Welcome to Growth Interviews!
Welcome to Growth Interviews, the fun, stimulating and engaging series of conversations driven by digital business growth.
Our mission is to provide insights and ideas from world-class professionals on the topic of growth and to cut through the noise of so-called marketing tips and tricks, revealing the money-making strategies behind e-commerce.
Each episode is an intriguing challenge involving an insightful expert who reveals some of their best-kept secrets, which you can use right away to boost your business.
In this week’s episode of Growth Interviews, we invite you to join our conversation with Wil Reynolds, founder & director of strategy at Seer Interactive, with over fifteen years of experience in search ads.
Wil has worked across every vertical, from pharmaceuticals and hospital systems to e-commerce and SaaS. Nowadays, he uses big-data tools to look at search, he researches how to disrupt silos between divisions, and he speaks on his YouTube channel about the ups and downs of running a growing agency. Wil is an expert in his domain and a modest person, describing himself as ‘a simple guy who loves (his job), (his) clients and (his) team’.
Check out some of his greatest articles, one per year since 2016:
👉 SEO’s long tail keyword problem
👉 How to write better ad copy using reviews and Ngrams
👉 Why you need Snapchat in your 2016 marketing plan
In the interview, he shares with us both the pleasures and frustrations that any marketer has or will face on their journey to a successful online business.
The full interview is just 11 minutes long, so get ready to embark on a beautiful and insightful digital marketing trip!
Wil Reynolds is always prepared for a challenge! We want to preserve his words for all the marketers around, so here is the video transcript, together with some interesting highlights.
Begin with something that fuels your passion
How did you get into the e-commerce digital landscape?
Wil: I just started knocking on the doors of companies in 1999 that I thought were doing really cool things. I’m kind of a little bit nerdy. I like working on the Internet and I said, ‘Hey, if I’m going to get a job working on the internet, I’ve got to do something I like to do. It’s kind of cool.’
What frustrates you about the current landscape?
Wil: For e-commerce people, the number one thing that’s frustrating me right now is this concept of uploading a feed and not specifically targeting the keywords you want to target.
I just found that out two months ago. My mind was like, ‘Wait a second! Google’s matching you on all these words and the only thing you can do is negate what shows up as a bad match.’ I found that out. Then I went and – I was talking with one of my clients – they said they ran out of negatives and had to completely restructure their accounts. You can run out of negatives? So, the only way I can choose what words I show up for is to negate the ones that Google determines are right for me. Then you’re going to limit the number of negatives I can have? That sounds horrible.
A feed is a database of products or services that can be used in responsive ads. Moreover, you can use a page feed to indicate which URLs to use with your Dynamic Search Ads (DSA).
When you provide a page feed of your landing pages, it helps Google Ads to understand when to show your ads and where to direct people on your website.
Of course, there are limits for business data and feeds, such as:
👉 5 million rows or feed items per account for dynamic ads, ad customizers and extensions
👉 100 user-generated feeds or business data sets per account
👉 3,000 bytes per attribute (roughly 750 – 3000 characters depending on the byte size of the character)
Always invest in your growth ideas
What are your main growth ideas for 2019?
Wil: It’s money. My focus has been less on growth, it’s been more on saving money. Everything that I’ve been talking about is how I join these various datasets, to understand where I’m wasting money in my account. So then, you can invest in your growth ideas.
The worst thing is when you have an idea and a hypothesis that you can’t get the budget for. If I can find ways to save you money, based on things that were never going to convert for you anyway, then you now have the money to test more of your growth ideas.
That’s the way that I typically look at my role as it relates to helping people grow. In e-commerce, I have had a lot of fun. I look at things like the URL mismatching I was talking about earlier today, where a keyword has an intent, but your URLs are telling me that you don’t have that on the page. So, why don’t we fix that?
We did it for one client. Literally just putting women in more of the titles, the rankings went up with 20 percent more clicks on those words, and more conversions. All we were doing was just making sure that we targeted women’s keywords to women’s pages. So simple!
But you’d be surprised at the scale in e-commerce. Those little things are happening all over two million plus keywords.
We are also seeing this lack of making the fundamentals work for you?
