Does Weather Affect Online Shopping?

Weather in Richmond

A great day for shopping?

Rain, rain, go away…unless you are an online retailer.

A recent study by RichRelevance sought to measure weather’s impact on online shopping behaviors. (hat tip Geekwire)

The methodology seems sound:

I began my exploration by pulling sales data for four major retailers from differing verticals (Home/Furniture, Wholesale, Clothing, and Big Box), concentrating specifically on the greater Seattle area. For weather I used daily temperature and precipitation data from the Seattle Tacoma Airport, and long-term temperature normals from the National Climatic Data Center to identify unusually hot, cold, and rainy days. I isolated noise from the long term sales trend by subtracting daily sales data from a moving average, and cropped the dataset to only look at Saturdays and Sundays-—days where I’d expect people’s behavior to be the most influenced by weather since they’re not subject to the work week.

And the results are in-line with what we’ve hypothesized for a while, based on our clients’ aggregated PPC and e-commerce sales data:

The difference between a clear day and a cloudy day means a difference of 10-12% in orders for our Clothing, Home/Furniture, and Wholesale retailers, and, just as interesting, makes no significant difference for our Big Box retailer. In general, people of Seattle buy less online on sunny weekends, and in particular they buy less home/furniture, wholesale, and clothing goods.

If you are a more visual learner, here are their graphs showing the change in order volume on clear vs. cloudy days.

Weather's Effects on Online Shopping

Click to expand

This research is interesting, but not immediately actionable. First of all, we can’t control the weather. Second, the author points out that the deviations are small enough to leave room for debate.

So, What?

In our client testing, we have proven that changing our Google AdWords ads based on time of day can have a significant impact on Click-Through Rates and Conversion Rates for offline businesses. Should we also be testing different calls to action triggered by different weather conditions?

It’s an interesting question, and one I’m sure somebody somewhere is working on.

Google Analytics Remarketing Lists – How To

Remarketing CycleOne of our “next big things in PPC” just got bigger.

Google AdWords’ remarketing capabilities have proven to be one of our most effective methods for increasing conversions while lowering the average Cost Per Conversion. It’s such an effective tool that we have developed extremely sophisticated, logic-based implementation methods to create custom remarketing audiences based on very granular behavior and conversion data.

Thanks to Google Analytics’ recent announcement of the merger of AdWords and Analytics remarketing audiences, we have even MORE ways to segment audiences so that only the right people see the right ad at the right time. This will really help cut down on wasted impressions and clicks that are not likely to directly or indirectly convert.

Here’s how to update your Google Analytics and Google AdWords accounts to take advantage of remarketing with Google Analytics:

Step 1: Link AdWords and Analytics

If you haven’t already done this, what are you waiting for? Here’s how…

Yes, it’s confusing and could (should) be simplified, but it unleashes an entirely new level of analysis and geekery that all AdWords managers should take advantage of.

Step 2: Update Your Analytics Tracking Snippet

This is a crucial, and easily overlooked, step. The standard asynchronous tracking code WILL NOT work.

Replace the bold code below:

var _gaq = _gaq || [];
_gaq.push(['_setAccount', 'UA-xxxxx-y']);
(function() {
var ga = document.createElement('script'); ga.type = 'text/javascript'; ga.async = true;

ga.src = ('https:' == document.location.protocol ? 'https://ssl' : 'http://www') + '';

var s = document.getElementsByTagName('script')[0]; s.parentNode.insertBefore(ga, s);

with the bold code here:

var _gaq = _gaq || [];
_gaq.push(['_setAccount', 'UA-xxxxx-y']);
(function() {
var ga = document.createElement('script'); ga.type = 'text/javascript'; ga.async = true;

ga.src = ('https:' == document.location.protocol ? 'https://' : 'http://') + '';

var s = document.getElementsByTagName('script')[0]; s.parentNode.insertBefore(ga, s);

Here are the official instructions in case you need more detail.

