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Understanding the Google Ads Auction & Why Ad Rank Is Important

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Understanding the Google Ads Auction & Why Ad Rank Is Important

The author’s views are entirely his or her own (excluding the unlikely event of hypnosis) and may not always reflect the views of Moz.

There are 3.5 billion searches on Google every day, and 84% of people use Google at least three times per day to search for information.

When there is a search query on Google, Google Ads runs a quick auction to determine which ads will show for that search query, and what the ad positions should be. This ad auction is repeated every time an ad is eligible to appear for a search term out of the billions searched each day.

To determine if an ad is eligible to be shown in the Google search results, and what the position of the ad will be, Google uses a value called Ad Rank. If an ad does not meet the Ad Rank thresholds, it will not be shown. Ad Rank also determines the CPC (cost per click) that the advertiser pays for a click on their ad.

In this post, I cover the main factors that are used by Google to determine the Ad Rank of an ad during the auction, and what those factors mean for your ad strategy.

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Understanding the Google Ads auction

How the Google Ads auction works

When a user makes a search query, Google Ads runs a split-second auction of all the ads whose keywords are relevant to it. This will determine which ads are eligible to be shown, their ad position relative to competing ads, and the CPC that the advertiser will pay for a click on their ad.

When setting up Google Ads pay per click (PPC) marketing campaigns, advertisers identify which keywords they want to bid on and set their max CPC bid. The advertiser also sets up ad groups with keywords and creates related ads.

When there is a search query, the Google Ads auction begins. Here is the auction process according to Google:

  • For every search query, Google Ads finds all the ads whose keywords are relevant to the search terms.

  • The system ignores ads that are not eligible for that location and any disapproved ads.

  • The remaining ads will be evaluated based on their Ad Rank. The Ad Rank is based on the max CPC bid, ad quality, Ad Rank thresholds, search context and the ad extensions and formats used.

The eligible ads that won the auction are shown on the SERP based on their Ad Rank.

The layout of the Google search results page changes constantly. Currently, Google shows three ads above the organic search results and three ads below the search results on each search page. Depending on the popularity of the search term, and the number of qualified ads, ads may be shown on multiple search pages for the search term.

Here is an example of a search for “eye doctors Dallas” that shows three eligible Google Ads above the organic search results:

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Figure 1: Ads shown above organic search results for a search query

What is Ad Rank?

The ad with the highest Ad Rank will be shown in the top position of the search results page for a relevant search term. This is followed by the ad with the second highest Ad Rank and so on. Ads that do not meet the Ad Rank eligibility requirements will not be shown on Google.

Ad Rank calculation

Ad Rank = Max CPC Bid x Quality Score plus additional factors like the impact of ad extensions and ad formats, Ad Rank thresholds, search context, and competitiveness of auction.

Thus, spending more does not necessarily guarantee you the best Ad Rank. Here is an example of basic Ad Rank calculations for four advertisers competing for ad positions in the Google Search Results:

Figure 2: Calculating Ad Rank
Figure 2: Calculating Ad Rank

As seen in the example, Advertiser 1 had a lower max CPC bid than the other three advertisers, but was able to qualify for the top ad position because their quality score was high. Advertiser 4, in contrast, had the highest max CPC bid but the lowest quality score, and ended up in the lowest ad position.

Why should you care about your Ad Rank?

Google sets minimum Ad Rank thresholds that will determine if an ad is shown at all on Google.

In the example in Figure 2 above, there are four advertisers competing for an auction with Ad Ranks of 24, 20, 12, 8. If the minimum Ad Rank to show above the organic search results is 20, only Advertisers 1 and 2 will show above the search results. If the minimum Ad Rank to show below the search results is 10, only advertiser 3 will show below the search results. Advertiser 4 will not meet the minimum Ad Rank thresholds, and their ads will not be shown on Google at all.

