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YouTube Ads ecommerce guide: When, how and why


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Several DTC ecommerce advertisers are doing admirably well with Facebook Ads.

But I don’t think any brand should depend on a single marketing platform.

I’ve written before about how to bring winning Facebook assets over to Google using a Performance Max campaign that replicates the social experience as best as possible.

Today, I want to make a case for when, how, and why to consider YouTube Ads.

What to know before you begin

YouTube is a unique platform – not truly search, not fully social. It’s part of Google, yet it stands on its own. As a result, it’s not easy to master.

I tackled this in 7 important YouTube Ads lessons every media buyer should know. If you don’t want to click through, here’s the gist.

  • Facebook and Instagram combined great targeting with a captive audience to shorten the conversion cycle, spoiling other platforms for many advertisers. On YouTube, users either watch content they enjoy or learn how to do something.
  • YouTube lets you target people based on something they searched for, but they’re not actually searching for it at that moment. This intent lag, combined with the diversity of intent, means the “next step” after YouTube has to be particularly compelling.
  • A brand with a robust organic YouTube program will outdo one that’s using the platform solely for advertising. They have high-quality content waiting for people who end up on their channel from an ad.
  • For brand safety, you can opt out of sensitive categories at the campaign level. Paired with audience and interest targeting, you can effectively lock out people who shouldn’t see your ads.
  • Google leans heavily on automation, so you have to monitor your campaigns. Even with your targeting absolutely right, you still need to feed data back to Google to improve its decision-making.
  • The reporting for video action campaigns is more in-depth and robust than many other Google campaigns, including Performance Max. You can take advantage of this to optimize quickly and intelligently.
  • YouTube fits nicely into a wider marketing or media buying mix, whether you need a new platform to expand your audience or want to scale an existing campaign. But you can only succeed if you know and accept its limitations.
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With that in mind, here’s why direct-to-consumer (DTC) ecommerce brands should consider YouTube Ads.

Why YouTube and DTC ecommerce pair well

Remember the frame of mind people are in when they’re browsing YouTube.

You’ve got folks in theater mode, looking for a solution or catching up on content. And you’ve got people scrolling through Shorts, similar to the endless scroll of social media.

But unlike Facebook, ads on YouTube are interruptive. Whether they appear at the start of a video or in the middle, you’re asking for attention when people would rather be doing something else.

But if there’s one thing DTC ecommerce advertisers are good at, it’s thumb-stopping hooks.

Think with YouTube

Ultimately, both platforms are about the retention graph. Like Facebook, YouTube shows you a chart of how many viewers stay on a video until the end. You’ll want to refer to that chart and tweak your creatives accordingly.

How do you get more people to stay to the end? Make your content more interesting.

With a strong hook and compelling storyline, your “ad” could be anything from a music video to a fix-it guide.

As long as it’s entertaining, people will watch videos several minutes in length because that’s what they came to YouTube for.

Another approach is to build around short-form, snackable content. Take your winning ads from Facebook, chop them up if they’re longer than 60 seconds, and populate your channel with several organic Shorts.

You can use these to start advertising (see below for how to set this up). Any content that does well organically should also do well in the ads platform and vice versa.

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5 recommendations for new YouTube advertisers

It’s easy to get things wrong on YouTube, from unrealistic expectations to expecting crystal clear attribution. But with the right approach, an already strong brand will likely be elevated further.

Here are five things you should do to give your brand the best chance of achieving that.

1. Know what you’re getting into

YouTube has over 2.68 billion users, making it the second-largest search engine behind Google. So once you’ve tapped out other networks – Search, Shopping, Performance Max, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and everything else – YouTube offers tremendous scale to diversify further.

Note: Google’s attribution is largely click-based, so you won’t see as many reported conversions. Both your ROAS and CPA will be lower than you’re accustomed to, while campaigns will need more time before you start seeing the results in post-purchase surveys.

2. Understand the platform

YouTube Shorts is particularly interesting, but Google doesn’t offer the ability to create a Shorts-only campaign. There are ways of getting past this – kind of. 

Create a new video action campaign that targets only mobile devices. This somewhat forces the system to go only to mobile devices, and in that format, it tends to lean towards Shorts. 

Be sure to only provide vertical video assets shorter than 60 seconds.

3. Adopt the right mindset

You won’t get the same ROAS you do on Facebook, at least not the same reported ROAS. But it can provide a similar level of incremental revenue and scale. 

Your approach must differ since YouTube is about creating awareness so other platforms can win more conversions. 

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Whatever revenue is reported by Google, know that it’s just a drop in the bucket in terms of its incremental impact on your business.

4. Don’t try too much at once

If you go in heavy with YouTube, there’s a good chance you won’t get any results. Start with one campaign and see how things go. YouTube is budget-intensive. 

Without sufficient investment, there’s a good chance that you’ll go months without seeing any scale. Or worse, pull the plug on what could have been a high-potential campaign.

5. Use your own attribution

There’s a strong chance you already use post-purchase surveys to ask customers where they first heard about your brand. This is a good way to find people who discovered you on YouTube but converted elsewhere. 

But it’s self-identifying and not foolproof, so you may wish to consider tools like Northbeam or Triple Whale to measure impact. Just remember, no attribution is ever perfect.

YouTube is the next frontier for high-performing ecommerce brands

I like to think of YouTube Ads clicks as the beginning of a beautiful journey.

Some people go on to become website traffic and enter your remarketing campaigns. Some will join your email list. A few may not click or visit your site but think about you later and look for you by name, eventually entering your funnel via a branded ad.

Naturally, attribution and reporting aren’t robust enough to track all that. So you’ll need to be patient, trust in YouTube as well as your own creatives, and look for incremental correlation rather than causation. This means not testing out other platforms as you expand to YouTube.

Keep in mind what YouTube means to people. It’s a source of entertainment, an escape from reality. A place where people go to have their biases confirmed, problems are solved, and businesses and careers are made.

It’s only natural that users value their time there and have demanding attention spans.

But if you’re sitting on winning assets that offer and align with what they’re looking for, ignoring YouTube is as good as leaving money on the table.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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