Step 3: Update Your Privacy Policy

Memo from the legal department: cover your ass and update your privacy policy with this info.

Make sure your visitors are made aware of your intent to remarket to them and the implementation method you have chosen: the DoubleClick cookie.

This cookie is Google’s not-so-secret weapon in the online ad wars. It allows Google to marry your GA visit sessions with their wide network of AdSense and DoubleClick ad placements to provide “interest-based advertising” (remarketing and behavioral targeting).

Step 4: Create Remarketing Audiences in Google Analytics

In the “Admin” area of your Google Analytics interface, click on “Remarketing Lists”, then “+New Remarketing List”.

Admin Remarketing Lists

Next, select how you want to segment your remarketing list. The most advanced options allow you to target people that viewed a particular page (product, service, or category pages can work well), or completed a conversion goal (e.g. transaction, lead, or event).

New Remarketing List

Don’t worry about mixing your audiences here. Just set them up and we can create custom combinations in AdWords. Click “Save Remarketing List” and log into AdWords.

Step 5: Create Custom Combinations in AdWords

Once your Remarketing Audiences are set up, they should show up in your AdWords shared library > Audiences menu.

AdWords Audience Library

Click the green New Audience button, then Custom Combination. This is where it gets FUN.

AdWords Custom Combinations

Try combining audiences using the ANY or NONE selectors to reach people in one group but not another. For example, we target visitors who viewed a product or shopping cart page but did not complete a purchase goal.

Once you are satisfied, add these audiences to an ad group (preferably a separate ad group) and watch the results come in!

Step 6: Bask, Then Get Back To Work

Take a moment to marvel at what you have accomplished…then do it some more! The possibilities are now endless and you won’t need any IT/dev support once your tracking snippet is updated.

Test different combinations of audiences. Rotate new creative into your Remarketing ad groups. Experiment with Enhanced CPC. Try mobile. Try new landing pages. Just test anything!

Required: Mobile Targeting for Google AdWords

Google Mobile AdWordsLooking for an easy, low-cost way to increase Pay Per Click conversions and lower your average Cost Per Conversion (or Cost Per Acquisition, CPA) at the same time? I know it sounds like a sleazy sales line, but mobile ad targeting is a simple way to take your search campaigns to the next level.

We have been targeting mobile and tablet users separately for our retail and e-commerce clients for quite a while. The results are pretty clear: managing mobile campaigns can increase sales, improve ROI, and make you look like a rock star.

Here are the results we’ve observed over the first quarter of 2012, separating brand-name “branded” keywords from non-branded keywords. This is an important distinction because search and conversion data differ based on whether or not a search engine user is looking for a product or company by name.

Total Clicks

Not surprisingly, the vast majority of clicks come from desktop computers. Mobile devices and tablets account for about 15% of total clicks, and growing in proportion every month. 15% of any PPC account is a sizeable chunk worth paying attention to.

Clicks from Non-Branded KeywordsClicks on Branded Keywords

Cost Per Click (CPC)

Due to less competition from other advertisers on mobile devices, average Costs Per Click can be up to 30% lower than desktops. Tablets are typically cheaper than desktops, but not as dramatically. Bottom line, more clicks for less money!

Cost Per Click for Non-Branded KeywordsCost Per Click for Branded Keywords

Conversion Rates

Conversion rates for non-branded keywords is about 0.4% lower on mobile devices and 0.6% lower on tablet devices. The client sites we measured do not have a mobile-optimized site, so a small drop in conversion rates is not surprising. Visitors from branded keywords actually convert better on a mobile device, primarily because of the increased intent to visit a store location and/or complete a purchase on the go.

Conversion Rates for Non-Branded KeywordsConversion Rates for Branded Keywords

Cost Per Conversion

Here’s where the rubber hits the road. Cost Per Conversion answers the question, “How much does it cost to acquire a new customer?” Thanks to significantly lower CPC’s and strong conversion rates, mobile devices have a much more attractive Cost Per Conversion than desktops and tablets in these samples.

