Welcome to the #66 episode of the PPC Show, where we interview the best and brightest in paid search and social media advertising. This week I’m joined by Mark Irvine, Senior Data Scientist at Wordstream.
In this episode, discover what Mark and his team learned after a full year of testing Google’s new expanded text ads (ETAs) across 14,000 accounts.
Listen to the Podcast
Senior Data Scientist and Analytical Lead at Wordstream. Trains and supports Wordstream’s Team of 180+ employees, managing 18,000 unique clients. Researches trends in an every changing SEM market for our engineering, product development and marketing teams, as well as our CTO & Founder, Larry Kim.
- Recognized as the 5th Most Influential PPC Expert by PPCHero in their 2017 Rankings:
- Named the 14th Most Influential PPC Expert by Hanapin Marketing, 2016
- Named a Rising Star of PPC by Hanapin Marketing, 2015
PPC Podcast Transcript
JD Prater: Welcome to episode 66 of the the PPC Show, where we interview the best and brightest in paid search and paid social advertising. I’m your host JD prater, and this week I’m joined by Mark Irvine, senior data scientist at Wordstream to discuss his latest research on expanded text ads. He’ll also provide some excellent tips on how to improve your ETA performance. Let’s get to it. Mark welcome to the show man.
Mark Irvine: Thanks for having me JD. How are you doing?
JD Prater: I’m doing pretty good man. I’m getting geared up for the holiday season. How about yourself?
Mark Irvine: I’m almost like at that point where I’m past the holidays. That anything that I’ve done up through now, it’s either sink or swim, and I’m thinking about next year already.
JD Prater: Nice. Well, we’ll definitely get to that in a second man. But what have you been up to? So Mark and I connected at Hero Conf London. It’s actually pretty interesting that we have interacted probably for years on Twitter but finally met each other officially at Hero Conf London were we were both presenting some couple of sessions. So we had a really good speakers dinner then some really good darts session. But yeah …
JD Prater: Yeah. London was great and it’s been a long time coming. Also, finally got to meet you so of course it was a successful trip. Basically, though, the last couple of months for me have been cray. I got married at the very end of September.
JD Prater: Congratulations.
Mark Irvine: Thank you. Thank you. Basically, to start off what married life is is I decided to be on the road for six of eight weeks straight. So, already starting off married life by being imaginably the worst husband possible and just not being there. But obviously was out there in the UK with you, came back, met with a couple of partners in Mountain View, and in Seattle, and then did Pubcon Vegas two weeks ago, and Social Media Week in Chicago last week. So I’ve been all over. Finally back in Boston. Gonna finally see my husband for a little bit. Make up some time there and hopefully the rest of that sticks.
JD Prater: Yeah, definitely. Well you don’t have too many more trips planned out for the rest of the year, right? Are you at home?
Mark Irvine: I’m home solidly throughout at least the beginning of January.
JD Prater: Nice.
Mark Irvine: So love it or hate it, he’s gonna see me for about six weeks.
JD Prater: At this point, he’s like, “Man, I kinda had my free time.”
Mark Irvine: Yeah, exactly.
JD Prater: Why are you encroaching?
Mark Irvine: Yeah, so rude of me. My team back here almost forgot who I was. They moved my desk while I was gone. Honestly, if this is just me taking the first step out of Wordstream, this is the first hints.
JD Prater: Yeah. Yeah, so for those that don’t know, or if you’ve been living under a rock, Mark works at Wordstream. And if the good folks and the good listeners here have never heard of Wordstream, why don’t you give us a quick elevator pitch?
Mark Working at Wordstream
Mark Irvine: Absolutely. So Wordstream helps small, medium businesses and the agencies that manage those small, medium businesses, manage their paid search and paid social accounts all within one platform. The idea here is a lot of the stuff that you do in a regular paid search or paid social account, a lot of that’s repetitive. So our software is effectively a suite of tools to help people manage it within 20 minutes a week.
JD Prater: Nice. Nice. I can vouch for you guys. You guys have a great blog You guys have really good content. Your benchmark reports that I know you work so hard on. I just saw the latest one around Bing report so congratulations.
Mark Irvine: Thank you.
JD Prater: There was great information for the industry. And then Mark is a data scientist. So yeah kind of explain what a data scientist does.
What is a Data Scientist
Mark Irvine: Yeah, so thinking about not just the fact that everyone’s paid search accounts all with similar themes, and have similar elements to it, but Wordstream where we’re small, medium businesses, we have 20,000 of those small, medium business’s accounts linked up and because there are 20,000 ad accounts under our management, that gives us a lot of potential to really look I and see specifically what are people doing and what aren’t people doing and does that make them successful, and what are common benchmarks, or exactly what’s going on in the industry. So when something changes in the industry, I don’t have an anecdote, I have a trend. And from that, that’s effectively what my day-to-day looks like when I’m not traveling around the world.
