AI SEM – Leveraging your Ad spend with AI and ML

AI SEM – Leveraging your Ad spend with AI and ML

The online advertising world or the SEM industry is very compact yet a complex one. Search advertising or search engine marketing as some would prefer to call it, are being mainstreamed in myriad ways with the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning algorithms. And these changes have a significant, if not a critical influence on how you approach your search advertising.

Without a contention, Google AdWords and Facebook Ads take the major chunk of the search engine marketing market. In this post, we will look at how AI has influenced both these platforms, where they are headed, and how you can make the most of your campaigns, given that every business likes to get more out of the advertising buck.

Google AdWords – Getting more value

Google has been slowly incorporating AI into its AdWords framework as a result of which there is a greater scope of opportunities. They could be getting one up on the competition, or saving time for strategic thinking by automating low-level tasks. Let us look at a few ways in which you can make more from your AdWords campaigns.

Weeding out poor performing ads

The first scenario, clicks rolling in but no sales or conversions is a disastrous scenario for any campaign. This means you are leaking money without any ROI.

The second scenario, getting bids on an advert but not clicks, your quality score [QS] goes for a toss. End of the day, your ROI takes the fall.

Imagine the time taken to filter out these ads, analyze them and pausing them. If you are running a campaign for your business, it is easy, but in a scenario where you are handling multiple accounts, you will be spending all your time here without any time to create strategy.

How about using a machine learning [ML] algorithm to weed out these ads and pause them automatically? This will help in keeping your ROI intact as well as take care of QS.

Getting into the finer detail, your ML algorithm should be able to:

  • Abandon or pause the ad before it affects the ROI. Based on previous performance factors, it should be able to estimate potential gains and losses using statistical inference.
  • Analyze at a molecular level. The ML algorithm should be able to factor in other individual segments like mobile traffic, non-revenue producing browsers, times and days that see a poor performance and ad variations before it pauses the entire ad outright. With this analysis, it can close or fine-tune the non-performing factors one after another with realtime analysis.

Automation and machine learning are a big emphasis on Google currently and our industry as a whole. The more we as practitioners can leverage these tools, the more time we can dedicate to higher-level strategy and other account growth opportunities.” – Josh Brisco, Sr. Manager, Retail Search Operations @ CPC Strategy

Using dynamic ads as a part of your SEM strategy

Dynamic search ads are an ML-based tool offered by Google AdWords as a part of the platform. These ads generate automatic headlines that can capture the attention of the searcher. All you need to do, is to create and upload the list of landing pages that you want to generate dynamic ads for. The tool will identify searches that it deems fit for your landing pages and generate ad content using the phrases from your landing pages. Sounds easy, but imagine doing it manually, if you are running multiple campaigns.

Using ML, AdWords also generates ad suggestions. Ignore them at your peril because these are generated using prior performance data. Incorporating them after due diligence will boost your results.

Dynamic ads can also be created using a custom ML algorithm that should incorporate:

  • External factors such as days and times.
  • Mix and match the audience, imagery and copy with multivariate testing using self-learning or evolutionary algorithms.

If you are not looking at a custom dynamic ad ML algorithm, there are a few tools in the market that can be useful – Zalster, Sentient, AscendRefuel4, and IBM Watson.

Used with due diligence, they could save your ROI and time. 

Using automated bidding for best results

Using machine learning algorithms to cap your bidding, is becoming popular today. Bidding is a very important mechanism in search engine marketing –  keeping your bids low means losing out on opportunities, and keeping them high means an ROI sacrifice.

Google Adwords comes with an automated bidding interface, however, it lacks the intelligence of maximizing your ROI. Maximizing ROI would require the input of certain external factors like seasonality, consumer trends, demographics, purchase behavior, and customer lifetime value amongst others.

A good ML algorithm for automated bidding must:

  • Be able to estimate the price range of each ad based on previous bids.
  • Calculate and factor in the click value from each click depending on the previous click data. For this, it should factor in the website data and this is a challenge. If you have multiple landing pages and keep removing or adding new ones, previous data that is fed to the algorithm could be bad or zero. Therefore, use the algorithm for aged landing pages only.
  • Identify the bidding landscape changes and results and adapt quickly to them instead of assuming that past performance guarantees future performance. This could be a big challenge for want of niche data.

