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Can You Trust Google’s AI to Optimize Your Search Ads?

Google has rolled out new AI-powered suggestions to help advertisers optimize their Google Ads search campaigns. Using machine learning, Google now analyzes your account data and makes recommendations on things like new keyword ideas, bid strategies, ad creative, and more. 

The promise is enticing: let Google’s advanced AI do the heavy lifting of campaign optimizations so you can spend less time tinkering and testing. After all, Google has access to a wealth of data that the average advertiser couldn’t possibly process, so their AI should be able to find optimization opportunities that humans would miss, right?

Not so fast. While Google’s AI suggestions may seem impressive on the surface, there are some important caveats to consider before blindly implementing them.

Why Google’s AI might not work for your SEM campaigns

  1. Google’s motivations. At the end of the day, Google is a for-profit company whose main goal is to make money from ads. This means that their AI suggestions may be optimized more for Google’s interests than your own. For example, it may recommend higher bids or broader targeting to increase your spend, without necessarily improving your results. We’ve seen Google’s recommendations dramatically reduce click-through rates and drive up overall campaign spend while lowering conversion rates and overall conversion count.
  2. AI lacks holistic business context. Google’s AI can only base its suggestions on the data. It doesn’t understand the nuances of your specific business, profit margins, sales cycles, or strategic priorities. Recommendations that look good from a pure data perspective may be misaligned with your goals. For example, we once saw Google AI recommend “flyer distribution services” for a company whose core business is online press release distribution (to be clear, the company didn’t offer flyer distribution services).  Blindly following this suggestion would have led to highly unqualified leads that would waste both the marketing budget and the sales team’s time. 
  3.  Automation bias. There can be a tendency to over-rely on automated suggestions, without applying critical thinking. Just because the AI says to do something doesn’t mean it’s the right move. You still need to audit the suggestions through your own strategic lens. All you need to do is take one look at some of the weird and wacky AI images floating through the internet to realize you need to take their suggestions with a vast truckload of salt.

So, in the end, should you utilize Google’s AI recommendations? The suggestions can certainly surface new ideas and areas to explore. But they should be vetted thoroughly rather than implemented blindly. Think of the AI as more of a research assistant than an autonomous decision-maker.

Google suggestions and the broad match trap

One of the insidious things we’ve noticed is Google’s tendency to recommend the use of Broad Match Keywords that require you to rely on their AI to optimize your campaigns.  This is usually the first thing Google reps will suggest once they get you on the phone, and to be fair, it has its uses. But, it also has its dangers!

The allure of broad match keywords is understandable. They can increase reach and uncover new search queries beyond your original keyword list. However, campaign transparency and control quickly dissolve. Broad match keywords have steadily expanded to trigger ads for increasingly tangential searches, including irrelevant queries and inappropriate contexts.

Unless vigilantly monitored, broad match can drain your budget across a wider and wider funnel of garbage traffic. We’ve seen cases where broad match keywords triggered ads for competitor’s branded terms, completely unrelated products, and even disturbing or offensive searches. And overbroad matches often have an atrociously low return on ad spend that goes undetected for too long. 

Google automated auction pitfalls

Meanwhile, leaving the bid optimization to Google’s AI auction system is risky business. While their smart bidding algorithms consider a vast array of signals, advertisers have no insight into that black box process. What parameters is Google truly optimizing for? Are they favoring high-revenue advertisers or prioritizing auctions that make themselves more money through higher CPCs? We have no way of knowing.

Just as concerning, Google could be training their AI bidders to expand broad match even further and indiscriminately target any queries even remotely connected to your keywords. This leads to overspending and attribution nightmares in tracking true ROI.

Yes, we still need the human element in PPC advertising

In other words, the quest for PPC automation and efficiency has its limits. Automation should be an aid to make PPC marketers more efficient, not a crutch enabling blind reliance. AI and broad matches have their place but must be meticulously monitored and constrained. Relinquishing steering control to black box systems and indiscriminate keyword matching is a recipe for PPC disaster. The human element of strategy, insight, and measurement must remain paramount. Just as in all things, there is no magic PPC marketing card to take you to the finish with no effort.

Ultimately, the human in charge needs to apply strategic judgment, business context, and prioritization to your Google Ads optimizations. The AI can spark insights, but you need to remain firmly in the driver’s seat.

