Audiences were all the rage for advertisers and marketers in 2017. No longer just a tool for social media or display network marketing, audience targets became a major focus in paid search as well. From Customer Match to Similar Audiences, In-Market and Custom Intent, the focus for SEM has already begun to shift away from the “what” of your product or service to the “who” of your prospective clients and consumers.
YouTube Viewer Audiences for Search
Amid the flurry of audience targeting options being released and expanded nearly every month last year, one unique type of audience targeting in AdWords slipped in under the radar: YouTube Viewer Audiences for Search. This new targeting enables YouTube remarketing audiences for RLSA to retarget video viewers in search.
In this post, we’ll dig into this audience type in hopes of revealing why every paid search specialist ought to be taking advantage where possible.
To guide our exploration, we’ll draw upon the words of Brian Halligan, CEO at HubSpot:
“To be successful and grow your business and revenues, you must match the way you market your products with the way your prospects learn about and shop for your products” (emphasis added).
Why YouTube Advertising and/or Content Promotion is Worthwhile
As digital marketers, we tend to be very excited about the first part, and very ambitious about the second. Unfortunately, it’s not enough just to connect to the users who are already shopping for our product or service. The goal is to be smart and cohesive in accomplishing the task of marketing both in the “learn about” and “shop for” stages. So let’s first spend a moment on why YouTube advertising and/or content promotion is worthwhile in its own right.
According to eMarketer in 2017, monthly digital video viewership in the U.S. averaged more than 221 million individuals (81.2% of U.S. internet users). Internationally, Western Europe contributed another 219 million viewers of digital video monthly (68.2% of Western European internet users).
Think about YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Vine…you name it. It’s not hard to believe that so many of us are voluntarily consuming digital video at least once a month.
On the other hand, eMarketer’s projections for the next 3-5 years also show that viewership growth in the near future will be consistent but marginal.
Essentially, we are seeing that the market for digital video is nearing saturation in terms of consumption. Of course, this means that the market for video advertising is only going to grow more competitive as we all begin to compete for the same placements: to get in front of these valuable, attentive eyes and ears.
Using Video to Directly Populate Audiences
It’s time to turn the tables, think outside the box, and stay ahead of the game.We shouldn’t just value digital video as an ad format for retargeting website visitors or driving new website traffic for subsequent remarketing and direct ROI.
We don’t even need to argue for YouTube’s potential to “lift Branded search traffic” anymore. Video can now be used to directly populate viewer audiences for targeting on both Search and Display.
As Lee Odden (CEO at TopRank Online Marketing) once stated: “Content is the reason Search began in the first place.”
This is where we connect how people learn about and shop for our products or service. If vast digital video consumption is doing the “teaching,” then our Search remarketing must be ready to capture subsequent “shopping” moments for those users.
Making the Case for YouTube Advertising
Before a YouTube Viewer Audience strategy can successfully be executed, we first need to have some kind of presence on YouTube to generate views. This requires some kind of content strategy, video content production, and of course, some level of financial investment and buy-in from company decision-makers (which may or may not fall into your job description).
To help out those who need to justify an investment in YouTube advertising, we’ve compiled a group of statistics relating to the reach, device use, geographic locations, demographics, and user behavior associated with YouTube advertising.
Beyond the stats, though, the real need for video advertising comes from the reality that we no longer live in a world of easily defined, two-dimensional sales funnels. Buyer journeys are now a web of touchpoints from multiple devices and media, each as unique as the associated prospect. Skilled marketers must be prepared to address and nurture each of these users, at all times and on all platforms.
Data suggest that users consult YouTube for help with products and services before, during and after the decision-making process. Thus, YouTube can be an active player in all stages of the conversion funnel or buyer journey.
Video Content Strategy
So, to stay competitive and create the best buyer experience for every customer, a video content strategy is truly necessary. Without it, all that potential revenue and engagement is wasted. Not to mention missing the opportunity to capitalize on YouTube Viewer Audiences.
If the above stats aren’t enough to convince your company heads, you can always ask them to consider a new perspective for YouTube advertising: a low-risk channel for feedback that cooperatively assists more traditional video marketing efforts. You can also utilize earned actions KPIs and YouTube Viewer audience behavior to show that YouTube ads are successful.
Identifying and Building YouTube Viewer Audiences
For the purposes of this discussion, we won’t dive into the step-by-step of how to link a YouTube channel to Adwords or how to create a remarketing list. Rather, presented below is a framework for approaching your YouTube Viewer audiences by building personas associated with each. There are three foundational audiences that I believe every AdWords account will benefit from building, applying, and observing: “Website Strangers,” “Acquainted Visitors,” and “Non-Converting Fans.”
1. Website Strangers
These are users who have viewed at least one video from your channel (you can decide which videos to include/exclude based on your channel content). This means they have some familiarity with your brand. They have not, however, visited your website or completed any kind of conversion action. Thus, visiting your website is a clear next step to take in their customer journey.
Target these individuals with a Website Visit invitation. This might be in the form of a Text Ad on Search, or an Image or Responsive Ad on the Display network. Depending on your typical sales funnel, a website visit might lead directly to a conversion action, or it may transition the individual from a “Website Stranger” to an “Acquainted Visitor.”
2. Acquainted Visitors
These are slightly lower-funnel than “Website Strangers,” because they have engaged more directly with your brand. These are users who have visited your website once or more, or who have engaged more deeply with your content than simply viewing a video or ad. It may be that they liked or commented on your video, or even visited your channel page.
Because these users have an even greater familiarity with your brand, they can be directly targeted with a low-risk conversion invitation. That may mean signing up for an email newsletter or promo code, creating an account for later conversion, downloading a whitepaper, submitting a request for more information, or something else specific to your industry.
3. Non-Converting Fans
Lastly, it’s important to address individuals who engage more deeply with your content, whether by subscribing to your video channel or becoming a brand ambassador by sharing your content with others. They have already engaged with your website but just haven’t taken the step to convert.
These are users ideal to target with Discount or Promotional conversion offers. You might take advantage of Countdown ads in Search to increase urgency, apply a percent-off discount to your headline, or highlight some other offer to help close that deal.
Looking at these three foundational audiences, you can see that each is quite easy to compose. There is a lot of power in data collection and targeting capabilities for not a lot of effort on your part. A few sub-audiences built into a combination audience and you can quickly set yourself up for success.