Cost Per Conversion for Non-Branded KeywordsCost Per Conversion for Branded Keywords

The Bottom Line

Regardless of whether or not 2012 actually IS the year of mobile, mobile AdWords targeting is here and is only going to become more competitive as more advertisers begin to test it.

Don’t ignore your desktop users, but if you’re not spending at least 15% of your time optimizing PPC campaigns for the 15% of users on smartphones and tablets, you are likely missing a big opportunity to improve conversion rates and ROI.

3 Must-Have PPC Strategies For 2012

Have you ever wondered what the “next big thing” in Pay Per Click (PPC) advertising is going to be?

In our world, the next big thing seems to change every day. The pace of innovation in the PPC world is accelerating. New updates, tools, and targeting methods come online nearly every day.

We feel that it is our responsibility to keep our clients updated on the most important changes, along with what we are doing about them. These may not be the “most recent” changes in our industry, but we feel they are the biggest opportunities to improve overall performance.

1. Mobile / Tablet Campaign Targeting

[pullquote]28% Lower Cost Per Conversion with Mobile Device Targeting[/pullquote]Back on November 15th, 2011 Google launched its Mobilizing Mobile initiative aimed at creating mobile-optimized websites for more than 400 local businesses in Mobile, Alabama. The multi-day event was a test run for Google to promote the benefits of mobile friendly webpages, and to see if they could start rolling out similar programs across the country.

Google’s GoMo Agency Guide (PDF) lays out their arguments for making a website mobile-friendly:

  • More than 85% of Americans ages 18 and over have mobile phones.
  • 61% of consumers that search the web on their mobile devices call a business. 44% make a purchase.
  • Web searches performed on a mobile device have grown 400% in the last year.

Still don’t think mobile targeting is worth it? You can test it like we did for one of our e-commerce clients. We split their branded keywords into a campaign that targeted only mobile devices and tablets vs. a campaign only targeting desktop computers, and repeated the process for their non-branded campaigns.

Here are the results from the last two months:

Mobile vs. Desktop AdWords Results

Mobile vs. Desktop AdWords Results

The mobile/tablet campaigns accounted for 15% of the total traffic and 17% of the total Clicks at a lower Cost Per Click without any drop in conversion rates to the desktop campaigns.

2. Remarketing / Retargeting Your Site’s Visitors

Remarketing is relatively new Google Display Network feature. It is a form of interest-based targeting found in the Audiences tab in AdWords. You can use it to target consumers that have already been to your website.

Here’s how it works:

Remarketing Cycle

Not only does Remarketing allow you to get back in front of consumers who have already been exposed to your website, but it also allows you to segment them into groups. For example, Jim visited your e-commerce site to just browse, then left before adding anything to his cart. Haley put an item in her shopping cart then left the site without completing the transaction. You could then separate them into two groups:

Group A: Haley and all other consumers that did not complete their transaction (abandoned carts).
Group B: Jim and all other users who have previously purchased from your site.

If you wanted to offer a time-sensitive, product-specific promotion code for 15% off you could put it in an ad targeted just to Group A to motivate them to complete a transaction, while offering Group B a site-wide promotion to encourage retention.

3. Look Beyond AdWords

[pullquote]25-35% Lower Average Cost Per Click[/pullquote]Google Adwords provides marketers with many inventive ways to get in front of consumers searching the web, but it doesn’t reach all corners of the web. Bing and Yahoo still account for around 30% of the search traffic online. Their audience also has very little overlap with Google’s users.

However, due to the learning curve with Microsoft adCenter and the smaller amount of traffic, Bing and Yahoo sometimes receive less attention from marketers. Less competition results in lower average Costs Per Click (CPC). In most cases, we are seeing CPC’s on Bing/Yahoo that are 25-35% lower than Google AdWords. Conversion rates are usually a little lower than Google’s, but the overall Cost Per Conversion is extremely competitive, if not better.

In 2012 we are going to look to expand more clients onto AdCenter, especially those clients who have reached their saturation point with Google AdWords.

Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter

Beyond searching Google, Bing, or Yahoo, Internet users are interacting on the web more than ever. Facebook Ads allow you to get involved with the social trends and narrowly target users based on their interests:

Facebook Ads

Facebook Ads Interest Targeting

Whether it’s music, sports, movies or any other interest, Facebook shows you if there is a fan base and provides other similar suggestions. This gives marketers the power to define their target demographic with much more precision than possible with Google AdWords or Microsoft AdCenter.

People are also connecting professionally on LinkedIn. LinkedIn Ads can be targeted by industry, job title, company size, and geographic targeting capabilities to get in front of decision makers and industry experts.

According to The Truth About Profiting from Social Networking:

“LinkedIn allows you to target ads based on profile data. Because of the business orientation of the site, however, LinkedIn states that its profile are ten times more accurate than many other sites’ registration data. In other words, people who create a LinkedIn profile to connect with their work colleagues—or boss—are less likely to be deceptive in their profile data.”

With a more honest, business-oriented audience LinkedIn ads are great for B2B clients or for anyone trying to build their network of like-minded professionals.

Twitter’s long-awaited monetization efforts are finally going to launch in March 2012. Their self-service ad platform will allow smaller advertisers to test whether or not Twitter Ads are an effective and efficient complement to other PPC advertising channels.

Whether it is through LinkedIn Ads, Facebook or Twitter, expanding our clients beyond AdWords is going to be an important part of 2012.

Put It All Together

This is just a small sample of the recent changes in the PPC landscape. The frequent changes require constant testing and refinement to figure out how to properly balance a PPC portfolio.

Google AdWords Phishing Attempts

What’s easier than making money the hard way? Stealing it.

That seems to be the motivation behind a Google AdWords phishing attempt a client received this morning. Luckily he had the keen eye to avoid the trap and forward the email to me for further review.

Step 1: The Phishing Lure

Here’s the email he received. Is says his account is no longer running and that his ads need to be reviewed before being re-activated.

Looks legit, right? Even the reply-to address is the normal AdWords notification email account. Who wouldn’t log in to re-activate their ads?

AdWords Phishing Email

AdWords Phishing Email - Click to Enlarge

Step 2: Set the Hook

After clicking the link, an unsuspecting advertiser could be tricked into filling in their AdWords username and password on this screen.

AdWords Phishing Login Page

AdWords Phishing Login Page - Click to Enlarge


Again, it looks legitimate. More experienced AdWords users will immediately recognize this as a old version of the login page. The new version is below as a reference.

AdWords Login Screen

The Real AdWords Login Screen - Click to Enlarge

Step 3: Be The One That Got Away

There are numerous clues that the site may not be legitimate and should be avoided:

  1. The click-through URL on the email goes to “” instead of ““. This should be a dead-giveaway.
  2. The landing page is not hosted on a secure site. All official Google login pages are secured on https pages.
  3. The email seems overly dire and not worded in the typical “Googley” fashion: “Please note: If you do not verify the status of your Adwords account and notify us if your ads do not appear online we can not help you and your ads will stay offline for the next few days.”
  4. The landing page is a copy of an old version and does not resemble the current AdWords login page.
  5. The whois information for this domain is not registered to Google. It’s probably fake info anyway, but it’s definitely not Google.
  6. Clicking the link in a modern browser pops up a phishing warning. Not all browsers do this, but it is extremely helpful and usually accurate.
Phishing Warning

Phishing Warning - Click to Enlarge

Prevention > Cure

What would happen if the phisher did snag your AdWords login and password? They can log in to your account and drive massive amounts of traffic to their sites at your expense. That’s the best case scenario. Worst case, they can access your entire Google account, personal info, email accounts, social networks, Google Docs, and any other sensitive info you have stored in Google’s cloud.
If your account was compromised and you noticed a charge to your account, log in and change your password immediately! Your only recourse is to contact AdWords and explain how you got hacked. If you do receive a phishing email but did not fall victim, report it to AdWords here.
It’s much easier (and less expensive) to think carefully about each link you click and every login form you submit. Rehearse your mental checklist to keep your guard up.
I hope you haven’t fallen victim to this scam. It must be somewhat successful because various iterations have been circulating for years.

