google Shopping is the deal of the century. Due to the ongoing availability of ad inventory supply, its costs are at an all-time low while the CR remains high.

This will not last forever! As more retailers recognize Google Shopping as a way of converting mobile traffic and improving the digital marketing ROI, they will invest more advertising money and CPCs will rise.

That means this is the best time to start investing in Google Shopping. Costs are relatively low, returns are high and competition is minimal. As a retailer if you can work out your Shopping strategy now, you’ll be in excellent shape when the rest of them catch on.

The automation revolution in online marketing: a brief overview

“By 2017, CMOs will spend more on technology than CIOs.” – Laura McLellan, Gartner

Today, in the age of automation and machine learning, data and technology play a major role in driving business. It might feel as though it all happened overnight, but in recent years the face of digital marketing has undergone massive transformation.

Innovation in automation

“Today is early and slow”. That’s something Google UK’s David Sneddon mentioned in his keynote presentation at the Google Analytics Conference in Vienna this April.

Nowadays, the latest hot trends quickly turn into old news. As with hardware (remember how suddenly Nokia fell from its dominant position as the leading mobile phone manufacturer?) a lot of innovation is happening at great speed in online marketing these days. This is especially noticeable in the shift towards marketing tools and tactics that are automatically controlled, processed and optimized by data and algorithms (programmatic marketing).

In PPC, programmatic marketing algorithms can help manage big accounts efficiently (scripts, automated rules, etc) and offer Bid Management strategies – as Crealytics’ automation & intelligence tool Camato does. The result is that ad spend goes further and digital marketing methods become more streamlined.

For testing and optimization – the daily business of PPC Managers – data is the cornerstone. Technology helps here: on the one hand to process and prepare data, and on the other, to provide intelligent tools for efficient testing setup and implementation.

From thousands to one

There is also a big shift from audience-targeting to more specific user-targeting. Even granularly-defined audiences are now considered too broad. The famous example of how Prince Charles and Ozzy Osbourne both fit demographically into the same audience group (British, male, born 1948, married, children > 1, annual income > $25m) is testament to the flaws that audience-based targeting can carry. This is exactly why the industry’s focus has moved increasingly towards user interests and behaviour, combined with user demographics, instead of user demographics alone.

The advantage from an advertiser’s perspective is that budgets can be better controlled to avoid “blind” bidding. At the same time, users are more intelligently accompanied through their customer journey, and are only presented with relevant ads. Another benefit of the programmatic approach is that one user’s impressions can be more closely monitored, helping to avoid the annoyance of repeated and/or irrelevant ads being shown. From a brand perspective, this is especially critical.

What’s next?

Data-driven automation in advertising technology is becoming the norm throughout all online marketing channels We’ve seen radical transformation in display advertising through programmatic user-specific targeting, and here in Search, we are maybe only a few small steps away from fully-automated, real-time actions and user-specific customizations. What do you think?

Looking Forward: SMX London 2017

It’s funny to think merely a month ago, we were in San Jose for SMX West and that in just a few short weeks, we will be in the world’s #1 financial center for SMX London. Despite this, we can hardly contain our excitement, as we quickly learned these two days are a compulsory double shot espresso of all the must-knows and how-tos in AdTech. At the conference, we felt a resonating buzz—the enthusiasm to join heads with others from vastly different backgrounds, yet equally passionate (and eager to share!) about search. It would be an understatement to say we had a hell of a time sharing insights with some of the most knowledgeable experts in SEM, on the hottest topics of this year.

….which we’d like to share with you! To get an overview of the highlights, check out our SMX West recap, where our CEO Andreas Reiffen sat down with Kirk Williams, Elizabeth Marsten, Brad Geddes, David Szetela, Todd Bowman, Purna Virji, and Matt Van Wagner to dive into their world of PPC.

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