The Art of War: Natural Language vs. Machine Learning

Chinese Calligraphy Symbol for Opportunity

The Chinese character is often mistranslated as opportunity, but it is more literally “the point where things happen or change.”

As a student of history, in 1959 John F. Kennedy picked up a botched English translation which has been the core of many inspirational business speeches since: “In the Chinese language, the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters, one representing danger and the other, opportunity.”

The first, wēi, does mean danger, but the second, jī, while often mistranslated as opportunity, more literally means “the point where things happen or change.” The past six months has begun a period in search marketing in which Google’s swift changing of the known rules of  natural language search and what Google shows in search results represents danger for every business not large enough to have a staff of marketers, writers, linguists and data scientists.

For example, we had an AdWords campaign we were managing for a national company which has a market which traditionally pauses over the holiday season. Combined with the normal delay of releasing the marketing budget for the new year, we restarted what had been an EXTREMELY cost-efficient campaign for all of 4Q17 in mid-January.

Suddenly, our ads were getting disapproved every day; our reps would review the ads, override the disapprovals and restart the ads. Next day, same thing. The client’s cost per click and cost per acquisition soared over 100%. Identical campaigns, very different results. Why? Google’s new machine learning rules determined that our ad language “was like language they would disapprove.” However, experienced AdWords managers approved them, over and over. We drew two conclusions: the AI programmers were clueless about the language of advertising, where we always make offers to attract clicks, and the machine learning algorithm they had put into place wasn’t learning from being corrected, day after day. RefreshWeb is a certified AdWords Agency Partner, so we have agency AND client reps to call. What does the average small business do when Google makes inexplicable, incomprehensible changes to the rules?

(Another conclusion is that Google has once again released a beta version to test on real, paying clients.) OK, if AI needs to see thousands of pictures of cats to successfully identify a cute kitten photo, can you imagine how many variants there are of headlines, ad copy and landing page copy they will have to re-evaluate before this new system works correctly?

We’re big fans of technology, and we’re excited about new developments and the promises some of them hold. But we’re also on the front lines for our clients, working to get the best possible results for their web marketing dollars. That’s why our strategies evolve so quickly, as we learn about the latest changes. Clients may have shiny new responsive sites, but have they created responsive display ads for their paid search? They are happy to have a site that works on mobile devices, but do they know they may be penalized for not using AMP (Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages project)? Do they realize their pages may lose rankings if they don’t load quickly enough? These are WAY under the radar for people running a business…but these unknown rules could be costing them revenue.

Graphic: Digital Planning Guide, 99 Tips for 2018

Act, don’t react! Here’s a complete step-by-step planning guide for revisiting and refreshing your website and search marketing strategy.

We recently asked one of our design/development partners if we could share this 99-point comprehensive guide to assessing your own website. It’s designed to help your team discover and prioritize the issues you need to address…obviously, you want to work on a few things at a time. As you work through this process of finding the things you need to change or fix, in the meantime we’d like to recommend you have us do a check-up on your site’s SEO performance. We’ve just launched a new product, a Website SEO overview, strategic insights and action planwhich only takes a couple of weeks…and can measure the amount of prospect search traffic your site is missing.

If something we’ve mentioned about recent Google changes has struck a nerve, and you need to ask about what’s different this year, and what to do about it, we’d be happy to talk about your site and your marketing problems (or opportunities). Just call us at 512-637-5271, ext. 12

2018-04-05T16:53:36+00:00