Make use of existing platforms

What we discussed above could lead to an assumption that a custom ML algorithm is a necessity. However, we are speaking about marketing and hiring data scientists would be a waste of money and time when there are a platforms that could be leveraged to do the needful. Let us look at some:

  • Trapica: The best part of this tool is that it can scale your campaigns by identifying the right audiences and matching them to creatives thus optimizing bidding.
  • Acquisio: Built for Bing, AdWords, and Facebook ads, this ML platform helps you cut CPC and CPA while raising clicks and conversions.
  • Frank: Works with Facebook ads and AdWords and connects to millions of publishers. Frank is automated to launch campaigns and optimizes them by channel, creative and target audience.
  • Cognitiv: This tool uses deep learning and predicts the best spends using customization based on historic data for each brand, based on historical data.

Google has already announced its “AI-first” future when Sundar Pichai highlighted their efforts of expanding and integrating AI and ML capabilities across their products, 2 years ago.
Sundar Pichai, CEO, Google on “AI-First” Initiatives

Apart from the Google AdWords platform, choosing an alternative to create and control spending could be a challenge, however, knowing your requirements well and comparing it with the features of your chosen platform, will be a wise way to go about it.

Facebook ads – Improving campaign performance

Unlike Google, Facebook has a lot more relevant data about users. The recent scandals, albeit negative, are evidence to this fact. Concerns over private and personal data are not misplaced. Commerzbank and Mozilla have taken a negative stand over security concerns.

However, this goldmine of data that Facebook has, used with security and in a proper manner can result in much better insights about user preferences, tastes, and behavior. This will also help run relevant and personalized campaigns that can get better results, additionally, users can breathe easy without the generic ad bombardment every time they log in.

This filtered data is used by Facebook to help marketers create ad campaigns and the platform churns out a host of automated optimization options, helping marketers run effective ad campaigns.

Let us look at Facebook’s ML capabilities that can help you achieve this.

The importance of campaign objectives

The best part of the Facebook ad manager is that it wants you to specify a campaign objective, unlike any other platforms. Most other platforms give you objectives that are not specific to a simple goal. For example, one ad campaign cannot raise brand awareness, get you more reach or traffic and still get you a good ROI. One campaign for one objective is what works.

Courtesy – Marketingland

First up, while creating a campaign, you must understand what is to be achieved. The ad manager gives you thirteen options to choose from. Remember, campaign objective is not a cosmetic attribute. It will define the reach and placement of your ad. For example, if you choose “video views, Facebook’s AI algorithm will place the ad in front of people where there is a better chance of viewing, derived from user behavior.

Once chosen, the campaign objective cannot be changed post-launch. If I was doing it for my business, I would choose “conversions” and choose the sub-objective higher up as a CTA. This will help me keep my campaign, unique amongst all those ads looking for clicks.

Criticality of placement

Facebook looks at making money and this is the reason why most campaigns have placements offered this way. The more the ad serve, the more money Facebook makes, however, for marketers, choosing all placements will result in placement optimization through Facebooks’s AI algorithm. It is a win-win situation.

Courtesy – Marketingland

When chosen, the algorithm will decide where to place your ads considering the lowest CPM (Cost per thousand impressions). Placement optimization can save up to 20% costs when “Facebook newsfeed” and right-hand column are selected manually.

There are strategies that you can create using add-ons like Instant Articles, In-Stream and FAN, but brand safety becomes a concern there. Though there are filters available to categorize the placement, the newsfeed is a better choice considering the brand. A small price to pay, but worth it.

Optimizing ad delivery

If using campaign objectives was one part of the delivery mechanism, you still have options to further customize “Optimize for ad delivery”

Courtesy – Marketingland

Here, you will see options depending on the campaign objective you chose, and you can further focus on building a user persona to deliver those ads. “Value” is the latest addition to the list of choices.

Additionally, you can also use Facebook’s split-testing feature because testing is vital to your campaign.

Conclusion – Is AI SEM the answer?

AI Marketing is the future and has already turned into a mainstream feature in the search engine marketing or the PPC space. Micromanaging keywords and bids is no more a marketer’s job, it can be taken care of by simple algorithms, while strategy takes the center-stage for marketing success. Many industries are yet to include automation into their marketing and the first players to adopt AI/ML technology will see a quick boost.

How to choose the right digital marketing agency?

How to choose the right digital marketing agency?

Marketing is critical to any business that targets aggressive growth. There are many marketers within an organization who are often confused about finding the right marketing agency, so you are not alone. Even the seasoned ones are quite skeptical and prefer to create their own checklists before choosing a good and compatible digital marketing agency. No digital marketing company is the same and this is because there are no set rules in the digital marketing space apart from generating the right results. Having said that, marketing is a mix of too many spices and not everyone knows the right mix to bring out the exact flavor. There are a lot many factors that need to be considered before choosing one.

