Looking Back at ClickZ Live 2014
It’s been almost a month since my colleague Tony Testaverde and I made the short trip to New York City for the ClickZ Live conference. For those unfamiliar with the event, ClickZ Live was formerly known as SES Conference and Expo and is one of the preeminent gatherings for online marketers with big-name keynote speakers and industry thought leaders in virtually every panel.
I haven’t had the chance to attend many conferences before, so I was really looking forward to meeting other search practitioners and learning from the great lineup of speakers. Plus, the venue totally rocked and the NIT champion Minnesota Golden Gophers were staying there as well (the championship game was held at Madison Square Garden on the last day of the conference).
Because we’re more interested in the search space at WordStream, and because the sessions have been covered extensively, I won’t reflect on the keynote presentations themselves, but needless to say, both Randi Zuckerberg and Andy Beal were great.
After Randi Zuckerberg formally kicked off the conference, I had a chance to scope out the various presentation formats being used at the conference. In the exhibition hall there were numerous booths for sponsors like Bing Ads and iProspect, and there was also a small presentation area and a cool glass space that Google put together for the “Learn with Google” sessions that occurred over the course of the first two days.
Testing was one of the big themes of the first day for me as I attended a theater presentation on “Split Testing Your Way to Conversions.” I think as marketers we can all agree that testing is crucial to building a successful campaign, but sometimes, we get too focused on the optimizing the campaigns that we’re running without paying enough attention to the overall user experience.
According to Erin Everhart at 352 Inc., you can retain 68% more customers on your site with better UX and increase your overall traffic by 120%. Who wouldn’t want numbers like that?
“I think the biggest thing is just talking to your users,” Erin said, speaking about how small businesses can begin to understand whether they have a UX or design problem that could be hurting sales. “I usually recommend starting with the product or service that makes the most money for you. If you can make a small incremental change to a page where you’re selling your highest-selling product, and it gives you 10% more, it’s going to mean more for your business than if you work on something that’s going to be a lower priority for you.”
Another nifty example that Erin pointed out in her session is that while we often focus lots of energy on our SERP position, we overlook what we can do to optimize the text of our SERP listing. Optimizing this text can be much easier than improving your ranking and can yield big benefits.
If Erin left any doubts about the value of testing (she didn’t), Chris Goward made it impossible for anyone to ignore the value of testing in his panel titled “From Landing to Converting: Driving Your Prospects to Purchase.”
Chris is the CEO and Founder of WiderFunnel, a company that helps large organizations optimize their marketing to get more conversions. In his presentation, Chris showed a number of different A/B tests to the audience (of seasoned marketers) and asked them to predict the winner. In each case, one of the tests employed a “best practice” and invariably attracted the vast majority of the votes. Interestingly, the results of the tests proved us wrong every time. Chris’s point wasn’t that we should avoid these “best practices,” but rather that general rules don’t work in every situation and we can only know that by testing.
After he was finished messing with our heads, Chris continued to talk about the value of continuous testing and argued that if you test enough, you can continually iterate your web design and never actually “redesign” your website.
The other big theme I encountered during day one was the rise of display advertising and remarketing. There was a lively panel titled “Remarketing and Behavioral Ads: What’s New?” and I also spent a while at the experts’ roundtable discussing this subject. In fact, remarketing turned out to be one of the hottest topics of conversation for the entire convention, as advertisers and agencies are trying to understand how they can leverage the increasingly available data surrounding the display network to access ad space that was previously only available to the biggest industry players.
In the panel, Andrew Goodman and Christopher Hansen dropped some serious knowledge on the audience. Some of the key takeaways for me were:
- If you bid higher, you will get access to different inventory. Don't be afraid to bid high and then try bidding down.
- If your Google remarketing is failing it’s probably time to refine your audience definition.
- The “3 Rs” of remarketing are Respect, Relevance and Recency.
Perhaps the most important message for all of us to keep in mind is that remarketing is a great way to move your audience from aware but not engaged, to engaged (and it’s great at doing that) but it isn’t a panacea because it doesn’t drive new traffic on its own. In that sense, remarketing is more about leveraging your existing assets (the audience of people who have visited your site) rather than developing new assets that you can do through traditional search, targeted display and organic means.
The day finished off with a cool cocktail reception and a crazy party at night, including a performance from ClickZ’s own band, the Click-Zees!
On the second day of the conference, I got my first taste of the “Learn with Google” series of presentations as Nicole Premo dove headfirst into Shopping Campaigns and Mobile Product Listing Ads. Anyone who has been to one of Nicole’s live hangouts knows that she knows just about everything there is to know about Shopping Campaigns. In the session, Nicole officially announced that all PLAs would be migrating to Shopping Campaigns by the end of the summer.
Nicole also walked the audience through the benefits of Shopping Campaigns over PLAs, including:
- Advanced Reporting.
