Clicks Defeat Bricks During U.S. Retailers’ Black Friday Weekend

Online shoppers outnumbered their brick-and-mortar counterparts during U.S. retailers’ pivotal Black Friday weekend, underscoring the challenges facing American malls this holiday season as Inc. exerts more pressure.

More than 103 million people shopped online over the four-day weekend, which started Thursday on Thanksgiving and continued with Black Friday, according to an annual survey commissioned by the National Retail Federation. That compares with fewer than 102 million who ventured into traditional stores, the trade group said.


The shift online has been a mixed blessing for the retail industry. While it’s given companies one more way to reach consumers, a slowdown in mall traffic has hurt results at department stores and apparel chains. Many retailers also have struggled to match the online dexterity of Amazon. Neiman Marcus Group Inc., for instance,suffered Web outages on Friday and Saturday, leaving customers frustrated.

“Thanksgiving has established itself as one of the more important online buying days, while Black Friday continues to gain in importance online with each passing year,” Gian Fulgoni, chairman emeritus of research firm ComScore Inc., said in a report on Sunday. His company saw e-commerce sales jump 9 percent on Thanksgiving and 10 percent the following day.

ShopperTrak, another researcher, said that brick-and-mortar retailers’ sales decreased versus last year. They brought in $12.1 billion during Thanksgiving and Black Friday, the firm said.

The growth of e-commerce — including people using their smartphones to buy gifts — helped boost the total number of U.S. shoppers to more than 151 million over the weekend, according to the NRF. That figure, which accounts for the overlap between online and offline buyers, topped the 136 million that the trade group had predicted. Other factors, including an earlier rollout of holiday promotions, also are changing consumers’ behavior, NRF President Matthew Shay said in a statement.

‘Evolutionary Change’

The industry is seeing “an evolutionary change in holiday shopping by both consumers and retailers,” Shay said.

Still, it’s hard to tell if consumers are spending as much as they once did. The average shopper shelled out $299.60 over the weekend, said the federation, which commissioned Prosper Insights & Analytics to conduct the survey. But a change in methodology means that figure isn’t comparable to those from prior years. It had been $380.95 in 2014’s Black Friday weekend and $407.02 the year before.

The NRF also didn’t provide a total spending amount, something it included in past surveys. That figure had been down for two straight years, dropping 11 percent to $50.9 billion in 2014.

Industry’s Inflection

The change in methodology made it difficult to tell if this is the first year that online shoppers exceeded the offline total. Most consumer spending — whether it’s groceries or cars — remains solidly at brick-and-mortar locations. But given the faster growth rates in e-commerce sales, the retail industry appears to be reaching a turning point.

The ritual of Black Friday — the post-Thanksgiving day that has long marked the beginning of the holiday season — also has changed. Frenzied consumers still line up in front of stores to take advantage of deals on toys and televisions, but crowds were smaller at many U.S. malls Friday. The event is also seen as an opportunity for window shopping, rather than spending.

At an Apple store in Greensboro, North Carolina, David Saltzman was browsing for a new iPad. He wasn’t planning to buy the device just yet. The 62-year-old, who works in marketing and communications, was just enjoying the day.

“It’s really nice outside,” he said.

Quality Time

Pam Garman, 60, said she was shopping with her daughters, who were visiting for Thanksgiving.

“My girls are in town so we’re looking for deals for Christmas presents,” she said. “It’s more about just spending time together.”

As more shopping shifts to the Web, Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Target Corp. and other traditional retailers are doing their best to ward off the e-commerce king: Amazon. Target plans to offer free shipping on online orders this holiday season for the second year in a row. Wal-Mart, meanwhile, is encouraging e-commerce shoppers to take advantage of in-store pickup, an attempt to leverage its more than 4,600 U.S. locations.

The retail industry’s next test will be Cyber Monday, a day when e-commerce sites roll out additional deals. The term Cyber Monday was coined a decade ago, when retailers noticed a spike in online holiday shopping on the Monday after Thanksgiving. The reason: Many people returned to work and used their office’s high-speed Internet connection to shop. These days, most Americans have broadband, decreasing the event’s relevance.