With more and more people looking digital before they buy a product or a service, it has become critical that your business is omnipresent at the right places to catch the customer’s eye. Again digital marketing is not only about sales, but it is also about branding and creating the right image in the eyes of the visitor. So, having a well-thought-out digital marketing strategy is very important to the success of your overall digital marketing efforts.

This article will tell you why you should be choosing certain digital platforms [and why you should not, for others] and how you are going to depend on them to maximize results.

Honestly, there are too many digital marketing agencies out there and they have mushroomed due to the ever-increasing internet coverage and usage of devices to research and buy products or services online. The more the merrier, however, choosing the right one is the biggest challenge for marketers within an organization. Now let us look at a few pointers about the process of going about choosing the right digital marketing agency.

  1. Expectations: As a marketer fishing for the right digital marketing agency, you need to make a clear list of expectations that you would want from the agency along with a process of how they should execute it. You can actually create that with the help of your internal marketing team and figure out what you can do in-house and what you need outsourced. Now that you know what to outsource, the task becomes easier. Of course, proper coordination of tasks should be planned beforehand with timelines and a proper schedule.
  • Operational list: A digital marketing agency should be vertically aligned and should be able to do the following tasks with relative expertise:
  1. Web development and design.
  2. Email marketing in detail with all things like segmentation included.
  3. Social media marketing – what works and what doesn’t on different platforms.
  4. Search engine optimization – the mother of all digital marketing practices, they should understand on-page as well as off-page factors including the technology that you use for your website.
  5. Search engine marketing including online advertising (AdWords, Facebook Ads, Twitter Ads, LinkedIn Ads and other forms of PPC).
  6. Content marketing – content development and blogging.

Of the above, what are the agency’s strengths and do they match your requirements is an important question to ask, It is for you to choose which of the above are required for your marketing practices and which are not. So, evaluating a digital marketing agency on what you need and also what you don’t need is important since they need to understand those synergies that exist between all these processes.

  • Objectives: All the processes, in-house or outsourced should have a singular focus of attracting relevant and quality traffic, improve brand awareness, giving out the same message relating to the mission and vision of your organization and bring in leads that can convert them into customers. Last but not least, they should also target existing customers for up-sell, cross-sell or re-sell.
  • Long term: While choosing the right digital marketing agency, look for a long term relationship, even if they have often made mistakes or failed since changing agencies will affect your marketing adversely and you will have to start at the beginning again. That would be a loss of resources as well as traction built, however small it could be. This means, you as a marketer has to choose wisely and with caution.
  • Lead time: Always remember that creating a relationship and an understanding of requirements takes time, do give the digital marketing agency you choose a little time, probably a few weeks to get things working smoothly. And, when you choose wisely, the agency will give its best and that will be to your advantage. Passion and hard work are the hallmarks of any good agency and you should always look for those before anything else. Skills and technology can be acquired in a short time, but passion and hard work cannot be.
  • Research: Once you shortlist a list of digital marketing agencies say 10 of them, always do or let someone do a background search on the internet for them. Many will come with fantastic reviews, some with bad reviews and some with a mixed bag. There is a huge challenge here. Most reviews you find on the internet may be wrong or misleading. It is important to use some genius to figure out the best ones, by adding 2+2 or by checking how the reviewer is related to the agency and so on. This can be a very tedious process and it is worth spending time on. Google reviews, on the other hand, are normally quite transparent and dependable. Again, a word of caution, not everyone wins the battle every time, so an agency with a bad review need not be bad as it is made out to be. Research and find out why they acquired that one, in particular. There are many ways to check these out.
  • Past Work: It is also important to check the kind of work that the digital marketing agency has done in the past, so most of them would have a portfolio section on their website. Please check those as well as case studies if available. This is the best way to assess the capabilities of the agency related to your needs.
  • Spy and try: Last, but not the least, try and find out agencies that your competitors are using and the results they are getting. I would not recommend using the same agency but you will get a fair idea of the kind of digital marketing agency you should use.

Now is the time to ask your chosen agencies for an RFP (Request for Purpose). This will give you more details of the agency you have chosen including their company background, ways of working, pricing, and any portfolios you may have missed. This should also come with target audiences, success rates, timelines and many other details including terms and conditions they work with, contract and these will help you assess the agency better.

The above cover concisely the elements involved in selecting the right digital marketing agency. In case you have questions, please feel to ask away on the comments below.

