5 Big New Social Media Marketing Trends

When I find myself eating the exact same thing for breakfast, lunch, and dinner during the work weeks I grow frustrated by the repetitiveness of my habits. Luckily, this isn’t the case with social media. In the world of social media marketing things are constantly changing, which is what keeps all of our jobs interesting.

Every week, social platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram are releasing new features and improving old ones, and naturally, our habits as marketers need to adjust to stay ahead of our competitors.

Social Media Marketing Trends 

As summer’s winding down, it is time to start gaining a competitive edge before the holiday rush, which is why you need to pay attention to these three big social media marketing and advertising trends that are all the rage these days.

#1: Live Video Streaming

As video has taken over our social feeds, live streaming has popped up on the horizon as the hip new hip sidekick to regular video. Whether it be Facebook Live, Periscope, SnapChat, or Instagram, engaging with your audience in real-time through video is becoming essential to your social strategy. Video helps humanize your brand, but live video actually connects an individual to your brand in real-time, which is even more powerful than well-produced recorded content. The other benefit of live video is that the production quality isn’t expected to be high, which eases the production process.

Most recently we’ve seen big brands use live video in a variety of ways, from Marc Jacobs using live video to give a sneak peak of their 2016 fashion line, The Tonight Show providing a behind-the-scenes look backstage before the show, and Madden video games providing behind-the-scenes coverage of players.

But these are HUGE brands. How can you use live video? Live video can be used to build excitement about a new product release, show off your company culture, give live coverage of an event, or even host a live Q&A with your super-fans. The possibilities are endless.

Check out the post below for a live video we made at Wistia of the unboxing of the brand new Canon 5D MarkIV. This is a great use-case of live video as this new video camera is a pretty big deal for a huge chunk of our customers, so the live stream was especially interesting for our audience.

 Wistia Instagram

Still not convinced? Live videos receive 10x more comments than pre-recorded videos, according to the VP of Facebook in Europe, Nicola Mendelsohn.

#2: Social SlideShow Ads

Ahh! More new and exciting forms of interactive visual content. What could be better!?

Social slideshows are popping up in more and more social networks and for good reason! Social slideshows are easy to create and can utilize images, videos, or both. Advertisers can even pay to play for these babies leading to more, even more, exposure and interaction. So whether you’re showing off your new winter ski apparel or displaying videos promoting your upcoming conference, slideshows are a great way to help your social audience interact with your brand in a memorable way.

These ads also work! Take the sock company Stance for instance;comparing their static image ads to slideshow ads, they saw a decrease in cost per acquisition by 48%, a 2.42X increase in click-through-rate, and a 1.48 increase in return on ad spend. Pretty outstanding stuff! Facebook also just made some improvements to their slideshow ads, outlined here.

Facebook Slideshow Ads

#3: Diversifying Landscape of Social Channels

With different forms of content and social interaction, we’re also seeing more channels emerge as important places for marketers and advertisers to build a strong presence. Online social communities, run through platforms like Slack, are becoming a more and more important area for marketers to engage with their customers and prospects. Medium, Inbound.org, and Reddit are critical places to spread awareness of your content. Not to mention Snapchat and Instagram are taking over with sponsored stories and in-line ads. Long gone are the days of only having to maintain a Facebook and Twitter page.

Social media landscape 

“Now, forms of interaction are starting to diversify. Platforms like Snapchat are allowing more one-sided conversations, in a more fleeting, temporary context. Brands and consumers are able to talk to each other in new, more diverse ways, and that range is only broadening,” says Forbes contributor Jayson DeMers.

#4: Instagram Stories

Instagram recently stole a page from Snapchat’s book by adding a story feature at the top of the feed. Now social browsers can see what their favorite Instagrammers are doing for 24 hours.

So why copy Snapchat? Perhaps Facebook is still a bit bitter about Snapchat’s declining to sell the app for $3 billion, but regardless the reaction to this new Instagram feature was mixed. Some were outraged, others pleased to have their snap stories moved to their favorite social network. 

Instagram and Snapchat

Regardless, this has been a big opportunity for businesses to showcase their brands in a prime location on the app. Large brands like Starbucks, Taco Bell, and JCrew have already been taking advantage, as well as smaller brands like Justin’s PB and HubSpot.

“Over time we look forward to introducing new advertising and other business opportunities as part of Instagram Stories,” says the Instagram Business Blog. “In the meantime, we’re excited to see all the ways our community will use it to highlight their businesses on Instagram.”

#5: Social Chat

Did you know that over 900 million people use Facebook Messenger? WhatsApp has become one of the largest chat apps in the world. Seventy-seven of the top 100 Fortune companies use Slack. Chat is no longer just used for internal communications, but it’s being used more and more to engage with prospects in a more personalized manner.