And of course, we’re always here to help. Whether you need a simple audit of your existing campaigns and some thoughts on things that could help optimize your performance or you’re looking for a partner to take on the full-time management of your Google Ads, well, we do that!  (And speaking of audits, we’ll do an initial audit absolutely free as part of getting to know you. So you have literally nothing to lose and everything to gain by reaching out!)

And just to finish this off, we’d like to remind you that while AI is up and coming and can be a useful tool, SkyNet was also an AI.

Ask John Connor how that worked out.

Happy marketing!

Theron & Katie

Urban Sherpa Marketing Company is a boutique marketing advisory firm specializing in helping small to medium-sized companies jumpstart their growth. Offering everything from outsourced marketing director services to marketing training and hiring advisory, they love helping marketing teams grow and thrive.

Tips for improving your e-commerce conversion rate

This is a marketing truth: you can have the best advertising in the world, driving all sorts of traffic to your website… but if your website doesn’t convert that traffic into sales, you’re wasting your money. 

Obvious, right?

It may be obvious, but I will say it again: it is absolutely imperative—especially if you’re an e-commerce company—that you focus on improving your website conversion rate.

First, let’s set the target. As a baseline, your e-commerce website is doing really well if it has a conversion rate of at least 3%*. This means that for every 100 people who visit your site, about three people will buy something (or, put another way, people make purchases about 3% of the time). 

Is your conversion rate at or above 3%? Yes? Congratulations! The information below might still be helpful for you to increase your conversion rate even more. If you’re not at 3%, however, you definitely need to take some time and work on your online store. Here’s where you should focus:

Pricing: one of the most important decisions you can make as an e-commerce company.

Set your prices too high, and you’ll lose sales. Too low, and you’re leaving money on the table and reducing your margin. Test different pricing strategies, particularly on your top sellers. Do NOT arbitrarily set a price based on how much margin you want to make.

Shipping: high shipping costs cause sticker shock.

A sign that this is happening is if you see a large percentage of people abandon their cart after they have started checkout. If you can’t offer free shipping (and many e-commerce companies can’t), then offer free shipping on orders over a certain dollar amount. 

Free returns: a generous return policy will go a long way if someone’s on the fence.

It’s a leap of faith to place an order for a product sight unseen. Customers are better able to make that leap of faith if they know they can return the item if it’s not what they expected. 

Product selection: people won’t buy if they don’t like what you sell.

Obvious, right? But it pays to make sure you’re offering products that people want to buy (and make sure you’re advertising to the right audience). Remember, you may love your product, but other people won’t. Some market research is always a good idea so that you both test your concept and your audience. Want to read more on building your audience? 

Product descriptions: provide all the information people need to buy. 

Remember, people are buying your product without being able to touch and feel it. Make sure you answer any question they may have in the product description—and focus on the benefits to the customer (what do they get from it?) not what you see as your favorite features. 

Photography: good product photography IS A MUST.

Don’t skimp. Show the product from multiple angles and (for clothing) on multiple models. Also, while the classic product-cut-out-against-a-white-background is a good idea, don’t forget to also show it styled; for instance, if you’re selling travel mugs, try a shot of the mug steaming against a vista in the wilderness. Aspiration is a good sales tool. 

Site navigation: people won’t buy if they can’t find what they want.

Make sure your categories are clear and easy to navigate, and if you have a big catalog, add filters, search, and sort features. Not sure if your site is easy to navigate? Have a few people test it for you.

Social proof/UGC: people like to buy what other people buy.

Again (we’re a broken record, here), people can’t see your product in person—but knowing that other people have purchased (and loved it) will help them feel comfortable taking that leap of faith. Add product reviews from a third-party review generator like Trustpilot (don’t just add reviews yourself, if you can help it—those tend to look less real). Also, add user-generated content (UGC is photos and videos created by people who use your product) whenever you can. For our clients, we scan social media for photos of products “in the wild” and then add them to our product pages. Just remember to get permission. There are also platforms that do this automatically if you want to spend the bucks.

Offer coupon codes to new customers: a little incentive will change a browser to a customer.

