AAG masters the nuances of online advertising
Reverse mortgage lender American Advisors Group (AAG) didn’t need to be sold on the benefits of the Bing Network when it approached its account team at Bing Ads and digital agency Kenshoo in mid-2016.
It needed help unraveling a search engine marketing (SEM) mystery.
The company had already been using the Bing Ads platform for SEM and pay-per-click (PPC) advertising for several years, consistently increasing spend along the way. It also used Kenshoo’s portfolio optimizer for bid optimization and management. Between the two entities, AAG had built a bond of trust and support. “Kenshoo and the Bing Ads team are always there for us,” says Jeff Lawrence, vice president of digital marketing at AAG. “It’s been a really effective partnership.”
In this instance, AAG had what could best be defined as a keyword caper, a statistical anomaly that suggested something awry underneath its online marketing strategy. Solving this riddle would require a meeting of the minds of all parties involved along with a willingness to help AAG push envelopes to reach a successful conclusion. What transpired serves as a testament to the powers of selfless collaboration.
Bing Ads provides a less competitive landscape for us than other SEM platforms. Our cost per click (CPC) and cost per lead (CPL) rates are much more efficient with Bing Ads.
— Vivian Dang, director of marketing analytics, AAG
Over the course of 10 years, AAG has established itself in the United States marketplace as a leading provider of reverse mortgage loans. These types of mortgages, in which people borrow from their home’s equity and then repay the loan once their house is sold, once offered big business for financial institutions. But then came the economic meltdown of 2008. Since then, it’s become more of a niche market.
Based in Orange, California, AAG currently accounts for approximately one-third of these types of loans in the United States. According to Lawrence, the company’s success in many ways depends on its ability to simplify defining how the loan works and helps a prospective borrower. Many people, for example, falsely believe that reverse mortgage loans make the bank the owner of their house. It doesn’t.
To educate and raise awareness, Lawrence somewhat evenly distributes his monthly marketing spend between paid search and traditional media. Most of AAG’s leads come from SEM and PPC, about one-third to be exact, meaning online marketing ultimately delivers the strongest results. The Bing Ads platform is key to that success.
Data provided to Bing by AAG
AAG commits close to 40% of its paid search marketing budget to Bing Ads. “Our target demographic of 62-plus plays well with what you see on the Bing Network and Microsoft Edge,” confides Lawrence. “Many of our customers have recently retired and have practical needs such as a medical treatment or want to do something fun like travel to Europe. They’re looking at the loan with a sense of immediacy rather than using it as a tool for the next 10 years.”
Vivian Dang, director of marketing analytics at AAG, thinks the Bing Ads platform also offers visibility. “Bing Ads provides a less competitive landscape for us than other SEM platforms. Our cost per click (CPC) and cost per lead (CPL) rates are much more efficient with Bing Ads.”
AAG currently relies on Kenshoo, an elite partner within the Bing Partner Program, for bid reporting, management and optimization. “They offer us back-end performance visibility and comprehensive bidding strategies, which has helped us with our paid search strategies,” says Lawrence. Indeed, with the Kenshoo Portfolio Optimizer (KPO), AAG can combine various campaigns from different engines into one tool to create an unbiased performance-based portfolio optimization model. “It analyzes past performance and calculates where your next dollar of spend between channels, campaigns, keywords, devices and so on,” says Preston Walker, client success director at Kenshoo.
On a holistic level, KPO can also identify issues. When AAG started crunching numbers in 2016, it discovered something odd. With certain keywords, Bing Ads performance, while meeting set goals such as expected ROI, lagged behind some of the other search engine platforms. “When I pulled apart the data, I realized that our current bidding strategy allocated spend to the search engine or network that provided more conversion data,” recalls Dang. “With Google AdWords, you know you're going to get more leads because they have more volume, which leads to a higher click-through rate and conversion rate. If that’s your end goal, the tool offers a fantastic solution. But if it’s not, you need a way to adjust.”
AAG thought having more control over the allocation of budget to the different platforms would help correct the keyword issue. But how do you get that when the KPO comes with a built-in algorithm? With the combined help of the Bing Ads and Kenshoo account teams, AAG began optimizing a solution.
Kenshoo and the Bing Ads team are always there for us, It’s been a really effective partnership.
— Jeff Lawrence, vice president of digital marketing, AAG
Vivian Dang, Director of Marketing Analytics, AAG
The best collaborations come from the fearless suggestion of ideas and the willingness to fail on the path to innovation. In other words, you need trust. AAG meets regularly in person and by phone with its Bing Ads and Kenshoo account teams. From such communication has grown an understanding of what everyone brings to the table.
AAG first turned to the Bing Ads team to see if it saw any platform issues on its end. The account team pulled numerous custom reports and back-end data that spanned across six quarters to isolate the issue and look for clues. “We examined everything from everyone, from the network to the changes in bids,” says Dang. “Then we started queuing into how bids for core terms, year over year, had changed, decreased or dropped off in performance.”
Kenshoo looked at the information too, which sparked an idea. What if the KPO could break down the segmented portfolios within it into smaller groups and create different constraints for each one? The idea intrigued AAG. “Obviously the fewer portfolios you have, the more data points you’ll have in each, and it will be easier it is to manage and set individual platform targets,” points out Walker. “But AAG was very willing to use more granular portfolios with different constraints, as well as segment engines so that it could have more customization and control over its optimization portfolios.” With such constraints in place, AAG felt it could best maximize spend with Bing Ads.
With all parties on board, Kenshoo put the plan into motion. “We enabled them to customize the perceived value of certain keywords and their performance, which may have influenced KPO one way or the other,” says Walker. “We essentially informed the optimizer to micromanage, overriding certain algorithmic decisions on specific subsets of their campaigns.”
The new approach helped AAG sift through its entire bid structure and clean it out. “We now invest more of our money where we can get more conversions on the back end,” says Lawrence. “In turn, we’ve scaled back on other parts of the network that don’t deliver the desired results.” AAG started running the revised optimizer in July 2015. In the first three months, it saw tremendous results. CPLs dropped 22%, conversion rates increased from 4.5% to 6.6%, and overall conversions increased by 11%. AAG continues to closely monitor results to ensure it stays on the right path.
Looking back at the entire experience, Dang took away a very simple and valuable lesson. “There truly is no one-size-fits-all platform where you can just throw out cost per acquisition (CPA) targets and then let the platform run on its own,” she says. “It requires diligence, analysis and devising specific targets for every campaign that's within Kenshoo’s optimizer. You have to dig through the data to understand what's going on.”
Walker marvels at the team effort. “A group of people came together to help translate advertiser goals into proper configurations for a variety of automation features. AAG, in being open-minded to multiple opinions, emerged with a combination of gray matter and technology that can serve them well into the future.”
Looking ahead, AAG wants to figure out better ways to monetize mobile and tablet devices. “That's kind of our next big search hurdle,” says Dang. “We want our conversion rates to be on par with what we see on desktop.” Lawrence has no doubt AAG will get there by continuing the successful journey with the Bing Ads and Kenshoo teams. “Our approach is to always iterate and improve,” he says. “By effectively leveraging Kenshoo’s tools, we've been able to do that with Bing Ads. That's kind of the biggest thing for me, following the path we’re already on to deliver the best results.”
See a quick summary of how AAG works with Bing Ads partner, Kenshoo, to gain more control over its advertising budget.