Social media trends 

“People are becoming more interested in actually communicating, rather than broadcasting,” according to Harvard Business Review.

Marketers need to start utilizing chat apps to engage in real-time with their leads rather than posting and wishing for the best. In the future chat, bots will likely make this scalable in new and fascinating ways.

About the Author:

Margot is a Customer Success Coach at Wistia. She loves all things digital, and spends her free time running, traveling, and cooking. Follow her on:

Twitter: @ChappyMargot

Google+: +Margot da Cunha

LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/margotdacunha

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How to Do Thought Leadership Marketing: The Larry Kim Way

Here at the WordStream blog, we talk about influencer marketing and thought leadership quite often. Many marketers know how valuable thought leadership can be to a company’s growth, but actually implementing a strategy to become a thought leader is a lot harder than it sounds. To complicate matters, there’s usually a fair bit of luck involved, too, which makes the goal of achieving a reputation as a thought leader that much harder to attain.

 Thought leadership marketing Larry Kim on stage

Photo via Distilled

Take WordStream’s Founder and CTO, Larry Kim, for example. Larry is widely regarded as one of the most innovative and knowledgeable experts in the world of PPC and search marketing, but how did he get here?

I sat down with Larry recently to talk about thought leadership marketing, and today, we’ll examine the specific techniques and strategies that Larry used to gain recognition, respect, and renown in a highly competitive field.

By the end of this post, you’ll know Larry a little better and have several actionable strategies you can implement to establish yourself as a thought leader in your own industry or vertical.

Larry Kim: The Early Years (Or ‘How to Lay Thought Leadership Foundations’)

If this were an episode of Intervention, we’d probably open on a sepia-toned shot of a college campus, complete with an ominous voice-over – “Larry first experimented with PPC while he was studying electrical engineering at college in Waterloo, Canada” – but this isn’t an episode of Intervention.

Thought leadership marketing Larry Kim University of Waterloo 

“The University of Waterloo, where Larry Kim first experimented with PPC as a student…”

Larry really did, however, first get started with PPC while he was a student. Dissatisfied with the tools that AdWords provided at the time (the year 2000 specifically, when Larry was among the very first 350 advertisers to use AdWords at launch), Larry started writing his own PPC software tools. These tools later became the foundation of WordStream, and in 2007, Larry launched his company. The rest, as they say, is history.

But what does all this have to do with thought leadership marketing?

Thought Leadership Takes Time AND Strategy

Larry laid the foundations of his thought leadership almost 20 years ago. That’s not to say that becoming an influencer in your niche is guaranteed to take this long – it most certainly isn’t – but it is worth noting that Larry has been working on raising his profile in the online advertising space for a very long time, whether consciously or otherwise. This began by contributing something of value to the community, namely his free tools and the products WordStream would eventually develop.

 Thought leadership marketing AdWords Performance Grader screenshot

WordStream’s AdWords Performance Grader, one of the many free tools
that was developed and adapted from Larry’s original software programs

However, merely being an active member of the community isn’t enough – you need a well-planned strategy to realize your thought leadership marketing goals.

Larry’s Thought Leadership Tip #1: Dominate ONE Underserved Niche

As well as exercising patience, Larry’s first thought leadership tip is to create and adhere to a clearly defined strategy from the very beginning – specifically, dominating one highly specialized niche in your field that isn’t being adequately covered or explored.

“My first speaking engagement was SMX West in March 2013 – and this was on a panel,” Larry says. “It was a little challenging, because by that time, search had already been around for 15 years. It’s difficult for late-movers to try and make an impact when there’s already major players in the space. They have their subscriber bases, they have their social followings, they have their distribution channels, so I was very intentional about strategy from the outset. It’s not just about tweeting or cranking out blog content – there has to be a strategy.”

‘The Nate Silver of PPC’

Although social media and blogging represent an incredible opportunity to reach new audiences, there should always be a strategy informing your decisions. Larry realized early on that in order to make himself heard in a highly competitive space – even as an expert in the field – he’d have to target and dominate a single, highly niche subject area.

Thought leadership marketing Nate Silver predictions US presidential race 

Statistical analysis of the U.S. 2016 Presidential race from renowned statistician
Nate Silver’s
FiveThirtyEight agency

“The way I looked at it was, if I’m going to do this, I want to carve out a niche, as opposed to just being lost among the vast volumes of content on the internet,” Larry says. “I spent a lot of time just reading other people’s stuff, and then kind of mapping out the market – almost like a competitive analysis – of who the thought leaders were, what their styles were, what made them great, what their distribution channels were, that kind of thing. What I found was that a lot of the search marketing articles were based solely on people’s opinions. They didn’t have any credible data to back up these claims. So, for me, idea number one was whether I could be the Nate Silver of search marketing.”

