The Top 24 SEM Insights From SMX Advanced 2018

SMX Advanced 2018 wrapped up earlier this week at the Bell Harbour Center in Seattle and search marketers are returning home inspired with fresh insights to inject into their campaigns. Our team flew west from Montreal to exhibit at the show and discuss our machine learning technology with the expert crowd that attends every year.  

The conference was filled to the brim with the top minds in the search community, including a surprise visit during the keynote from a beloved former Googler, Matt Cutts! SMX Advanced attendee, Ryan Boots, reacted to the surprise guest and shared his insights about AMP pages with us below:

Insights like these are the reason search marketers like us head to Seattle every year. We also went to see if we won a Landy award! While there was of course a ton of expert SEO tactics shared, we were there to focus on the SEM track. Get out your pens and pencils because here are the 24 best insights from the SEM sessions we covered!

SMX SEM Insights: Bidding

#1. Last May Google adjusted minimum ad rank thresholds so it weighs bids more heavily and quality score means less. So first page non-brand minimum bids went up.

#2. Amazon is one of the largest search query landscape disruptors. You can actually bid on Amazon keywords, which is going to be expensive, but if you have a good enough ad and landing page you may actually be able to take some of that market share back.


SMX SEM Insights: Voice Search

#3. “OK Google” is not read as part of the search query, so people who are trying to add these queries into their keywords are probably doing this uselessly. Search engines are stripping out this part of the voice command because they don’t add anything to the query of what someone is trying to achieve from their voice command.


#4. There are a lot of assumptions about how voice search will shape paid search and one is that we’ll have to optimize for more conversational queries. But we’re not seeing this in actuality and there hasn’t been a dramatic increase in question-related queries alongside the rise of voice search. Right now we’re seeing that voice search isn’t that different from type queries (Google has data that the length of these two types of queries isn’t that different). Therefore virtual assistants and voice search won’t likely radically change how people search and how we optimize our campaigns.


#5. Instead of setting up audiences, trigger events based on what people actually do. So only if someone has seen the shopping basket are they randomly assigned to a test or control group. Use a javascript randomizer in Analytics, so you’re building audiences in a more compelling way.


The presenter hadn’t quite figured out yet how to trigger events based on recency and engagement, but concluded in his initial research that if you can isolate an audience based on those two factors you should bid highest on it.

SMX SEM Insights: Testing/Optimization

#6. “Fast shipping” is growing faster than “Free Shipping” according to data plotting the growth of Google queries triggering text ads and/or organic results that include shopping terms.

#7. If you’re looking at overall performance, close variants mean less, but if you are using close variants the only way to manage these is looking at your search terms report and negative keywords.

#8. Interestingly for keyword researchers, “near me” searches have risen in parallel with US city type searches until the end of 2016. Today there has been a sharp decline in city-based searches, which suggests users are understanding that their devices are detecting where they are. But this means Google has to do a really good job of matching. Double interesting, the share of US google paid search traffic tracked to the zip code has increased simultaneously.


#9. We have a measurability problem. We don’t know how impactful our work is. AI is helping, but we need to build data science capabilities into our team. Even if things go slower, you’re making sure you’re going in the right direction and ensuring you’re saving money. The attribution issue lingers over all our experiments and tests.


#10. We should be able to weigh brand campaigns differently in attribution and exclude them. So if attribution is on in your AdWords account, your branded keywords are being included unless you drop these campaigns out of your account! This is a problem because we can’t measure properly and a feature request for Google. (The only hack for now is to open a second AdWords account for your branded campaigns.)

#11. Click fraud is a problem in experiments, despite blocked IPs. But Google has a max of 500 blocked IP addresses and we don’t know what happens beyond that. So the best thing to do is to actually test and see if your performance is being impacted.

#12. Smart display finally got smart enough over the holidays. Placements and ROAS were good, and for the first time display was working like search campaigns do.


#13. Take your data and map it to click-to-call and CRMs to identify the professional roles of your searchers. You can also use paid search to help by mapping the term people used as a title in form fills. You may find that the titles of those clicking your ads is different than what you expected and you can adjust your ad copy accordingly.

bill hunt smx advanced 2018 image


#14. Auto applied ads got higher CTRs, but lower conversion rates and ROAS. The auto applied ads mostly just took text from H1s, so they didn’t actually write anything.

#15. Does rotate vs optimize always work? The rotate setting works best if you’re actively testing, while the optimize setting works best if not.

#16. Creativity, empathy, strategy, storytelling and communication is where humans are still winning. But don’t try to beat the computer at math.


#17. Approximately 2.5% of mobile clicks will go to the message extension. Marketers can connect chat bot to message extensions in their campaigns that will process lead qualification and carry the conversation (PPC_Sean then showed us how to do exactly that!).


#18. We’re a ways off from fully relying on Google for automated SEM. Even with fully automated bidding they tell you to change your CPA targets and ROAS bidding, so it’s not fully hands off or automated. Google can’t automate what is unique about each of our businesses.


SMX SEM Insights: Reporting

#19. Adapt your data to your audience. Executives want to see one type of data, everyone else wants to see another. Executives see the bigger picture. Data point values must be obvious. Show value so they don’t have to think about it. Executives love factoid reports with quick stats and insights that they can repeat.

– @billhunt

#20. Adobe data analytics infrastructure revealed! It’s super important to map out your data sources to fully understand all your inputs and outputs. It took Adobe 1.5 years and a large team to implement this tracking:

Adobe data infrastructure presented at SMX Advanced 2018

#21. How do you measure success? Ask each manager what KPI matters most to them.


#22. Think about reports like ads “how do we present the right metrics to the right audience at the right time”

#23. Use the Minto pyramid principle in reporting and lead your reports with the answer or the conclusion. Then give argument and evidence. This technique really helps for long meetings, so you avoid getting to the best part in the last 5 mins of the meeting when attention spans are low and you have to run out the door.

#24. Show visualizations with data because it better matches how we actually think – we can understand and take action much faster. Show the impact of what would happen if your recommendation was not implemented to help push decisions through decision makers.


See You Soon Seattle

Although we didn’t actually take home a Landy Award this year, we were winning the whole time in Seattle. From the rooftop event on night one, to the amazing insights shared and questions asked in sessions, to the lively crowd at our booth (not to mention Seattle is a stunning city full of things to discover), we had a blast.

To anyone who couldn’t make it out this year, you can check out all the presentations here. Thanks to Search Engine Land and Third Door Media for putting on another great event, we’re always happy to be a part of it. We hope to see you all next year for more SMX insights fresh from Seattle!

Image Credits


Featured Image: Unsplash/Claudel Rheault

Images 1, 2, 4, 6: Via Twitter

Image 3, 5: Screenshots by Chandal Nolasco da Silva. Taken June 2018 from Marketing Land Events.

Video 1, 2, 3: Footage captured by Joel Ward at SMX Advanced in Seattle on June 12 & 13, 2018.


Chandal Nolasco Da Silva

Chandal Nolasco Da Silva

With nearly a decade of digital marketing experience, Chandal has created content strategies for both the biggest and sometimes the most unexpected markets, while developing strategic relationships with editors and publishers. Chandal contributes to some of the highest authority industry publications, has been featured in industry events and is thrilled to be Acquisio’s Content Director.

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