Tuesday, March 28, 2017

How URL hijackers are disrupting banks’ PPC campaigns

I usually write about search marketing, analytics and conversion optimization, but I felt it was important to share a discovery I made recently.

I noticed a major phishing scam hijacking the paid search ads of financial and banking companies on brand keywords. The activity was discovered by an alert I received from BrandVudu, a third-party risk compliance and brand protection tool.

The alert uncovered paid search ads that look like official bank or credit card brand ads, but when a consumer clicks the ad, the landing page is a phishing website.

In this example the tactic follows this pattern:

1. An ad is triggered on brand or brand-plus searches for popular bank and credit card keywords (e.g., brand + “ login” or “low APR credit card offers”)

2. The ad contains a display URL for the financial institution, and therefore appears genuine and official.

3. Consumers who click on the ad are misdirected to a phishing site which attempts to get the user to call a phone number. After this the following events take place:

  1. The site claims that malware has been downloaded onto the user’s machine, along with a troubling pop-up, and loud sound effects including warning bells.
  2. The user is directed to call 844-813-5760 or 800-646-0707, which identifies the virus as the ZEUS virus, in order to get assistance from either Apple or Microsoft support.
  3. In some cases, the pop-up or the tab can be easily closed. In other cases, the entire computer screen is blocked by the warning message and the only way to get out of it, if you are a Windows user, is to use Task Manager to kill your browser program.
  4. The landing page looks like the below, depending on whether you are a Mac or Windows user:

BrandVudu identified the following URLs where consumers are being directed.  These URLs seem to rotate daily, with new URLs being used every few days:

Destination URL Landing Page Date Detected
Knowdailyhoroscope.com majorwarnings.online/alert/chrome_win March 6, 2017
Freedictionarydefinition.com http://ift.tt/2o1YMs2

 

March 6, 2017
clickingads.online

 

http://ift.tt/2nqS6B1 March 2, 2017
thesaurus-dictionaryonline.com

 

http://ift.tt/2o1xXEE March 2, 2017

Source: BrandVudu

Why aren’t these scams being caught?

Misleading ads are a problem, as evidenced by the 2016 Bing Ads Quality Review showing millions of ads needing to be blocked.  You would think that popular malware solutions would find these phishing scams and alert users, right?

I thought the same thing, but a scan of the above Destination URLs using several top malware scanners revealed green “all-clear” good grade for each site.

The phishing sites are fooling the scanning companies by misdirecting the scanner to a legitimate URL. When they’re visited by a crawler used by malware scanner tools, they usually send users to the actual financial institution website. Scans are performed and land on the legitimate site, therefore a good grade is returned.

Specifically what happens is the phishing site performs a check on the visitor and sends the visitor in one of two directions:

  • If the visitor is an anti-virus scanner or ‘crawler’, the visitor is pushed to the proper financial institution landing page or other real site, which looks legitimate and fine; or
  • If the visitor is a person (i.e. using a detectable browser), then the phishing site directs the user to the malware phishing site.

This misdirection is the likely culprit as to how the phishing scam can circumvent the search engine’s own audit checks.

The financial implications for bank advertisers

While you might view this simply as a nuisance to be expected in the world of online ad fraud, the implications are in fact much more serious. Financial institutions could potentially be subject to regulatory inquiries plus the erosion of good will in their brand names.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), for example, is the government watchdog that makes sure financial ads are not taking advantage of consumers. They’ve been very active in the last two years, filing multi-million-dollar lawsuits against offenders.

Further, the lawsuits are made public, so even if advertisers can pay the fine, they suffer a huge black eye in the press with already wary consumers.

Takeaway

If you are on the paid search team of a financial institution, government site, or credit card company, it is recommended that you take the following steps to ensure your ads are not being attacked:

  • Use a third-party risk assessment tool to monitor your brand and brand plus keywords. There are many options for this; I used information from BrandVudu for this article. Other tools include The Search Monitor, iSpionage and AdGooroo
  • Report issues to the search engine’s trademark compliance team for immediate take down
  • Document your findings to protect against an audit by a regulatory agency.

If you are reading this article and you are a search engine e.g. Google or Bing, your editorial teams may need additional tools to catch these scams.

Monday, March 27, 2017

6 tips for creating content to capture short attention spans

It’s not easy nowadays to win over your audience in an abundance of online content, and the short attention span of human beings isn’t making things any easier.

It’s always a challenge to make your content stand out, but this doesn’t mean that you should be discouraged from creating it.