 Thought leadership marketing use original data and research

An example of Larry’s original data regarding Quality Score and average click-through rates

This concept of data-driven marketing research would later become an integral part of virtually all Larry’s content, from blog posts to conference presentations. However, although he knew that original data could support bold claims, he still needed a niche.

Before long, he found it – AdWords’ Quality Score metric.

Thought Leadership and Content Marketing: Owning Your Niche

If you want to become a thought leader in your space, content marketing is absolutely essential. After all, it’s difficult to establish yourself as an expert in your field if you’re not publishing content that demonstrates your knowledge or expertise.

Larry decided to demonstrate this knowledge by zeroing in on Quality Score as his niche.

 Thought leadership marketing Quality Score graph

“I literally spent 18 months writing about Quality Score in AdWords – how it’s calculated, how it affects your ad delivery, its impact on cost-per-click – everything,” Larry says. “The topic was doing well, so I just went all in. It was like CNN after a major disaster; there’s just constant headlines for two months, except I did this for 18 months. Google even issued a white paper, the first white paper it published in five years on Quality Score, debunking my theories. You know you’ve made it when they’re forced to respond to some of these ideas. They didn’t mention me by name, but you could tell by the language and the counterpoints that they were reading our stuff.”

Content Marketing Takes Time

This probably isn’t what you want to hear, especially hot on the heels of the last tip. That said, it’s important that you set realistic goals and keep your expectations firmly grounded in the realm of the possible.

Take Larry’s blogging journey and the WordStream blog in particular. Larry started blogging as soon as WordStream launched as a company, way back in 2007. The web was a very different place almost a decade ago, but Larry, Elisa, and the early blog contributors did much the same thing as they do now.

It took almost four years before they saw any results.

The graph below, taken from WordStream’s Google Analytics data for the period January 2009 to January 2015, shows how long it took before WordStream’s content marketing efforts began to bear fruit:

 Thought leadership marketing WordStream blog traffic

Although it took several years for Larry and WordStream’s content marketing to start bringing in serious traffic, WordStream’s content is now the single largest driver of leads in the entire organization. Today, the WordStream blog attracts more than 1 million unique visitors per month, and thanks to his experience and insight, Larry’s columns have been syndicated by some of the world’s leading marketing and entrepreneurship publications such as Inc. magazine.

Thought leadership marketing only promote your very best content 

A slide from Larry’s INBOUND 2015 presentation

Some WordStream content, such as this news story about the imminent demise of Google+, earned us enormous referral traffic due to mainstream press pickups – exposure that further established Larry and WordStream as leading voices in the digital marketing space.

 Thought leadership marketing press pickups

Larry’s Thought Leadership Tip #2: Have a Strong Opinion and Develop a Unique Style

Now we know what an uphill struggle content marketing can be, how can you stand out from the crowd, especially in those crucial, formative days? By taking a strong stance on an issue, and by developing a unique personal style.

“Most of the articles I was reading lacked a point of view,” Larry says. “I feel like if I research a piece, and the conclusion is ‘it depends,’ I’m just not going to write it. The ones that I’m going to go after are going to have a strong point of view. I’m not just going to curate some lists; it’s going to be counterintuitive, non-obvious recommendations that go against conventional wisdom – and then back that up with data.”

Thought leadership marketing original data and research 

A great example of contrarian content backed by original data, taken from this blog post
why everything you know about conversion rates is wrong.

However, a strong opinion can be a double-edged sword. Bold stances attract a lot of attention – and sometimes, this can be harmful as well as helpful.

“The problem with that [approach] is that it can get you into a little bit of conflict,” Larry says. “It’s a little bit like comedy – if you’re not offending anybody, then you’re not really trying hard enough. If your confidence is so bland and ‘meh’, then it’s not going to be memorable and you’re not demonstrating thought leadership by rehashing old stuff. You have to have an original point of view.”

A Quick Controversial Content Case Study

We’ve talked about contrarian content before. However, sometimes, a merely contrarian or unpopular opinion simply isn’t enough to make your voice heard. Sometimes, you’ve got to take the gloves off and advance a deeply controversial opinion to get noticed.

An excellent example of this is a campaign ran by content marketing agency Frac.tl (warning: contains language and terms that some readers may find offensive), which had been tasked with working on a campaign for apartment listing site Abodo.

