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Closing the Loop: Turning Social Media Prospects into Search Conversions

Where Google and Facebook Meet

To the average internet user, Google and Facebook serve very different purposes. One is used primarily for searching out specific, and increasingly localized, information. The other is for sharing personal updates, staying in touch with family and friends scattered around the world and watching cat videos — lots of cat videos. Can you guess which is which?

Marketers use Google and Facebook for different purposes as well. While search tools like Google Ads are primed for capturing direct sales, Facebook is better suited for brand development and prospecting, because buying behavior follows different patterns on this platform. Facebook users typically don’t take a direct line to purchase. Instead, they’ll click an ad and spend time browsing an advertiser’s website before eventually returning to Facebook for more of those cat videos.

Somewhere down the line, however, they’ll remember that product, make the decision to buy and then search it out online. It’s not easy to locate a specific ad within Facebook, however, so most shoppers turn to Google in an attempt to find exactly what they’re looking for. It’s here — where Facebook and Google meet — that many advertisers fail to close the loop. Without a strategy in place for turning these social media prospects into search conversions, marketers will lose out on sales, or worse, lose sales to the competition. 

Fortunately, a simple Google Analytics tool is the key to solving this problem. 

Using the RLSA Feature in Google Analytics

Google Analytics includes a feature called Retargeting Lists for Search Ads (RLSA) which allows users to segment website traffic. As long as tagging is set up correctly at the campaign level, you can use this feature to create a segment of users who visited your website from a Facebook ad. 

Here’s how to set up an RLSA segment within Google Analytics:

First, click the admin gear button on the lower left corner of your analytics panel and select User Management. Then, under Audience Definitions, click the Audiences link and select the red +NEW AUDIENCE button. 

When the Audience Definitions panel appears, click Create New then select Conditions. This is what the panel should look like with a correctly defined source and tagged campaign:

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After you’ve created this audience segment, it can be imported directly into the Google Ads platform and used as a campaign audience. Google Analytics updates this segment in real time, so once it’s been created, you’ll never have to touch it again. 

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Simply select Google Ads, hit the Publish button and you’re done.

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Your new RLSA audience should now appear under the remarketing tab in your Google Ads audience list.

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This feature is so powerful, because it allows advertisers to target search audiences based on their behavior, rather than just by their keyword use. This extra bit of information can revolutionize your Google advertising strategy. 

Optimize Your Bidding Strategies with RLSA

Under a typical bidding strategy, Google Ads users place higher bids on long tail search terms and lower bids on more general keywords. Imagine you’re selling socks, for example. You might choose to bid more for a term like women’s low-cut crew socks or performance moisture-wicking socks because you assume users searching for these very specific terms are deep in the buying process and will be more likely to purchase your product. In turn, long tail terms tend to have higher conversion rates and deliver a more efficient return on ad spend (ROAS).

Conversely, you’d be more likely to place a lower bid on general terms such as socks because your ads will face more competition from general products and will be less likely to match the searcher’s exact intent. As a result, these general terms convert at a lower rate and produce a lower ROAS.

By using RLSA audiences, however, advertisers can now factor behavior into their bidding strategy. Returning to our example, if a Google user is searching for a general term like socks and has also visited your site via a Facebook ad, there’s a good chance they’re either in the research phase or following up on one of your prospecting ads.

With this extra information, advertisers can now place larger bids on general keyword terms, and in turn, rank higher on results pages. This strategy allows advertisers to strengthen their position versus the competition for buyers in the research phase. It also ensures they’ll capture more sales for buyers seeking out their products directly, rather than losing them to the competition. 

RLSA segments are a great tool for optimizing your general keyword strategy, but these lists can also be applied across the board to strengthen performance for all the keywords in your account. 

Don’t Forget Google Shopping

Over the last few years, Google Shopping ads have steadily increased their search engine results page (SERP) share. This is due in large part to their higher engagement rates and lower cost-per-click (CPC) compared to text ads. As a result, marketers should include Google Shopping into their ad mix whenever possible. 

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Google Shopping doesn’t allow keyword targeting. Instead, advertisers adjust their bids up and down to influence their search position. Products with lower bids will only show up in specific searches, while products with higher bids will show up in both specific and more general searches. That means advertisers must exert more control over their bids or their products will show up in irrelevant junk searches that harm ad performance. 

By applying RLSA audiences to Google Shopping ads, advertisers can use behavior to help predict intent and adjust their bidding accordingly. If you already know a Google user has visited your site via a Facebook ad, you can place higher bids knowing there’s a good chance the user is searching for your specific product even when they’re using general search terms.

This tactic will again strengthen your position against the competition and improve your chances of capturing social media prospects without sacrificing your ROAS performance. 

Set and Test Different Date Ranges

RLSA results decrease as time goes on. For example, if you’re targeting someone who visited your site from a Facebook ad 30 days ago, there’s a good chance they’ve already completed their buying journey. Fortunately, you can set date ranges on your RLSA lists.


Once you’ve defined the conditions of your RLSA Facebook audience within Google Analytics, you can select the membership duration based on the number of days. Begin by segmenting your ads using a few different dates ranges — seven days, 14 days and 30 days is a good place to start. Once you’ve compared these test results, you can adjust your bidding strategies accordingly. 

Close the Loop and Capture More Conversions

Despite their different uses, Google and Facebook can work together to optimize your digital marketing. By incorporating RLSA audiences into your advertising strategy, you’ll begin closing the gap between these two powerful platforms by capturing more of the prospecting traffic your campaigns would otherwise miss out on. This simple adjustment has the potential to deliver huge dividends, allowing you to watch cat videos in peace, safe in the knowledge that your Google advertising campaigns have been fully optimized.

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