Elizaveta Orekhovskaya and Artem Ryzhenkov, video advertising managers at global SaaS company Semrush, share the step-by-step plan behind their company’s initiative to increase conversions with no additional budget.
At this stage of the pandemic, everyone is familiar with the laundry list of challenges faced by companies around the world: nervous customers, employee churn, supply-chain bottlenecks, and so on. Like the COVID-19 variants themselves, these challenges continue to take new forms with sometimes uncertain consequences.
In 2022, with many small- to mid-sized brands embracing digital advertising strategies for the first time, one key challenge is to break through the noise created by this shift in consumer behaviors and subsequent marketing activity.
At Semrush, where our business is to help brands manage their visibility on the internet, we faced this very problem as we set out to promote our own niche product with a complex funnel.
In 2022, with many small- to mid-sized brands embracing digital advertising strategies for the first time, one key challenge is to break through the noise created by the shift in consumer behaviors.
Our customers use the Semrush platform to optimize search engine results and market more effectively online. Our platform simplifies content creation, social media, campaign creation, and competitive intelligence. Our primary goal with our most recent digital marketing initiative was to increase conversions with no additional budget. Here’s how we did it.
We started out by investing in search and display traffic. Using keyword-based targeting, we identified an audience of users who were in-market for our product and began “warming up” these potential customers with display visuals.
Then we sought new media environments where we could drive performance without going over budget. We chose YouTube as one of these channels, given video’s proven ability to create a story about a product. Our marketing team had tried YouTube before, but as we will see in a moment, its results left something to be desired.
Initially, we set up our YouTube campaigns manually, rather than automating them. We did this mostly to understand the available optimization metrics. We launched a number of videos and analyzed them based on cost per impression, cost per view, cost per click, and click-through rate. With this knowledge in hand, our team began automating campaigns using performance metrics, such as cost per acquisition (CPA) and conversion rate.
Our team then tested every possible audience type, ad format, and bidding strategy. We found that custom audiences worked better for promoting a specific product.
The next step was to develop a system for conversion and attribution tracking. Whereas we had previously attributed most ad conversions based on the click alone, we now added view-based attribution of YouTube ads using Google Campaign Manager.
With this change, YouTube’s provable value as an ad channel — particularly at the customer attraction stage — was far more clear. And these placements assumed privilege of place among our other paid channels.
Our team then tested every possible audience type, ad format, and bidding strategy. We found that custom audiences worked better for promoting a specific product than it did for a generic brand. In cases with frequently fluctuating budgets and long conversion funnels, a Maximize conversion bidding strategy proved more effective than a Target CPA strategy. And we settled on the skippable in-stream ad as the most effective ad format for its product.
Make your creative simple and clear
Once the preliminary results were available, we set out to optimize our ad creatives and landing pages.
Olga Denisova, our VP for digital marketing, observed that a better conversion rate at each stage is achieved by having videos of a certain duration, type of content, degree of complexity, and format — that is, animated or with human actors.
For example, at the upper stages of the funnel, we used short videos of up to 15 seconds that featured the product and encouraged trials. For lower-funnel marketing, we presented lengthier videos — up to a minute long — with more detail about a specific product feature or customer success story.
Based on this insight, Denisova and her team began optimizing our video creatives according to the audience’s phase of purchase consideration.
Our earlier video creatives had basic graphics with lots of text but lacked voice-over and dynamism.
We corrected this in newer videos, focusing on more striking visuals with human actors. The CTA was also reworked for different stages of the funnel, and the video duration was optimized.
Scale up using analytics
Once we had worked out our optimal YouTube ads settings, we set out to scale up the Semrush channel.
It became clear over the course of this campaign that YouTube advertising not only delivered conversions directly, but also contributed to an increase in paid and organic search results.
Based on past experience, we introduced an optimal frequency of seven impressions per day and 10 views per month.
For remarketing campaigns, we based our learning strategy on the size of the targeted audience. In the upper remarketing funnel, with its large available audience of website visitors and registered users, we deployed Google’s Maximize conversions bidding strategy. The lower stages of the funnel were optimized for cost per view, since the smaller available audience meant machine-learning strategies were less powerful.
It became clear over the course of this campaign that YouTube advertising not only delivered conversions directly, but also contributed to an increase in paid and organic search results. We saw interest in Semrush in the U.S. grow by an average of 72.6% during a Brand Lift study conducted in May 2021, while interest in our Keyword Magic Tool grew by 120.4%. Another video ad campaign in Canada delivered an increase in paid and organic Google search results of 521%.
Try out new formats
Since the pandemic restricted our ability to produce new video assets, we needed to improve our conversion metrics without increasing our budget or the number of video creatives we produced. To achieve this, our team used a new format from Google called Video Action campaigns, designed to drive lower funnel actions such as website clicks and conversions. As a result, the range of our ads expanded, their variability increased, and automated strategies began learning better from the increased number of conversions.
What the results say
In Video Action campaign ads, we found the ideal palette for our new ad creatives. In one A/B test, a combination of skippable in-stream ads and Video Action campaign ads went up against skippable in-stream ads only. The combined strategy clearly performed better.
Our CPA at the lowest stage of the funnel was 55% lower than that of the in-stream-only campaign. The cost per sign-up also fell 51%. Video Action campaigns cost 91% less, and view-through rates were 3% higher, than in-stream.
After Video Action proved itself to be the superior strategy, not only on the basis of conversion but also in upper-funnel metrics, we launched the format in all automated strategy campaigns. This helped reduce the CPA per purchase from YouTube ads by a whopping 11%.