Top 3 Takeaways from SMX Advanced 2013

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This year was my 7th trip to SMX Advanced in Seattle. As always, it felt like homecoming for SEMs – I saw so many friends, it’s hard to keep track! I especially enjoyed hanging out with fellow members of PPC Chat, sharing knowledge and thoughts about the conference.

A search conference is no good without takeaways that you can apply to your day to day work. Here are my top 3 takeaways from this year’s SMX Advanced.

Enhanced campaigns are a nightmare.

As expected, there was an entire session dedicated to Enhanced Campaigns. Each and every presenter on the panel was pessimistic about what they’ve seen so far. The consensus was that it’s nearly impossible to control and isolate mobile traffic to optimize for ROI. This is a huge issue that I’ve written about before, and so far Google has made no moves to fix it. We’re stuck with convoluted workarounds and complicated bid modifiers that complicate campaign structure and management, rather than simplify it as Google claims is the intent of Enhanced Campaigns.

Furthermore, Enhanced Campaigns don’t play well with some Adwords features, namely Conversion Optimizer. If you’re using Conversion Optimizer, be aware that you can’t use bid modifiers with it. Crazy.

And finally, Enhanced Campaigns are killing ROI. Jeff Allen from PPC Hero presented a case study showing that CPAs went way up with Enhanced Campaigns – specifically, mobile CPAs increased by 40%. Mobile spend also increased dramatically, due to the lack of control.

We can only hope that Google fixes these issues before the forced migration in July.

Bing is doing some cool stuff.

I had the huge honor of visiting the Bing Ads offices in Bellevue with my good friend Ping Jen. I met with several of their development teams, including the Desktop team, the keyword relevance team, and the Ad Intelligence team. While I can’t share specifics about our conversations, what I can say is that there are some very interesting and useful tools and improvements on the near horizon that will really take your Bing Ads campaigns to the next level. Bing is dedicated to succeeding in the search space, and they’re allotting significant brain power to making things work.

And really, if ever there was a good time for this, it’s now. Bing has a window of opportunity to eclipse Google in several areas, including innovation, control, relevance, and customer service. Google really ticked off the SEM community with Enhanced Campaigns, and we’re looking for alternatives. Bing is poised to be a viable alternative, folks.

Wednesday’s keynote speaker at SMX Advanced was Gurdeep Singh Pall from Bing. I normally take keynotes with a grain of salt – they’re usually very high-level and theoretical with few takeaways. But this keynote really got me thinking. Gurdeep talked a lot about the future of search and the way Xbox has changed the landscape. Voice search and even search with gestures is the wave of the future – and people don’t talk the way they type.

The implications for PPC’ers are huge. Not only will we have to rethink our keyword and ad copy strategy in view of voice search, we’ll have to figure out how to target searches by gesture. It’s almost mind-boggling, but the bottom line is, in 5 years our jobs will look very different than they do now. Star Trek is here, folks.

star trek

Opt-Out geotargeting works better.

The very last presentation of the conference in the PPC track was by Marta Turek of Mediative. She presented a geotargeting case study that changed the way I think about geotargeting.

In a nutshell, she and her team noticed that geotargeted campaigns didn’t seem to perform as well as they should. CPCs were significantly higher on their geo campaigns than on their national campaigns, and over time, they saw attrition of search volume & traffic.

So they tried an experiment. They’d been targeting Denver, CO. They replicated the campaign and instead of targeting the Denver DMA, they targeted the entire state of Colorado – and excluded every DMA except Denver.

The result? Significantly higher volume, and CPCs that were about 30% lower than on the geotargeted campaign – and, of course, way better ROI.

Just to make sure this wasn’t a fluke, they tried the same tactic on another campaign targeting a couple of DMAs in North Carolina. They saw the same results – more volume and better ROI. Marta called the tactic “opt-out geotargeting.”

She admitted that these weren’t perfect tests. Both tests were sequential, rather than simultaneous – they ran an opt-in campaign first, and then recreated it as an opt-out campaign. There were seasonal factors at play, in addition to campaign optimizations such as ad copy testing that could have skewed the results. Still, it was surprising enough to be worth sharing.

As I looked around the room during this session, I could see people furiously taking notes. You could almost hear the wheels turning in the collective heads in the room.

At the end of the session, moderator Matt Van Wagner made a promise to the room: If anyone else tested this technique side by side and got valid results, Matt would write it up for Search Engine Land and guarantee them a speaking slot at next year’s SMX Advanced. Wow.

All in all, it was yet another great SMX Advanced. Did you attend the conference? What did you think? Didn’t attend and have questions? Share in the comments!

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  1. So interesting on the geotargeting! I am working on a geotargeted campaign now, might have to try it both ways…

    Thanks for sharing your takeaways.

    • Melissa Mackey says

      You’re welcome! I’m planning to test geotargeting when I can, also. It’s totally fascinating. Let me know how it turns out!

  2. Great takeaways Melissa. It’s almost like I was there! For us non-attendees, Tweetdeck helped too, although it sounds like the Wi-Fi was again problematic, so it’s likely the stream of tweets were affected by technology. 🙂 As always, it sounds like a great show, and I always love catching up with you in person, and talking PPC shop and lots of other stuff too.

    I agree with you on Bing. Wow, it’s really exciting where search will go in the next couple of years. Hang on tight!

    Going to try that geo-targeting hack for sure… I think it might have to do with unassigned IPs, so one might see some traffic outside their real target geo, but if conv rates hold up, definitely worth the extra volume of impressions.

  3. Just checking, did the Bing Desktop people promise to make Mac desktop client or include the Conversion rate column for the web UI 😉

  4. Opt-out Geotargeting…just wacky enough to work! 🙂

    We have been on EC for a little over a month now and definitely not happy with the results we are seeing; falling in line with everything I’ve read regarding inefficiencies. Honestly, Bing needs to spend less time on the Scroogled schtick and more time making sure advertisers know about this stuff.

  5. Oh Bing/MSFT, so full of promise and yet still so far away on so many things. If the Xbox One announcement is any indication, MSFT still has a major image problem on their hands, and this will continue to effect younger searchers. Bing can add all the bells and whistles they want, but the core issue of pure search volume still presents massive challenges.

    With that said, the introduction of Bing into iOS7 is a HUGE win and could help steer the ship in the right direction.


  1. […] we must rely on the help of others. Awesomely enough, Melissa Mackey wrote a post about her Top 3 Takeaways from SMX Advanced 2013. Without giving too much away, the three topics covered are Enhanced Campaigns, Bing, and […]

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