JD Prater: Nice. Well, cool. Cool. Well, let’s kind of jump into it so Mark gave a very successful … Well yeah, very successful at Hero Conf London around expanded text ads and so we’re gonna kind of like walk through his section, and some of the things that he shared, and some of the things that you can feed through and think about as you’re planning for 2018. So mark you ready?
Mark Irvine: Yeah I’m ready.
Expanded Text Ads (ETAs)
JD Prater: Alright man. So it’s December. I’m thinking it’s time to start thinking around 2018 because I’ve waited till December and this is what happens. What are some common things, pitfalls, that advertisers should be thinking through?
Mark Irvine: Yeah, so I think that the big conversation we’re having around ETAs is either you’re currently on ETAs, they’re a year and a half old now. We’ve all seen them. We’ve all had feelings about them. If we look at the Google Bing narratives, they’re all hey ETAs are great. You need to be doing them, right? They increase your average click through rate by 20% line is the one that they all throw out. And of course, they’re bigger and they’re better. Why wouldn’t you wanna do this? But JD, I’m sure in your experience, you haven’t always seen that kind of performance, right?
JD Prater: Yeah, it’s true. Yeah, whenever I was kind of evaluating standard versus ETAs, it’s been really hit or miss.
Mark Irvine: Yeah, and that’s the exact truth is that the line that Google spews about the average increase in click through rate increase of 20% is an accurate statements. That is true for an average. But one thing that I learned in school early on is if I ever wanna tell a lie, I use an average. Because averages specifically hide half the data along with it. And so specifically when we look at on average when people make that transition, the 1 out of 3 people, or 1 out of 3 accounts when they’re making this transition, really struggle when they’re transitioning to ETAs.
So although looking through my SMB heavy portfolio, about 70% of all of our accounts have fully transitioned to ETAs, and 95% have begun that transition, it’s still a real conversation about well why does 1 out of ever 3 people who begin this transition struggle with it? And I feel like a big problem when we look at the data, and I think that you kind of mentioned it right there is when you’re evaluating an ETA versus a standard text ad, you often see that hit or miss kind of conversation. And we see that a lot of people took that exact same approach, that a lot of people, when they migrated to ETAs, they migrated to ETA’s with an ETA in each ad group.
When they made that migration, they found the winner of that test, and then they concluded that was the end of the test and that they had fully migrated to ETAs. And so when we look at just the number of ETAs in each ad group now, we actually see the fact that about 44% of people who have made this migration have only made this migration with one ETA per ad group. And so, when we talk about what best practice, and what common practice used to be, it used to be that you would have multiple ads per ad group.
We don’t see that as a common practice anymore but it’s pretty uncommon for people to have two or three or four ETAs per ad group. Whereas it was almost comical how many ads you would see in ad groups previously, that there were people out there that might have 10, 15 ads per ad group and that was almost too many. That was problematic at times, that we’re not at all really running into that case scenario anymore.
We’re more and more frequently seeing a lot of small ad groups with one or maybe two ETAs in them. And so that gives us a really unique paradigm in 2017, where throughout all of 2017, there were fewer ads in each ad account than there were the year previously. And that’s never been the case at least as far as my data goes back in 2008, where there are fewer ads per ad account. So it’s a very unique problem that we’re facing that this ETA migration, of course it’s kind of a forced migration of course people are hesitant to just jump in and do it all, but we’re seeing the fact that all of a sudden people are much more hesitant and are testing a lot less frequently in this new ad format. And that then begins this problem of as people test less, we’re also seeing fewer improvements.
44% Only Have One ETA
JD Prater: Right. Yeah, I think that was like one thing that I really took away from your deck was … Like 44% only have one ETA, which it seems crazy to me ’cause I think as you were saying, an hour and a … Oh sorry not an hour. A year and a half this has been out, right? And you’re like, “Wait. What have you been doing for 18 months?” One of the things that I really enjoyed about your data was the flip side to it. It’s like when you actually have more ETAs you actually see better results and so I won’t put you necessarily on the spot but you were saying if you have …. Ad groups that have more ETAs, you have a 21% higher CTR. If that doesn’t make you go and launch some ETAs I don’t know what will.
Mark Irvine: Yeah. This doesn’t even necessarily need to … Like this turns out and you know that I love numbers. Any time that we can solve something just by doing more or just by creating more numbers in an account, I’m all too happy to see that. But it’s one of those things that as Google takes this more algorithmic approach towards optimizing your ads, as Google write ads for you as it optimizes those ad rotations for you, as that kind of becomes more standard in how Google operates, oftentimes just having different messages, having more options for Google to optimize for you, well that’s often enough to allow Google to fund success with that.
JD Prater: Yeah. That’s a good point. Let’s unpackage two things there. So I think one, we should definitely talk about Google writing ads for you ’cause I’m sure everyone here has an opinion on that and I keep getting the alert in my account. It’s just like and it’s gonna start and it’s gonna start soon. And I’m like no. I know I can opt out but I kinda wanna see what they write more than anything else. And then two, let’s unpackage maybe different types of messages within like a same kind of ad group and letting Google kind of surface those different ads, be kind of a messaging best practices. So which one do you wanna tackle first? Messaging or Google writing ads?