 Thought leadership marketing Abodo tolerance case study

The folks at Frac.tl pitched a highly controversial idea to their client – mapping out the most outspokenly bigoted places in America using analysis of tweets from Twitter, including racial slurs, misogynistic comments, and other types of intolerant discourse. The idea was to provide readers with a glimpse into the political and social atmosphere of various parts of the nation, the point being that there’s often a great deal more than an apartment’s appearance or amenities to consider when choosing a home.

 Thought leadership marketing Abodo case study 2

Image via Abodo

The campaign received dozens of mainstream press pickups, and generated a firestorm of heated arguments on social media – a win in itself. The client was satisfied, and despite the potential harm such a controversial and contentious experiment could have had upon the client or agency’s brand, it was a major success in every way:

  • More than 620 placements (240 followed links, 280 co-citation links)
  • More than 67,000 social shares
  • Press pickups by publications including Adweek, Business Insider, CNET, and The Daily Beast

You can read a full write-up of the campaign in this guest post at the Moz blog.

Developing a Unique Style

With so much content being produced, only the most distinctive voices will be heard, so Larry recommends developing your style early on.

“A third opening I identified was that, of the stuff I was reading, most of it was incredibly boring,” Larry says. “I did some analysis of the audiences and saw that they were mostly Millennials. You can get audience insights from Facebook and Google Analytics in terms of the age of the people who are consuming this content, and the biggest age demographic I found was 25-34.”

To Larry, this data represented an untapped opportunity – one that he leveraged to great effect.

 Thought leadership marketing Facebook Audience Insights

Facebook’s Audience Insights dashboard, with a wealth of invaluable demographic information

“I thought, what if I could introduce a kind of Millennial sense of humor in my content? I just missed the cut-off for being a Millennial by, like, one year, but I do identify more strongly with Millennials than Generation X, so I employ storytelling techniques in my content. I include jokes and memes, I use emotional triggers. Why does content have to be so boring?”

Making Friends, Influencing People: Thought Leadership and the Conference Circuit

When you’re a big deal, people listen to what you have to say. People will even pay exorbitant amounts of money to come and listen to you talk.

Of course, there’s a lot more to conferences and public speaking than this.

Cracking the conference circuit can have an amazing impact on your career and position as an industry influencer, but according to Larry, most marketers come at conferences and public speaking from the wrong direction – namely, by putting the cart before the horse.

 Thought leadership marketing most content goes nowhere

A fascinating – if slightly depressing – slide from Larry’s INBOUND 2015 presentation

“Conferences are basically an opportunity to repurpose your best stuff,” Larry explains. “When it comes to blogging, I’ll do between eight and 10 pieces a month, and most of them – like 80% of them – will go nowhere, but one or two will actually do very, very well. So what I do with those ‘unicorns’ is I basically double-down on those unicorns and repurpose them – I’ll turn it into a webinar and a conference presentation, and more derivative articles, like a follow-up story. And I know it’s a hot topic, because it’s auditioned well previously, so it’s not just me that loves the idea, I’ve gotten some validation from social metrics or SEO metrics or conversion metrics that this was a good topic.”

‘Auditioning’ Content for Conferences

I love Larry’s concept of “auditioning” content. By applying a data-driven approach to idea generation and content ideation, Larry isn’t taking any chances with his conference presentations. Each session Larry presents has been carefully vetted and auditioned using social validation and content metrics to prove that the topic resonates with audiences, making it the perfect content for a conference or speaking engagement.

Page views can be a valuable way to audition your content, but Larry finds that using engagement data from Twitter to be a far more effective way of determining a piece of content’s viability for further development, syndication, or repurposing (including data on Promoted Tweet performance).

Thought leadership marketing measuring engagement with Twitter Analytics 

Larry’s Thought Leadership Tip #3: Be Honest with Yourself About Your Content

Now that we know you should only pitch and present your very best content at conferences, it’s vital that you’re honest with yourself about the quality of your content – something Larry says many marketers overestimate.

“One of the biggest mistakes people make is that they think their stuff is much better than it really is,” Larry says. “Conferences are about just doubling down on your best content. It’s like having a top hand in poker, like four aces. Why wouldn’t you try to extract more value from that hand, because it’s so rare? The thing about this technique is that you’ve got to play a lot of hands. It’s like the quantity is auditioning content, and then finding an outlier and doubling-down on that by turning it into a podcast or a video or a conference talk.”

Larry’s Thought Leadership Tip #4: Focus on Content, Not Conferences

This may seem a little counterintuitive, but even if a speaking engagement could help elevate your profile in your industry, you shouldn’t necessarily focus on securing these gigs; rather, you should be focusing on relentlessly improving the quality of your content.