Time to Put it All Together
Once your audiences are created, you can start applying them to your established Search campaigns for observation (or “bid only,” if you refuse to switch over to the new Adwords UI). This allows you to see how your Viewers are engaging with your current keywords and ad copy.
Utilizing AdWords ad customizers, you can also implement audience-specific messaging with IF-functions in your ad copy. As you monitor and quantify your audience behavior, you can then make informed decisions about bid modifiers or campaign structure to best address these YouTube viewers and nurture them in their decision-making process.
In addition to Search campaign application, do not forget the potential to utilize YouTube Viewer Audiences with Display campaigns. You might run a YouTube Viewer retargeting campaign for your Acquainted Visitors or Non-Converting Fans.
The Display network can also be a channel for inviting Website Strangers to your landing page. By breaking down your audiences to consider YouTube engagement as well as website behavior, you have the power to show much more tailored creative to these subsets of your prospect list.
And of course, once you have your audience lists established and your retargeting strategies in place, be sure to stop back here and share your thoughts. We’d love to hear about your experience in the comments below.
Amid the flurry of holiday ads, achieving a high ad rank in AdWords almost seems like a miracle. The competition is tough! Many retailers launched their PPC campaigns very early this year to capture the growing number of online shoppers (up 18.3% YoY, as TechCrunch reported).
As a PPC advertiser, how do you stand out? Most importantly, how do you make sure you’re getting only the right people to click on your ads?
Your holiday promotions will likely be seen by very broad audiences. To maximize your budget, use extensions to expand your ad with more relevant details.
In this article, I’ll show you several ads from retail brands that dominated SERP on Cyber Monday, with suggestions and tips to apply in your next AdWords campaign.
Ad Extensions to Drive Relevant Holiday Traffic
For holiday campaigns, AdWords extensions are especially useful for a few reasons:
- Win higher ad rank for relevant searches
- Boost conversion and lower CPA by creating very specific callout extensions at a campaign or ad group level
- Improve customer experience by pointing people to relevant product categories on your website with sitelinks
- Decrease time to conversion by using call extensions to get the customer on the phone in one click
- Improve relevance by scheduling time-sensitive sitelinks for holiday or flash sales
- Decrease CPC by excluding comparison shoppers with price extensions
Below are a few examples of using AdWords extensions to maximize conversion and click-through rate during the holiday season.
Schedule Time-Sensitive Sitelinks
To highlight limited-time offers, you can use sitelinks and specify the dates and times you want them to show. In the example below, J.C. Penney adds a time-sensitive link to feature the additional Cyber Monday discounts.
To increase click-through rate on a flash sale promotion, you can create urgency by showing how many hours are left or announce specific product categories going on sale.
When you create new campaign-level sitelink extensions, you have the option to select start date and end date and add a schedule of when you want your ad extensions will be available to show.
For example, you can add a time-sensitive sitelink to announce a flash sale or schedule call extensions to show during your business hours.
Show Unique Selling Points With Callouts
Callout extensions look like sitelinks, but don’t actually contain the links. In the first example below, it’s “Pro Tips From our Experts” and “Scorecard Earns Points.” You can use callouts to show unique selling points or provide reassurance about shopping experience (for example, “Free shipping,” “Easy store pickup,” “Free returns”).
In the example above, Dick’s uses callouts to highlight its in-store services where certified technicians help customers customize or repair gear (“Pro tips from our experts,” “The Pros,” “Gear Service”). In the second example, Walmart uses callouts as a reminder of the brand’s promise of high-value, low-cost merchandise with its “Save money. Live Better” tagline.
While you can certainly add generic callouts at the account level, it can be effective to create them at the campaign or ad group level to narrow targeting. For example, for a campaign targeting people who shop for shoes, callouts could feature relevant shoe brands.
Don’t Overdo It
It’s tempting to stuff as many keywords as you can in your expanded text ads (especially if the keyword is “Cyber Monday”). But just like an overstuffed turkey can mean either undercooked stuffing or an overcooked bird, too many keywords in your ad means less room for copy that features how your offering is different.
In the ad below, that likely isn’t an issue, because the ad is for a deal aggregator. For a retail brand though, it’s wise to use the limited number of characters to highlight additional features instead.
Relevance is Key
For e-commerce brands that want to stand out in search during the holiday season, relevance is key to success, whether it’s time, location, or advanced behavioral segmentation in Google Analytics.
How are you using ad extensions in your holiday campaigns? Let us know in the comments.
When a credit monitoring company Equifax was hit by a cyberattack that may have affected about 143 million Americans, people flocked to Google to find out what to do. As “Equifax” search query made it into the trending list on Google, the savvy marketing team at Lifelock, an identity theft protection company, quickly bid on the branded term and snagged the first ad position.
Lifelock’s smart bidding strategy is an example of how PPC marketers can leverage online search trends and breaking news to drive top-of-the-funnel leads and boost brand awareness. This strategy is especially effective when you reach people in highly receptive mindset (which was the case with Equifax).
In one Google study, they found that paid search can be as powerful as traditional media such as TV and print — and more cost-effective. In this article, we’ll share tips on how you can use PPC marketing to increase brand awareness.
Why Use Paid Search for Brand Awareness
Why should companies care about brand marketing? A company’s brand is one of its most valuable assets. Apple’s brand, for example, is worth $170 billion by Forbes’ count. Naturally, companies invest in branded campaigns to keep the brand top-of-mind and defend against competition. Most often, marketers use pay-per-click advertising to capture conversions at the bottom of the sales funnel, but PPC can be just as effective for brand awareness.
First, PPC marketers can react to news and industry changes almost instantly. What takes PR people days, weeks, months, and years, a PPC expert can sometimes test within an hour, depending on the traffic volume. Second, PPC brand marketing is very easy to measure. Where brand marketers struggle to justify return on investment, PPC marketers can quickly show hard and fast numbers.
So very quickly, and at a fraction of the cost, PPC marketing can amplify a brand’s voice and even protect its reputation.
Below, we’ve assembled three very recent marketing case studies. Whether you’re testing traditional media, dealing with a PR crisis, or attending a trade show in the next couple of months, you can use paid search to protect and boost your brand.