Google Writing Ads For You
Mark Irvine: Let’s talk about Google writing ads first.
JD Prater: Let’s do it.
Mark Irvine: And so … I don’t know. I originally saw that and when I first saw that come in, I nearly opted out the entire book of business. All 18,000 accounts I was just like, “Well why would I want Google write this? Of course I can write better ads.” But then I say that, and then five minutes ago I just talked about how I’m not writing better ads, how I’m specifically not writing any ads. And so what we’re seeing … Google’s not all that active with the ad suggestion beta, or the written by Google beta. They’re slightly different. I think that maybe one evolved into the other. But all said and done, I think that across my book I’ve seen it affect all of like 3% of accounts. So it’s not all that common.
But what we’re seeing is like … Of course ’cause I want to evaluate it, when I see those particular ads that Google is writing, they come in with that label, that written by AdWords label so it’s really easy to evaluate the performance. All said and done, they’re not remarkable ads. They do have a slightly, in ad groups in which they exist, that ad group takes about a 10% increase in click through rates. So just having … It is getting that kind of story of just having multiple ads helps increase the click through rate. The actual copy that they write is fairly honestly unoriginal.
Nothing that I’d be like write home about. I think that they changed a couple of the verbs in my original ads to be something different, or they switched around sentences or words to be all that different from one another. This is a big problem of course if you have very strict branding that maybe she’s born with it, maybe she … It’s Maybelline, is a specific brand line that your marketing director’s gonna care about a lot if you mess up or if you re-write.
But if you find yourself int he case that most of us find ourselves in, where this is just a 140 character add that says something about something, then very unlikely, like Google’s not gonna write offensive in this ad. They’re not going to necessarily skew your branding all too much.
They’re gonna play that semantic game that most of Google is about where they’re just changing out a couple of words here and there and maybe giving you a different CTA that you use another ad group. Just testing out those kinds of languages together sot hat it can hopefully provide better performance. So I don’t know. Unless you … Do you have any horror stories from this?
JD Prater: No, not yet. Within the AdStage account, it hasn’t hit just yet. If you start trolling on PPC chat, it’s kind of fun to see people. It’s rally interesting to me straddling the search versus social types of mentality where search people are so controlling of everything that they want. Where the social people are like yeah basically, go ahead, do whatever you want.
Mark Irvine: Go nuts, yeah.
JD Prater: Go nuts.
Giving Up Control to Google
Mark Irvine: So you’re gonna kinda see that a lot more of that kind of attitude emerge from AdWords, or from Google, or from Bing in general particularly as social becomes a more prominent market in the US. That like, what is it? 22% of all digital goes to Facebook now and that wasn’t a thing that happened three years ago. That like, just in terms of Google maintaining its market share, Google is going to follow what’s successful for Facebook and vice versa.
JD Prater: That’s true. That’s been kind of the fun part. We were talking about this on the headline show that we do every week and we were really excited because Facebook’s like yeah check this out. I can make 6200 ads really quickly. You give me 10 headlines, you give me 10 descriptions, you give me 5 images, 5 videos and then boom. Gone.
Mark Irvine: Done.
JD Prater: And then go test ’em. Boom. We just took care of your ad creation and your testing for you. 6200. And it’s like, “Why doesn’t AdWords do this?” And they kind of launched it with like the UAC which I think is them kind of venturing in to this role of here’s multiple headlines, heres multiple text boxes, and now we’ll just go out and kind of test it for you. Which I think is all … I think that s abetter use case for Google than writing ads for you. I would much rather give them four or five headlines, multiple text box descriptions, and let them scramble it up to make a bunch of ETAs. That I’m more okay with.
Mark Irvine: And then so I think like what you’re seeing is like two weeks ago, for instance, Google released the ad variations beta. So now it’s native tot he new UI exclusively.
JD Prater: I know.
Mark Irvine: Right in there. Here I am God. Take on another unpopular topic but right in the new UI, if you were very comfortable testing out different call to actions, if you’re very comfortable testing out headline two and headline one switching places, or if you wanna test out different messaging, it’s very easy to do that at scale now.
Whereas like previously you know what I did not enjoy particularly when I managed accounts directly? I really hated going in and changing 18,000 ads because a sale started. Or because we changed a promo code. Or because I want to change one particular message. That was a very manual … I had a lot of control, but to be honest, the control was only as good as I was. And I have other things to do with my life.
JD Prater: Yeah, that’s a really good point, especially when you think about the manualness of like am I gonna do this in Excel? Am I gonna do this in Power … Or no not Power Editor. It’s just the Facebook in me. The Google AdWords editor, right? And you’re like find, replace. But at the same time, you’re just … Like I don’t … I just don’t wanna do this.