The biggest hurdle is getting a site visitor to make their first purchase. Once they’ve ordered something (and, we’re assuming, liked the product and the service), they’ll likely be a customer for life. Consider first-time-customer discount codes to help them get over that hurdle. 

Create a good conversion funnel: most people won’t buy the first time they visit.

Set up a system so you can keep reminding people about your product if they leave without buying. Get their email address by offering a coupon code (see above), then add them to your email list for weekly or monthly emails. Set up retargeting ads on social media and Google (retargeting ads are ads that are shown to people who have previously visited your website). Set up automatic email (and/or text, depending on your demographic) flows for cart and browse abandonment. If you don’t know how to do this, ask for help (we can help!), or read more on website conversion funnels

Reduce form fields and make paying easy: don’t make people work hard to buy.

The last thing you want is someone deciding to buy that shirt on a whim, but then finding out they have to fill out a bunch of fields on their phone and have to get up off the couch for their credit card. Make buying easy! Integrate PayPal and other popular payment systems (platforms like Shopify make this easy), and keep your information fields to a minimum. And make it easy for people to save their information for fast checkout the next time. Similarly, avoid lots of disclaimers and warnings, since they tend to reduce trust.

Site speed: if it loads too slowly, you’ve already lost.

In a world of instant gratification, you’ll lose people if they have to wait too long for a page to load. Optimize your photographs and work with your web designer to improve your site speed (this is good for SEO, too). 

Optimize for mobile: it’s 2024, people.

There’s an online plant nursery I buy from periodically that has a completely unresponsive website. Pull it up on your mobile, and it looks like the desktop site—just waaaay smaller. It’s a pain in the rear, and I hate them for it. Don’t do this to your customers, since only long-time, super-engaged customers (like me, in this case) will put up with it. Many of your customers will be browsing on mobile, so make sure the site isn’t just responsive, but actually functions and navigates well on mobile, including things like filters and payment fields. Test it thoroughly on multiple devices. 

Provide good service: A friendly interaction goes a long way in building customer loyalty.

The last thing you want to do is lose a sale because the potential customer couldn’t get a question answered. Ideally, include help chat on your website; at the very least, have someone who answers the phone and emails promptly. And avoid harsh policies that make customers hate you. Sure, those harsh policies may save you money, but they’ll also likely lose you a lifetime customer… and maybe other potential customers if they complain about you in a review.  

There you have it—website conversion 101 in a nutshell. Sure, it may look like a lot, but it’s mostly about one thing: giving people the confidence to buy a product they’ve never seen. Make it fast, make it easy, make it pleasant (and make sure your product and service are good) and the e-commerce world will be your oyster.

Happy marketing!

Katie & Theron

Urban Sherpa Marketing Company is a boutique marketing advisory firm specializing in helping small to medium-sized companies jumpstart their growth. Offering everything from outsourced marketing director services to marketing training and hiring advisory, they love helping marketing teams grow and thrive.

*For the purposes of this blog, we’re going to focus on e-commerce companies. B2B companies, SAAS companies, and D2C service companies will all have different conversion rate baselines.

7 Marketing Steps to Grow Your Business in 2024

7 Marketing Steps to Grow Your Business in 2024

This is the time of year when many small business owners take a moment to pause, reflect, and think about what they need to do to grow their business in the coming year. 

And since marketing should be a pretty significant part of that, we thought we’d share some of the most important steps you can take to kick your business into growth mode in 2024.

First, and foremost, we’re strictly talking marketing, here. But that doesn’t mean that marketing can magically grow your business in a vacuum. We’re assuming that you’ve already put thought into making sure you have a product or service that people do want, AND that you’ve priced it correctly. ‘Cause the best marketing strategy in the world will only solve those problems temporarily, if at all. 