1. Paid Search to Boost Traditional Media
Visa Case Study: Paid Search + Traditional Media
Last week, Visa’s marketing team put together a last-minute video ad to promote recovery efforts after Hurricane Harvey. The original ad, scheduled to appear in the NFL kickoff game, took the company over a month to produce and featured Visa’s mobile payment features. Shot on iPhone in just a few days, the new ad was a little blurry. But the production quality didn’t matter because the ad stood for a cause. However, Visa missed out on the opportunity to use paid search to amplify traditional media.
Search and social media advertising can work in tandem with TV to track affinity and gauge response in real time (something the majority of Super Bowl advertisers have tested). Visa could have easily boosted the impact of their campaign by bidding on relevant terms (such as “harvey donation” — their key message in the NFL ad).
2. Paid Search in a PR Crisis
Samsung Case Study: Paid Search for Reputation Management
When Samsung Galaxy Note 7 smartphones suddenly started catching on fire, the manufacturer issued formal apologies to customers and suppliers. But it was too late: Some consumers started referring to the model as “Death Note 7.” It was a PR disaster. Samsung lost billions of dollars in sales. In situations like this, while little can be done to erase the public’s sentiment, the company could bid on branded terms that include unfavorable keywords and point customers to a landing page that provides a rebuttal, explanation, or instructions on how to get a refund.
PR crisis mitigation is not just for large brands like Samsung. Smaller businesses can also benefit from proactive brand-saving paid search strategies to handle negative reviews and product recalls.
Delta & Lyft Case Studies: Monitor Competitors’ Brands
A nightmare for a brand can open up an opportunity for its competitors. Delta and Lyft, for example, are famous to respond quickly to their competitors’ missteps on social media. In response to “#DeleteUber” sexual harassment scandal, Lyft pledged a million dollars to the American Civil Liberties Union and launched a campaign called “Round up & Donate.” The lesson? Companies should be monitoring their competitors’ brands as closely as their own.
3. Paid Search to Increase Booth Traffic
Trade shows take weeks of planning and thousands of dollars in the associated costs and fees. Naturally, marketers want to deliver the best ROI. Paid search can capture relevant leads and even help you test if you should make that investment in the first place.
Take Dmexco, for example, a must-attend digital marketing event in Cologne, Germany. IBM and AdSparc placed bids on “dmexco 2017” search query to drive the event’s attendees to their dedicated landing pages.
For Dreamforce 2017, as you can see below, the opportunity is up for grabs.
Paid search can boost your company’s presence and reputation — and not just in times of crisis. To leverage PPC for brand awareness, think beyond branded terms bidding and competitor search queries. For maximum impact, consider online trends and news, your company’s (and your competitors’) reputation, reviews, and upcoming industry events.
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Don’t Overlook Bing Ads
It’s been seven years since Windows unveiled Bing, and since then, the search engine and the teams behind it, have made strides to catch up with the behemoth, otherwise known as Google.
Just in the past few months, new features have included a ‘Popular Content’ section showing you the most visited content sections from a website or web page, completely redesigning the Android version of its search app and including augmented reality, and even adding Game of Thrones content in preparation for the season 7 premiere. Perhaps even Windows 10 could have had a big effect since Bing is now integrated throughout the entire desktop OS.
Little by little, those efforts are bumping Bing’s numbers up. In comScore’s latest rankings for search on desktop, Google slipped .3 points while Microsoft (Bing) rose by .2%. In an amended deal struck in mid-2015, 51% of Yahoo’s desktop search traffic has to carry Bing ads, giving the search engine even more clout.
Of course, there’s still a huge difference between Bing and Google’s overall share of search, but Bing’s influence is larger than most people think.
While the majority of people are hanging out on Google for their searches, being among the crowd isn’t always the best bet for marketers. In fact, Bing offers many advantages over Google.
The Power of Bing Over Google
Bing has less competition and cheaper PPCs
Using an example from digital marketing agency ymarketing, keywords “mens boardshorts” gave them a CPC of $0.48 on Bing compared to $1.35 on Google, for a cost savings of 64%. Fewer people to go up against means lower costs for marketers. You’re also more likely to get better placement since not many marketers are including Bing on their media mix currently.
Bing gives you more control and flexibility at the ad group level
When setting up an AdWords campaign, Google locks you into network, location, ad scheduling, language, and rotation settings at a campaign level, and ad groups are held to those restrictions. The only way to get around that is to set up a new campaign with different parameters so that you can extend the filters to ad groups. Bing allows you to adjust all those same options at any level, as well as assign different campaigns time zones, which could be a crucial factor for global clients.
Bing allows transparent access to search partner targeting
Bing’s got nothing to hide when it comes to search partner targeting. Not only can you target just Bing & Yahoo, just search partners, or both, but you can also see who the search partners are and drop any partner who’s not giving you the numbers you want. Google, on the other hand, lets you target just Google, or Google and search partners, and refuses to pull back the curtain to let you see who the partners are, let alone adjust bids or exclude anyone.
Bing gives context with social extensions
In the first quarter of 2016, Bing announced Social Extensions, which are “placed under your ad copy that direct potential customers into social conversations on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and/or Tumblr. Searchers click on the extension and are directed to the associated social account or social post.” Bing also shows participating advertisers’ Twitter followers in ads to give additional validity to a business with which a customer might not be familiar.
Bing lets you use demographics in search
In AdWords, you can set demographic targeting on the Google Display Network, but that control doesn’t extend to search. With Bing Ads, you can set the gender and age of who you want to see your search ads.
Now that you’ve seen the ways advertising on Bing can be beneficial over going the traditional Google route, hopefully, any skepticism about the underdog search engine has dissipated. Now let’s take a look at Bing’s targeting capabilities and how you can use them to your benefit.
Bing Ads Targeting Capabilities
According to Microsoft, Bing Ads and the Bing Network reaches 167 million unique users who spend 26% more online than the average internet searcher. Those are some pretty enticing numbers considering you can get much lower PPCs, too. Bing’s targeting capabilities aren’t drastically different from what Google offers, but they’re still worth taking a look at to fully understand them and determine how to use them to shape your campaigns.
Bing provides a Keyword Planner (you’ll need to have a Bing Ads account and be signed in) that suggests keywords based on insights from historical trends and marketplace competition. You’ll need to start with your own seed list of keywords that you’ll input into the planner, as well as the URL of your website or a page on your website, and a category relevant to your product or service, then you’ll get a list of suggested keywords from Bing. From there, you’ll also see a bid landscape for each keyword where you can make decisions on what to go after.