Mark Irvine: I think that this is honestly cathartic for paid search marketers, particularly as like … When I started back in my day, when I started in paid search, this was one of those things. Like I exclusively did paid search and then display was adjacent and I might get my feet wet in display and now we’re doing a paid search and display, and we’re doing programmatic, and we’re doing social, and we’re doing all of these other types of ad buys that like …
As I take more on to my plate, I have to kind of be open about giving up some control of that. At the end of the day, I don’t wanna … This individual add that I’m gonna be writing out of 18,000 ads is not going to be the one that makes or breaks success for me. If there’s just some kind of catch all or if there’s some kind of algorithmic way for me to do this, then I’m gonna be much more happy, excited to do that.
JD Prater: Yeah that’s something that we’ve seen too. Even AdStage customers, right? There’s been a real shift ’cause we have like a … It’s like an automated product and it allows you to set up rules across channel. Whatever you want, right?
Mark Irvine: Yeah.
JD Prater: You can also flight ads. You can schedule ads. You could actually go in, schedule all these promo ads, and have them launch this day, and turn off this day with like simple … pretty easy. The thing is man, people, they’re not there yet. I think we’re getting better. I think a year ago if we were having this conversation about automation and giving up control to the Googles and Facebook, I think the answer would have been hell no. And now, it’s like well cool. I’m gonna go do some other stuff ’cause I still have all this, other things on my plate to do. I’m happy to kinda let you just take this part.
Mark Irvine: Yeah. From tech platform to tech platform, I remember when Wordstream just started, it was one of those things that we wouldn’t even … We didn’t even have the ability to copy and past an ad because why would you ever wanna dot hat? Because every ad had to be different. Then you were writing this ad or if this ad group for a very different reason. Dynamic keyword insertion has its own kind of controversy about it because well I don’t even know how this ad is going to show. Or dynamic site links, or dynamic ad extensions were such a controversial topic that turned out to be so inconsequential.
I think that one of the big things about being in paid search in 2017 and 2018, is that like we can all sit on this cusp that where it can reactive to what Google is going to be doing. We all had feelings when Google changed its ad rotation setting. We all ah feelings when Google changed its budget delivery settings. We all have changed about the new UI. We can all sit back and dig in our heels and hate this, or we can kind of think more about like well why am I upset about this? And how should I be managing this? And why is Google doing the thing it’s doing and how can I kind of apply this more directly to suit my needs?
JD Prater: Yeah that’s a very logical conclusion Mark.
Mark Irvine: I of course say this from the luxury of being a senior data scientist where I get to look at all the numbers all day long and say, “Okay, so on average this is a …” I get to do that thing where I lie with averages. And they say, “On average, this is a good improvement.” But I don’t have the client yelling in my face that this might potentially ruin their branding down the line maybe.
JD Prater: Yeah, true. True. It’s a little off topic, but yeah I ran into this when I was managing clients. We were trying out the display where they were doing the responsive text ads and it would pull in your imagery. It was not on brand and of course this brand was like, “What is this color blue? Where did you get this? This is not the right color blue. You need to be using pan tone …” And you’re like …
Mark Irvine: Yeah.
JD Prater: I don’t know man. We were just testing something.
Mark Irvine: I actually remember when that first happened. I think that Google would pull the images from your Google Plus accounts, most generally. And so it used the wrong logo and this was just … When that showed up, and then I explained to them why it showed up that way ’cause they pulled it from the Google Plus account, I was effectively was just throwing their in house social team under the bus. It was a very easy problem for me to get out of. It was like okay I’ll just opt out of doing this, but instead along the way decided to throw three people under the bus.
JD Prater: Nice.
Mark Irvine: That’s what working with Mark Irvine, senior data scientist looks like.
JD Prater: Get ready to be thrown under the bus. Alright. Well let’s kinda transition now. So Facebook and Google are gonna take over pretty much all things ads, and so some of the things that we can control are the inputs, maybe, right?
Mark Irvine: Yeah.
Ad Messaging Best Practices
JD Prater: Google’s really going out there, but what are some messaging best practices … And I know you talked about in your Hero Conf London session, but what are some of the things that you’re seeing?
Mark Irvine: I think that one of the big things that we’re seeing is that like these standard text ads, the text ads that were created, the text ads that we’ve been running with for 16 years, they were created in an era of search that is really no longer there. So the year 2000, the year 2008, a lot of times when we write these ads, we think about someone in our position, very likely, we’re sitting at a desktop computer all day, we’re thinking of people searching on a desktop computer all day. We’re searching for keywords when we’re searching for our clients keywords so we think that people are going to be in that exact same desktop searching for keyword position.
And so the metaphor that I used was the old Geico commercials where it was … Geico was really successful because they were one of the first online advertisers or one of the first online platforms where you could get car insurance. And there were lines that it was so easy a caveman could do it. And so the way that we searched at the time, you would go to a desktop computer, you would sit down, and I you wanted to buy car insurance online, you’d have this caveman like query, car insurance. You would get results for the term car insurance, and you would consider that ad a good match if it reiterated back that caveman like language of car insurance back to you.
