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Google’s E-Commerce Push to Fill the ‘Messy Middle’




Google’s domination of the online advertising market appears to have stalled since Amazon last year became the third-largest digital ad platform in the U.S. behind the Google-Facebook duopoly.

Search ads — a mainstay of Google’s revenues in the United States — are trending lower; but Amazon’s and Facebook’s digital ad revenues will grow, according to a recent forecast by eMarketer.

This may have driven Google to accelerate its push into e-commerce, focusing on what it calls the “messy middle” — the space in the customer journey between what triggers the purchase and the actual purchase itself.

The key is to ensure brand presence, make their proposition compelling, and reduce the time between trigger and purchase, Google found.

“Anything that will remove the messy middle is key,” Ray Wang, a principal analyst at Constellation Research, told the E-Commerce Times. “If I can get you to buy faster because you see a recommendation, a rating, a review, a seal of approval — that’s the first step. The second step is to be able to replicate Amazon’s one-click purchase capabilities. Make it easy to buy now.”

Google “needs to monetize its advertising business with commerce in the long run,” Wang said, because its ad business “is being chipped away by Amazon’s digital ads based on product search and listings.”

Google’s latest e-commerce initiatives could play into the dissatisfaction some retailers harbor for Amazon.

“Retailers are looking for an alternative to Amazon,” Wang said. Also, “they want to integrate commerce, advertising, search and even payments.”

Google’s Moves to Boost E-Commerce

Earlier this month, Google added support for keyword recommendations and campaign level optimization to the Google Ads application programming interface (API) and added a performance planner feature that lets retailers predict clicks, conversions and conversion values based on different customer spend levels and return on investment targets.

Google ads keyword recommendations and optimization score

Google also announced new ways to showcase and augment the brand of businesses advertising with Google as well as those with an e-store on Google Shopping.

One is a beta program that lets businesses upload or automatically curate relevant images from their website to their Google search ads, using Google’s machine learning capabilities.

Another feature lets businesses dynamically highlight sales or time-sensitive deals with a countdown. Google will also provide suggestions on shipping, returns, and how to promote online availability.

‘Smart Shopping’ Ads

Google is also offering more visual ways retailers can stand out from competitors with Smart Shopping campaigns.

One is an icon to highlight features like free and fast shipping. This has increased conversion rates by nine percent, Google says.

Free and fast shipping “provides small businesses with the opportunity to compete with larger retailers,” Adam Jones, director of business development at Logical Position, told the E-Commerce Times. “Seventy-seven percent of shoppers now indicate that reliable two-day shipping is the leading factor when completing a purchase.”

Logical Position is one of two ad management partners Google selected for a pilot run in October involving use of the “Free & Fast” icon. The other was Sales & Orders.

Other new features, for retailers who have Google display ad campaigns, is access to new creative layouts, automatically generated video ads, and updated dynamic ads.

Dynamic ads show previous visitors to a retailer’s site tailored messages containing products and services the visitors previously had viewed on the site.

The dynamic ads feature displays the retailer’s business name and logo, and lets the retailer showcase the latest promotions and spotlight a single product.

Google has introduced portfolio bid strategies and bid strategy reports for Adwords Smart Bidding, in an effort to help retailers maximize returns from ad spending.

A bid is the maximum amount an advertiser will pay for an ad to show in the search engine page results when a consumer conducts a Google Search. The actual position of an ad is calculated by the maximum bid times the quality score. The quality score is based on the ad’s expected clickthrough rate, its relevance, and the landing page experience.

The Smart Bidding offering evaluates relevant contextual signals during an auction such as time of day, device type and operating system, so retailers can target the right shopper.

Another new Google e-commerce feature is a conversion value for sales to new customers in their Smart Shopping campaigns. A conversion value helps retailers track, optimize and report on their return on ad spend.