As the average human attention span has dropped to just 8 seconds, however, how can you make content that captures your audience’s attention before it’s gone?

Learn your audience

This is the first thing that will help you beat the readers’ attention span. It is very important to understand your audience, as this will help you create more relevant content for them.

Here are some tips for understanding your audience:

  • Analyse your existing content and the response it received
  • Monitor your channels and the readers’ reactions to your content
  • Measure the time spent on your site
  • Bounce rate is another metric that indicates whether your content is appealing to your audience
  • Perform keyword analysis to devise new ideas that are relevant for your audience
  • Monitor your competitors’ content and find the gaps that you can fill in.

Focus on structure

Having well-structured content helps readers to stay longer on your page. It’s not just the quality of the content that maintains readers’ interest, but also the way you present it.

A clear and organized structure makes it less strenuous for readers to digest your content, so remember to:

  • Organize your content into paragraphs
  • Don’t create lengthy sentences that make reading harder
  • Use headings to divide up longer chunks of text
  • Use lists and bullet points to facilitate quick reading (like this!)
  • Add takeaway tips at the end of your content to help readers digest the most important parts.

Use images

How images help you beat your readers' attention span

As with a good content structure, images make reading a page more appealing.

From the header or feature image that offers an introduction to the topic (which may also be the image used on your social shares), to the additional images included throughout the text, images help to separate one section from another in the most engaging way.

They also help the eyes relax from a long sequence of text (which might otherwise be a little dull to read), while making it easier for the brain to process what it just read.

Moreover, images can offer additional value with the use of quotes, stats, or even tips that facilitate quick reading. These images can double as shareable content on your readers’ social feed, giving you more mileage from your content.

Don’t hold back from long-form content

You might assume that a short attention span will require an equally short piece of content for consumption. This is not always the case, as well-executed long-form content is still a valuable asset to your blog.

Provided that you’re adding value to a topic they find interesting, length should not discourage your readers from consuming your content. Remember that long-form content doesn’t have to be boring: structure and images can contribute to make the reading experience easier.

In fact, according to Orbit Media Studios, blog content is getting longer year by year. In 2016 the average blog post length was 1054 words – up from 887 words in 2015.

This is a good reminder for all of us that there’s no need to be afraid of longer content. All you need is to focus on relevance and a good user experience to keep people engaged on the site.

Involve different types of content

If you want to appeal to a wider audience, then you might have to experiment with different types of content. There’s no need to limit your creativity to plain text, especially if you can include other formats like:

  • Infographics
  • Presentation slides
  • Video
  • Podcasts
  • GIFs

Every type of content serves its own goal, and all of them can enhance your message.

For example, if you want to turn a complicated concept into a simpler analysis, then a visually​ appealing infographic​ can be useful.

If you want to find new ways to repurpose your content, then you can turn a blog post into a presentation, a video, or a podcast.

These allow you to promote your content across new platforms and reach the right audience with the right type of content. And many of these content formats are more engaging to time-starved audiences than a text-based post.

After all, content marketing is all about being creative with your content and its distribution.

Use social proof

If you’re wondering how social proof can convince your audience to spend more time on your site, here’s an example of how it can work in practice.

We all have more chances to read the content that our friends, or our favourite influencers, share on their social feeds. This is due to the trust that we’ve built up with them, and the belief that their approval serves as the credential we need to visit a page.

This can become even more important if it’s about a page that we haven’t visited in the past.

It’s not a bad idea to build relationships with other people to ensure that our site’s content reaches more people. This way the connection becomes more genuine and there are more chances for new readers to actually pay attention to our content.

Get rid of distractions

If you want to maintain your readers’ attention while reading your content, you have to test your page for any distractions.

It’s easy for the reader’s eye to be distracted by a pop-up, a shiny sidebar, or even untidy formatting. That eye-catching banner ad might be doing its job extremely well – and it may also be competing with your content for attention.

Content success is all about focusing on the reader and the browsing experience. That’s why it’s always useful to switch sides and visit your pages from time to time as a reader.

What do you notice first?

Are you willing to spend enough time to read the content?

Is there something you need to change?

Takeaways

It’s useful to keep in mind that the shorter the attention span, the bigger the challenge to appeal to your audience.

This doesn’t mean that your content can’t win your audience over. All you have to is to keep in mind some tips for making it more appealing:

  • Use a short and descriptive headline
  • Create a clear structure
  • Include images to separate blocks of text
  • Experiment with different types of content
  • Consider the use of social proof to build trust with the audience
  • Be as relevant as possible
  • Don’t underestimate the importance of quality content – whether long or short-form.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Five most interesting search marketing news stories of the week

Welcome to our weekly round-up of all the latest news and research from the world of search marketing and beyond.