That’s not how we search anymore. Now, when I’m searching for car insurance, I’m not even necessarily going to be clicking on … I’m not gonna be searching that way. I’m not gonna be searching for the same terms, and I’m not gonna click on that ad. I’m not gonna convert right away either. So we have to think about the fact that people are searching more long tail. The long tailed search query is no longer a nicety but its actually the majority of all searches, about two thirds of all searches are long tailed now.
We’re not searching on desktop as frequently. Most of the time, we’re on mobile or across multiple devices. And when we are searching for something like this … Even like I’m looking for shoes right now. I can’t just click on an ad and buy shoes. I need to of course search multiple times. Or now that I’m worried, I am no longer the key decision holder in my life, so now this is a conversation I have with my search. So I now to begin to poll multiple searches for the same product research.
So, knowing that I’m no longer this like digital stone age caveman, you have to think about how we’re selling ourselves to the people who are searching here. That people are searching longer, they’re searching more natural, they’re often searching vocally, but they’re also searching for much more complex needs than they were a decade ago, or even five years ago, or even two years ago.
So knowing the fact that we’re now complicated sophisticated people searching, we need to think about writing ads to people who are using that language. And that’s really where standard text ads are kind of no longer fitting the bill for us ’cause it’s 90 characters. We can’t do anything with 90 characters. If someone’s searching for something that is 140 characters, or multiple words, then we’re not gonna be able to necessarily even fit that in a smaller ad.
One of the things that I’ve seen really successful when I go through a semantic engine of what doing an [n-gram 00:26:50] and looking at semantics within an ad set, it’s very easy to identify certain words that resonate very well with people. And a lot of these are fairly common like the word free resonates well with people. This isn’t anything really new. But one of the things that really stood out when I looked through a host of ad copies was that pronouns performed rally, really well. And the reason is because it’s very difficult for me to write an ad for someone or to write an ad that’s not written for someone without using a pronoun.
So if I include the word we in an a, then all of a sudden I’m not going to be writing at this caveman like language anymore. When I include the word we in an ad, I’m now kind of forced to write my ad in the way that I would speak to another human being. So I’m not really focused so much on the keyword that they’re searching for, but I’m focused more on what it is that they’re searching for as a solution.
Use More Pronouns
JD Prater: That’s interesting. That’s interesting. So within that, like are you saying as advertisers, should we refer to our business as we rather than … AdStage is or should we say we are this?
Mark Irvine: So I feel like if you were to describe what AdStage was, that’s a statement, right?
JD Prater: Yup.
Mark Irvine: And then you’re going to go into some descriptive language around the platform which you provide.
JD Prater: Sure.
Mark Irvine: If you were to position yourself, like I’m sure that your sales team, what they don’t do is they don’t say like AdStage allows you to do X, Y, and Z. They don’t describe the features of AdStage. What they do is they sell you guys as a solution package. And so we look at your blank. And we provide the following tools and suggestions to help you manage your multiple accounts along the way. And so that kind of difference between using features, using nouns to describe what it is that you do versus using pronouns to describe how you help people is a huge difference in terms of how you market yourself.
And it sounds like really … When I break it down between nouns and pronouns, it sounds really semantic, but when you actually take a step back, forcing yourself to use a pronoun, you suddenly shift your messaging a whole lot when you’re talking to a human being. And so you break away from this like keyword marketing strategy into this more human marketing strategy.
JD Prater: I really like that. I think it’s really good. I think even with SMB right? So it could like a local plumber, right? I could really see how the we coming out of that would be a really powerful type of ad whenever I’m kinda scrolling through. That’s a good tip man. So pronouns. We, him, she …
Mark Irvine: We.
JD Prater: … We.
Mark Irvine: You is great. You.
JD Prater: You.
Mark Irvine: There’s so much that you know about your business, or about your customers whoa research searching for something. You of course know what they’re searching for but you also now their demographics. You know where they’re searching. You know when they’re searching. You know on what devices they’re searching.
Thinking more about who and how someone is searching is often more important than about what they’re searching for. That someone who is searching for a UK sim card is … That’s the first thing I did when I got to London is I of course was like oh right I don’t have a sim card for this. I am not interested in buying a UK sim card.
I’m interested in this bigger solution and knowing the fact that I like pulled that search in Boston Logan Airport for a UK sim card, well that was a really indicative, like that kind of search behavior is way more indicative of exactly what my intent was rather than the fact that I was searching for this piece of plastic.
JD Prater: Yeah that’s really nice. That’s a really good point too. I’m sure you probably did it on mobile so what are some mobile tips and trends that you’re kind of seeing as well?
Mobile Tips and Trends for ETAs
Mark Irvine: So with mobile of course like we know that mobile isn’t necessarily the same search process. That Google is gonna tell us that intent is uniform across all devices. We know that’s not true. A big thing that’s underutilized … maybe this is in part because Google hasn’t really pushed it as much … is the if statements. And so the if statements, it really just allows you to write slightly different messaging for someone who is searching on a mobile device versus a desktop or tablet device.