AI Recommendations

Google has also released in beta its Recommendations AI to all customers. This tool adapts to changing consumer behavior in real time and suggests the next best product to recommend, using deep learning machine learning models. It can scale to catalogs of tens of millions of items, correct for bias with extremely popular or on-sale items, and better handle seasonality or items with sparse data.

“Two out of three consumers now expect personalization,” George Barker, Head of Marketing at personalization software company Qubit, which offers Google’s Cloud Recommendations AI and works with brands such as Kate Spade, Estee Lauder, and Shiseido.

The algorithms Google Recommendations AI uses were built using similar technology to Google Search and YouTube, “two of the most widely used tools on the Internet,” Barker said.

“Much like when you land on YouTube and somehow you’re watching a video you never thought you’d find interesting, but do, those principles apply to e-commerce,” Barker observed. “Rather than views, it’s conversions.”

More to Follow

Google is also launching a pilot program to do away with the commission it charges when consumers buy make purchases directly from search ads.

It will open its platform to other digital commerce providers, beginning with Shopify for inventory and order management, and both PayPal and Shopify for payment processing.

In addition, Google is enabling commonly used product feed formats so retailers can connect their inventories to sell directly on its platform without the need to reformat their data. The goal of this integration is to make it possible for a retailer who already sells on Amazon to more easily list their inventory on Google.

Later this year, Google will offer retailers a dynamically curated carousel of their most relevant products in an immersive, browsable shopping experience.

Sellers will also be able to include video content in their display ads.

Google also plans to add a small business filter on the Google Shopping tab and other e-commerce features for small businesses.

The Struggle With Amazon

Google’s move into e-commerce “is part of a longer-term strategy Google has to compete with Amazon in the e-commerce arena,” Mark William Lewis, founder of Netalico Commerce, told the E-Commerce Times. Google “has always dabbled in e-commerce but in the past few years they’ve gotten more serious about it because so much of online ad revenue is from e-commerce brands.”

The pandemic “has accelerated that strategy because e-commerce is growing significantly more than expected,” Lewis observed.

However, Google “has an uphill battle because Amazon has such dominance on being essentially an e-commerce search engine that many people use it as their default place to search for a product,” Lewis noted.

“Over time, though, if they curate an experience that’s as good as, or better than, Amazon, I think merchants will be less likely to rely on Amazon and trust Google more and there could be a shift.”

Getting to the point where the customer experience offered can match Amazon might be a problem, Rebecca Wettemann, principal at research and advisory firm Valoir, told the E-Commerce Times.

“The challenge for Google is its attention span,” she said. “If I had a dollar for every time Google said they were getting serious about something new, I’d have at least enough for a few large pizzas. Google doesn’t have a good track record of sticking with its plans,” Wettemann quipped.

Richard Adhikari has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2008. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, mobile technologies, CRM, databases, software development, mainframe and mid-range computing, and application development. He has written and edited for numerous publications, including Information Week and Computerworld. He is the author of two books on client/server technology. Email Richard.



13 Robust Newsletter Plugins for WordPress




WordPress is a highly customizable content management system. With the right plugins, it can be a robust email marketing platform to create a newsletter and build a list of subscribers.

Here is a list of newsletter plugins for WordPress. There are plugins to design and publish newsletters, manage subscribers, track campaigns, and build subscriber lists using opt-in and lead generation tools.

Newsletter Plugins for WordPress

The Newsletter Plugin is a newsletter and email marketing system for a WordPress site. It features a responsive email drag-and-drop composer, unlimited subscribers with statistics, unlimited emails with tracking, advanced targeting, and more. Add features through premium extensions, such as automated newsletters from blog posts, autoresponders, sophisticated collection and targeting statistics, and advanced integrations. Price: Basic is free. Premium plans start at $65 for all extensions and one year of updates.

The Newsletter Plugin

The Newsletter Plugin

SendPress lets you easily build email newsletters in WordPress. Import post content from your site and schedule newsletter deployments. Create custom templates. Track opens, clicks, and more. SendPress features customizable templates, unlimited subscribers, and single and double opt-in, among other benefits. Price: Basic is free. Premium plans start at $39 per year.