Public speaking engagements can be immensely powerful in establishing yourself as a thought leader in your space, but according to Larry, many marketers are missing crucial opportunities by focusing on the wrong things – namely, worrying about the prestige of certain conference appearances and how this can advance their status in their industry, rather than trying to improve the quality of their content.

Thought leadership marketing Larry Kim onstage 

Larry onstage at Marketing Festival 2015 talking about… Quality Score. Again.

“People try to do it the reverse way around,” Larry says. “They try to pitch conferences, but conferences call us. I get between seven and 10 conference invites per month, and I’ll typically accept one or two. Basically, what’s happening is that conference appearances are a result of having achieved thought leadership, as opposed to trying to use conferences to build thought leadership.”

This principle comes back to the strategy Larry discussed earlier. By focusing on creating the very best content possible, conferences now contact Larry to discuss potential speaking engagements, rather than the other way around. In addition, by auditioning his best content via blogging and social, Larry has done everything in his power to create a compelling, actionable, and – most importantly – memorable conference appearance.

 Thought leadership marketing Larry Kim INBOUND 2015 presentation crowd

The crowd eagerly awaiting Larry’s presentation at INBOUND 2015

“The social following and conference appearances are supporting factors, but let’s not forget what comes first,” Larry says. “Is it about trying to become ‘Twitter famous’? No. Is it about trying to do a ton of public speaking? No! You need original ideas and have made some sort of remarkable contributions first. People do it backwards.”

How to Create a Killer Presentation Pitch

As nice as it would be to have a premier conference organizer call you up asking if you’d like to present, sometimes you have to be a little more proactive, and that means writing a pitch letter that will grab the presentation committee’s attention.

Writing a killer pitch letter, however, is easier said than done. Fortunately, we’ve written more than few presentation pitches over the years, so here’s how to write a pitch that will make the judges sit up and take notice.

  • Open with an interesting fact: Did you know that actor Samuel L. Jackson suffered from a debilitating speech impediment as a child, and only took up acting at the behest of his speech therapist? Neither did I until I was researching this post.

    Opening a pitch letter with an interesting fact or statistic is a great way to grab your reader’s attention early on. The more forcefully you can grab their attention, the more likely they are to read on. If you can frame this factoid within the context of a wider problem facing your industry – like, for example, that some businesses have an organic reach on Facebook of less than 2% – even better, as it contextualizes the subject matter of your proposed talk in a way that promises an actionable solution for attendees, something all conference organizers desperately want.

  • Have a compelling, ORIGINAL angle: “Why You Should Be Advertising on Facebook” is not a compelling angle for a presentation. It’s overly broad, offers very little in the way of enticing information, and features no hint of what attendees can expect.

    Thought leadership marketing Facebook News Feed algorithm
    Hacking the Facebook News Feed Algorithm: 5 Ways to Recover Organic Reach”, on the other hand, is almost irresistibly compelling. From the title alone, we know what the topic of the             presentation will be about (Facebook’s News Feed algorithm), the specific strategies or techniques attendees will learn (five “hacks” to use in organic Facebook campaigns), as well as why this is important (to recover the rapidly diminishing organic reach many Facebook publishers have experienced). Each of these elements could – and should – be fully explored and explained in your pitch letter.

  • Make your presentation as actionable as possible: Most conference attendees don’t just want to hear well-known industry figured wax lyrical about whatever fleeting topic takes their fancy – they want to leave the conference armed with actionable strategies that will save them time and money that they can implement as soon as they get back to the office.

    Your pitch letter should go into detail about how your talk will benefit conference attendees. It should contain enough information to give the organizers a solid idea of your presentation’s content, yet hold enough back to entice them with promises of more. This is a difficult balance to achieve, but if you can pull it off, you may find yourself fielding an invitation to speak.

‘Land and Expand’ – The Importance of Growing Beyond Your Niche

Earlier, we talked about the necessity of identifying and owning a specialized content niche as part of your thought leadership marketing plan. For this tip, we’re going to look a little farther into the future, to the point at which you need to grow beyond that niche and expand into new, tangentially relevant content areas.

After years of writing about Quality Score and all things AdWords (and SEO, and content, and social, and…), Larry knew that there was only so much to be said about such a specialized niche of an already specialized industry.

Thought leadership marketing Larry Kim Inc Magazine column 

“One challenge is that marketing is still a niche,” Larry says. “Even as a whole, marketing is still a relatively narrow niche. Once you’ve dominated a niche, like PPC, don’t stop there. You’ve got to ‘land and expand’ into other adjacent niches.”

Larry knew he had to branch out into other content areas to reach wider audiences with relevant content, so he went back to the data in search of answers.