We use that specific process a whole lot during the standard text ad days with device preference. Specifically, when you wrote an ad, you had to specifically check a box and it was right there int he process when you were writing an ad that you almost were exposed to it immediately. This if statement, you can go in, you can write this bracket equals if, parentheses device equals mobile, comma, kind of language. Marketers didn’t take that kind of comp sci class. No one’s really comfortable writing that programming. I’m sure if you like invite Dan on, then Dan’s gonna be all too happy to talk about specifically like scripting and that kind of language.
But the typical SMB, that plumber, he wants to write a different ad to someone who’s staring at his toilet on his phone than someone who’s comfortably at work maybe thinking about well getting that sink fixed. Anyway, using that if statements, there’s a lot that we can do knowing that someone’s on their mobile device. Thinking about the fact that you’re gonna promote that call to action that’s hopefully a call rather than schedule a free inspection of that toilet that’s overflowing.
JD Prater: Yeah. I think that’s the good part too. It’s like, there really does seem to be kind of some immediancy whenever you’re actually searching on your phone. I locked my keys in my car this weekend. I needed an answer like right now. I need a locksmith right now. IT’s very different than searching for a locksmith on desktop where I probably have the convenience of having internet connection. So it’s a very different sense of urgency than being at a park and it’s like am I screwed?
Mark Irvine: Like I’m screwed and so you get back to me. Yeah.
JD Prater: Yeah, hurry up.
Mark Irvine: And knowing that, being able to provide that specific language that … let’s say that you were locked out at like midnight or something.
JD Prater: Oh man.
Mark Irvine: If I had that specific language that someone is there 24/7, that’s so much more valuable than your desktop search where if I’m conveniently comfortable under my covers on my desktop searching for this, then I’m not necessarily looking for that right away. So that kind of difference in language means everything.
JD Prater: Nice. Nice. Well, I think those are some all, some really good points. Anything you wanna kinda wrap up and really encourage us to think through?
Mark Irvine: I would just overall I’d encourage people to … entrust Google just a little bit in terms of automation. Definitely have a healthy skepticism, definitely review along the way, but in general don’t not do or don’t not allow Google to do, just because you’re afraid of worst case scenario is probably my biggest take away.
Lighting Question Round
JD Prater: Nice. Alright. I agree with all those points. That was really well put, very succinct. Yeah thanks for sharing all that. Let’s transition into some lightning fire round where I’m gonna ask you a couple of questions and give you about 60 seconds to answer each one.
Mark Irvine: Perfect.
JD Prater: You ready? Alright.
Mark Irvine: I’m as ready as I’m gonna be.
JD Prater: Yeah. Alright man. So let’s say tomorrow, you’re taking it easy. You’ve got no meetings internally, externally. You’ve got let’s say three hours blocked off and you’re like, “I’m finally not on the road. I need to like catch up industry news.” Where do you go to catch up on news? Any favorite blogs, podcasts, people that you kinda follow?
Mark Irvine: Yeah so of course I’m gonna do that healthy half self promotional shout out and say #PPCChat in general. What I will say is everyone on PPCchat, half of the time I’m trying to identify the newest error, the newest problem, someone on PPCchat already has strong feelings about it. That’s great. It’s a live feed. Everyone’s got a new problem every day, and if you ever wanna know the worst case scenario, what’s going on, Twitter has it for you.
Apart from that literally at the very top of my browser, I have the AdWords blog, the Bing ads blog, the Facebook ads blog, Search Engine Land, Search Engine Journal. And then controversial, the AdWords Google Plus page. Every time that there is an announcement that they kind wanna make an announcement but want it to not be seen all that much, they make the announcement on the Google Plus AdWords page because they know that not a lot of people are gonna see it and react right away. So every single time that there is something that they know is going to be unpopular, that’s where that news is gonna break.
JD Prater: Yeah those are all like really good ones. I’m always surprised by the amount of people that aren’t following the actual blogs from the networks. That’s really where they’re releasing the news that Search Engine Land, Marketing Land, Search Engine Journal are writing about, right? That’s what they’re linking to and then really good point on Google Plus. They definitely like to sneak some stuff in there.
Mark Irvine: Another one that I just though of, the Google Ads Developer blog …
JD Prater: That’s a good one.
Mark Irvine: … is a good way to have a look into what’s coming out soon. Sometimes a lot of their new features makes it into the API long before it makes into the new UI. So seeing the fact that okay they put shopping showcase as in the API sometime in March, that gives me like a six month parameter of like okay I know that they’re going to make that more generally available sometime soon.
JD Prater: Yeah. I wold also echo that Facebook, they did the exact same thing so definitely check out those developer blogs because they will always update the API first before they roll it out. So good ones there. Alright, let’s keep going.
Now that you’ve kind of moved into this data science, and you’ve always been kind of in data science role like your kind of understanding search versus social … Like what’s your favorite channel that you like to see in advertising?