With Bing, not only can you show a store address in your search ad, but you can also specify a radius within a city or U.S. ZIP code in which to target your ad. This capability lets you focus your ads on search users who live close to your store. Bing gives another example of location-based targeting using the keywords “Seahawks jerseys.” As you can see in the graph below, it’s no surprise the most search traffic comes from Seattle, followed by California and Oregon. With this data, you can make sure you’re targeting these areas exclusively, or bid appropriately to ensure you’ve always got ads up in your strongest regions.
Once you have enough historical data through your campaigns, Bing will show you location based bid adjustments which are suggestions on how to tweak your account to get more from the locations that are responding best.
Bing will do all the translating for you. When setting up a campaign, all you have to do is select the most common language in the region you’re targeting, and Bing will make sure your ads correlate to the language of the end-user’s web browser settings.
With Bing’s scheduling tool, you can parse ads out in 15-minute increments. If your campaign is focused on getting customers into a brick & mortar door, you can also set ads to run only when your store is open. Bing averaged its user data to come up with helpful trend charts showing volume by hour and days per device.
You can limit where you want your ad to be seen – mobile, tablet, or PC. Bing has another helpful interactive graph that shows click-through rate, cost per click, and volume by device type and industry. It’s a great way to get a glimpse at what competitors are doing, and also set your own bar.
In addition to the default HHI, education, and marital status, you can also target demographics like age and gender, which can offer some tailored opportunities when it comes to your ad creative.
Don’t miss out on interested customers. Bing lets you remarket to customers who have visited your site but may not have converted.
We’ve preached before (and we’ll do it again) about the importance of varying your media mix. Bing, with its large, engaged audience and low PPCs offers a great opportunity to experiment with a search engine you may have previously overlooked.
Any idea how much time you spend on email per day? Per week? In a lifetime? The Washington Post has a fun, or perhaps dispiriting, calculator to help you determine those numbers.
According to the article, the average office worker spends just over 4 hours checking work email each day. Do the math, and you’ll see that’s 20.5 hours each week, and more than 47,000 hours over a career.
And that’s just work email. While that might be a little alarming for some of us, those figures scream opportunity to marketers.
We covered how to create Gmail Ads in AdWords when it was first made available to all advertisers, but as more marketers catch on, the need to stand out from the competition becomes even more crucial.
Below are some tried and true tactics to ensure your gmail ads are making the most impact.
Ensure The Right People See Your Gmail Ads
In other words, make sure your targeting is correct. To do that, ensure that you have a complete understanding of the capabilities Gmail Ads provides:
- Keywords: much like SEO – use specific words someone has searched for that are relevant to your product or service
- Affinity audiences: reach niche audiences using free form interests entered as keywords and/or URLs as a proxy for interest bundles
- In-market audiences: target customers who are “in the market,” meaning currently searching for products or services similar to those you offer
- Demographics: use traditional demographics like age, income, education, location, to reach relevant customers
- Topics: target customers who are talking about certain subjects related to your product or service
- Customer Match: reach current customers and people who are similar to them.
One important point to note is Google’s recent announcement that it will soon stop scanning emails to individual users for advertising purposes. However, as The Verge points out, “Google can still parse search histories, YouTube browsing, and other Chrome activity as long as you’re signed into your Gmail account.” So marketers won’t completely lose valuable customer data with this upcoming change.
Hook People ASAP
You have even less space in a collapsed Gmail Ad than you do on Twitter – about 40 characters. So make sure you get to the point immediately and put the most enticing information upfront. If you can get someone to click the ad, it opens up to a full page layout with tons more real estate, but that’s the catch – you have to be intriguing enough to get the click.
Aside from leading with strong messaging (and we can’t stress enough – Test! Test! Test!), experiment with other ways to visually draw people in with the text. That includes using different characters or even emojis, as long as it doesn’t feel off-brand.
Research & Use Competitor Keywords
You likely have a list of keywords that you use for other marketing channels. Add to this list by taking a look at what your competitors are using, or words that are directly related to your competitors. Check out our post on using social research to find out more about specific companies for tips on how to dig up every bit of information possible.
Use Gmail’s Ready-Made Ad Templates
You are not cheating or cutting corners by using what’s already available to you. Gmail’s provided templates are already mobile-optimized and often perform better than custom HTML templates (the last part according to Google). Don’t go spending time or money on a developer before you test the templates. Gmail offers four templates outside of uploading your own custom HTML template.
Here’s how Google describes each:
- Single image ad: a single image fills the body of the expanded ad
- Single product promotion: an image or video with text advertises a single product or service
- Multi-product promotion: several images with text advertise multiple products or services, each with a call-to-action button
- Catalog creative: features more descriptive text than the multi-product promotion, to create an almost magazine-like experience with multiple call-to-action buttons
Once someone clicks on the collapsed ad and it expands to a full page, landing page best practices can be applied. Read through our 5 Easy Ways To Boost PPC Landing Pages post before creating your next ad to make sure you’re accounting for the most important elements. Just because one template was supposedly created for a specific purpose (the multi-product promotion ad is a natural choice for retailers), with enough creativity, you can come up with innovative ways to make the templates work for your goals.
Measure and Interpret Results
Finally, you’ll never know if something’s working, or how to change course to make a campaign work, unless you’re paying attention to performance. Use the following four tips to make sure you’re recording and understanding results correctly.
Google doesn’t automatically capture all the information you’ll need. You need to “opt-in,” or rather, set up your reporting table to record the relevant results.
Here’s how to do that:
- While signed in to your account, go to your Reporting tab
- Click Modify columns in the toolbar above your statistics table
- Select Gmail metrics under “Select metrics”
- Click Add all columns
- Click Apply
Tip #1 – Calculate your external Gmail CTR by dividing “Gmail clicks to website” by “clicks.” That will help you determine if your full-page layout is working. A high volume of clicks to expand, but a low volume of clicks to website means your headline is compelling, but you have some work to do on your full-page ad.
Tip #2 – Take a look at your display impression share. If your share is low but you’re driving strong performance, consider raising your bids to increase impressions.
Tip #3 – The reach estimates widget lets you see an estimate of impressions available per week on the Google Display Network for your ad group, based on your targeting. If your possible impressions seem low, adjust your targeting.
Take advantage of the 4+ hours per day potential customers are spending in their inboxes with these Gmail Ads tactics. That’s more attention than you’d get from nearly every other marketing channel, and if executed correctly, will give you an unbelievably low cpc.