Slower Monday

The NRF predicts 121 million people will shop online Monday, fewer than 126.9 million who planned to do so last year.

The trade association expects total holiday sales to increase 3.7 percent in November and December from a year earlier. That’s a slowdown from last year’s 4.1 percent gain, but above the 2.5 percent average over the past 10 years.

Shay said on a conference call Sunday that the industry should still be able to hit that sales growth target.

“We think we are in a very good place,” he said.

About the author:
Special thanks to Lauren Coleman-Lochner of

How to Build Local PPC Campaigns That Really Deliver New Customers

Key ‘Takeaways’ From This Post

  • We’ve looked at how local businesses can maximise their visibility through PPC
  • Separating AdWords campaigns with location targeting will help to strategically organise budget
  • Applying your PPC budget on a priority basis is crucial to getting the best return
  • A combination of geo-targeting and location keywords will generate potential customers with highest intent
  • If you service customers on-site, radius proximity targeting can be the best option for attracting the most relevant customers

The way we market our local businesses online is always evolving. One of the most notable changes recently, is the change to Google’s local “snack pack”, where the number of businesses which appear in local results has reduced from seven to three.

In light of this, many local businesses may focus more on pay-per-click advertising (PPC) if they want to regularly appear in search results.

However, when local businesses approach PPC advertising, they are often faced with the devastating combination of narrow target-audiences and highly competitive keywords. Many find their first experience with AdWords a negative one, with large amounts of wasted spend and a poor ROI.

Because of such experiences, many local businesses conclude that PPC is simply “not for them”.

However, once a more efficient targeting strategy is applied, the vast majority find PPC to be a profitable avenue to advertise their services/products, driving high quality leads/sales and generating a healthy ROI.

Whilst entire books could be written about PPC for local businesses, in this article I’ll be outlining the fundamental strategies to building an efficient local AdWords campaign.

Targeting your customers through local PPC

For any AdWords account, the key to a successful campaign is relevancy. Simply put, the more relevant your product/service is to the user’s search query, the better your ROI (for the AdWords geeks, I’ll leave out any discussion on quality score – for now!).

For local businesses, the immediate priority is to target the most relevant users – those that are looking for your service in your area.

In AdWords, there are two key ways of targeting locations in AdWords:

  1. Geo-Targeting (based on IP Addresses)

  1. Keyword Targeting (using a keyword modifier)

Many businesses will use one of these targeting methods in favour of the other. For example, targeting either US wide searches for “Plumbers in Oakland”, or rather Oakland searches for “Plumbers”.

Smart advertisers know that a combination of both targeting methods will help them to reach the most relevant users and provide the best ROI – after all, it does make sense. If a user is in your location, and searching for your service and location, then they are the most relevant user.

To continue the example, the advertiser’s primary target should be Oakland searches for “Oakland Plumbers”.

Budget application

Whilst this strategy will produce the best ROI, for many local businesses the result of such targeting means you’ll only be able to reach a small number of people – driving only minimal impressions and therefore very little revenue.

Local businesses may therefore be looking to expand their reach even further.

The 2 most common approaches local advertisers take in expanding their reach are:

  • Expanding the geo-targeting to include a broader area

  • Adding more generic keywords without location modifiers

However, taking either of these approaches dilutes the relevancy of the campaign as there is now a much wider target audience. Strategic application of the budget becomes impossible.

To combat this, the table below outlines a simplified account strategy (for a single product/service, in a single area) that will suit the vast majority of local businesses.


Budget can be applied methodically using this set up. This strategy will ensure that those searches with the highest ROI are targeted first, ensuring that your budget is applied effectively.

See below for a real-life comparison between the aforementioned campaigns over 1 month, where, for one of their services, this particular local-trade client enjoys a cost-per-lead that is approximately 80% cheaper using Geo/Keyword Targeting vs Geo Targeting alone.