The top ways to grow your business this year

    1. Make sure you have an excellent, converting website. Do not put your website up and forget it. Look at it regularly with a critical eye. Is it doing what you need it to do (i.e. converting to sales)? Is it optimized for SEO (Search Engine Optimization)? What can you do to improve conversion rates? (A conversion rate is the percentage of visitors to your site that buy your product or contact you)
    2. Put in place well-run search marketing (SEM, aka Google Ads). 99.9% of businesses will benefit from good search marketing. SEM is one of the rare times when you’re serving someone an ad specifically when they are looking for your product or service, so it works really well. But notice we said, “well-run”; search marketing takes skill and experience to do well. Make sure you hire a good agency. 
    3. Leverage a great email marketing strategy. Email marketing is one of the least expensive and most effective ways to turn past customers into future customers. It also works well to keep potential customers warm while they think about whether to purchase. You’ll want to communicate regularly—say once or twice a month—and use a list you’ve built organically over time (although building a list organically can take a really long time, purchased lists are usually a total waste of money). Do not, however, send a newsletter that shares updates on your business because nobody cares. Instead, send information they can use, offers, and new product information—things your customers might want to know about.
    4. Focus on social proof. People are more likely to buy if they know other people are doing so and are happy about it. And no, we’re not just talking reviews, here (though reviews are great, especially when collected by an unbiased platform like Trustpilot). Try other routes, too, such as pulling Instagram posts from people who have used your product onto your website, or collecting short video testimonials from customers in your store. And make darn sure you’re encouraging people to leave Google reviews!
    5. Make sure you have a good marketing funnel in place. Make sure your website is a sticky as it can be. Put in a pop-up to collect email addresses, run retargeting campaigns, etc, etc. We talk about it more in this blog about building a great marketing funnel.
    6. Put in place a strategy for getting NEW people in the funnel. If you keep marketing to the same group of people, you’ll eventually tap them dry. To grow, you have to keep attracting new people to the top of your sales funnel. How exactly to do that will look different depending on each business, but it could include the following channels (see The Top Marketing Strategies for Small Business for more details on these):
      • Social media platforms
      • Social media advertising (paid)
      • PR (media outreach)
      • Web display ads (including IP and Geo-Targeting)
      • Radio/TV/Other media
      • Direct mail/postcards
  • Test and adjust your strategy. We had a client once who was convinced that a particular value proposition was the only thing that could sell their product. I finally convinced them to let me A/B test it and we found that in both digital and email marketing, a different one worked much better. Bad marketing happens when you make assumptions and don’t test them. Test things. Look at the data. Adjust. Learn. It’s the only way you’ll continue to optimize your marketing. We talk more about that in this blog on testing your marketing.

There you have it. Due to space constraints—nobody wants to read a novel—we’re kept this really brief… but we’d love to hear from you if you have any questions!

Happy marketing,

Katie & Theron

Five Thoughts on Surviving the Holidays as an Entrepreneur (and a Marketer)

For some reason this year it struck me particularly strongly how different the holidays feel when you’re an entrepreneur than they do when you just work for someone else. 

Back in those carefree days, the period leading up to Christmas was a gentle slide into, well, not much work getting done. People brought in treats, silly sweaters were worn, holiday parties were had, white elephant exchanges occurred, and it was generally pretty well expected that nothing important would happen until “the new year”. It was a pleasant way to get in the mood for my Christmas break and a relaxed finish to the year amongst the good cheer of colleagues.

But now (I’m sure you relate), I own my own company, and there is no comfortable slide into the holiday spirit. It’s a little harder to relax into the season when the buck literally stops with you, of course. And for us, as a marketing consultancy with e-commerce businesses among our clientele, the period from September to December is anything but relaxed. Yes, I’m sure some of you relate to that as well.

This all got me thinking about what we can do about that. Because, after all, the good cheer and togetherness that come with the holidays is a wonderful thing for the soul (and your team)—and who wants to suddenly try and switch off from panic and mayhem right before you sit down with your family on the first day of Hannukah or Christmas?