Alternatives to SEO Rank Checkers

[pullquote]How do I know if my search rankings reports are accurate? You don’t. Move on.[/pullquote]A friend pinged me this morning asking about alternatives to using the SEOMoz Pro rank checking tool. The reported results were not the same as they were seeing when manually searching.

Even when logged out of Google and with a clear cache and no cookies, Google is still personalizing search results for each user based on the search history of each IP address and your geographic location.

This question is increasingly common for people reporting rankings to their SEO clients. As mentioned before, I am NOT IN FAVOR of relying solely on search rankings. There are plenty of other, more meaningful metrics.

Here’s my response, which I felt was worth sharing:

For consistency reasons (and time constraints), I’ve stopped using rankings as an indicator of SEO results.

When I do look at them, I use SEOMoz Pro and WebPosition ( There’s no way around the IP-level personalization that I’ve found that still simulates real-life search patterns.

Using 2 data sources gets you a couple different data points. They hardly ever match, so I look at trends over several months and not particular data points from an exact moment in time.

Try reporting on organic, non-branded keyword visits and the number/type of unique landing pages from that traffic segment. If you have conversion data, all the better. Rankings are meaningless unless you are actually attracting qualified traffic and generating sales/leads/whatever. The landing pages reports show how much of your content is exposed in search engines, and where you might be missing opportunities to attract new visitors by focusing on some internal pages or sections.

It’s a lot more work, but I’ve found that clients appreciate tangible results in addition to (or instead of) showing rankings. Anything that keeps the SEM industry more accountable and transparent is a good thing, in my mind.

Ready For Less Useful SEO Traffic Metrics?

Google’s big on privacy these days. It’s no surprise, considering the blowback they’ve received on Google Buzz and their impending antitrust investigations.

Even so, I was a very surprised to hear Google announce that they are going to stop reporting which keywords drove traffic to sites in Google Analytics if the searcher A) is logged into Google, and B) clicks on a link to your site in the organic search results.

The goal is to make searching more secure. Google suggests this will only impact a small percentage of visitors, but the ramifications extend beyond and affect anybody that relies on Google Analytics.

How It Works

To protect Google users’ privacy, Google will encrypt the data transfer between their browser and Google. This makes it harder for somebody to capture and “read” your data as it is transmitted from your computer to Google and back.

Bad For SEO And CRO

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is complicated enough, but when Google removes some crucial keyword data from the Google Analytics, it becomes much harder to analyze results and know what is working (and what isn’t).

To help you better identify the signed in user organic search visits, we created the token “(not provided)” within Organic Search Traffic Keyword reporting. You will continue to see referrals without any change; only the queries for signed in user visits will be affected. Note that “cpc” paid search data is not affected.

[pullquote]This can hurt a site when every 0.1% matters.[/pullquote]The real concern is for those people focused on Conversion Rate Optimization. Some data will be missing, which means that conversion rates at the keyword level won’t be as valid.

Even though I don’t do much SEO work for clients these days, the organic search traffic data is extremely valuable for planning, managing, and optimizing PPC campaigns. It helps us define a campaign structure and set initial bids for new advertisers. PPC data, when compared to SEO data for the same keywords, can really improve campaign efficiency and effectiveness.

Boon For PPC?

Despite the drawbacks for SEO folks, marketers can look at this as just one more reason to invest in PPC.

From the blog post describing the change:

If you choose to click on an ad appearing on our search results page, your browser will continue to send the relevant query over the network to enable advertisers to measure the effectiveness of their campaigns and to improve the ads and offers they present to you.

Markets always seek efficiency. If PPC marketers can demonstrate greater efficiency than SEO because they have more data, rational companies will invest where they can get the greatest return.