SEM is undoubtedly one of the most effective digital marketing channels that exist. When the right elements come together – a great product with good unit economics, relatively few competitors, and high search volumes – paid search scales very nicely.
But startups rarely have all these elements working in their favor at once, and they usually face a set of unique challenges when trying to build out SEM as a scalable channel. As a digital marketing agency that has worked with more than 100 startups of all shapes and sizes on SEM, we have seen and navigated these issues and want to share some insights about how to overcome them.
Startups have a set of unique challenges above and beyond the typical challenges faced by companies advertising on paid search channels like Google AdWords and Bing Ads.
The first big challenge is that many startups have unknown or unproven customer LTVs (lifetime values). Knowing your LTVs is the most important first step when considering doing any kind of paid advertising. If you don’t know how much money you’re making from a customer over their lifetime, you won’t know how much you can afford to spend to acquire them.
But for startups with relatively little operating history and low customer volumes, it becomes very difficult to accurately project LTV. A lack of LTV data is a bit of a chicken and an egg problem, since LTV can only be established once you have acquired customers. You have to expend some combination of time, effort, and money to acquire customers from any channel.
This is very important to understand – SEM can be used to help validate or establish LTVs, but if this is your goal then make sure you are clear on what you are trying to achieve. Sometimes a startup thinks they are trying to see if SEM is scalable for their business, but they realize they don’t have the right LTV data to assess the efficiency of the channel in the first place. It’s an important distinction that will change the approach and the resources needed to manage your SEM accounts.
One way to get around this catch-22 is to get industry comparisons by talking to VCs or people at similar companies who can augment any customer data you have. While customer LTVs for other companies will likely differ from yours, it’s a relatively good measure that can at minimum help you establish a benchmark for developing a target CPA.
How much you can afford to spend to acquire a customer (called a target CPA) is directly related to how much scale you can achieve from SEM. The higher your target CPA, the more scale you can achieve.The reason for this is diminishing returns. As you start increasing your SEM spend, CPAs also increase as you saturate the low-hanging, high-intent keywords that typically convert well and you reach for new keyword opportunities. Eventually your actual CPA will start bumping up against your CPA target and you will be forced to stop scaling spend until either you determine you can afford to pay a higher CPA or you are able to achieve lower CPAs with optimization.
Another challenge for startups using paid search is heavy competition from established companies. Because these incumbents know their LTVs and also typically have much larger budgets to work with, they can afford to be more aggressive with their bids on SEM and this can squeeze out startups trying to break in. In addition, sometimes these companies ensure they show up in a certain position – regardless of how inefficient it may be. This can make it very difficult for scrappy, unit-economics-driven startups to compete. This can be exacerbated for high-funnel keywords that are already very expensive and have relatively low conversions rates.
For an eCommerce startup selling subscription clothing boxes, a generic high-funnel keyword like “mens jackets” is unlikely to back out to a target CPA that’s based on their average customer LTV. However, when searching for this term you’ll notice Ralph Lauren, Nordstrom, and Michael Kors bidding aggressively:
Even for these companies, it’s unlikely that the CPA from these keywords backs out for them directly, but they continue to spend millions of dollars per year to show up in the top positions for these keywords. Such companies may be bidding on the belief that the brand exposure they receive from showing up for generic keywords makes up for CPA inefficiency, or they may be bidding on these keywords purely due to a fear of missing out since their competitors are bidding on them. Regardless, this is not a battle that a startup is going to win unless their LTV, and thus target CPA, allows them to compete.
The best way to get around this is to bid on a variety of long-tail keywords, which will have lower competition and likely higher intent, but will also be cheaper. The more extensive your list of long-tail generic keywords, the more traffic you can drive without relying on competitive, generic keywords. Google’s Keyword Planner and third-party tools like SpyFu can help you find long-tail keywords with low competition that are relevant to your business.
Another common obstacle for startups looking to leverage paid search is that they’re often operating in nascent or emerging markets, leading to low search interest. This can limit the amount of relevant search volume available, which is a critical aspect to scaling paid search.
People have to know something exists before they can search for it, or at least something closely related to it. If a startup is selling a whole new class of product or service, this poses a challenge. For example, in the early days of Uber and Lyft, no one knew what on-demand ride sharing was, so no one was searching for it. Only as the market matured did search interest start to skyrocket, as shown below:
How can you access search volume at scale when your industry is so new that people don’t even know it exists yet? This can be a daunting obstacle, and it takes some creativity to get past it.
Targeting competitor keywords and tangential products is one way to do this. For example, in the early days Uber could have bid on competitor keywords like “avis car rental” and “yellow cab taxi”, or tangential products like “quick transportation” and “call a taxi” to build awareness of its product and drive conversions via SEM.
However, the relevancy of a keyword to the product at hand will determine the conversion rate and so again it comes down to what CPA you can afford to pay for these keywords. Waiting for your market to develop is sometimes necessary in order to truly achieve scale from SEM while hitting your CPA target.
We’ve addressed the challenges in making paid search a profitable and scalable channel for startups, but what about the light at the end of the tunnel for those companies that are able to overcome those challenges?
The most obvious and most important advantage of paid search is the value of intent. Users are telling you exactly what they’re looking for when they type in a search term, which usually indicate higher levels of purchase intent than indirect signals like audience targeting that are available for other paid acquisition channels. As a result, no paid advertising channels come close to paid search conversion rates.
Intent-based search ads allow you to capture the low hanging fruit. Someone searching for “ride sharing app” is already generally aware of your product and is probably deep enough in the marketing funnel to download the app and use it. Search ads let you maximize demand capture.
But intent is also valuable for capturing higher-funnel interest. Someone searching for “quick transportation” is sending a direct signal that they’re looking for a fast way to get around, even if they’re not aware of the existence of ride sharing. This goes to show that you can find conversion volume from keywords that are not directly related to your product or service offering, assuming the unit-economics work out when comparing LTV to CPA.
Brand keyword coverage plays an important role in all SEM programs, but it’s especially critical for startups who should be capturing everyone searching for them. All the effort and resources expended driving awareness of a startup can be wasted if a potential customer searches for your brand on Google and gets poached by a competitor’s search ad. Branded search ads can help you protect your investment in other channels.
Given how valuable these earned branded search queries are, it should come as no surprise that bidding on competitors’ keywords can be a very effective way to reach potential customers at the bottom of the funnel who are ready to make a decision. This can be especially beneficial for startups who are in markets with well-known incumbents (i.e. lots of customers searching for their branded keywords).