This week, the mysterious “Google Posts” feature has made another return to the SERP, this time with GIFs and videos – could it be here to stay?

Plus, why marketers aren’t investing in the hottest new technologies as much as you might think; and Google announces a new type of search product with “shortcuts in search”, which could mean big changes for SEO and paid search.

Google Posts return – with GIFs and videos

Google launched its “Posts” initiative during the US presidential election last year to relatively little fanfare.

Dubbed an “experimental new podium”, Google Posts has since come and gone from the SERP several times, each with as little explanation as the first. Now it has reappeared in searches for several US sports teams, including the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees – complete with GIFs and videos.

Clark Boyd took a look at the new incarnation of Google Posts this week and considered what Google could be seeking to accomplish with the feature.

Google’s ‘Beauty and the Beast’ ad could be the future of paid voice search

Google sparked a small firestorm last week when reports surfaced that its intelligent assistant device Google Home had delivered what appeared to be an unsolicited advertisement to unsuspecting owners: a plug for the new ‘Beauty and the Beast’ live-action film.

Al Roberts took a look at the reactions to what Google denies was an ad, and considered whether this could potentially be the future of “voice PPC”.

Google announces “shortcuts in search” – can it get users on board?

Google announced this week the launch of “shortcuts in search“, a new means of discovering quick answers to information via a set of tappable shortcuts within its Android app.

But will this initiative take off, what will it mean for SEO, and how will Google manage to integrate paid ads into this new search experience? Clark Boyd examined the new feature on Search Engine Watch and considered how it could impact search rankings, what paid placements might look like, and whether Google can get users on board.

Despite the hype, most marketers not investing in hot new technologies

Fear of missing out, or FOMO, apparently isn’t a concern for marketers when it comes to new marketing technologies.

According to a survey conducted as part of OnBrand Magazine’s State of Branding Report 2017, marketers are well aware of the new technologies that are expected to be important to their brands in coming years, but the majority aren’t rushing to invest in them before they’re fully-baked.

Of the more than 550 marketing executives and brand managers OnBrand Magazine surveyed, 65% have no plans to invest in new technologies like 360-degree video, virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), chatbots and beacons in 2017.

So why aren’t marketers interested in these new technologies just yet? Al Roberts looked into the reasons why marketers are holding back from investing in newer innovations at the moment – and what it is they’re spending their money on instead.

Google to wind down Site Search by the end of 2017

Search Engine Land reported this week on the news that Google is due to sunset its Site Search product by the end of 2017.

Google Site Search, as it says on the tin, is an internal site search product which is powered by Google’s search technology, and is charged by monthly query volume.

Site owners who have been using Site Search up until now will be encouraged to move onto either Google’s ad-powered Custom Search product, or its new Cloud Search.

Google told Search Engine Land in a statement:

We are winding down the Google Site Search product over the next year, but will provide customer and technical support through the duration of license agreements. For GSS users whose contract expires between April 1st and June 30th, 2017, we are providing a free 3-month extension with additional query volume to allow more time for them to implement the necessary changes to their site.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Is Google’s ‘Beauty and the Beast’ ad the future of paid voice search?

Google sparked a small firestorm last week as reports surfaced that its intelligent assistant device Google Home had delivered what appeared to be an unsolicited advertisement to unsuspecting owners.

The reports first emerged on Reddit and Twitter, where users who own Google Home devices posted that Google slipped in an ad for Disney’s new Beauty and the Beast movie.

As one user explained on Reddit:

This morning while I was getting ready for work, I did my usual “Okay Google, good morning”. After information about the time and weather, my google home said something along the lines of “By the way, Beauty and The Beast opens in theaters today. In this version, Belle is the inventor. Sounds more like it to me.”

A mixed response from Home owners

Not surprisingly, many of the Google Home owners who heard the ad were not pleased. “Why in hell would I ever pay someone else to advertise to me, in the privacy of my own home no less?” one Twitter user asked.

“Wow, Google. You were doing so much better than Siri. Then you just threw that all away. Siri may suck right now at many things, but at least I know that Apple will never inject her with ads,” a Redditor wrote.

Other comments suggested that some consumers would no longer consider purchasing Google Home based on the presence of advertising.

