SMX East 2017: Best of SEM

Posted on 16/11/2017 by Team Hallam

In this post, we review some of the best SEM talks at SMX East 2017. Key insights and takeaways are presented throughout which will hopefully give you some ideas of what's to come for the main industry platforms, and we've also suggested tactics that you can try out on your accounts.

Last month I attended SMX East at the Javits Center in New York. Some of the biggest names in digital marketing attended and spoke at the event, as they shared some of the latest news and case studies in the world of SEO and SEM.

Within the post, I’ll be sharing some of the key takeaways from the SEM sessions. If you would like to see the round-up from SEO, please head over Ben’s post.

Latest from Bing

Cady Condyles

Cady gave a lowdown on the latest developments from Bing, although the UK will have to wait for lots of these. Some of the features are now being rolled out in the US, with European territories following the same roadmap, so they will make it over here at some point in the near future.

  • New Shopping Tab

A new shopping area was launched this summer in the US, which seems to have taken an unacceptable amount of time to arrive. However, it’s better late than never. This feature will operate similarly to Google and will house all PLAs. A UK launch date is unknown at the moment.

Bing Fact: When shopping ads and search ads are shown at the same time by one advertiser, the following improvements are seen on average: 76% CTR, 76% conversion rate and 22% ROAS. This is vs search ads being shown alone.

  • Flyer & Carousel Extensions

A large part of Cady’s talk was drawing the online and offline shopping experiences together, which has been highlighted by the introduction of a flyer and carousel extensions. These are designed to promote upcoming events and sales, and can also drive online sales or footfall to store. This is currently in beta in the US and is not likely to be introduced to the UK until 2018.

Flyer Bing Ads

Image: Search Engine Land

Bing Fact: 87% of sales are still happening in stores. However, an increasing number of customers are starting their shopping research online.

  • Products Ads in Bing Images

Like Google, Bing has recognised that many shoppers are now starting their research by using image searches. As a result, they are now trialling product ads in the image results. This is currently in beta in the US, and could be rolled out in the UK soon.

Shopping Strategies

Jake Favaro

During Jake’s talk, he went through a range of shopping tactics, many relating to Google due to the features and opportunities on this platform. I’ve picked a few of the best ones to cover with you in this section.

  • SKU Bidding vs Product Grouping

There are pros and cons to both approaches, but Jake strongly argued against bidding down to SKU level. He believes that bidding to this level prevents the advertiser from easily reversing previous actions when factors change, meaning products may start performing better. For example, if your bids are based on previous performance, but a factor like price changes, making the product more desirable, then it’s more difficult to react in a timely manner.

The argument is that when you bid at SKU level, the bids are most accurate relating to that specific product, so in theory, result in the best performance. Personally, I sway towards this method, although there are certainly good reasons to consider both when setting up your campaigns.

  • Accelerated Over Standard Delivery

Should you be using accelerated delivery over standard delivery? According to Jake, yes you should, but this is when you have your bid levels and budget perfectly set up against the targeting applied to every campaign. Whilst in theory, this is ideal, it’s more difficult to execute in practice. With fluctuating search volumes, market changes and businesses objectives evolving, it’s hard to get the consistency to achieve this. By having flexibility with budget and the patience to get the balance right between targeting and spend, it can be done.

Google Shopping SKU Bidding

Shopping Insights & Tactics

Jared DeSisto

Apart from spending 5 minutes declaring his love for the New England Patriots, Jared delivered one of my favourite talks from the week. Here are a few of the key insights he shared, which may influence your future decision-making.

  • >50% of Traffic Coming from PLAs

At Merkle, they are now seeing more than half of paid traffic arriving from PLAs, on average, across all their clients. This is a trend seen over recent years, and cements the recommendation that shopping networks are a must for nearly all e-commerce businesses investing in paid media.

  • Amazon Impressions Share up 15% on PLAs

One big concern for e-commerce businesses is Amazon’s growing presence on Google Shopping, and this has been confirmed by a case study ran by Merkle. Within the Home Improvement section, Amazon’s visibility has grown by 15% in the US.

  • Running Local Inventory Ads

If your client has multiple locations with varying stock levels, they should be running local inventory ads to set customer expectations. As previously mentioned, there is still a significant number of transactions carried out offline when the research phase started online. It’s crucial that online information is accurate.

Using Chatbots

Purna Virji

The topic of this talk was on Chatbots. Something high on the agenda for Microsoft, Purna discussed their increased use, benefits of dovetailing them with PPC campaigns and how much money they could potentially be saving businesses when compared to manned call centres. However, in this write-up, I’ve concentrated on how Bing supports advertisers, when thinking about using them.

  • Bing Will Build You a Chatbot!

Microsoft is really pushing Chatbots at the moment; so much so, that they’re offering to build you a basic chatbot pre-loaded with a selection of answers. The advertiser is simply required to provide Microsoft with 50-100 answers to 100 of the most commonly asked customer questions. They are likely to be pushing this further over the next 12 months as Purna shared data highlighting the increased usage of Chatbots. This is currently only in the US and is an opt-in for whitelisted accounts.

Microsoft Stat: 1 in 3 users in the US are willing to purchase directly from a Chatbot

Bing Chat Bot

Image: Bing

Additional Takeaways

  • Caution with Bid Modifiers

When applying bid modifiers to different targeting factors of a campaign or ad group, it’s important that there is enough data to make a solid and scientific decision. On too many occasions, a minimal amount of data is used, which has led to significant adjustments to be applied. By doing this, you could be harming your campaign.

Chelsea Chambers – Red Ventures


  • Will Branded Paid Traffic Turn into Organic Traffic?

One of the most commonly asked questions we get asked is “if I turn off branded PPC, it would just come through organic, right?” No matter how much you fight the case that this wouldn’t happen, without proven data, it’s hard to avoid the question coming up again. So, Alice from EveryMundo tested this for one of their clients, and here are the results:

After pausing the branded campaign for 30 days:

  • 28% of traffic was recovered by the organic channel
  • Overall sales were down 47%

As you can see from the results, the danger of dropping branded paid media activity is high. Obviously, the severity of the consequences will differ between businesses and industries, although this clear case study helps support the reasons for having it active.

Alice Han – EveryMundo


  • Growing Influence of Amazon

Amazon as a platform got a lot of exposure during the conference, and rightly so; as this is a growing marketplace which is already one of the biggest available. However, a stat that really stood out was this: 92% of users who start their shopping research on Amazon, complete a purchase on Amazon. This conversion rate from start to finish of the buying cycle is huge, and without any evidence in front of me, I’d be surprised if any other platforms will return the same level of performance, even eBay.

Todd Bowman – Merkle


Overall, there were some good takeaways from SMX East, and some excellent speakers. That said, there was also some of the same old messaging being recycled; but you come to expect that at any conference.

Bing and Amazon were talked about a lot. The former is now showing signs of offering some of the ad features Google has offered for a while, in addition to a few unique ones. The latter continues to grow, and with their increased presence across Google paid platforms, Amazon could be an opportunity for many advertisers, but also a threat.

One area I was most pleased with, was the number of practical case studies that provided useful information. I’ve seen too many talks where case study findings have been presented, and I’ve thought “that’s cool, but what am I going to do with this information?”. However, the insights provided could be related to many advertisers.

You can find all of the slides from the conference here.

featured image smx east

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SMX East 2017: Best of SEM

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