Advertisers compete to have their ad shown in the top-most position on the SERP since that leads to a higher clickthrough rate (CTR) and results in more leads. Ad CTR changes considerably depending on your ad position.

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The average CTR across all ads on Google Ads is 3.17% in search. But that CTR ranges considerably depending on industry and position, with a “good” CTR for position 1 being 6% or higher.

Even those minor differences in percentage can equate to thousands of clicks more for higher-ranked ads.

With that in mind, let’s dig into the two main factors determining your Ad Rank a bit more.

What is CPC?

Cost per click (CPC) is the price you pay per click on your ads in your pay-per-click (PPC) marketing campaigns.

When you set up a Google Ads PPC campaign, you set the max CPC bid for the keywords in your account. The max CPC bid can be set up at the keyword level or at the ad group level:

  • The maximum CPC is the maximum amount that you’re willing to pay for a click on your ads.

  • The actual CPC is the final amount you’re charged for a click on your ad. Your Actual CPC is determined at the time of the auction and may be less than the max CPC amount.

  • The average CPC is the average amount you’re charged for a click on your ads.

While CPC costs can vary depending on your industry, the average CPC in Google Ads is $2.69 for search and $0.63 for display.

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CPC pricing is also called PPC or pay-per-click. Hence, Google Ads is called PPC or pay-per-click advertising.

How Ad Rank affects actual CPC

Ad Rank also affects the actual CPC you pay for a click on your ads.

Google Ads uses a second-price auction system. The actual CPC you pay is calculated at the time of auction based on your Quality Score and the Ad Rank of the advertiser below you, plus $0.01. Because the auction is dynamic, the actual CPC can vary with each auction.

Google does not disclose the details of how they calculate the Average CPC for Google Ads. According to Search Engine Land, the Actual CPC you pay for a click on your ad is determined at the time of the auction by the following formula:

Actual CPC = (Ad rank of Advertiser below/Your Quality score) + $0.01

Figure 3: Calculating Actual CPC values at each ad position
Figure 3: Calculating Actual CPC values at each ad position

What is Quality Score?

The Quality Score is a diagnostic tool that is used to estimate the overall quality of your ad compared to other advertisers.

Ads and landing pages that are considered more relevant and useful to the search query get a higher Quality Score. This helps to ensure that more useful ads are shown at a higher position on the SERP.

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Quality Score is measured on a scale of 1-10, and is available for every keyword. It is based on historical impressions for exact searches of your keyword.

Three factors that determine Quality Score

Quality Score is calculated based on the performance of three main factors:

Expected CTR

The expected CTR is a prediction of the ad clickthrough rate when the ad is shown on Google. Expected CTR projections are based on user CTR, which helps to decide which ads will perform best when shown for a search query.

CTR is the number of clicks your ad receives divided by the number of times your ad is shown: CTR=clicks/impressions.

Landing page experience

The landing page experience measures how relevant and useful your website landing page is to the person who clicked on the ad.

Ad Relevance

Ad relevance measures how well your ad matches the user’s search intent. It ensures that only the most useful ads are shown for every search query, and prevents ads that are unrelated to the product or service from being shown for a search query.

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Each of the three Quality Score factors is given a rating of “Above Average”, “Average” or “Below Average”.

In addition to the three factors above, Google considers additional factors during the real-time auction such as the type of device used, location of the user, time of day, impact of ad extensions, and more.

How to check your Quality Score in Google Ads

Google Ads provides four Quality Score status columns at the keyword level to check Quality Score:

  • Quality score

  • Landing page experience

  • Expected CTR

  • Ad relevance

To check your Quality Score in your Google Ads account:

1. Log in to your Google Ads account

2. Click on “Keywords” in the left menu

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3. Click on the “Columns” icon in the upper right corner of the table

4. Click on “Modify columns for keywords” and scroll to the Quality Score section. Add the following components to your table metrics (see Figure 4):

  • Quality score

  • Landing page experience

  • Expected CTR

  • Ad relevance

Figure 4: Modify columns for keywords to add Quality Score columns
Figure 4: Modify columns for keywords to add Quality Score columns

5. Click Apply

6. Once these columns are added, scroll to the right on each keyword in the table to check the Quality Score and its components (see Figure 5).