Mark Irvine: I eman so sometimes that answer’s gonna depend on which of those networks is paying me more to answer that question, but …
JD Prater: How about as a consumer?
Mark Irvine: As a nice person?
JD Prater: Yeah.
Mark Irvine: Alright I’ll be a person for a hot second.
JD Prater: There you go.
Mark Irvine: I don’t know. I still like search a whole lot. I think that there is a lot of … And this might be me as a data scientist as that math background. I really like linear rules, and I really like that control and understanding what’s going on. Whereas with social, I understand that I’m targeting people based off of some criteria but there’s that screen behind it that this still feels anonymous in a lot of ways. And of course, there’s privacy concerns around why it has to be anonymous.
I see great results out of Facebook, don’t get me wrong. But I still feel that there’s oftentimes a distance between all the players on social where you have advertisers whoa research targeting people and they don’t fully understand how they’re targeting those people, and that’s separate from the agencies maybe managing them that don’t fully understand well why are we doing these particular things, or what’s the goal of all of this.
Everything still feels very distant and I feel like along the way I’m buying solutions or I’m buying audiences to reach without thinking big picture of how this is all working together. So like if I want to talk about attribution on social, well attribution on social is just kind of this weak idea. I see some notion of this within a view through window or I can see some notions.
But I don’t see this full funnel insights like I do within Google Analytics or within the search platforms. I definitely think that social’s grown up a whole lot in the last three years. I look forward to it growing up a whole lot more. But if you put a gun to my head and I had to pick one, I’d still go back to search because search I completely understand at the end of the day exactly what that linear process looks like.
JD Prater: Yeah I think that’s a good point, and it piggybacks really well. So it’s 2018, you’re gonna be hiring more data analysts at Wordstream, what are some of the skills, what are some of the competencies that you look for in like a new hire, especially around the analyst type of role?
Mark Irvine: Yeah I think that the big thing … I feel like a lot of people are gonna say, “Hey you have to really analytical. Hey you have to be very good at paid search. You have to be very in depth knowledge of all these platforms.” I think that a bigger thing honestly that goes under considered in a lot of interview processes is the fact that at the end of the day particularly if you’re client facing, you have to be able to maintain that client relationship. Even within my highest tiered service, my full maid servicing offering team, I still look for someone to be 40% client facing, and 60% operational.
Even myself, I am not even all that client facing. I come from that data scientist background. I could in theory roll in with a sweatshirt every day and not shave and do whatever I want. And no one would necessarily ding me for that, but if I want to run a team, manage a team, speak to a client, speak at a conference, write a blog, I have to think about not just how do I … I pride myself. I know math very well. I know numbers very well. I know data very well. At the end of the day, I have to relate that back to people who don’t.
I’ve seen a whole lot of people who are very good at the core competencies in their job struggle or fail along the way because they can’t necessarily relate that back to a person. And so a lot of what I’m doing when I’m interviewing someone is I’m specifically looking for them to explain that more complicated conversation to me and pretend … Like I give them a bunch of trouble and I pretend like I don’t understand every step of the way so that I can see specifically how are they gonna relate that to a small, medium business who does not care what change happened with an exact match that day.
JD Prater: That’s a really interesting input there. You know a lo the of time with the data analysts it’s always the guys that aren’t that great at communicating or they don’t wanna be client facing. They’re like, “Can you just stick me in a corner in the basement and let me play around in Excel and do regression models all day?” And so it’s interesting that you’re like, “No man. You need to have some people skills.” So I like that.
Mark Irvine: I mean like so that’s where I came from. Before I was even paid search I was in a strict math background for a long time and I was … My background, I actually was working more closely with the NHL, and so there’s a lot that you can do in terms of running numbers. Numbers, you can run numbers all day long and come up with really exciting trends but if you can’t go back and explain to a coach or to a media outlet exactly what you’re doing, well none of that really means anything.
And so I would so much rather admittedly, when I’m traveling a whole lot, or when I’m training a team , or when I managing a team, or I’m working with clients, every single time, every single hour that I’m doing any of that, I’m not running numbers. And of course I could be running numbers for that kind of thing, but this is all useless if this is just knowledge for me. And that’s what clients come to us, this is what clients come to you guys for. Numbers only … Math is a universal language only if we all understand it.
JD Prater: True. That’s a nice wrap up right there. That was good.
Mark Irvine: Thank you.
JD Prater: Alright. I’ve got two more questions for you. So we got into Twitter debates around the word hack, right? So you are from Boston and hack means something different to you. I would love for you to explain to us when you’re using the word hack and you’re in Boston, what does this mean?
Mark Irvine: Okay. So everyone like we all think of hack in. We all have multiple … The word hack has multiple meanings right? So right now well think of hack as like … If we go back to the ’70s and ’80s we think of it as this like oh I’m gonna hack into the mainframe and I’m gonna get into the system. That then translated further on into I’m going to hack your marketing and I’m gonna use it in this kind of gimmicky sense.
