What We Learned from Our Trip to Google HQ

What is Google Engage | Arriving | Performance Marketing | Optimization | Journey of the Customer | Focus Groups | Direct Response with TruView Ads | Art, Copy & Code | Leaving

Today’s blog post is a wrap-up of the Google Engage All-Stars Summit and was written by Joshua Kinney, COCG’s Search Engine Marketing Manager. It’s a long post, so we’ve provided the links above to help you jump to different sections.

Recently, two COCG team members were invited out to the Googleplex in Mountainview, CA to attend the Google Engage All-Stars Summit. As one of the members who went to the Google headquarters on Monday, August 12th, I can honestly say it was a very educational and inspiring experience. I was like a kid in a candy shop on Google’s campus. 

I’d like to share some of our experiences and things learned at the summit, but first, a quick recap about why we were invited in the first place.

What is the Google Engage All-Stars Summit?

Google Engage is a partner program for ad agencies running Google AdWords campaigns in one way or another. They could be running paid search, display, remarketing or video ads. COCG enrolled in the Engage program about 9 months ago, and we’re glad we did. Google Engage has served as a way to stay up to speed on new AdWords developments and statistics in the marketplace.

Earlier this year, we were asked to participate in the Google Engage All-Stars competition. The rules were pretty simple. Use coupon codes when creating new AdWords accounts, accumulate an exceptional amount of money in about 45 days in these new accounts, and make sure the campaigns are under quality management. We participated in this “competition” simply by doing what we always do. We essentially changed nothing, other than using the coupon codes for new accounts.

When the deadline passed, we had easily met the financial benchmarks of the competition — but still weren’t sure if we met the quality requirements, and awaited an announcement.

Lo and behold, with a last minute announcement (just 2 weeks before the All-Stars Summit!), we were named one of the competition winners. It turns out that COCG is one of only about 50 ad agencies *throughout the United States* to achieve the requirements to win this competition and be invited to Silicon Valley. My heart was pounding when I saw the email.  Being an AdWords professional and being asked to attend a conference on Google’s campus is a pretty big deal for me.

The Trip to California

As it turns out, Google is extremely gracious, in that they flew out two individuals from our company, and booked hotel rooms for each of us: myself (Joshua Kinney) and our Marketing Director, Andy Waldrop.

Coming all the way from Raleigh, we had a 4.5 hour flight to Phoenix and then a 1.5 hour connecting flight to San Jose, CA. Being completely ignorant of American geography, I was quickly astonished to find out that we were essentially in the heart of Silicon Valley. From the San Jose Airport, we took a cab to the Hilton in Santa Clara, and on the way, we were greeted by high-rises with some big tech names — Ebay/Paypal, Citrix, McAfee and more. With the weather being a mild 73 degrees and sunny, it was like arriving in a nerdy paradise.

Arriving at the Googleplex

Monday morning arrived with anxiety and excitement — we were finally going to the Googleplex.  Pulling up to the main entrance, we immediately noticed all the young Googlers out and about, headed to their desks (I’m imagining a treadmill desk or synergy groups) by means of skateboard or one of the many Google bicycles. Yep, Google provides free bikes to help employees get across campus.


The site of the Engage All-Stars Summit is a large building on the outside, and a Google cornucopia on the inside. After registration we take a look around to see the huge LED floor and Google sign, the “trending” staircase and of course, breakfast. One of the perks of being a Google employee (or guest) is the food. They make sure you eat well so you’re not distracted from anything ;)

During the day we explored this building a bit more, going upstairs to find a wonderment of Google things. There was a Google Earth room, a touch-screen video table, a hole of light-up putt putt and a small kitchen. It’s good to be king!

The Engage All-Stars Summit

So what did we learn at the Google Engage All-Stars Summit? Here are our primary takeaways from the main speakers and presentations.

Performance Marketing for a Constantly Connected World

This segment focused on how mobile and tablet devices are shaping the online experience and advertising — and where it’s all headed.

Our presenter from Google stated that overall, 30% of search queries are made from a mobile device. In the next year or two, mobile will be the primary source of internet usage. While tablet use is very similar in desktop use, use of tablets and mobile devices surges in the evenings. 19% of online shopping takes place between 8 p.m. and 12 a.m., bringing to light a clear, simple strategy for device targeting by time of day. Further, 50% of online purchase journeys take over 19 days! This statistic is one of the most insightful, really exposing how much opportunity there is to affect a purchasing decision early on, instead of always focusing on the last-click conversion.

Another takeaway: 88% of mobile search ad clicks are incremental to organic. What this means is that 88% of the clicks you receive from your AdWords campaigns are not replaced by organic clicks when your ads are paused.  Basically, you could be missing out big. To go along with this number, a team at Google concluded in 2011 that 89% of all search ads traffic is incremental to organic clicks.

And a confirmation of something we’ve observed at COCG: 33% of website conversions occur on a non-branded keyword. This is why we tend to focus on attracting non-branded traffic. After all, if they’re searching your name, it’s likely they’ll find your #1 organic listing. Also, 25% of branded conversions are assisted by a generic keyword, meaning these people will find you through a non-brand term, remember who you are, and come back by typing in your name. Since, as noted above, we tend to focus on non-brand keywords, often the conversion will later be attributed to an organic, branded keyword, when in truth, they may have found you first through a non-brand term.

This session also discussed the importance of optimizing ads so they’re always relevant. This includes running different ad text for different devices, at different times of day, and including device specific features. AdWords lets us include location extensions, map links, call extensions and mobile app links for mobile users, while desktop users could  see sitelinks to whitepapers or other content more accessible on a desktop computer.