Tips for managing the holidays as an entrepreneur

  1. Remember that you have (some) control over this. Yes, I know you’ve got a lot on your plate—especially if you’re D2C (direct to consumer)—but that doesn’t have to mean that you give into the stress entirely. I know that a lot of the stress I feel during this time is stress I’m bringing on myself by worrying about stuff when I simply don’t need to. Be aware of this, and try and make time to shed some of that unnecessary baggage. 
  2. Do your holiday marketing planning way ahead of time. One of the easiest ways to cut down on stress (and chaos) is to get your planning done as far ahead as you can so you’re not making decisions at the last minute—especially if you’ve got orders flooding in or if you’ve also got a round of social commitments for the season. Get your holiday email schedule planned back in the fall. Plan your digital marketing campaigns as early as you can. And if you’re a B2B (Business to Business) company, get your planning for the new year done early as well!
  3. Execute your holiday marketing campaigns way ahead of time, too. Even better than planning early is having your holiday marketing done early. Embrace scheduling! Get your digital campaigns set up and scheduled well in advance. Get your emails made and scheduled. Get any website updates lined up and ready to go. Need new collateral? Get it made early! 
  4. Hire help with your marketing and more! Sure, this may sound self-serving since we offer the type of help I’m talking about, but it’s good advice anyway. Bringing in a little expert help—whether to set up your holiday email campaigns or to just answer phones—can take a lot of the pressure off. And, because an expert has the experience to get your marketing set up faster and (likely) more effectively than you could, it’s a worthwhile investment on all fronts. And yeah, did I mention it? We can help with the marketing stuff (just not the phones). 
  5. Bring in the cheer. It’s important to make time for that “silly” holiday stuff that helps everyone de-tune at the end of the year. Even as the boss, take the time to participate with your team. Of course, this is a little harder if you have a remote team or are a single shingle, but you can still work up a little cheer. Have a remote holiday happy hour. If you’re a single shingle and you have a membership at a co-working location, make sure to go to their holiday party. Put up decorations. Send holiday cards. Make sure to wish people happy holidays. Consciously make time to enjoy the season.

I hope this helps, even just to remind you that it’s okay to relax and enjoy this time of year. And, of course, we’re always here if you need help doing it. 

We hope you have had, are having, and will have a happy holiday season this year!

Katie & Theron

At Urban Sherpa Marketing Co. we offer fractional marketing director services, which include marketing advisory, strategic planning, program and staff management, and marketing implementation for small to medium businesses and startups. Our goal is to make high-quality marketing possible for every business, no matter the size. Think of us as your outsourced marketing department, strategic marketing adviser, and phone-a-friend marketing lifeline. We specialize in building efficient marketing programs to grow your business without blowing the bank.

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How to build a website conversion funnel

A website conversion funnel is a way to capture the people who visit your website and convert them into paying customers—even if they didn’t become a customer the first time around— and it is arguably one of the most important pieces of your marketing strategy. The last thing you want to do is spend time and money driving people to your website and then just cross your fingers and hope that anyone who leaves without buying will remember you when they are ready to purchase sometime in the future (hint: they probably won’t).

So what does it look like? We’re going to show you two main types of website conversion funnels: one for a typical e-commerce website, and one for a B2B service-type company. They are pretty similar, just with a slightly different focus. So let’s get started!

How to build a website conversion funnel for an e-commerce website

1. Build a subscription pop-up with a discount

You’ve probably seen one of these on every e-commerce site you’ve visited in the last few years, for the simple reason that they work. Most people won’t just voluntarily sign up for you to spam them with email, but they will if you give them 15-20% off their first purchase. And you want people to sign up so can stay top of mind with them. Remember, email marketing is one of the most targeted and least expensive revenue generators available to small businesses.

2. Set up a cart-abandonment email automation

The average cart abandonment rate across all industries is 69.57%. Yes, it’s that high. There are lots of reasons for this (sticker shock from surprise shipping/tax costs, using the cart as a favorites page, just not sure they want to purchase, etc), but no matter the reason, it’s effective to remind people about what they’re missing, ideally with a nice product shot. We like to send a series of 2 or 3 or so emails over a period of a week that remind people of the product they added to their cart. This is easy to set up in e-commerce email platforms like Klaivyo

You can also set up similar emails for browse abandonment—emails that are automatically sent when someone looks at a product on your site but doesn’t add it to their cart. These are less effective in generating additional revenue than cart abandonment automations but still work pretty well.

The other automation (Klaviyo calls them “flows”) that we use a lot is the simple welcome/purchase thank you email. These don’t generate nearly as much revenue as cart and browse abandonment, but they do create additional sales often enough to be worthwhile—and also help people feel good about you and their purchase. This is a great place to show other top-selling products, tell people how to take care of their new purchases, or even let people know why your company is so great. 