Sumo provides tools to capture email addresses to grow subscribers. Use List Builder to create pop-ups that appear on clicks, timers, articles, and before people leave. Create call-to-action landing pages, customizable scroll boxes, and smart bars to capture subscribers without disrupting their experience. Integrates with major email services and, also, with WooCommerce to create unique offers and discounts along with forms to increase average order value and reduce cart abandonment. Price: Basic is free for up to 10,000 email subscribers per month. Premium plans start at $39 per month.

MailPoet lets you build, schedule, and send newsletters without leaving your WordPress admin. Manage subscribers and subscriber lists. Create automatic emails to send new post notifications. MailPoet includes audience engagement stats and WooCommerce email customizer. Premium version includes tracking, white-labeling, and same-day support. Price: Basic is free. Premium plans start at $13 per month. Premium version is free for fewer than 1,000 subscribers.



Mailchimp for WordPress helps you grow your Mailchimp lists and create better newsletters. Create attractive opt-in forms or integrate with existing forms on your site, such as comment, contact, or checkout forms. Premium add-on includes advanced integration with WooCommerce, email notifications, and detailed reports and statistics. Price: Free. Premium plans start at $59 per year.

Email Subscribers by Icegram lets you collect leads, send automated notification emails, create and send newsletters, and manage it all in one single place. Add images, infographics, links, and content to a newsletter. Insert a subscription box anywhere on your website. Send the newsletters manually or automatically. Price: Basic is free. Premium plans start at $9 per month.

Newsletters by Tribulant Software is a full-featured newsletter plugin for WordPress to manage email subscribers and publish newsletters. It features templates, queue and scheduling, bounced-email management, opt-in embedding, offsite subscription forms, email tracking, autoresponders, and more. Price: Basic is free. Premium plans start at $65 for one website and one year of updates.

Tribulant Software: Newsletters for WordPress

Tribulant Software: Newsletters for WordPress

Bloom is an email opt-in and lead generation plugin for WordPress. Pick from six display types, including pop-ups, fly-ins, and required opt-ins to unlock content. Target or exclude specific posts and pages and display unique forms with unique offers based on visitor location and interaction. Integrates with 19 email-marketing platforms. Price: $89 per year.

OptinMonster is a pop-up builder and marketing plugin to increase your newsletter subscribers. Create custom pop-ups, newsletter opt-in forms, slide-ins pop-ups, announcement bars, and other high converting lead generation forms within minutes. Display personalized messages to new or returning visitors to unlock the highest conversion potential from every website visit. Use A/B split testing and pop-up analytics to make data-driven decisions on what works best. Price: Plans start at $14 per month.

Mailster lets you easily create, manage, and send newsletter campaigns. Track and analyze your campaigns and subscribers. Mailster stores all your subscribers within your WordPress installation. Features autoresponder, real-time analytics, unlimited subscribers and forms, custom segmentation, more than 80 templates, and integrations with dozens of plugins and services. Price: $59 for six months of support.



Jackmail allows you to create newsletters without leaving your WordPress dashboard and send them with a built-in SMTP server. Create segments in your lists and send personalized campaigns. Jackmail features a drag-and-drop editor, contact manager, detailed statistics, WooCommerce integration, opt-in forms, widgets, 48 templates, and more. Price: Free up to 500 emails. Premium plans start at $69 per month.

Popup Builder is a flexible tool to create and customize a subscription pop-up for your newsletter. Create and manage as many pop-ups as you want. Choose between several themes. Set location, animation effect, and trigger. Send newsletter campaigns right from Popup Builder. Pro version features WooCommerce integration, autoresponders, age restriction pop-up, countdown pop-up, MailChimp pop-up, and advanced targeting. Price: Basic is free. Pro is $31.95 for two websites.

