Gmail Sponsored Promotions: Everything You Need To Know To Succeed At Direct Response With GSP, Part 1
Now that GSPs are available to all advertisers, columnist Susan Waldes shares what she's learned from participating in the lengthy beta.
Gmail Sponsored Promotions (GSP) have been around for about two years as a Google beta. The platform has gone through many changes during that time, and just last month, Google officially opened up GSP to any advertiser.
Google hasn’t heavily promoted the product; the first major surge of interest I’ve seen was when Wordstream founder Larry Kim spoke on The Top 10 PPC Marketing Hacks of All Time at SearchFest in Portland recently. His presentation prompted a flurry of interest, and one of his hacks is using Gmail Sponsored Promotions.
— Frances Donegan-Ryan (@FrancesDR) February 27, 2015
Given all the interest, I decided it was time to share my experiences with GSP. I was fortunate to get access to the earliest beta two years ago and have been working in the platform since then. I’ve had the opportunity to run campaigns for a dozen different advertisers, and I’ve had a good chance to develop some solid best practices.
Today, in the first installment of my two-part series on Gmail Sponsored Promotions, I am going to share fundamentals and best practices of advertising with Gmail Sponsored Promotions. Part 2 will include more advanced information on how to use advanced targeting capabilities and creative best practices to drive amazing “PPC-like” direct response performance from GSP for almost any advertiser.
What Is Gmail Sponsored Promotions?
GSP is a unique ad type that shows up only in personal Gmail boxes (it does not show in Google business apps email boxes) in the promotions tab.
The ad is comprised of 2 creative elements: a teaser ad and an expanded ad unit. The teaser has a 25 character text headline and 100 characters of body text. There is also a 50×50 image in the ad and the “Company Name” you declare.
For people using the Gmail “Rich Promotions” beta, the teaser drops the body text and instead shows a (customizable) 580×400 preview of your expanded ad.
An advertiser is charged on a CPC basis when a user clicks the teaser unit. This opens the expanded ad which is a 600×1000 (maximum) piece of simple html that can feature images, text, links, a form field, embedded videos, and click-to-call phone numbers.
There are no additional costs should the user click the expanded ad and visit an advertiser’s site or take any other action within the expanded ad unit.
These ads are managed in a standalone platform outside of AdWords. (Though Google is testing GSP management within the AdWords platform, this is not widely available.)
Any advertiser can now participate in GSP, but you do still need a Google rep to activate your account. This can be done in the U.S. by calling the main Google support line at 866-2-GOOGLE. Also, a prerequisite for entry is that you must have an AdWords account and be on invoicing rather than credit card billing within that account.
Who Should Use GSP?
GSP is what I call an “impression-based medium.” This means that a user is exposed to your ad without explicitly asking about what you offer (as opposed to search, where users declare intent with their keyword queries).
Like other impression-based advertising media, such as Facebook ads or Google Display Network targeting, you narrow down who sees your ad to those you deem most likely to be interested in your offerings.
GSP does have some very unique targeting capabilities (which I’ll discuss in-depth in part 2 of this article). The big picture here is to remember that this is not search; you are asking the user to do something outside of them “telling you” they are interested in your offerings right at this moment. This mindset should drive your targeting, creative design and campaign goals.
For advertisers going after leads and those whose conversion goal is a free trial or freemium model, GSP works well at driving these “free” conversions without a whole lot of fuss. It’s pretty easy to get somebody to commit to filling out a few form fields or any other “free” action, even if they aren’t in “commitment” mode when they see your ad.
If you are marketing a new freemium project management software solution, simply targeting people with an interest in “project management” in GSP will probably be enough to drive cost-effective free trials.
If you are in e-commerce and asking people to actually pull out their credit card and spend money, GSP can work for you, too. You do need to be more careful with your targeting, messaging and expectations, though.
For e-commerce sites where users order many times during their lifetime, GSP can be great for driving incremental revenue from your current customer base by using domain targeting on your own domain. It can support your email messaging and highlight specials and sales.
GSP can also be a source of new customer acquisitions for e-commerce, but try to think of acquisition in a shallow way to make this succeed. You may want to simply collect prospects’ email addresses via GSP and nurture those customers to revenue down the line.
Alternatively, consider offering a daily deal or “offer you can’t refuse” purchase, and use it as an acquisition loss leader rather than asking people to commit to a purchase they simply may not be ready for no matter how much they are interested in your products.