Wil: The most interesting thing I think about – and this is true with growth – growth strategies are that no one wants to do the old stuff that just works.
‘Everybody wants something new and there’s this new thing I saw…’ The basics still typically get you 80 percent of the value, so that’s where I’m still stuck right now. How do I manage my negatives? How do I structure my accounts to make sure I save my clients a boatload of money on keywords that weren’t going to make them any money?
They say memory works on emotion. Tell us a story about something emotional about your work in this field.
Wil: It’s around bias. All marketers have bias. If we don’t look at the work we do through a lens of ‘How I can minimize my bias?’, then I’m going to be bidding on words and creating strategies based on a flawed logic.
One of the best examples I can give you – that is just such a great example – is one of our clients in the United States who runs a deck, so you make a deck outside, like a patio. Our client sells decking equipment. People want to do it themselves, so they figure it out and do it themselves: DIY, planning, deck planning. So, I type in the word deck plan. It makes sense. I should target the word deck plan for my client. They help people plan out decks. People that go on cruises also search for the word deck plan because they’re looking for a different deck plan of a cruise ship.
So, now that same word has two different meanings. If I was into cruises, I would have known that. But because I don’t take cruises, I would have never known it. This meant I’m more likely to waste my client’s money until I eventually find that out. So, I’m really big on the fact that we, as marketers, bias our initial set of keywords, and on how we can start to minimize that bias by using bigger and bigger datasets and save a bunch of money. Google doesn’t need any more of our money! They’ve got enough.
Just as we need to be careful about double meanings for the same keyword, always remember to be aware of the keyword match types that can make the difference between a successful ad campaign and a waste of an advertising budget:
👉 Broad match, showing ads on searches that contain misspellings, synonyms, related searches, and other relevant variations.
👉 Broad match modifier, showing ads on searches that contain all the terms designated with a + sign (or close variations of those terms) in any order. Additional words may appear before, after, or between the terms.
👉 Phrase match, showing ads on searches that contain matches of the phrase (or close variations of the phrase) with additional words before or after.
👉 Exact match, showing ads on searches that contain exact matches of the term, or close variations of that exact term with the same meaning.
The domination of venture capitalists in digital marketing
Do think marketers will continue to pay tribute to bigger companies to capture online attention?
Wil: I think it’s all that. It’s sad to say, but the minute anything gets big enough, all the companies that have a chance to give Google, Facebook or Twitter real competition, are all funded by venture capital.
The goal of venture capitalis ‘How do I sell this business to get a huge return?’The problem becomes once anything gets big enough, investors are going to be like, ‘You’re selling to the highest bidder.’ Well, who has the most money? Google, Facebook, and Apple. You’re living in a world where if you could compete with them, they have enough money just to buy you, so you don’t compete. Until we start to break them up or something, I think they’re just going to continue to dominate.
Looking at the car industry, for instance, if you are highly innovative like Tesla, they could outcompete General Motors or other well-established companies.
Wil: Yeah, but General Motors is dumb. Google’s not that dumb. Google’s missed the chance to buy Facebook and Twitter. They know that pain. Now it’s not worth it for them to ever let another social platform or anything go by them, because they’re now like, ‘We missed out on that!’
Facebook buys Instagram for billions of dollars. It’s a sixteen-person company! Why? Because they’re afraid that it’s gonna hurt their cash cow and they have so much money that their bid can be the highest.
The venture capitalists want the maximum return on their investment. As long as we live in that world, where everything is about giving me maximum return on investment, I think that they’re always going to sell to the companies with the most money: Google, Facebook and Apple.
Change your online behavior!
How do you feel about the low trust in marketers and salespeople?
Wil: You know what? Here it is. Get off Facebook! I think we owe it. It’s easy to say, ‘Oh, Facebook’s bad!’ Are you going to get off Facebook? ‘Well, I… no.’ Well, then, when is it ever going to change? Because Facebook will start acting differently, when people stop using Facebook. Google will start acting differently, when people stop using Google.
I got rid of Chrome. I now use Brave as my browser. I have made Duck Duck Go my default search engine, but because it protects your privacy so much, it actually creates a problem. If I search for pizza on my phone, I want something local. Duck Duck Go is like, ‘We don’t take your location.’ I’m like, ‘Well, then you’re actually useless to me.’