Optimization in the Post-Enhanced Campaigns World

Enhanced Campaigns is an upgrade to the AdWords platform that allows for some different targeting settings. Enhanced Campaigns was completely rolled out a few weeks back and the Google Engage speakers took some time to address how we as marketers could use these settings to our advantage. One of the main features is the ability to increase bids when a searcher is within a specified proximity — for example, increasing bids by 7x when someone is within a mile of your store location.

With Enhanced Campaigns, Google also rolled out remarketing lists for search. This combines remarketing with keyword targeting, bringing highly relevant ads to those who’ve been to your site before. For instance, say you’ve visited my online shoe store and checked out some running shoes. I can then hit you with running shoe ads when you start looking around more for shoe stores. Alternatively, if I know someone has purchased before, I can now bid like crazy for those people, because I know they’ll be likely to buy from me again.

The Journey of the Customer

54% of marketing decisions are based on gut feeling, 6% are based on company data. Go ahead, read it again. This presentation was all about new ways to use analytics data. We have new metrics to use like assisted clicks, assisted impressions and soon, with Universal Analytics, more offline data and cross-device interactions — even “micro-conversion” data to help pinpoint certain actions that might occur before a conversion is encouraged.

Some of this we’ve been doing already and don’t need to change much, and some isn’t fully developed yet. One of the takeaways from this session was that display ads have been shown to have a significant impact on consumer behavior early on in the deliberation process — but too many towards the end of the process can actually be harmful! The speakers also reminded us of the benefits of the Think Insights tool, which is a useful way to get a feel for how the conversion journey typically looks for certain industries.

Focus Groups

In the next session, we got to spend quality time with some of the Google Engage program reps. In our group we talked with the director of the Engage program and really got to express our thoughts about the program — both good and bad. He attentively listened, took notes and asked a TON of questions. It was really a breath of fresh air to have someone at Google ask for our opinion and actually follow up on concerns in real-time.  Google is somewhat notorious for lack of customer service, but they seem to be rectifying that issue, especially within the AdWords realm.

I don’t have any major takeaways here that I can legally share, but I can say that Google’s got our back as an agency, and I’m looking forward to where the Google/COCG relationship is headed.

Driving Direct Response with TruView Ads

One of my personal favorites of the day was the segment revolving around TruView ads — the skippable ads that play before a YouTube video. The reps at Google had a lot to say here. First, they did gush a bit about how cheap the medium is, and how effective it can be. I’m OK with a little gushing, because most of it was true, and I’m a fan of the medium. Here were a few overview strategies they mentioned:

  • Target all categories initially to get a large, cheap reach and build your own targeting based on where the best viewers are coming from.
  • Try using TV commercials or blog event recaps as video ads. Be sure to test different videos.
  • Remarketing by segments — visitors to the website vs. those who interacted with your video vs. channel viewers vs. subscribers and video views. They’ve really opened up the remarketing options here!

The speakers also explained companion banners — the banners that show up next to a YouTube as it plays. The reason these are so important to consider is that someone might not click on your video ad at all, instead they may skip your video to go straight to the original content they came to see. Makes sense, right? The companion banner sticks around during the intended content to remind the visitor of what they saw. If they liked what they originally saw, but didn’t want to be diverted, they can easily click the companion banner afterward.

Overlay banners in video ads are essential for calls-to-action, but the speakers stressed the importance of making your impression within the first 5 seconds and respecting the viewer’s time. Emphasis was also put on testing ads, banners and messaging, especially when using broad targeting and getting a low CPV.

Last, we learned about optimizing video ads — using YouTube analytics to measure drop-off points, using shorter video ads to increase view-throughs and lower the cost-per-view, and testing different times of day to get the best value for your video ad.

Art, Copy & Code

Admittedly, this presentation was the most engaging because of its nature. A speaker from Google’s art and advertising department gave a presentation about tried-and-true ways of connecting with your audience on a deeper level and how technology is changing the way we deliver those messages. One of the major takeaways from this presentation was really a call to all ad agencies to step up their business models to address the future of ads. The presenter stressed the importance of including development teams into the early stages of an ad campaign to come up with unique and innovative solutions that really connect with audiences. We were very happy to understand that COCG is essentially a role model of what Google would like to see more often. We’ve always put importance on the coexistence of Art, Copy and Code coming from under one roof, often with development being a big part of the initial conceptual process.

The meat of this presentation was in the examples. Take a look at an example ad campaign here.

Google’s message was to use the available technology to create new devices and concepts to connect with our audiences. In the above example, the video shows a man and woman using the Burberry Kisses app to send each other e-kisses. You smooch at the camera, it captures your lips, slaps them on a virtual greeting card and you indicate who to send to.  The app picks up the locations you enter and dynamically creates silhouettes and images (pulled from maps?) to personalize the experience.  Try out the app on Chrome at kisses.burberry.com. It’s really an endearing concept, and you’ll be amazed how it includes local images and signals to show where this floating envelope is traveling across. This whole experience occurs without showing a single Burberry bag or clothing article and only has a small logo in the upper left. The purpose was to connect with the audience emotionally to build stronger ties between the user and the brand.

Another example was the SmileDrive app for VW — an app that will keep track of mileage on road trips, record places you’ve passed along the trip and will track vehicles similar to yours with a “punch.” This was really a neat way to establish a connection through technology, where you can have a record of your entire trip to reflect on, which is a rather personal experience.

Leaving the Googleplex

The Google Engage All-Stars Summit wrapped up after dinner and networking. In that last bit of time it was great recapping with some other professionals in the field. There were ad agencies that worked in certain verticals, small one-man outfits, and a couple of larger organizations. We were pleased to see we were relatively unique in that we were one of the few full-service (web design, dev, advertising, SEO, copy) marketing agencies to make the cut.