Figure 5: Quality Score status columns in the keywords table
Figure 5: Quality Score status columns in the keywords table

7. If there is a “-“ in the Quality score column, it means that there are not enough searches that exactly match your keywords to determine the Quality Score for that keyword.

For information on improving your Quality Score, read these tips from Google.

Conclusion

The Google Ads auction is a real-time auction that is triggered with every search on Google to determine which ads will be shown for that search term, and in what position. The Ad Rank and Quality Score of the ads are important factors in the ad auction and help to determine whether an ad is eligible to be shown on Google. By improving the individual components of Ad Rank and Quality Score, you can improve the eligibility and rank of your ads.

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Optimizing Zoom’s digital experience for explosive growth

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Optimizing Zoom's digital experience for explosive growth

In February 2020, Zoom had millions of weekly visitors to their site, all of whom were coming to Zoom.us to do a handful of activities. Flashforward a month later to March, and Zoom’s traffic spiked to tens of millions of visitors every week. Those visitors arrived to not only use Zoom for a couple of work calls per week, but to entirely reinvent how they interacted with colleagues, partners, teachers, students, and even friends and family.   

Zoom used this opportunity to transform its users’ experience into incredible growth and customer happiness across geographies and verticals. How did they do it?  

At Opticon ’23, Alex London, Head of Digital Zoom and Jay Dettling, CEO of Hero Digital, joined Alex Atzberger, CEO, Optimizely to share how Zoom re-built their entire digital ecosystem. 

Keep reading to learn how Zoom partnered with Hero Digital and Optimizely to transform its customer experience and drive stellar results including these early wins: 

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  • Page load improved by 60% 
  • Speed to market improved by 50% 
  • Conversion improvement of 10% 
  • Publishing time from days to minutes (reduced by about half) 

The Year the World “Hopped on a Zoom Call” — & What Came Next

In March 2020, Zoom watched as web traffic, sign-ups, users and attendees grew from millions to hundreds of millions virtually overnight. Not only did its customer base and user group skyrocket, but its core use cases did, too: online meeting rooms were now used to host weddings, game nights, and math classes. At the same time, corporate brainstorms, sales calls, and even government processes requiring the highest security clearances moved to  Zoom to continue working as normally as possible. 

To meet the incredible demand for new use cases and services, the Zoom team had to ideate, test, and ship new products and features on a timeline that the internal teams refer to as “at the speed of Zoom.” Their success meant that their brand entered a hallowed hall of exclusive brands whose names made the transition from noun to verb. It was the year of: “Can we Zoom?” 

Getting there wasn’t just about building and launching products and features;  that was only half the battle. To scale and continue delivering happiness to customers, the team needed to ensure they told the story of Zoom across all customer touchpoints. 

Their goals

  1. Reimagine and rebuild the entire digital stack (including attribution models, analytics systems, acquisition, and localization) 
  2. Move from an existing agnostic, one-size-fits-all model to a global, flexible digital experience to cater to personas, geographies, and use cases 
  3. Improve their speed to market to continue moving “at the speed of Zoom” 

The Tactical Challenges of Reimagining Zoom’s Digital Stack 

Zoom’s overarching goal was to put the story at every single touchpoint of the customer journey. Given the dramatic change in their business, building a new site for Zoom would be incredibly complicated. Yet, if they succeeded, they’d generate demand, better enable purchases, and support its users.  

So how did they do it? Before making the leap, they looked to their strategic partners — Hero Digital and Optimizely.

 

 

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Zoom needed a new digital foundation to achieve all of its goals at scale. More importantly, their new foundation needed to untangle serious web traffic complexity.