Impression share is able to be maximised for the first and second campaign, before applying any excess budget to the others. This delivers the best possible return for the local business’s budget – generating the highest number of leads at the lowest possible cost.

Advanced Location Targeting

The default location targeting option for any AdWords campaign is set to target those users who are not just in your location, but also searching for it. Whilst this works for some advertisers, particularly those in the travel industry, it will not be suitable for the majority of local businesses.

Navigating to Advanced Location Settings and changing it to “in my targeted location”, is the the better option. This will ensure you only show for the most relevant users in your geo-targeting campaigns.



Once more, if you’re suffering from low impressions and/or want to expand your reach, then you can either create those “searching for” and “showing interest in” their own campaigns, or allow this targeting into one of the lower priority campaigns.

Proximity targeting

For many local businesses, the closer a user is to your service, the more likely they are to convert. For others, proximity has almost no effect within the target area. Local businesses should reflect the nuances of their particular sector in their targeting.

The chart below compares the conversion rates of two local businesses. Client A represents a local private dentist, whereas Client B is a double-glazing firm.


For Client A, there is a direct link between distance and conversion rate. As the account is limited by budget, they can use gradient location bidding in order to bid higher for those users that are closer.


This can be set up by radius targeting around your business address at the incremental distance you choose (note: Google does not sum these bid increases together, it will choose the highest locational bid adjustment to apply).

Granular targeting

If your business operates more like Client B, there is still room for granular location targeting that will improve your ROI. Even within small towns, different areas can convert differently to others.

For businesses that wish to target customers across their region, be sure to follow these steps to optimise your account:

  1. Review user location data in Analytics and find your best performing areas (for example, this might be a high average-income area)

  1. Similarly, review your customer database or offline records. What zip codes are driving the majority of your customers? Where should your ads be targeting as a priority?

  1. Use these insights and add bid adjustments where necessary. Ensure you’re targeting those crucial areas as a priority.

Additionally, if your business actively markets their products/services offline, it can pay dividends to synchronise your online activity with your offline. Sending out mailshots to a neighbouring town next week? Ensure you’re visible online in that area when they search for you by using bid adjustments.

(Note: In many cases, Google’s knowledge of IP locations is patchy at best. For some areas, broader location targets are better used to ensure capture of target traffic. Test the waters through trial and error; starting small and gradually expanding).

Review and improve

I’m sure that I don’t need to say that conversion tracking is essential for all online advertisers, especially local businesses. This means both the forms on your website, and call tracking too.

The advice in this article highlights the importance of a strategy that takes into account the intent of the audience you’re targeting. This likelihood of intent varies depending on the search terms they are using  and the location that they are in.

Larger local businesses that cover a wider area should target different areas in different campaigns, which will further allow a strategic application of budget, and make bid management much more efficient.

It is important to remember that the aforementioned advice applies to the vast majority of local business, though some will benefit from an alternative strategy.  Remember, you know your business best, and your strategy should reflect that.

Above all, pay-per-click advertising is unique in the vast quantity of data it accumulates very quickly. Consistently reviewing account performance, and the use of actionable data is the only route to AdWords success for a local business.

About the author:
Special thanks to Liam Wade of

How You Can Generate More Qualified Leads With Google AdWords and Call Tracking

generate-leads-lgYou’ve likely been there: You spend hours combing through keywords, tailoring the right headline and ad text, and customizing landing pages; you finally launch your Google AdWords campaign, and after a couple days or weeks… the conversions aren’t as high as you expected, and you aren’t quite sure why.

Google AdWords is undoubtedly a viable medium for attracting qualified leads[1]. But to fully take advantage of the opportunity, you need to track and monitor for both online and offline conversions. And the latter requires integrating call tracking into your AdWords campaigns, landing pages, and website.

