The finite era of “actionable insights”

For years, “actionable insights” have been the Holy Grail for data analytics companies. Actionable insights, the thinking goes, are the end product of data collection, aggregation, analysis, and judgment. They enable a decision-maker to modify behavior and achieve desired outcomes.

The process begins with data collection, which can take many forms. There’s a big difference between collecting data and aggregating it in a meaningful way that can provide a picture of reality. That’s the “insights” part of the puzzle. First, you need high-quality data, then you need the technological prowess to clean and organize it.

With high-quality data that’s been cleaned and organized, the next step is to provide context. This is the realm of companies like Tableau, which provide tools that translate machine-friendly data points into human-friendly visualizations that strive to depict an objective picture of current conditions.

But whereas a snapshot of current conditions may, in fact, yield new and meaningful insights (for example, if I look ‘sales numbers’ across an organization I can see which channels are over- or under-performing), human judgment has always been paramount in choosing a particular action. A perfect picture of static conditions doesn’t by itself offer any suggestions as to how to achieve particular outcomes. We still rely on management to tweak sales incentives or redistribute resources.

Or at least we did, up until recently. Machine learning is now shifting the balance of institutional decision-making. Advances in processing and algorithmic self-improvement mean that computers can now anticipate future outcomes and take steps to maximize particular ones. Intelligent systems can now see the world in shades of gray and evaluate likelihoods from multitudes of variables far beyond human comprehension.

That’s the world we currently live in, and the evidence is all around us. Machine learning algorithms have swayed elections by stoking targeted outrage. Our clothes, food, and consumer products are designed according to data-driven analytics. Every design feature in your favorite app is being constantly optimized according to how computers anticipate your future behavior. It’s why YouTube is actually pretty good at showing you videos that keep you engaged.

The day is coming when we will no longer require “actionable insights,” because the action will have already been taken. Nobody at YouTube is looking at your viewing history to determine what to recommend next. Computers do that. The value of the stock market is now largely driven by automated trading algorithms, and as a consequence, there are fewer stock analysts than there used to be. Not only can computers process information far better than humans, but they’ve also demonstrated better financial judgment.

The day will soon arrive when “actionable insights” will seem like a quaint notion from a simpler time. Computers will be smart enough to act on insights by themselves. In doing so, they may, in fact, diminish the need for human oversight.

Until then, however, human enterprise is still structured around hierarchies of decision-making and judgment. The CEO of a company still needs to delegate day-to-day responsibilities to human actors whose knowledge and judgment have proven sound.

And so, for now, we still need actionable insights. Data analytics companies will continue to build better mousetraps, until the day when there are no longer mice.

Gil Rachlin, SVP of Products and Partnerships at Synup.

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An introduction to Google Ads Video Ad Sequencing (VAS)

Video Ad Sequencing (VAS) is a recent addition to the Google Ads video campaign types that allows advertisers to, “…tell your product or brand story by showing people a series of videos in the order that you define.” But it is really a lot more.

Video Ad Sequencing can be used to take your target audience on a video journey based upon, to a limited extent, their behavior. By telling a story VAS lets you drive deeper awareness, engagement, and consideration.

Examples of Video Sequencing usage

Let’s say you want to let people know about “Five key elements of your product” and why it makes you better than the competition. With VAS, you can effectively ensure that potential customers see each video, in a set sequence.

We used VAS with one of our clients which had one long-form video that was just too long to capture the short attention span of users on YouTube. So, instead, we split the ad into five short vignettes, each with a quick intro and value-prop within the first five seconds (which is the non-skippable length of a video ad) to ensure our message got out before a user could skip the full 30-second video. We then set up a VAS campaign that would show these ads, in sequence, so that users would see the full story and all of the value that the product could offer.

What’s great about VAS is that you can go beyond a flat sequence and actually vary the content a user sees, depending on how they interact with each video in the sequence. For example, let’s say a user skips your first ad, rather than having them continue through your sequence, you can say, show them an alternate video outside of your sequence. If they skip that too, then you drop them entirely out of the sequence.

Another potential usage of Video Ad Sequencing

Another potential usage of Video Ad Sequencing is rewarding users for watching your content or calling out when they skip your videos. You can show videos to users that skipped your prior videos in sequence, meaning you can show them alternate content such as alternate value propositions, drop them out of the sequence, or even directly address with the audience that they skipped your prior video but you still really think your product is right for them. Alternatively, if a user views your first video, you can put them into a sequence with longer-form content for the second video, effectively creating exclusive content that only those viewers get to see.

Things you must know

The settings allow for you to dictate what content a user sees after they see an ad (impression) without watching, viewed an ad (watch the full video if shorter than 30-seconds or at least 30-seconds if the video is longer), or skipped an ad.