- Competitive Landscape Data.
- Better UX (more like a retail store) so that you can spend less time managing your Product Ads and more time optimizing them.
One thing that Nicole cautioned against was using too many negative keywords with your Shopping Campaigns, as the algorithms in these campaigns is different and negative keywords may stop all of your Product Ads from displaying. I found this recommendation particularly alarming, because as most PPC marketers know, it’s important to use negatives to keep your spend in check and ensure that Google only displays your ad on relevant searches. While I would advocate for the continued use of negatives once you migrate to Shopping Campaigns, it will be important to keep a close eye on your traffic.
The impact of the Shopping Campaign announcement could be felt throughout the conference that day. In the panel on “Mastering PPC,” John Lee of Clix Marketing noted that had changed his presentation on the fly to incorporate the change!
The remainder of the panel was a potpourri of assorted PPC advice, with topics ranging from the value of call extensions to a change in how Bing Ads reports search queries (they now report queries even if they don’t have a click!). In addition to John Lee, John Gagnon from Bing Ads reflected on the recent release of Product Ads for Bing (they will likely move from the side of the SERP to the top once their usage increases). John also talked about the differences in user behavior across devices. According to him, 70% of desktop queries are acted on within a month, while on mobile, 70% are acted on within an hour!
While things were starting to wind down by the third day of the conference (the awesome exhibition hall was taken down), there were still some great PPC-related panels that I was super excited to attend. However, to whet my appetite, I started off the day by attending a talk by Bryan Eisenberg on the performance secrets of Amazon.
Bryan’s presentation was captivating as he delved into many of the (amazing) things that Amazon does to stay ahead of the curve. At the heart of Amazon’s domination (30% of all ecommerce goes through Amazon!) is the company’s never-ending desire to continue learning about its customers. To that end, they test like very few other companies out there.
According to Bryan, Amazon changes the prices of its products roughly every six minutes, and they aren’t afraid to test the impact of big changes rather than just running small variations. One important thing to note though is that Amazon won’t test flippantly – every test that occurs above the fold on a product page requires the approval of Jeff Bezos himself!
Amazon also puts its money where its mouth is in terms of investing in innovation. How can traditional retailers like Barnes & Noble hope to compete when Amazon’s R&D budget ($6.5 billion) is nearly as big as Barnes & Noble’s REVENUE ($6.8 billion)?
So, in summary, if you want to win like Amazon, all you have to do is maintain an unwavering focus on the customer, test like crazy and invest $6.5 billion in R&D. Sounds easy enough to me!
As I made my way over to the panel titled “Work Smarter Not Harder: Campaign Automation to Drive Extreme Results,” I was excited to shift gears back to PPC. While all of the panels were extremely informative and entertaining, Steve Hammer’s presentation was by far the most engaging (at least for those of us nerds who grew up during the 1980s), as it was a non-stop reference to classic video games.
During his talk, Steve showed the audience how to identify actions that can easily be automated (spoiler alert – it’s any repeatable action in which you can define the metric, the target, and the action you want to take), and even delved into some of his own code for creating AdWords Scripts, which can be used to automate certain tasks or allow you to make changes based on external data like the weather or stock prices.
Steve also made a point of noting that while automation is great, “automation can’t fix bad.” In other words, you need to make sure that your business model is ready to scale. Perhaps Kye Mou of Marin Software summed it up best when he quoted Abraham Lincoln, who once said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”
The final panel I attended ended things off with a WordStream-themed bang. It was titled “How to Implement a Winning PPC Auditing Framework” and was moderated by the indomitable John Lee. While WordStream wasn’t on the panel, Courtney Herda and Jon Kagan leveraged lots of data that we’ve published (include link to infographic here) to help attendees understand the value in running a PPC audit. Over the course of their presentation, Cortney and Jon walked through a thorough list of items to review, including your account structure, common settings, keywords, ad copy, extensions and landing pages.
While they didn’t have time to delve too deeply into best practices for each area of the audit, a couple interesting recommendations that they had were:
- If you advertise on the Bing Partner Network, you should review the referring domains from the Partner Network every other week (Bing will allows domain parking sites in its Partner Network).
- If you separate ad groups by match type, make sure to cross-pollinate negatives and check your Search Query Report frequently so that traffic is directed appropriately.
- Regularly evaluate your ad copy and adapt any ads that show on mobile devices by using phrases like “from your phone” or “call for…”
At the end of the panel, Tony and I packed up and bade a fond farewell to the Big Apple.
The ClickZ Live conference was packed with tons of big-name speakers and I enjoyed the various forums for learning. I highly recommend it for all online marketers whose responsibilities stretch over PPC, display, SEO and content marketing. If you’re feeling jealous of our experience, check out the ClickZ Live website for information on upcoming conferences in cities around the world including Toronto, Shanghai, Hong Kong, San Francisco and Chicago.