Put simply, if you exclusively sell $3,000 couches via AdWords and you do so without any top-funnel shallow acquisition and nurturing within your marketing efforts, GSP is not the channel that will directly drive more couch sales for you.
Instead, spend some time developing acquisition and email nurturing initiatives, then come back and consider GSP to acquire incremental top-funnel interest when you have learned how to nurture that interest into sales down the line.
Basic Targeting Capabilities
GSP targeting has all the main functionality you are accustomed to using with Google Display Network (GDN) campaigns, plus some unique targeting capabilities.
In terms of the conventional stuff, you can target device (called “client” in this email environment), geography (with all the same nomenclature and targets that can be used in AdWords), language, and gender. Those form the basis of your target.
On top of that, you use “user attribute” targeting to form your audiences. These user attribute targets are defined by the content of a user’s last 300 emails in their Gmail box.
If you use GDN, you are likely familiar with keyword/contextual targets and interest targets, which are both available in GSP. The remaining three targeting types are fairly unique: domain targeting, purchase history targeting and job title targeting. Note that Job Title and Purchase history targeting types have smaller scale, but can be combined intelligently to form meaningful audience sizes and can be appropriate for very niche products.
In part 2 of this series, I will go into depth on the best targeting methodologies for various business goals.
The most granular reporting provided in GSP is the “Criteria” report. Each target that you choose in your campaign targeting will be a row on the criteria report. Anything “implicitly” included does not get reported on.
For instance, if you choose all genders, your reporting shows a row for “all genders.” If instead, you choose both male and female individually, you will get reporting on the performance of each in isolate.
Because of this, it is always preferable to “split” your targeting as much as possible. Do choose both male and female if you intend to target both. Choose each age range, not “All.” Instead of a “United States” geographical target, put in all 50 states (and DC).Other reporting includes a “time report” that trends activity by days or hours and a “conversion report” that gives some simple metrics (total conversions, views per conversion and clicks per conversion) on each “action” associated with your campaign. These actions include clicks to your site, all conversion goals you track in AdWords, and in-ad actions such as click-to-calls or video views.
Additionally, there is a “Campaign Health” report. I’ve learned from extensive experience in the platform to ignore the “sky is falling” tone of this report. Most of the metrics Google uses to determine “Campaign Health” have nothing to do with your direct response goals.
It’s alarming to see lots of “Missed Opportunities” or “Poor Health” statuses here, but they don’t necessarily equate to much. The useful part of this reporting is the “Auction Summary Report,” which shows what is happening with your ad and the audience that you have targeted. It can help define where you have opportunity to scale, why your ad isn’t showing, and if your creative is being exhausted within your target.
Now that you have the fundamentals, I’ll leave you with a couple additional helpful tips at getting started in GSP.
First, all campaigns should either target mobile or desktop and should have an ad unit and a goal that suits one or the other channel.
Tip: the device targeting is a bit hidden, you have to click on “Clients” to see the choices.
Most advertisers who have blown through massive amounts of money unsuccessfully in GSP have run campaigns on “All Clients” that had a desktop oriented conversion goal. The net result is typically that 90% of your cost was in mobile clicks that had a bad user experience.
Second, expect lots of bidding “headroom”. Often when I bid $1, I end up paying 15 cents. Sometimes for the same campaign, I can’t get impressions if I bid .50.
When you are trying to determine what to bid for a campaign, just keep your daily budget very low and “step up” your bid until you can get a sense of what you need to bid in order to show, and what that equates to in terms of real average CPC. Once you are comfy with those levels, then you can increase your daily budget.
Finally, I’ve been able to drive results in GSP that exceed paid search performance both in having lower CPA’s and showing higher post-conversion quality metrics (things like higher lead scores and larger lifetime values). BUT they haven’t lasted forever on autopilot.
GSP requires frequent creative refreshes and mining for new audiences to continue performing. If you are targeting the same limited pool of a couple hundred thousand people with the same creative forever, expect some performance attrition to begin in 2-6 weeks and be prepared to rest your campaigns if you are unable to continue refreshing creative and targets.
Look out for part 2 of this series, where I will go into depth on advanced targeting and creative techniques that will take your Gmail Sponsored Promotions campaigns to the next level.