“I looked at the audience insights from Facebook and Google Analytics that can tell you the interests of the people looking at your content,” Larry says. “In addition to marketing, the top interests were things like startups, entrepreneurship, and business growth. So about two years ago, I started an Inc. magazine column. There, the goal was to talk about subjects that were not even related to marketing, but were still relevant to the topics that the people who buy our stuff also care about, so that I can connect with them even if they don’t have a need for the specific products or services that we’re offering. Click-through and conversion rates are three times higher if there’s brand affinity.”

 Thought leadership marketing Fac

Once again, this comes back to Larry’s initial thought leadership marketing strategy. By setting clearly defined goals, it becomes easier to track progress toward achieving those goals, and may help you identify new opportunities to achieve them, such as broadening your reach with tangentially relevant content that your audiences will find interesting.

Larry’s Thought Leadership Tip #5: Syndicate Your Best Content

Another of Larry’s proven thought leadership marketing techniques has been to syndicate content across a variety of platforms. This is a great way to get even more mileage out of your content, and reach larger potential audiences with your message.

Thought leadership marketing syndicating content on LinkedIn 

Larry’s content, syndicated on LinkedIn’s Pulse content discovery system

In addition to syndicating his content on LinkedIn Pulse, the professional social network’s excellent content discovery system, Larry also publishes content frequently on blogging platform Medium, an experiment that has yielded amazing results and gained Larry considerable exposure as a thought leader in the search and entrepreneurial spaces.

 Thought leadership marketing Larry Kim Medium publishing stats

Stats from Larry’s Medium account, at which he publishes purely syndicated content

General Thought Leadership Marketing Tips: A Recap

We’ve covered a lot of ground in this post, so let’s take a moment to recap Larry’s advice for aspiring thought leaders:

  • Have a clearly defined thought leadership strategy from the outset
  • Become an active, valued member of your professional community, and contribute resources of value to other members
  • Content marketing is absolutely crucial to the success of a thought leadership marketing initiative
  • Identify – and subsequently dominate – a highly specialized niche in your industry with your content
  • Take a defined stance on contentious issues in your content
  • Develop a unique style, voice, and tone to help your voice stand out in the crowd
  • Use original data and research to back up your claims, or to serve as a resource for your professional community
  • Only your very best “unicorn” content should be the basis of conference presentations
  • Be realistic about the quality and value of your content
  • Although speaking engagements can be valuable opportunities, conference appearances are the result of having achieved thought leadership, not a chance to build thought leadership
  • Be aware of opportunities to “land and expand” into new tangentially relevant topic areas when you have established dominance in your core niche
  • Syndicate content across multiple platforms for greater reach and potential exposure, such as LinkedIn and Medium

Hopefully this post has given you some insights into Larry’s journey, and some ideas for how to embark on your own thought leadership marketing endeavors.

Although serendipitous “breaks” can be helpful to becoming a thought leader in your space, Larry has demonstrated that a solid strategy and determination can elevate you to a position of respect and renown in your industry if you’re willing to work at it.

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5 Insights from Analyzing Half a Billion Dollars in Ad Spend [New Data]

The only constant in search advertising is change. The loss of right side ads. More and much larger ads above the organic search results. Exciting new ad targeting options. And so much more.

With that in mind, and in honor of our recent Grader milestones – the Grader has now been run over 1 MILLION times! – I set out to look at fresh data to get a sense for what if anything is changing in terms of the overall AdWords ecosystem.

Back in late 2013, we did a similar analysis and found that small businesses in particular were leaving a lot of opportunities (and money) on the table, by committing fatal errors like low account activity and failing to optimize for mobile search.

advertising data and statistics 2016

So – have things gotten better, or worse? Let’s take a look at the updated AdWords advertising statistics.

A quick note on the ad data sources: I looked at 30,000 reports from advertisers who ran WordStream’s AdWords Performance Grader for the first time in the last six months. I focused on small and medium-sized businesses with average spend between $10 and $5000 per month, with accounts world-wide.  

1. Quality Score Is More Important Than Ever

Since my analysis in 2013, impression-weighted Quality Scores are up! As of 2016, the average impression-weighted Quality Score for SMB’s is around 6.5. What does it mean? Has everyone gotten better at creating unicorn ads?

Not necessarily. It’s not that there are fewer low Quality Score keywords out there. There are plenty of donkey keywords with Quality Scores of 1, 2, 3 and 4. But these irrelevant, low-QS keywords are now less likely to ever get impressed to a user.

impression weighted quality score data

What’s happening here is that with the rise in mobile search and the loss of right side ads, there are fewer ad spots overall, so Google has to be pickier in terms of deciding which ads to show. Not surprisingly, they are increasingly preferring to run higher-quality ads over donkey ads. Since low-QS keywords don’t even earn impressions now, the average impression-weighted Quality Score is up overall.