What you end up with is a flow like this

Video Ad Sequencing example on YouTube

 

If you are looking to try out video ad sequencing keep this in mind – you are limited to target CPM or Maximum CPV bidding and you cannot target by content.

This means no specific placements, topics, or keywords (you can exclude them though). You can really only target them by demographics and target audiences. YouTube does not currently allow custom affinity or custom intent audiences so you are stuck with life events or In-Market Audiences. Google recommends testing sequencing alongside brand lift studies, which basically means: “This campaign can spend a lot if you let it.”

Available bid strategies

  • Target CPM (Recommended by Google)
    • With Target CPM, we optimize bids to show your entire sequence campaign to your audience, which can help you get a higher sequence completion rate.
  • Maximum CPV

Ad formats include the following

  •  Skippable in-stream ads
  •  Non-skippable in-stream ads
  •  Bumper ads
  •  A combination of the above

The bid strategy you select also dictates the ad formats you can use

Bidding type                                             Available formats

Target CPM (tCPM)                                  Skippable in-stream ads

Non-skippable in-stream ads

Bumper ads

A combination of the above

Maximum CPV (CPV)                              Skippable in-stream ads

Source: Google

I would also strongly recommend mapping out your sequence before-hand. Every step of a sequence is set as a new ad group in the campaign, so it can get big and messy quite quickly.

It’s also good to know how you want to deal with the different interactions at different steps in the sequence. Just because a user skips one video, doesn’t mean they won’t watch another and get back into sequence. But similarly, if a user skips your video(s), do you really want to keep showing them ads in the sequence they care nothing about? Maybe at that point, you show them a totally unrelated tried-and-true video and then drop them out of the sequence.

My testing with Video Ad Sequencing so far has been limited, but I am very excited about the opportunity to keep working with several of our larger clients on sequencing. It is a really powerful tool that Google has shown can grow brand awareness and consideration.

Next, I’ll have a guide for setting up your first video ad sequence should you still need help.

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YouTube optimization and intent: Q&A with goop’s Courtney Messerli

At The Transformation of Search Summit next month, we’re very excited to hear from Courtney Messerli, Director of Ecommerce and Search at goop, the brand founded by Gwyneth Paltrow.

She’ll be giving a session called, “Optimizing for the world’s second largest search engine: YouTube.”

courtney messerli speaker on youtube optimization

Courtney has built her career in search engine optimization, including previous roles as Global SEO Specialist at Anthropologie and SEM & SEO Specialist at Nasty Gal.

YouTube and video optimization are topics a lot of us are keen to learn a lot more about. There are more than 1.9 billion people who use YouTube every month, and people are spending over a billion hours watching videos every day on the platform. Video traffic as a whole is predicted to account for 75% of all mobile traffic by 2020. There is a big opportunity for brands, publishers and video creators to expand their reach.

Tell us about your role at goop?

I manage ecommerce and SEO at goop. I match user intent to quality products and services via search (both on and off site), YouTube, and our website’s marketing and merchandising placements on the homepage and category pages.

What are your key priorities over the next twelve months?

Goop is in the process of launching a new contextual commerce experience to better meet the needs of users who are reading and shopping on our website.

We first want to meet users’ informational intent by delivering educational content across their topics of interest. Once informational intent has been met, we also want to deliver on their transactional intent by featuring compelling products in the appropriate site placements.

Another priority is improving site speed. With Google’s mobile first index, site speed has become increasingly important.

What’s an interesting trend you’re seeing in the market right now?

The rise of zero-click searches on Google. Targeting featured snippets has become increasingly important.

How do you expect it will change in the next 6-12 months?

I anticipate that the percentage of zero-click searches will continue to rise in the next 6-12 months. With this, I anticipate heightened awareness of this trend driven by Sparktoro and other sources. Advertisers and SEOs will become more focused on On-SERP SEO and featured snippet targeting.

Tell us a bit about your session at the Search Summit?

I’ll be providing an overview on how YouTube search intent differs from Google search intent and how to develop a YouTube strategy accordingly.

Along with this, I’ll give actionable advice on goal setting, KPIs to optimize for, key ranking factors, ways to drive visibility to your channel, and recommended tools to use. 

What are you looking forward to most at the Summit?

As much as I’m looking forward to the sessions, I am most excited for the networking aspect! I’m constantly driving my (non-search industry) friends crazy discussing SEO trends and strategy 🙂  

What’s one of your favorite search technologies and why?

GTMetrix for site speed tracking. This tool provides actionable recommendations for enhancing site speed and performance. 

What’s something you do every day that helps you be more successful or productive?

My morning routine is everything. I wake up early, work out, listen to a podcast or new music, drink cold brew and do my skincare routine. I’ve never been one to roll out of bed and head straight to work — I need to linger in my personal life a bit first. 


Ps — You can check out goop’s YouTube channel here.

Hope to see you at the event!

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