While established companies may have larger budgets and more brand name recognition working in their favor, startups also have some things working in their favor.
For one, startups are able to move very fast and learn quickly due to their small size and lack of red tape, allowing for high-tempo testing and optimization, which is for scaling a paid search program. For another, startups can prioritize growth over profitability in pursuit of capturing a market, allowing them to better compete with established companies in ad auctions.
Finally, startups tend to have new and refined product offerings compared to their older competitors, creating the potential for higher conversion rates and customer LTVs. This can make it easier to compete with established competitors.
A Word to the Wise – Don’t Ignore Paid Search
Startups eventually have to acquire new customers efficiently and at scale in order to become mainstay businesses. In the early days that’s no easy task, as even defining efficiency goals based on LTV benchmarks can be arduous. Succeeding with SEM as a startup requires being nimble with testing and learning, and it sometimes necessitates sacrificing short-term efficiency in favor of long-term growth.
There will always be established competitors with much larger budgets trying to box out startups trying to break into their market, but there’s a huge opportunity for the startups that are able to successfully overcome the challenges associated with SEM. People expressing their intent through a search query is arguably the most powerful marketing signal that exists. And tapping into that signal using paid search engine marketing can be the source of a highly scalable customer acquisition channel.
Here at BigFlare.com we’ve reviewed over 100 Google Shopping campaigns over the years. In that time, we’ve seen pretty much every money-wasting mistake that it’s possible to make in Shopping. Some of these are rare, one-time-only type errors. But some of these are surprisingly common. And, in fact, there are 3 mistakes in particular that we see being made in almost every account we review.
With this in mind, there is both good and bad news for Shopping advertisers. The bad news is that these mistakes are common and probably costing you money. The good news is, these mistakes are quick to fix.
A few clicks here, some minor adjustments there and presto! You should have a more profitable Shopping campaign in less than half a day’s work. So, let’s dig into each of the mistakes and the solutions for them.
Mistake 1: Not Bidding Per Product / Item ID
When we take over Shopping campaigns that have previously been run in-house, this is by far the most common type of error we see:
What we’re seeing here is one of the main ad groups within this client’s Shopping campaign, before we came along and optimised it. Within the ad group we have the product group. Bids are controlled at the product group level and you can split out your feed however you want. You could have all products in your feed in one product group, or you could have one product group per category, one product group per item, etc.
The mistake we often see, the one you’re seeing in the above image, is having the product groups split out into any level higher than the single product / item ID / SKU level. In the above example we see that all products are in one big product group for the whole account. Another common error we see is having one product group per category.
Whenever you are lumping lots of different products into the same product group you reduce your ability to bid optimally per product. CPC bids are controlled at the product group level. This means that if you have 1 product group with 84 products in it, you only have 1 CPC bid for those 84 products.
Your products will all tend to have different prices, conversion rates, click-through rates, and margins. Each one will thus have its own unique ideal CPC bid, and this ideal bid will change over time as the competitive landscape shifts and search volumes naturally fluctuate.
So, don’t limit yourself to only 1 CPC bid to cover multiple products. Split out your product groups as finely as possible: right down to the individual item level. This way, you can give each product the individually customised CPC bid that it needs and deserves.
The criminal part of all this is that the one-product-per-product-group structure is REALLY easy to set up. You just need to subdivide your product group:
And then select Item ID as the option to subdivide by:
This would give you a very simple structure of having 1 ad group with all your products in it, and each product having its own product group. There are many other ways of structuring your ad groups and this is just one of them, the simplest one. What we’ll show next is the next level of ad group / product organisation, the SPAG.
Taking This 1 Step Further: The SPAG
SPAG stands for Single Product Ad Groups. This is taking the one-product-per-ad-group structure even further and splitting it out so we have one product in each ad group. If you have more than a few products in your feed, this is going to take a while to do, so I’d recommend using a tool such as PPCsamurai.com or Optmyzr.com to help you do this quickly.
The main benefit of splitting out your Shopping campaign into SPAGs is a highly increased ability to “funnel” search terms using negative keywords.
Let’s say, for example, you have two products, product A and product B, that would match the query “blue trainers”. Product A is low margin and less profitable, product B is a bestseller with high margins and conversion rates. Of course, if someone searches “blue trainers” you would prefer them to see Product B’s ad, not product A.
Without a SPAG structure you could try to do this by setting bids appropriately, but it’s never going to be foolproof. With a SPAG structure you can now create a negative keyword in A’s ad group for “blue trainers” and all the traffic for that keyword will now correctly be funneled to product B. If you don’t split out into SPAGs, you lose the ability to do this, as negative keywords are controlled at the ad group level, not the product group.
Mistake 2: Not Splitting out Brand vs Non-Brand
You’re already splitting out your brand traffic from your non-brand traffic in your Search campaigns, right? Please tell me you are! Brand traffic is an entirely different beast to non-brand traffic. It consists of people who already know your brand and want to come directly to your site and (hopefully) buy something. Non-brand traffic will contain a much higher proportion of new vs returning visitors, and thus it needs to be treated differently to Brand, different targets, different bids, etc.
So that’s why every search marketer worth their salt is already splitting out brand vs non-brand traffic in Search. Why isn’t everyone also doing it in Shopping? I think the answer is that, because Shopping does not have keyword targeting, most Shopping advertisers do not even realise that splitting out brand vs non-brand traffic is even an option. But it is!
Using a clever campaign priority strategy combined with the correct negative keywords, you can indeed split out Shopping into brand vs non-brand searches. Here’s how:
1. Create Your Brand Campaign
This is going to be an exact duplicate of your normal “Generics” or “Non-Brand” campaign. Set this campaign to medium priority level in the campaign settings.
2. Set Priorities For Non-Brand
Now that you have your brand campaign set up, head over to the settings for your non-brand campaign. Make sure to set the priority level to high. Well, really the important thing is that non-brand has a higher priority than brand. So another perfectly viable option is to have brand set to low priority, and non-brand set to medium or high priority. This might all sound a bit confusing so far, why would non-brand be higher priority than Brand? Well, wait for it, this next step explains all…
3. Add Brand Keywords As Negative Match to Non-Brand
Go into your non-brand campaign and add in your brand terms and all associated keywords (plurals, misspellings, etc) into the negative keyword list for the whole campaign.