MailOptin is a plugin to build forms, collect leads, register users, and create and send email newsletters. Send event-triggered newsletters, such as new post notifications. Display signup forms, targeted messages, and calls-to-action with pop-ups, forms, a notification bar, and slide-in and sidebar widgets. Use the premium plan to build segmented lists and increase automation with lead-tagging and integrations. Integrates with popular email marketing software providers and customer management platforms. Price: Plans start at $79 per year.




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SEO How-to, Part 11: Mitigating Risk




The risk to organic search performance from altering a website usually comes from changes to content, linking structures, or underlying technology. With careful planning and execution, however, you can mitigate the risk from those changes and increase the likelihood of better rankings.

This is the 11th installment in my “SEO How-to” series. Previous installments are:

Changing Content

In “Part 6,” I explained how keyword research could identify potential ranking improvements. But changing content — title tags, body copy, descriptions — based on that research carries a risk. As such, it’s essential to mitigate the risk and improve the chances of a performance increase.

First, identify all the pages that rank for the words and phrases that you’re planning to change. Then create a keyword map by assigning variations on the new keyword theme for each page based on the research.

Avoid radical keyword changes to pages that are already ranking well.

Every page should have a reason for existing — something that no other page says. If it duplicates a keyword theme, perhaps the page isn’t necessary. Consider merging with its equivalent via a 301 redirect.

The level of risk you’re assuming is equal to a page’s traffic from organic search. It’s possible to attempt to optimize a page and lose all the traffic. The reward you’re hoping for is represented by the number of searches per month for the new keywords.

Identifying risk from removing pages is easier. Organic search traffic to those pages will stop. To mitigate, 301 redirect the removed URLs to relevant remaining pages. That will preserve the authority of the deleted pages while strengthening the remaining ones.

Changing Linking Structures

The primary navigation structures across your site — such as in the header and footer — are critical for passing link authority, which helps your pages rank organically. Thus removing links from those navigation structures requires caution bordering on obsession.

It’s difficult to predict how removing a link will affect a page’s performance. It’s best to prepare for the worst case. Identify the traffic and revenue of the destination page. The higher the amounts, the more cautious you must be.

Mitigating that risk can be difficult. It often requires discussing with the staff that seeks the removal — typically user experience, creative, or management teams. Determine why the link needs to change or be removed: Is there a strong business reason? If not, don’t be shy about showing your performance data and keyword research to insist that the link remains.

If the removal is required — after all, sometimes other priorities outweigh organic search — consider ways to overcome.

For example, if user experience data suggests that simpler header navigation could drive a 10-percent increase in sales, perhaps the critical links could be included in a new drop-down menu, thereby simplifying the navigation while preserving the links. Another option is to move the links to the footer.

However, if they must be entirely removed from the header and footer, can the links be inserted in other places, such as related content? You probably wouldn’t save 100 percent of your organic performance, but it should help.

It could also be an excellent time to boost your content marketing efforts to encourage new external links to the pages.

Changing Technology

Technical changes can likewise introduce risk to organic search performance. These include everything from switching ecommerce platforms to the everyday decisions of your developers, such as code upgrades. Even design choices such as where to place text and how to manage it can impact organic search performance.

As with content and linking changes,  it’s important to understand what the technical change will affect.

Some technology impacts the ability of search bots to find, crawl, and index your content. Platforms and code, as examples, can lock bots out of a site — and thus lock the site out of search results.

Examples of these gating technologies include:

  • Links coded without anchor tags, href attributes, and URLs.
  • Links that result in error codes such as a 404 file not found and 500 internal server error.
  • Accidental disallow commands in the robots.txt file.
  • Use of cookies instead of URLs to drive access to country and language versions of the site.

After they crawl your site, search engine bots need to index the pages. All of the text must reside in HTML, not as images, audio, or videos.