Key Takeaway: CTR (the biggest component of Quality Score) matters more than ever, and continues to trend up. If your keywords have very low Quality Scores (1-4) they’re just not as likely to ever be seen – as though you’re not even running an ad campaign to begin with (i.e. why bother setting them up in the first place?)

2. About Those CTRs – What’s a Good Click-Through Rate in 2016?

CTRs this year are trending higher than ever.

adwords advertising click through rate data

When I look at account-wide CTRs (average click-through rate for search) the average SMB account ad CTR across all positions is 3.23%. We’ve been tracking this number for a while, and that is up from 2.7% just a year earlier. That’s a big change!

There’s a lot of things going on but the biggest two factors behind this increase are:

  • AdWords is less likely to run crappy ads (with low CTR and low QS) in the first place, raising average account CTRs.
  • Bigger, more prominent ads (AKA Expanded Text Ads) are more likely to be clicked on. Our internal tests have shown that moving to ETA’s can increase CTR by up to 400%!

One thing to point out here is that there’s tremendous leverage in ad text optimization. The top 10% of accounts (the unicorns) are doing more than 3X better than everyone else (the donkeys). How? Read this guide.

3. Negative Keywords Are Still a Missed Optimization Opportunity

OK, let’s recap what we’ve found so far:

  1. The AdWords auction is increasingly likely to favor high Quality Score ads. Low-CTR ads aren’t showing up as much as before.
  2. QS is a relative measure based on how your CTR compares with other ads in similar spots, devices, location, etc.
  3. CTRs across the board are going up.

Which means: You’re going to have to raise your CTR just to keep your current spots, and raise it even more to get ahead. How?

One of the biggest missed opportunities (in terms of big impact for little effort) that my research uncovered was a chronic underuse of negative keywords.

negative keyword stats

People aren’t using them as much as they should. Half of accounts didn’t add a single negative keyword in the last month. That’s a lot of wasted money.

Now, Google says Negative Keywords don’t impact QS (because it’s calculated based on exact-match keywords). But I’m not so sure about that (more in this case study, if you’re curious).

However, even if they don’t impact Quality Score, negative keywords are critical for high ROI because you’re eliminating wasteful spend (clicks from people who aren’t going to buy anything) and re-routing that money to more useful campaigns – all good things. Periodically review your search query reports and set low- or non-converting keywords as negatives.

4. Keep the End Goal in Mind: Conversions

Who cares about CTRs and QS? The whole point of optimizing for these metrics is to increase your conversions in the end!

Unfortunately, less than half of small business advertisers have conversion tracking turned on.

conversion tracking data

This makes me sad. Because these advertisers (and we’re talking millions of advertisers, if you extrapolate these results to all the companies using AdWords out there) are kind of missing out of the best feature of direct response marketing: the ability to track results and make optimizations and adjustments based on your data.

It’s also why I’ve gone on record saying that Smart Goals aren’t that dumb (for many small businesses). Some form of conversion tracking is better than nothing.

5. What’s a Good Conversion Rate in 2016?

Of the approximately 15k accounts that did have conversion tracking on, we found little change in average conversion rates and conversion rate distributions.

Whatever you’re selling on the internet, the median conversion rate was 2.9%. Previous studies we’ve done have shown average conversion rates to be in the 2.5-3.5% range.

Honestly, I suspect it would be even lower if the 54% of advertisers not using conversion tracking turned conversion tracking on – because businesses that aren’t tracking conversions are probably making a lot of mistakes.

ad conversion rate stats and data

What do we make of this data? A couple of my theories include:

One important takeaway is that the top 10% of advertisers (unicorns) continue to crush everyone else with conversion rates 3X higher than the donkeys – they see conversion rates of 8% or more! Reach for the stars.

Where Businesses Need to Focus their Attentions in AdWords Right Now

Based on these insights, I think it’s clear where advertisers (and agencies) should be focusing when it comes to optimizing their campaigns for the changing AdWords landscape:

  • Excellent ad performance – Google is only showing strong performers these days. Low-quality, under-optimized ads won’t even get impressions (especially on mobile). Take advantage of every extra feature you can. Be an early adopter. Write compelling, emotional ads.
  • Better measurement – For the love of all that is decent and holy, start tracking conversions. Cut non-converting keywords out of your account. AdWords works incredibly well for businesses that take the time to measure the effects of what they’re doing, so they can funnel more money into the ads that drive the most business value.