(CC photo credit)

Landing Page Quality Matters More Than Ever

Landing Page

A Basic Lead Generation Page

Anybody involved in Pay Per Click (PPC) marketing will tell you that landing pages matter as much, if not more than keywords and ads.

What’s the point of bidding on different keywords if you don’t give your site visitors easy access to the information, products, or services that they searched for?

Google announced this week that landing pages can now positively influence a keyword’s Quality Score. Previously, landing pages would only count against you.

From SearchEngineLand:

Landing page quality has long been a factor in Google AdWords, but more as a negative signal. If an advertiser’s landing page was particularly terrible or misleading, advertisers could have their ads rejected or their accounts suspended or revoked — depending on how bad the policy violation was. The new change will assign landing page quality a positive value, incentivizing advertisers to make sure the landing page’s keywords and content are closely aligned with the keywords for which they’re bidding.

Hooray for Landing Pages

This is great news, especially as the intractable problem of PPC squeezes out smaller advertisers with rising click costs. The only way to compete effectively is to test, measure, and refine your landing page strategy to improve conversion rates and convert more visitors to customers.

I’ve been in favor of this all along, and I’m extremely glad to see Google is finally doing the right thing for its users and advertisers.

Spend (Wisely) Through The Economic Downturn

What’s the best way to weather an economic downturn? For most businesses, the answer usually falls somewhere between “cut expenses” and “grow revenue”.

Just like a household budget, business owners must pay more attention to where, how, and why we spend our money if we hope to survive and emerge from the slowdown in a position to grow and prosper.

The Role of Digital Marketing in a Down Economy

If the previous 10 years have taught us anything, it’s that digital technologies have enabled massive shifts in consumer behavior. As advertisers, we must follow the consumer and adapt to their needs and media consumption habits.

Your customers have more technology, more ways to share opinions, and more influence than ever before. Thanks to these same omnipresent and “always on” digital channels, marketers have more ways to reach the right people with the right time with the right message. Fortunately, for each new medium that emerges, there are ways to measure, refine, and optimize the message in nearly real-time.

In a down economy, the direct, targeted, measurable nature of digital marketing takes on increased importance as it allows us to save time and money compared to more traditional advertising channels.

Pay Per Click Advertising: Direct, Targeted, Measurable

Given the range of advertising options available, PPC represents the purest, most efficient way to reach your potential customers at the exact moment they are researching or searching for your products or services: when they type what they are looking for into a Google (or Yahoo or Bing) search box.

Thanks to the real-time nature of PPC auctions, multiple ad messages can be tested simultaneously to determine which offers generate the best response. Campaigns can be “optimized” for greater efficiency simply by turning off or tweaking the underperforming ads and allocating more budget to the ads that are most likely to result in a sale, lead, or other conversion event.

Finally, PPC campaigns generate a lot of data. This data should not just be viewed and thrown away, it needs to be analyzed to determine which combinations of keywords, ads, and targeting options generate the best return for each dollar spent. For example, AdWords campaign results can be merged with Google Analytics data to identify more lucrative audience segments. For example, searchers on mobile devices may respond differently than their desktop counterparts and should be treated differently.

Tying It All Together

Unfortunately there is no quick fix for a slow economy. It’s going to hurt some people more than others, but all of us are affected one way or another. But a slow economy does not stop people from using technology or engaging in digital activities.

The best we, as marketers, can do is find ways to “spend less” and “earn more”. By investing at least some of your marketing dollars in a direct, targeted, measurable advertising medium such as Pay Per Click, your business can reap the benefits of improved efficiency and effectiveness while saving money.

If you would like to know whether or not your business is a good candidate for a PPC campaign on Google, Yahoo, or Bing, try searching for the products or services that you offer. Do you see your competitors’ ads showing up? Chances are not all of them are blindly throwing money into Google’s already deep pockets. They must be realizing some quantifiable level of return, right?

CC Photo Credit