Growing up, in Boston, the word hack kind of means more of just a clever, unique way to do something. And so the way that we all know hack universally of that technology, I’m gonna hack into the mainframe, well that actually comes from a group of MIT students in the ’70s as like comp sci was really evolving at MIT is they were using this local language to describe how they were doing this clever creative thing to get around systems at MIT.
So they started referring to that in the native language of hack, and so now we all think of like hack as being this super sophisticated advanced language, when in reality everyone in the area it’s just kind of like a townie word for oh yeah I’m gonna hack my way through this party. Or like oh I’m just gonna hack my way through this presentation. It really doesn’t mean anything sophisticated to us.
I feel that a lot of people when they use the word hack or when they look down on people for using the word hack is because their delivery isn’t up to scientific snuff if you will. Whereas like to be honest, when I was in the second grade, when we learned how to carry the one over, well that was a hack and that’s how it was explained to me in Andover public education, so like maybe that’s just representative of Boston. Maybe everyone in Boston’s a little bit of a hack. And even upon saying that, that’s one of the times which my Boston accent really comes out is I give a very hard R kind of language in there.
JD Prater: Give us like a really good Boston, like a wicked good … Let’s do to the Dunkeys and let’s order some doughnuts.
Mark Irvine: Oh my God. Alright. So earlier this year, the dunks on my corner, the Dunks on my corner stopped serving the ice coffee, and so I had to have a hot ice coffee all winter long. And then the Dunks went out of business and now I have to go down to the pru, and I have to order all of my Dunks, hot or cold, down at the dunks on the corner. And they charge you like an entire quarter fifty for it. It’s nonsense. I don’t have anything real to say.
Honestly, dunks does run through my veins at any point in time. Everywhere I go I can’t actually enjoy good coffee because I’m from Boston anymore. There’s a Dunks on every corner and for a long time there was a Dunks directly at the end of my block that now when I go to Starbucks, it’s like oh this is fancy. Everyone else in the country looks down on me.
But even when I was out in London, oh there’s a bunch of nice coffee places around there and I had to go out and I had to immediately identify well what’s the townie awful coffee because I can’t sit through this and of course I can’t have any hot coffee anytime I go anywhere. So as I travel the world, I should honestly run this blog of bad iced coffee that I’ve run into that I can’t have this like hot iced coffee that everyone else serves everywhere else in the world.
JD Prater: That was pretty good. I like that. I love the Boston accent. I love when guys, when you guys like really get into the character. It’s good. Alright last question for you, I’m a let you go. Let’s just say the whole data scientist, Google thing, whatever we’re all like second … We’re all kind of hired indirectly by Google, right?
Mark Irvine: Right.
JD Prater: If it doesn’t work out man, what’s like a back up job that you’ve always been like I’ll just go do that.
Mark Irvine: Do you remember Erin Sagan? Erin Sagan used to work with me at Wordstream.
JD Prater: Oh yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
Mark Irvine: And then she like fully embraced the Google, and now she’s all about Google. She’s writing all of these narratives that we all read that whenever Google does something we don’t like, she wrote that language.
JD Prater: Nice.
Mark Irvine: She already knows the fact that we don’t like it and behind it you can see her grating her teeth of like JD don’t be mean to me. So when Erin and I started at Wordstream, we both worked in restaurants. She was a waiter. I was a bartender. It’s still one of those things that particularly during the summer of … I’ll occasionally pick up a bar shift, that I can’t walk away from that money, that it’s also very relaxing to me like from that math perspective I like mixing drinks.
All of this is just math in different combinations and it’s an ordered structured kind of thing. The only difference is the clothes and the hours in which you do this that I’d probably become that boss from Bartender immediately. If Google wants to fully automate everything, that’s when I’m gonna have my initial panic attack when I’m gonna be like, “Oh guys I’m not sure about this automation because that means I’m out of a job.” But until then, I’m hoping that I can stick around a little bit longer.
JD Prater: Favorite drink to make.
Mark Irvine: I mean I always enjoyed a Long Island Iced Tea, not because I like the taste of a Long Island Iced Tea. Just because I always like grabbing every single bottle within the well and pouring it at once, and then very gingerly adding in a little bit of coke at the end. Being like, that was like your finishing touch, and now it’s a different color, enjoy. I also enjoyed a lot of … I know that it’s very basic, but any kind of milk based drink, or any kind of like shaken cocktail, I really liked it because you effectively just got to smile and look around the bar and everyone would look at you while you shook it that it was just a big showmanship kind of thing. So that’s always my thing. Basically, anything which I can make a big distraction or hold a lot of bottles in my hand at the same time was my favorite drink to make.
JD Prater: Oh man. Such a great answer. I’m like laughing over here ’cause it’s such a ridiculously awesome answer.
Mark Irvine: Thank you.
JD Prater: Alright. Well, love to have you back on again at some point. It was really great having you on and definitely enjoy the rest of your holiday season not traveling and hanging out with your husband man.
Mark Irvine: Absolutely. You too JD.