Digital Marketing Strategy – Points to ponder while creating one

Digital Marketing Strategy – Points to ponder while creating one

First, I am up to my neck reading listicles daily – 5 points to remember, 7tips to success, 10 things to decide upon and so on…. I know they create a titular interest for readers but most of them come with no or unimportant content most times…. I am sure that those serious readers who are really really interested in a topic would read the content anyway, listicle or not if it contains some great content. Listicles have been a part of everyone’s digital marketing strategy for too long now, and I have really stopped reading those, for me, they are a waste of time, 90% of the time.

So, I am not going to arrange this post as a list but will try and weave it logically so that it makes sensible sense and adds value to my fellow marketers.

Before I dive in, I think we need to understand that a digital marketing strategy is different for every business and depends on many factors despite being in the same domain. For example, the Coca-Cola company may have an objective of introducing 3 other flavored drinks in the market this year, while Pepsi-Cola could be looking at launching in 5 other countries. So, the marketing strategy would definitely be different for both businesses, although the objective of enhancing sales and making more money lies at the heart of any business, always.

Sadly, most marketers have the same blueprint of digital marketing strategy for all businesses across domains. Create content, distribute, create more links, create limited AdWords campaigns and do scheduled social media posts, all with good intentions and with hardly any result to show. Businesses, today have become wary of outsourcing their marketing needs for the very same reason.

As a marketer, I will first try and understand the client’s business, the vision, mission, and short and long term objectives before even thinking of marketing it. I would like to understand more about their products and services and how they differ from their competitors and what their USPs are. Only then, yes only then I will analyze the competition and then get into the history of what has been done and achieved in terms of marketing until now, either by their own team or through external agencies.

Getting into the groove, I will first create a realistic marketing framework:

Marketing Framework

Before I do anything, I will check which of the competitors are doing the best and why so! They must be doing something good to get better results. There are many tools to achieve that and most of them are reliable. Call it spying or intruding, but then the best best way to succeed is to follow success and better it.

digital marketing strategy

Once I close this analysis, I would map my client KPI’s and objectives and compare to the competition. The next step is to tweak them to achieve what needs to be achieved. Remember, once these are frozen and set in stone [which can’t be, but for now, yes], there is a lot more thought I would give to understand:

How a frozen KPI is related to the goals to be achieved?

What are the metrics that need to be measured?

UX is of paramount importance – are the measurements catering to UX in any manner? If yes, how and how much?

What and how many metrics needs monitoring and how those variances contribute to the goals included in my marketing plan?

Now is the time when I would delve into the details – timelines, content mapping, editorial calendars, AdWords creative and social media tones. There are too many tools out there to help us marketers do that… choosing the right ones is a different story.

Once I have the metrics nailed down to a “T” and link them to my KPI’s [so that I am on track with my goals], it is time for execution testing for a few weeks.

Ask a few KPI based question during testing

Have I set the right metrics for goal measurement? What are the metrics I need to focus more and which ones can I ignore for some time…? I will try and analyze results weekly, probably daily too during this time and figure out which goals I have achieved and which I haven’t. For those that I achieved, which metrics got them across the line and for those that I didn’t, which metrics did I ignore? This tells me what I should improve upon and which should I ignore.

Questions to ask yourself

The digital marketing strategy can get tricky. It is not only about results and data but also about the human element and experience, the gut feeling as I call it. For me, traffic is not only about numbers but also about visitors/humans and each of them is different. The data I glean from here tells me more about the UX and visitor behavior which will be a great help to improve upon at a later stage. End of the day, UX and user behavior are the ones that will define the ROI, domain agnostically, every time.

Time to build an effective digital marketing strategy for better sales funnels

The step-wise customer journey right from being a visitor to a customer is what a marketing and sales funnel is. Though that sounds simple, it is much more complicated due to data analysis and deep learning structures that AI is honing presently.  The break-down, simply put can be:

The outreach: Website, landing pages, social media outreach, advertising, video marketing, content marketing, social media posts, and infographics – mostly attractive and useful content, like this one.

The conversion: Visitors taking action, what the intent could be – to just leave their emails, read eBooks or even take part in contests or make a purchase.

The closure: Feedback, support systems, reviews and so on.

Customer retention: revisits, offers, email marketing, surveys, and many other outreach tools.

Funnels are just visuals

We call them funnels because the widest part of the entire marketing exercise is right at the outreach point where brand awareness is maxed out along with customer engagement. Of course, the numbers dwindle and the funnel begins to narrow down, irrespective of how artistic it looks, it is, after all, a numbers game. The funnel begins with relationship building and ends with a sale and then when we get to retention, it holds its shape.