But according to Google, the ad wasn’t an ad. First, a spokesperson told Business Insider, “This isn’t an ad; the beauty in the Assistant is that it invites our partners to be our guest and share their tales.”

Later, as video of the ad playing made the rounds, Google followed up with another statement.

“This wasn’t intended to be an ad. What’s circulating online was a part of our My Day feature, where after providing helpful information about your day, we sometimes call out timely content. We’re continuing to experiment with new ways to surface unique content for users and we could have done better in this case.”

Unfortunately for Google, if it walks and talks like an ad, it’s probably going to be considered… an ad. At least by consumers and the media.

The future of monetizing voice search?

Of course, Google is one of the most powerful ad companies in the world, so the fact that it experimented with an audio ad on Google Home isn’t exactly surprising.

As more and more consumers interact with devices that have intelligent assistants, such as Google Home and Amazon Echo, it’s natural that companies in the digital advertising ecosystem are going to be interested in experimenting with audio ads, which could be a killer app for monetizing these devices.

For Google, the interest is potentially necessary. After all, if more and more consumers come to search for information through voice-based intelligent assistants instead of screen-based devices, it could have a negative impact on Google’s other ad products, especially AdWords.

 

There has been some speculation in the search industry about whether we might see a transition to a “SERP-less search” as voice search becomes more mainstream.

In this eventuality, there has always been the question of what might happen to paid search, and how search engines would monetize the new SERP-less landscape. Well, we may have just found the answer to that question.

In spite of Google’s denials that the Beauty and the Beast product placement was an ad, we could be looking at – or listening to – the future of paid voice search.

 

A version of this article, ‘Has advertising arrived on Google Home?’ originally appeared on our sister site ClickZ.

Biometrics and neuroscience: The future of digital analytics?

Advertising has always been about emotions. Emotions lead to actions and, as such, influencing emotions is the most effective route to influencing actions.

Actions, in turn, become habits, and these habits are the driving force that creates global brands. Marketers have never hesitated to exploit this relationship – in fact you could even argue that it’s the job of a marketer to do so.

But we aren’t capable of influencing everything that drives human behavior. In his classic 1895 work on human psychology, The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind, Gustave Le Bon wrote:

“The greater part of our daily actions are the result of hidden motives which escape our observation.”

This holds true today, and it unsettles us as digital marketers. The utopian message that underpins our industry is that everything is measurable, with Google AdWords the gold standard bearer in this regard.

Closeup of magnifying glass near ruler and pen on paper background with business chart

Le Bon’s statement is a truism that haunts Facebook, which offers a new form of engagement between consumers and brands, but has been plagued by measurement scandals of late.

Google’s great success has always been in that accurate measurement of actions, and the easily calculable positive ROI that CMOs crave.

Facebook brings that paradox inherent in the quotes from Le Bon and Bernays back to the fore in our industry, as it simply isn’t sufficient to measure actions alone on Facebook.

Google is not immune to these criticisms, either. We have seen this in quite sensationalist terms recently, with Google’s YouTube and Display Network coming under fire for a lack of control on their placements.

This is all the more shocking because we feel let down when the realization hits home that, within current technological restraints, perfect targeting and measurement aren’t quite within our grasp.

Why have we strayed from campaigns designed to shape emotion?

In digital marketing – particularly in search – the truth is that we have never really aimed to shape emotions in our audiences. We understand that emotion is an important driver, but it lends itself more readily to what some dismiss as ‘fluffy metrics’. Therefore, this lies outside the realm of the cold, hard numbers that we take to represent the ineluctable truth of campaign success or failure.

This makes sense, placed in context. As a direct response mechanism, search comes into play once the work to shape emotions has already been done. To be successful, we need to make optimal use of those efforts (TV campaigns, for example), or make up for branding shortfalls, to maximize sales.

That role is slowly changing, and in fact it must do so, if the same companies who managed Google PPC campaigns are now planning to engage in Facebook, Pinterest or Snapchat advertising.

Although all are driven by the auction-based bidding systems that PPC specialists have come to master, the core aspect that will determine the fate of each campaign is an element we have focused on much less in the past: creative assets.

To date, we have come to understand what behavior is, but we still don’t understand why consumers take the actions that they do.

The challenge of measuring emotion online

Leaving aside the ongoing battle between Facebook and Google over data ownership, notably the difficulties in sharing data across their reporting platforms, the fact of the matter is that we will never be comparing apples to apples when we assess these two rivals.

Put simply, the most successful Facebook campaigns manage to shape emotions through great creative, and drive actions through intelligent targeting.