Google’s made me so used to being able to type things in, and they use other things they know about me to give me a better experience, that actually I have a hard time sometimes using the Duck Duck Go. But if you use Duck Duck Go or Bing, I think that has to start with us, individually, saying, ‘I’m going to change my behaviors and the tools that I use.’ Otherwise, we’re just going to keep giving them more money.
They’re going to react the minute their monthly users and monthly searches start dropping. But they’re not. We’re not changing our behavior, so they’re not changing theirs.
Structure your data
What is your take on AI and machine learning in digital marketing?
Wil: I think it’s a lot of hype right now. I think most people cannot describe for you how the AI or machine learning is actually helping them to make better marketing decisions today. Everybody’s saying, ‘Machine learning, AI!’ and you’re like, ‘Great! How are you using it in your organization today? Give me a story on how you’re using AI or machine learning, that happened in the last two weeks that helped you to do something that you would otherwise not have been able to do.’
Blank! Most people are talking about it, but don’t truly understand if it’s helping or not. I can’t tell you how many pitches I see, ‘We’re gonna use machine learning to do this and it’s great!’ But what’s that going to do for me? ‘Well, it’s machine learning, you know!’ and they’re just like, ‘Eh…’
You need to understand machine learning and AI enough to understand where it adds value and where it’s hype and spinning. Because, if your data is not clean, you can’t run machine learning on it for the most part and we get the unstructured data, but we’re not going to get into that today. But, for the most part, if your data is not clean, you can’t run machine learning on it. You have to have it structured and scheme it out, so the machines can learn what’s happening. Most people don’t have their data structured, so you can’t do a lot of AI and machine learning until you get your data structured.
Find a way to look closely at customer retention
What is your take on customer retention?
Wil: Here’s an example. We’ve been told that you can bring all this data together and you can see your customer lifetime value, you can see the repeat-buys and all this. Then, when you actually go to do it, it’s really freaking difficult. People change browsers, cookies break, we’re in the EU and there are a lot of things going on. Apple comes out and is like, ‘Hey, we’re not letting you put any of these cookies.’
I think it’s really hard to do, but yet I think a lot of folks will say, ‘I know how many of my buyers are repeat.’ and you’re like, ‘OK, let me go buy from your site on my desktop, then I’m going to do it on my phone, in Brave, incognito, then like this.’ I am the same customer buying five different times. You can’t fingerprint my browser, you can’t do this, this or that. How are you going to determine that’s me?
You need the email address to be able to do that, but then it’s like, ‘I’ll buy some stuff on my Gmail account, I might order some stuff on my bike to work.’ There’s an inconsistency of problems in the data. I think it’s very hard to fix. Maybe that’s why they are avoiding it, because you look under it and it sounds great. If you go to look under, you’re like, ‘That’s really hard! Put it back down. I got goals to hit this month.’
Still, you can promote yourself like, ‘If you log in, you’ll have your loyalty points!’ like you are doing on Prime. But they are not doing it – that’s a different story.
Email is huge. One thing I love about e-commerce is the fact that email’s huge. This is because it’s the unique identifier that takes all those funnel activities and brings them into one place. The problem is when you try to go back up into those funnels doing the attribution. It’s really tough.
As tough as it may seem, customer retention and focus are crucial in the survival of e-commerce businesses.
A while ago, we even said to ourselves, ‘We broke marketing!’ So, we went through the basics again, to make sure we would not repeat the same mistakes.
We even thought about what we could possibly ask an online shopper who abandoned their cart.
Do what you love and you’ll never work another day in your life! On your journey in digital marketing for e-commerce, be ready to invest in your growth ideas, face the challenges of the biggest companies you can hardly compete with, embrace change, and find the best ways to gather, structure and properly use your customer data.
We had the pleasure to meet Wil Reynolds during GPeC (Gala Premiilor eCommerce – E-commerce Awards Gala) in Bucharest, Romania. GPeC is known as the most important E-Commerce Event in Romania and South-Eastern Europe, bringing together the best international experts in the field. Their objective is to become the place where you can find everything about e-commerce and digital marketing.
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