Describe your images in alt attributes. Offer transcripts of audios and videos. And above all, don’t embed text in images without repeating it in HTML or CSS.

Consider an Audit

For more on uncovering technical SEO glitches, see my instructions for a crawl audit in eight steps and an indexation audit in six.


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ZEEL Named One of the Fastest Growing Companies in the Americas in the…




“We are truly honored to be recognized by such a venerated news institution as the Financial Times, said Samer Hamadeh, Founder and CEO of Zeel. “The FT not only has a deep understanding of what it takes to build a great business, but also how to meet and overcome the unprecedented challenges posed

Zeel has been recognized as one of the “Fastest Growing Companies” by the Financial Times in its inaugural FT Americas “Fastest Growing Companies” list. The ranking lists the top 500 companies in the Americas that have achieved the highest growth in revenues between 2015 and 2018, with Zeel ranking #173 on the list.

The FT Americas list notably comes at a challenging and uncertain time for the global economy. “We are truly honored to be recognized by such a venerated news institution as the Financial Times, said Samer Hamadeh, Founder and CEO of Zeel. “The FT not only has a deep understanding of what it takes to build a great business, but also how to meet and overcome the unprecedented challenges posed by this pandemic. We have always worked to balance industry-leading technology with the best possible customer experience. This unusual time has given our team the opportunity to truly innovate. The entrepreneurial spirit is never more evident than during times of crisis, so particularly now, we are proud of this recognition from such a prestigious organization.”

The FT list was compiled with Statista, a research company, and ranks entrants from across the Americas by compound annual growth rate (CAGR) in revenue between 2015 and 2018. Additional criteria includes independent companies headquartered in one of 20 American countries with revenue of at least $100,000 generated in 2015, at least $1.5m generated in 2018, revenue growth between 2015 and 2018 that was primarily organic (i.e. “internally” stimulated). The technology sector – which includes Zeel –is led in large partby the US and accounts for a quarter of the overall list.

About Zeel

A high-growth Inc. 500 global wellness brand, Zeel created Massage On Demand® in 2012 and was the first company to launch same-day, in-home massage through their award-winning app for iOS and Android. Today, Zeel offers best-in-class wellness services to companies, spas, hotels, and individual customers. Recently surpassing more than 1.5M appointments, Zeel has been named one of the “Best Entrepreneurial Companies in America” by Entrepreneur and one of the fastest-growing companies in the country by Inc. Magazine. The Zeel platform is accessed by more than 11,000 licensed massage therapists, assisted stretch professionals, yoga instructors, and mindfulness experts, delivering wellness services to homes and corporate headquarters around the country. Zeel has received special industry recognition for Zeel Hospitality, a software-based staffing solution for hundreds of hotels and spas nationwide. In March 2020, the company launched Zeel Virtual Wellness, offering corporate partners guided stretch, yoga, ergonomics coaching and mindfulness, accessed remotely and led by experienced wellness professionals.

About the Financial Times & Fastest Growing Companies List
The Financial Times is one of the world’s leading news organizations, recognized internationally for its authority, integrity and accuracy. It is part of Nikkei, Inc., which provides a broad range of information, news and services for the global community. The FT Americas’ Fastest Growing Companies 2020 is a list of the top 500 companies in the Americas that have achieved the highest growth in revenues between 2015 and 2018. The ranking was created through a complex procedure. Although the search was very extensive, the ranking does not claim to be complete, as some companies did not want to make their figures public or did not participate for other reasons. The project was advertised online and in print, allowing all eligible companies to register via the websites created by Statista and the Financial Times, and additionally promoted through the South American edition of El País. Through research in company databases and other public sources, Statista has identified tens of thousands of companies in the Americas as potential candidates for the FT ranking. These companies were invited to participate in the competition by post, email and telephone. The application phase ran from October 1 2019 to January 31 2020. The submitted revenue figures had to be certified by the CFO, CEO or a member of the executive committee of the company.


Beth Amorosi


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