The better a marketer is or the better the digital marketing strategy, the funnel will lose its shape slowly and of course, it comes with great tools, expertise, and experience. I don’t panic, I just give it some time and the funnel elongates slowly while I keep tweaking the marketing strategy through measurement, analysis, and experience.

Content is the basis of marketing, what works?

Content marketing is much more than writing wonderful blogs and tweets. Content marketing is meant to brand you as an expert in your field and to that end, learning new technologies and tricks to enhance your content is very important, each piece that you produce should inform the reader about something new and happening, not in a nerdy way but in a way that he/she understands. Personally, I keep it very simple and straight, obvious no one wants to waste time reading 10 pages and finding out that he/she is no wiser for it. Creativity and information are what gets you readership, not long content as Google recommends, sorry, that was not intended to be criticism.

Content is king

Your services could be complicated or your product or technology, but, it is important to tell a story, a story that keeps the reader engrossed, so value and quality are the hallmarks of content marketing and not volumes as many many marketers still like to believe, no offense to anyone, everyone to themselves.

Content with information of value to a reader, interspersed with proper CTA’s is what I would like to produce in the form of a story. I always keep a repository of content produced well in advance, so that I never fall short. However, the repository is always at the top of the mark, since I keep revisiting and editing that stuff, forever.

Content marketing depends on a few more factors

Another issue with content is its importance to SEO, keyword usage, density, and yadda-yadda. I believe in it, but that is not as important as user centricity for me. If I can distribute my content to the right areas where my audience hangs out as an interesting read, search engines will waste no time in indexing it. That of course, is entirely my belief and people who cannot produce the right kind of written word would actually focus on the SEO part. Finally, I track the readership and ensure that it is read by most people and possibly go viral, while I keep my fingers crossed. No, I am not talking luck here; I am talking about my doing everything right. And, if that doesn’t work, I go back to my drawing board and learn all over again until I get it right.

Flexible planning

Any marketing strategy or plan that I create is always open-ended, means, it will have enough scope to better it or tweak it until it works perfectly and gets me the results I expect. I hate giving deadlines to clients, but then it is important to have a plan on a timeline, and to that end, I always keep some extra time on hand. In my experience, I have seen some unexpected events happening, what better example than search engine updates that turn your plans topsy-turvy. I have been there and done that, but gone ahead and forgotten the bitter experiences.

Flexible planning

I do have some blank spots on deadlines, just that I may fall back sometimes or to tweak a few things since the competition has gone one up to get better results. New technology, tweaks, ideas as you go into execution need some space to implement and so the blanks are important to me. All through, I never lose sight of my goals and KPI’s though.

Have a clear direction

I normally plan my content marketing direction to be steady for at least a single quarter, unless something unusual comes along in the domain and things change drastically. The direction will be oriented to a particular goal and the goals are measured continuously in order to ensure that I am doing everything right.

Take the right direction

It is also critically important to understand that all distribution channels are oriented to the same or similar messaging so that a reader or a visitor is aligned to a singular topic or discussion. This will enable a visitor to search for your channels and read through more thus improving his/her chances of conversion or to turn into your brand advocate.

Have highly informative, shareable and SEO-friendly content ready to achieve expected results and make the best out of your marketing strategy.


To build a workable, effective and efficient marketing strategy, you should have some excellent content to fall back upon, of course, content is the raw material for marketing, be it articles, Facebook posts, tweets or any other form of content.

And, remember, executing a digital marketing strategy is a punctual time-line, having some project management experience under the belt could come in great use. All, digital marketing channels should be speaking the same language. Moreover, each and every detail is important including grammar, misspelled words and any other errors. One reader, coming across a simple overseen mistake could forever be gone, which means you have lost a prospective customer. Be a perfectionist and not a hobby marketer, it will get you nowhere in the long run.

For me, with over 15 years as a digital marketer, marketing is still an art and a science and, no strategy big or small, I have created was cut and dry.

The smallest elements that I give importance to are the brand story, visitor engagement, and journey through the funnel, the rest is taken care of by the digital marketing strategy itself. I strive to engage the largest group of audience, remember, the larger the number of visitors, the larger the conversions and customers. Not that I give importance to numbers or analytics, but I strive to convert 5 visitors from 100 instead of 2 from a thousand.

I am confident that you get my point here, the idea is not about numbers but about customers who will turn into brand advocates and will keep coming back for more.