Google AdWords offers two features that enable you to capture offline conversions and associate them directly with the AdWords campaigns, ad groups, ads, and keywords that drove action:

  1. Call Extensions for capturing calls from the search results page
  2. Offline Conversion Tracking for tracking calls from your website

(If at this point you’re wondering whether call tracking is worth the effort[2], consider this: We’re living in a world of mobile devices, and 70% of customers using mobile search have connected with businesses using the click-to-call AdWords feature directly from the search engine results page, according to a September 2013 Google study.)

Google Call Extension: Capturing Calls From the Search Results Page

Google’s Call Extensions is a feature that enables advertisers to display a phone number directly next to a PPC ad on a search results page. As part of this feature, Google offers dynamically generated Forwarding Numbers that are associated with your campaign; any calls to those numbers are recorded and forwarded to a telephone number you specify.

When the Google Call Extension number is called, a conversion is recorded and associated directly with the campaign and reported in your AdWords portal. You incur a cost only when a mobile searcher touches the click-to-call number and places a call.

Another option with Call Extensions is to integrate your own dedicated tracking numbers in your campaigns, but that can be costly and it’s a time-consuming task to set up and manage; you also lose the ability to see offline conversions directly within AdWords.

One nice feature of Google Call Extension and Forwarding Numbers is that you can set how long a call must last before it is considered a conversion. That way, advertisers can avoid reporting any calls that may not be considered qualified leads, such as inquiries about hours of operation.

Google Offline Conversion Tracking: Tracking Calls From Your Website

Google AdWords rolled out its Offline Conversion Tracking feature in September 2013. Until that point, call tracking providers could feed offline conversions into AdWords reports, but the process was a workaround and not as reliable or detailed as it is now.

By combining Google’s Offline Conversion Tracking feature with a call tracking platform, you can capture the AdWords visitors that called from your website, and then feed that lead data back into your AdWords reports and associate the conversions with campaigns, ad groups, ads, and keywords.

At a high level, the process works like this:

  1. A visitor comes to your site after clicking an AdWords ad.
  2. The visitor calls the dynamically generated tracking number that’s on your site.
  3. The call tracking provider captures any conversions along with the visitor’s Google Click ID (GCLID)—which tells AdWords which campaign, ad group, ad, and keyword the visit can be attributed to.
  4. At regular intervals (daily, weekly, monthly), you generate a conversion report from your call tracking platform and create a spreadsheet that includes each conversion’s GCLID, name, time, and value (or dollar amount, if available).
  5. That spreadsheet is then uploaded into Google AdWords, from where AdWords will feed the conversion data into your dashboard reports.

A couple things to note:

  • For this process to work, you’ll need to work with a call tracking platform that can capture the GLCID of each AdWords visitor.
  • You can work with your call tracking provider to generate reports that include only qualified conversions, such as those that last longer than 60 seconds or those from a specific geographic region.

By integrating offline conversion data into AdWords and combining it with online form conversions, advertisers can better assess which AdWords campaigns, ads, and keywords are driving qualified leads, and therefore more effectively evolve strategies to improve lead volume and lower cost per acquisition.

In addition, with all the conversion data compiled in AdWords, bid automation programs—such as Google’s Enhanced Campaigns and those within bid management software—can more effectively optimize campaigns around leads, and ultimately improve the ROI for advertisers.

Main Takeaways: 

  • Call tracking is essential to effectively optimizing Google AdWords campaigns.
  • Google offers two ways to capture and report on offline conversions.
  • Google Call Extensions + Forwarding Numbers capture calls that result directly from search engine result pages.
  • Google Offline Conversion Tracking + a call tracking platform capture calls generated after someone has clicked an ad and visited the advertiser’s website or landing pages.

[1] Paid search ads serve as an “assist interaction” 51% of the time during the customer journey—spanning the awareness, consideration, and intent stages—according to a Google Think study. Paid search ads are also the last interaction before a customer’s purchase decision nearly half of the time (49%), the same study found.

[2] “39% of mobile searchers are more likely to call when using a mobile device than they would be otherwise,” a study by Google and Nielsen reported.