And there you have it! You now have a fully functioning brand / non-brand split in your Shopping campaigns. When someone searches for a brand term that triggers Shopping ads, they will not see the non-brand ads because those terms have been negative matched from your non-brand campaign. When someone searches for a non-brand term that triggers Shopping ads, the higher priority on the non-brand campaign will kick in and ensure they see the non-brand ad not the brand one.
Now you’ll be able to set specific bids for brand Shopping and split it out accurately on your reporting, just like in standard Search campaigns.
Mistake 3: Insufficient/Infrequent Bid Optimisation
How often are you currently updating the CPC bids on your Shopping ads? If you are like most advertisers whose accounts we review, the answer is, “Oooh maybe once a month, at most, but often a lot less than that.” This attitude towards bid optimisation, and a poor strategy behind bid optimisation, is probably the main reason why we see client Shopping campaigns underperforming versus their targets.
The Search advertising marketplace for your products is shifting, dynamically, ALL THE TIME. Competitor’s are adjusting their prices and releasing new products or updates. Search volumes are going up and down. Conversion rates are twitching according to time of day, day or week, and season.
Uncountable other factors are influencing consumers to buy more of or less of your products. This is happening in real-time, potentially thousands of times per day. With this in mind, you can’t really expect to have ideal CPC bids in Shopping if you only update them once per month, right?
There’s a challenge here, of course. We’d all like to have CPC bids updated in real-time to maximise our profit or ROI goals. But, what if you have thousands of products listed? How are you going to optimise so many bids with the frequency of updates required for optimal profitability?
The answer is, trust in the machine. Automated bid management by Google and by third-parties has gotten really good over the past few years. We are at a point now where, assuming you have enough conversions (about 30-50 conversions per performance group or portfolio will normally do it), an automated bid management system can do a very good job of dynamically updating bids and hitting your performance targets. The only remaining challenge now is setting the right Adwords goals (ROAS, CPA, Clicks, etc) to match your overall business goals (profit, revenue, growth, etc).
At Big Flare we’re a big fan of Adspert’s bid management tool. Despite not having access to as much data as Google’s free built-in bid optimisation tool, Adspert has often outperformed Google in many of our tests. However, as with any third-party tool worth using, Adspert is not free. Google also has it’s built in bid management algorithms that you can use for free and that do a pretty good job as well.
Whatever the tool or algorithm you use, we recommend you get on one right away. Shift your bid management system from checking once in awhile and updating manually, to setting up automated bid management and then checking on the results once per week to make sure your Adwords bidding goals and results are delivering the business goals you are trying to achieve.
To set up an automated bid strategy with Google, simply head over to: Shared library > Bid Strategies and create a new strategy.
For Shopping campaigns, and for eCommerce PPC in general, Return On Ad Spend (ROAS) based bid strategies are recommended. Out of the bid strategies available on Adwords, only ROAS can bid based on the actual return you are receiving, rather than just on the number of conversions or clicks.
Name your bid strategy something meaningful. If this is going to be a Shopping only bid strategy, then name it with “Shopping” at the start then add your performance goal too. Select which campaigns you want to include. This can also be done via campaign settings. Set your performance target (in the example above, a ROAS target of 300% was set) and then click save.
There is the advanced option available to set a minimum or maximum bid, but for most advertisers this is not recommended. Simply let Google bid whatever it needs in order to achieve the target you set. As long as your performance target is being met, who cares what maximum or minimum CPC bid is being used? Click save and you are good to go.
A Note on Not Panicking
AdWords bid strategies take time to learn and adapt. Do not just switch it off in a panic after two days if it hasn’t met your goals yet! Depending on how many conversions you have, the bid strategy could take anywhere from 1-4 weeks to reach optimal performance. When you start out, be patient and wait for it to dial in your bids. If you drill down into the bid strategy, you’ll be able to check the progress of its learning curve.
And there you have it. The three most common AdWords Shopping campaign problems we see in client accounts, and the exact solutions for them. There are, of course, plenty of other common problems that we see coming up in more than a few Shopping campaigns, so this is not the be all and end all of Shopping campaign improvement. But, if you are currently running Shopping ads in-house, it’s likely that the three above items are three things you could be doing better with only a minimal investment of your time and effort.
Are you making any of these mistakes and did this article help? Are there other challenges you are having with Shopping? Feel free to share in the comments below!
In some cases, PPC doesn’t pay off from the very beginning! Don’t just give up without giving it another try. Follow these simple yet powerful tips to improve your AdWords performance.
1. Use Conditional Keywords
Are you using carefully selected keywords but they are not performing well? You need to switch your keywords strategy right away. Sometimes even targeted keywords don’t convert (for multiple reasons). For example, information seekers search the same keywords and buyers, but are not ready to buy.
Let’s suppose you are a house removal company in New York and targeting the following keywords…
- house removals
- house movers
- moving companies
- removals company
They are your main targeted keywords and are eating your most of the budget. Pause them! Instead use conditional keywords where the user is looking exactly for the service you are offering but with a solid and well defined condition. For example:
- international removals
- interstate moving companies
- furniture removalists
- nationwide moving companies
- apartment movers
- office relocation
- local moving services
In my experience, these types of users are most likely to convert at higher conversion rates. It will lift up your conversions and decrease your costs.
2. Use Long Tail Keywords
Long tail keywords are another great way to optimize your AdWords account performance. Don’t confuse them with ‘conditional keywords’.
As I said earlier, conditional keywords have clear and solid condition attached to the search query, whereas long tail keywords don’t necessarily need to have one.
For example, for removal companies, long tail keywords might be:
- best house removal companies
- cheap house movers in new york
- where can I find moving companies
To get even better results, use long tail conditional keywords which in this case could be:
- long distance interstate moving companies
- discount interstate moving companies
- best interstate moving companies nyc
- moving companies for interstate moves
- full service interstate moving companies
- interstate moving companies near me
One conditional keyword will have several long tail keywords so there is a solid chance that you get good conversions from such keywords.
3. Create “Near Me” Campaign
This is, perhaps, the most neglected technique for getting more conversions and improving account performance. People are getting more localized day by day in this mobile world.
More than 50% of traffic is already on mobile and they are well aware of the fact that Google knows their location already. I know if I type “near me” next to my search query, this will bring up much more localized service providers.