However, even with that in mind, until it cracks measurement Facebook will not be able to overtake Google as the digital advertiser’s go-to platform. Reliable tracking and measurement are non-negotiable aspects of a digital campaign, no matter how great the possibilities may be for using more aspirational creative messaging.

Applying a rational framework to an irrational interaction will inevitably and invariably come up short, but it’s the best we have. Measuring the subconscious is an undeniably complex task, but it is of pressing significance as brand spend slowly permeates its way into digital channels.

Just 5% of content attracts 90% of total digital engagement, so clearly we’re getting this wrong so far. In fact, 95% of all content out there is getting single-digit views.

That level of inefficiency is unsustainable, so we simply need to get better at understanding our audience.

Whoever manages to resolve this paradox could gain access to significant branding budgets, so it should be no surprise that the usual suspects are investing heavily in this area.

How are the tech giants approaching this?

The approaches taken by Google, Apple and Facebook fall broadly into two camps: biometrics and neuroscience.

Progress has been swifter in the former camp, but we should not surmise from these advancements that biometrics alone will provide the answers we seek.

Biometrics techniques measure physical characteristics (pupil dilation and facial expressions, for example), while neuroscience is the study of brain functions and patterns of brain activity. Both tasks are Herculean, but the big tech companies are more likely to make notable gains with biometrics in the short-term.

Google and ‘Satisfaction Value’

Google is planning to incorporate biometrics techniques into its search algorithms, which will also be driven by reinforcement learning.

SEO by the Sea reported on a very interesting patent last year, which contains this image:

This is a crudely-drawn example and perhaps reflects how long Google still have to go in this field, but it is still both a mixture of exciting and disconcerting. Google has termed this metric ‘satisfaction value’, and the measurement of facial expressions will no doubt be viewed in some quarters as overly intrusive.

Google’s Jeff Dean made the following comments to Fortune magazine, which shed some further light on what is going on here:

“It is like in a board game where you can react to how your opponent plays. Eventually after a whole sequence of these actions you get some sort of reward signal.

An example of a messier reinforcement learning problem is perhaps trying to use it in what search results should I show.

There’s a much broader set of search results I can show in response to different queries, and the reward signal is a little noisy.

Like if a user looks at a search result and likes it or doesn’t like it, that’s not that obvious.”

It’s not that obvious, but it could be discernible if Google had access to more data and more sophisticated technology in this field.

The patent also reveals that Google aims to make use of other biometric parameters, including eye twitching, facial flushing, heart rate, body temperature, and blink rate.

As with all such moves, we can expect this to happen incrementally, to the extent that consumers may not even notice these features slowly make their way into their daily lives.

Biometric measurement is just phase one, of course. Facial expressions are limited and open to interpretation, so Google and its rivals will be looking for a further level of confirmation before using this as conclusive evidence.

Neuroscience may ultimately provide the answers to the eternal questions of what really drives people to take actions, but this field understandably will take longer to arrive at those conclusions.

Google is certainly not alone in investing heavily in this area. Just last year, Apple acquired Emotient, a tech company that uses artificial intelligence to infer emotions from facial expressions.

The stage has been set and, given Apple and Google’s respective shares of the smartphone market, once the technology has been mastered, its mainstream adoption will occur quickly – maybe even surreptitiously.

From emotion to action, from action to habit

It is worth considering the vast array of data sources already at our disposal, along with the hardware and software that seek to unite this into one unified view. The average consumer is in possession of products built by exactly the same companies that seek to harness their personal information for commercial gain.

If tracking and measurement catch up with these developments, there may come a time in the not-too-distant future when reporting dashboards and planning documents pay heed to metrics that go far beyond estimated CTR and CPM, to assess the anticipated emotional reaction their creative assets will attract.

That is an alluring prospect and is one that allow our industry to develop significantly, with the possibilities for click fraud reduced and the rewards for useful content increased.

For now, it would be fair to surmise that digital marketers do not refuse to acknowledge the role of emotion in driving actions; it is rather the case that we have made a rod for our own back by insisting on the measurability of everything we do. Until emotion becomes measurable as a contributor towards improved performance, this area may remain an untapped source of creative inspiration.

However, with the collective might of Google, Facebook and Apple, fed by the hastening effect fierce competition has on progress, we may soon enter a fascinating and illuminating era for digital marketing.

The culmination of this process could ultimately see us deliver on the goal of measuring the motives which have, thus far, escaped our observation.