3. Set up cart-abandonment and browse-abandonment display ads

What you can do in email, you can also do with ads. We like to put together cart/browse abandonment ads on Facebook/Instagram and retargeting display ads on the Google ads platform. If you set up a catalog with your products on Facebook/Instagram, you can show the exact product on the ad that the person was looking at, which works very well to increase conversions. Retargeting ads such as these usually have a much higher ROAS (Return On Ad Spend) than standard outbound advertising.

4. Set up lookalike audiences on social media

If you have enough website visitors, one of the best ways to target social media ads is to build a lookalike audience from them. Lookalike audiences are built by the social media platform to match the parameters that your website visitors have in common, and are usually (with rare exceptions) much better targeting than audiences targeted by interest or other demographic. We like to use audiences built from a combination of website visitors and lookalike visitors, and then serve them with ads featuring new products, promotions, and the like. 

5. Make sure you have your email marketing plan in place

Finally, make sure you’re emailing your email list on a regular basis. You absolutely do NOT need to email them daily, or even weekly (in fact, you probably shouldn’t), but try to get something unique and interesting to them at least once a month (interesting being a new product, a flash sale, a bit of information that can help them in their lives, etc).

… and here’s the funnel for a B2B service business

A B2B website conversion funnel isn’t all that different in the basics… but should have a slightly different approach in the details. For instance, content (blogs, vlogs, white papers, and case studies) are much more impactful than discounts and product photos. Here’s what we mean:

Put up a subscription pop-up

As with e-commerce, don’t be afraid of the pop-up! For some B2B businesses, however, a discount might not make sense—particularly if the sales cycle is long, or if your business doesn’t discount much (as with many consultancies). In this case, think of something that it does make sense to offer—such as a free consultation, white paper, article, blog, or webinar. You can even suggest they schedule a time to talk to one of your people to learn more—anything that will get them to hand over their email address.

Set up a subscription welcome email series

Instead of cart-abandonment emails (since that isn’t really a thing in this case), when people do give you their email address, set up a subscription welcome series over the course of the next few weeks so that people can learn more about your company and be reminded of what you do. We like to do about three emails spaced about a week apart. This is a good place to tell people what makes your business special and why it’s a good match for the customer, and to share some pertinent content like blogs, vlogs, or articles that would be of interest to them. It’s also an excellent time to share some customer testimonials!

Set up retargeting display ads and social media ads

Just as with e-commerce, you also want to follow B2B website visitors around the internet. Set up ads on social media and Google display that are targeted to your website visitors. This is the perfect time to share customer testimonials (video is ideal) and your best, slickest “who you are” video. If you offer more than one product or service on your site, tailor your ads and messaging to people that visited the pages associated with each product. This keeps you top of mind and helps cement your messaging.

Depending on your volume of web traffic, you may also be able to build lookalike audiences and test them as outbound ad targeting on social media as well. This isn’t as straightforward for B2B as it is for e-commerce, however, so make sure to test (here’s more on testing!)

Make sure you have your email marketing plan in place

Finally, make sure you’re optimizing any email addresses you gather from your site. Email marketing for B2B companies often doesn’t have the instant gratification of e-commerce email marketing, but it’s a very effective way to reach the elusive business decision-maker directly. In order to keep from being ignored, make sure your email marketing adds value to the reader’s professional life. Share industry information, how-tos, case studies, and webinar announcements rather than pestering people with the same sale pitch over and over. The idea is to send emails that people actually open and read so they can be reminded that you and your product exist when they finally are looking for the product or service you offer.

In conclusion

If you have built a website—even more importantly if you are paying to drive traffic to that website—it is just plain silly to let the majority of that traffic slip away without doing anything to capture it for the future. Even the simplest of website conversion funnels will help stem the flow a little and slowly turn those casual looky-loos into customers. Even if you’re not ready to implement a complicated funnel, throw up a pop-up, up your email game, and put up some retargeting ads… you will be glad you did.

Happy marketing and funnel-building!

Katie and Theron

 At Urban Sherpa Marketing Co. we offer fractional marketing director services, which include marketing advisory, strategic planning, program and staff management, and marketing implementation for small to medium businesses and startups. Our goal is to make high-quality marketing possible for every business, no matter the size. Think of us as your outsourced marketing department, strategic marketing adviser, or even your phone-a-friend marketing lifeline. We specialize in building efficient marketing programs to grow your business without blowing the bank.

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