We’ve just announced some new features in the Grader that can help you adapt to the new landscape. The new features include:

  • Expanded Text Ads insights – Pretty soon, the old text ads will be turned off completely. You NEED to start writing new ads in the new format, and the earlier the better because early adopters reap the most benefits. There’s a new section in the Grader that checks your current migration status and provides tips for getting your ads updated ASAP.

wordstream ad data

  • More mobile data – We’ve also added new and improved insights into your account’s mobile performance. (Some of this data is for customers only, but everyone will have access to new features including your best and worst mobile ads and how CTR compares on different devices.)

Get your free Grader report now! And let me know what you think!

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1 Million Reports Later, Some Exciting Updates to the AdWords Grader

We hit a pretty huge milestone this month: Over the past five years, our AdWords Performance Grader has delivered more than 1 MILLION free reports (over $9 billion in unique ad spend) and helped countless businesses and marketing agencies of all sizes and all over the world understand how their AdWords accounts are performing and where they’re missing opportunities.

In those five years, AdWords itself has changed a lot. We’re constantly evolving our software and tools to stay on top of changes in AdWords and provide more actionable insights for our users. Today, we’re announcing one of the biggest updates in AdWords Performance Grader history – new support for Expanded Text Ads and greatly enhanced mobile data and analysis, including new mobile insights throughout the Grader report.

new adwords grader

Change is a constant in the online advertising industry, but recently it has been focused around the mobile revolution. Mobile now accounts for over 50% (some say 60%!) of Google searches. To put that in context – more people buy mobile phones (and, we assume, conduct mobile searches) each year than buy toothbrushes. Given this reality, AdWords has shifted to a mobile-first approach. What this means is that we as businesses can no longer address desktop audiences first and leave mobile as an afterthought.

We also recognize the importance of Expanded Text Ads – Google is calling this its biggest change to AdWords in 16 years, and they aren’t kidding. This update, which roughly doubles the size of each ad, is a game-changer, and early adopters have the opportunity to really get ahead of the curve. (Read more about ETAs here).

new adwords grader features

To help you understand the impact of Expanded Text Ads on your account, we created a brand-new section specifically focused on the new ad type, as well as unlimited access to our Expanded Text Ads Guide + Cheatsheet.

Below, I’ll take you through the changes step-by-step and what you can expect to learn about your account performance when you get your free report.

*NEW* Expanded Text Ads Section

Expanded Text Ads are here, and that means you have some work ahead of you. Google and WordStream agree that to benefit from this change, simply “converting” your existing standard text ads into ETAs won’t cut it. ETAs require you to rewrite your copy and change your approach.

expanded text ads analysis

As the deadline approaches, it’s time to start thinking about the transition and how you’ll tackle it. The Grader will check up on your progress so far and includes a simple guide to creating successful ETAs. You can also learn more about what ETAs are and how you are doing with the ETAs you already have going.

In-Context Mobile Insights

We’ve discovered that it’s much easier to fail on mobilemobile CTR drops off a whopping 45% just between positions 1 and 2. And mobile CPC’s, formerly much cheaper than desktop clicks, are rising fast.

So let’s take a look at how the AdWords Performance Grader helps you understand and improve your mobile performance. The updated version of the Grader has new mobile insights sprinkled throughout four key sections: Click-Through Rate Optimization, Text Ad Optimization, Best Practices, and Mobile Advertising.

Click-Through Rate Optimization

Keywords and ads perform differently on mobile vs. desktop. To highlight your device-based challenges, we have segmented out both average position and CTR by mobile, desktop and overall (includes all device types). With this new level of information, you can optimize your ads for specific device types to get the most out of your PPC budget.

mobile adwords audit

Text Ad Optimization

Understanding ad performance is very important so you can replicate your successes and avoid tactics that aren’t working. Ads perform differently on different devices, so we now segment out your best, worst and average-performing ads by device. This way, you can see which ad copy is best for mobile vs. desktop. Users can then build on this device-specific success.

text ad optimization in adwords

Best Practices

We have added a new mobile best practice check. The check is designed to see if your account is using mobile bid modifiers (mobile device bidding) on any ad group. Modifying your bids for mobile is a great way to be smart about your budget and target mobile impressions for mobile-optimized ad groups.

adwords best practices check

Mobile Advertising

The Mobile Advertising section has been completely redesigned. This section helps you understand how your mobile budget and mobile ad optimization compare to others in your industry, with in-depth cost-per-click analysis to show how your mobile-specific bids stack up against the competition.

udpated adwords performance grader

NOTE: This section is available exclusively for WordStream customers. However, all the other mobile features above are available to all.

Here’s to the Next Million!

Check out the updated AdWords Performance Grader now – free as always and better than ever.

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