But there is a catch. In this scenario, you are targeting entire New York and in such big cities, not everyone is close enough to visit your business. Even if they see your ad, they are least likely to convert. You need to target those who are physically close to your business location when make a search online.
Here is how you do it—create a separate campaign for “Near Me” searchers. Let’s suppose you are based in Long Island. Go to you campaign’s setting tab and then location. Click on “Add Location” and then select “Near Me” campaign. Search for “Long Island” and add it.
Now you are targeting people physically located in Long Island (add as many nearby areas as you want). Add all relevant keywords. Few examples are below…
- house movers near me
- house removals nearby
- closest house movers
- local house removal companies
If, in some cases, you don’t find your area in the AdWords location targeting interface, try your zip code instead, and if doesn’t work either, target by “Radius”.
You can even target generic and broad keywords in this campaign with even less fear of losing money. Here are a few more tips to consider:
- Add localized messaging in your ad copy
- Use the location extension
- Enable the phone calls extension
There is another way to target visitors near your location. You must have your business registered with Google My Business. The next step is to link your “My Business” location with AdWords account. Read this Google guide for further instructions on how to link it.
After it’s done, heads toward the advanced location targeting window and click on “location groups” tab and select My Locations from the dropdown as shown in the image below. Select the radius you want to target, let’s say 2 miles and click on Add.
This is a convenient way to target users near your business location especially when you have multiple business locations. This targeting technique will apply to all business locations you have in your Google My Business account.
That’s how your ad will look like on mobile.
(Image courtesy of Google)
At this point you may want to add multiple radius targets to single campaign to find the best radius that works for you. Let’s suppose you targeted 2 miles initially. Now repeat the whole process again and target 4 miles, then 7 and 10 (or what makes sense to you). In this way, you can learn about the impact of distance from your business location and later set your bids accordingly.
You should also check the ‘distance report’ more frequently to see how far the customer was when she saw your ad. This can be found under the “Dimension” tab. Choose ‘Distance’ from the ‘View’ drop down.
(Image courtesy of Google)
If a user happens to be in the area close to your multiple business locations, he will see all of them in the ad and can choose one which suits him best.
(Image courtesy of Google)
Tip: Schedule your “Near Me” campaign to run during your operating hours.
Note: This technique is applicable to all other campaigns in your account as well and works perfectly fine for the visitors physically close to your location.
4. Enable Mobile Click-to-Call
This is most important and least used feature by AdWords advertisers in this mobile world. Please note that I am not talking about the “phone calls extension,” I am not even talking about the “calls from website.” I am specifically talking about “phone number click” on your mobile site.
There are 3 types of call conversions you can track from within AdWords interface. If you have a phone number displayed on your website and are not tracking all three of them, your stats are not accurate (especially when you have to report to client about AdWords performance).
i) Call Extension
Majority of the advertisers are well aware of this feature known as “Call Extensions”. Visitors see “call” button next to your ads on mobiles or your “phone number” on desktop devices.
(Image courtesy of Google)
ii) Calls from website
In this type of conversion, Google displays a dynamically-generated forwarding number when someone visits your website after clicking your ad. Your own phone number will be replaced by this forwarding number, so you can measure how many people called you after landing on your website either on mobile or desktop.
(Image courtesy of Google)
Fewer AdWords advertisers are taking advantage of this feature as compare to call extensions.
iii) Phone click on mobile site
This is perhaps the most important call tracking source. It will turn your dead phone number on your mobile site into live clickable phone number. Here is how Google describes it…
“When someone visits your mobile website after clicking one of your AdWords ads, conversion tracking can help you identify clicks on your phone number. Unlike website call conversions, this feature only tracks clicks on your phone number, not actual phone calls. You’ll see click data instead of call data (such as call length) in your conversion reports.You can measure clicks on a text link, image, or button.”
(Image courtesy of Google)
When visitors land on your mobile website after clicking your ad and decide to call instead of signup, they have to manually dial your number. Giving them the option to click to call will definitely increase your conversion rate.
On a side note, I checked ten different websites currently running paid campaigns in New York for “house removals” related keywords and found the following worrisome facts…
- 3 out of 10 companies don’t even have a phone number displayed on their websites
- 4 out of 10 websites are not even responsive (mobile-friendly)
- 10 out of 10 are not tracking phone number clicks on mobile devices
- 9 out of 10 websites aren’t tracking calls from website
- 8 out of 10 haven’t enabled click to call function for organic users on mobiles
- 2 out of 10 don’t have Google Analytics installed on the websites
- 9 out of 10 don’t have AdWords conversion tracking installed on their websites
Let me remind you once again, all these 10 websites are currently running paid campaigns on AdWords.
5. Find & Use a Winning Landing Page
Easier said than done, right? Give me few moments and I’ll show you how easy it is to implement a winning landing page on your website especially for paid campaigns right from the beginning.
The best practice to be always testing your landing pages and ultimately find best performer. But it’s time consuming and can cost you good amount of money if you are running paid campaigns so where should you start?
Start from spying on your competitors, we need to take help from a PPC spying tool here. Let me give you an example of SpyFu which is very useful to look at the ad history of our competitors and for how long they are using the current landing page.
Enter a domain of your well established competitor and look back into history for how long they are using the current landing page, also check their ad copy, call to action, display URL, landing page content and If the competitor is using the same landing page for several weeks or months then you find yourself a winner.
6. Bid on Competitors
This might be the most effective and cheapest way to get more conversions. Most of the advertisers are aware of this technique and they are bidding on the brand names of their competitors but you know what?
They are bidding on their online competitors, what they are not doing is considering the offline competitors into online landscape.
Every business has offline competitors spending heavily on TV, print, or radio advertisement and you know what the interesting part is? They don’t even have a websites!
This is a huge opportunity for you to bring their customers to your own website.
Let’s suppose you just find out that you need a plumber and at that exact moment, you watch a compelling TV ad about “Acme Plumbing Company,” after the ad is gone, you don’t remember the phone number they shown on TV or the address, what you remember is—the company name.
So what the next thing will you do? You’ll search for them online.
I am getting 400 leads a month for one of my client by using this technique and these 400 leads are coming from a single competitor who is advertising heavily on TV and print but doesn’t have a website. I am just bidding on their brand name and you can imagine the cost/conversions, right? It’s less than 20% of avg. cost/conversion of that account.
Now it’s up to you!
Let me know in comments which technique you are NOT using yet?