Zoom has four primary visitor types — all arriving on Zoom’s marketing website by the millions. They include: 

  • Individuals and SMEs buying Zoom online 
  • Demo requests 
  • Product support requests 
  • Users and attendees accessing Zoom’s website as part of their workflow 

To add even more complexity, the teams needed to account for multi-lingual requirements for 20+ languages across the globe. 

“How do we build for these four levels of complexity? And how quickly can we move to tell our new platform story?” – Alex London, Head of Digital at Zoom

Before anything else, Zoom needed to build a new design system, and Hero Digital stepped in to help. Together, they built a minimum versatile component library that would scale across the website, mobile, ads, and anywhere else Zoom encountered customers. The initial minimum library featured 38 components with 29 variants and 8 page templates. 

Zoom also had to untangle the domain and subdomain issues of their own making. The past choice to build their digital foundation on ‘Zoom.us’ and create new subdomains for customers (coming in north of 10k subdomains) meant speed and ranking were complicated. Essentially, Zoom was competing with 10k+ sites that Zoom itself had created.  

Resolving this problem by choosing to unify content on a single domain, Zoom, Hero Digital, and Optimizely got to work. 

Hero Digital’s Foundation + Optimizely’s Architecture = Moving at the Speed of Zoom

By partnering with Hero Digital and Optimizely, Zoom reimagined its complete customer experience and upgraded to a best-in-class technology platform that combines AI-accelerated workflows with experiment-driven digital experiences. 

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The team deployed the Optimizely Digital Experience Platform, featuring Optimizely Content Management System, Content Management Platform, and Experimentation, as the architecture to bring their foundation to life and scale faster than they could ever imagine.

Component Library + Optimizely CMS  

One of Zoom’s goals was to move from its existing agnostic model to a global, flexible digital experience to cater to personas, geographies, and use cases. To do that, they needed a modern content management system. 

In the first phase of the build, the team focused on Zoom’s marketing site, now untangled but still over 200 pages. They established a foundation on Optimizely’s Content Management System to create a foundation with a migration plan over months. 

Even in the earliest stages, the results were huge because the CMS meant Zoom can could now push global changes in just minutes. They save hundreds of hours of work across the company by: 

  • Eliminating the devops processes, which previously took days or weeks to work through
  • Reducing publishing processes by half even with new added governance steps

 

Optimizely’s Content Marketing Platform

Improving speed to market was Zoom’s third goal. With the first two goals unlocked by their phased migration to Optimizely’s CMS, they needed to not only unblock the velocity but also the creativity and collaboration in producing new content. Zoom’s teams receive 80-100 requests a week for new content across their digital properties. 

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For Zoom, the re-build of the intake process for content requests was a key component of speeding up their processes. They built in guard rails and governance processes that when used within the CMP, reduced publishing time to minutes rather than days.

 

 

Now, with the first three goals— a reimagined digital stack, a flexible digital experience, and improved speed to market—accomplished, Zoom will focus on its next digital phase: experimentation and personalization. 

How could a digital experience platform help you navigate the next phase of your business? Learn more from the experts with access to The Forrester Wave: Digital Experience Platforms, Q4 2023 report.

 

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The Role of Enterprise Mobility Management in Modern Businesses

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The Role of Enterprise Mobility Management in Modern Businesses

In today’s fast-paced business environment, Enterprise Mobility Management (EMM) has emerged as a critical facilitator for enhancing operational efficiency and competitiveness. EMM solutions streamline workflows, ensuring that enterprises can adapt to the rapidly changing digital landscape. This blog discusses the indispensable role of EMM in modern businesses, focusing on how it revolutionizes workflows and positions businesses for success.

EMM solutions act as the backbone for securely managing mobile devices, applications, and content that facilitate remote work and on-the-go access to company resources. With a robust EMM platform, businesses can ensure data protection and compliance with regulatory requirements, even in highly dynamic environments. This not only minimizes the risk of data breaches but also reinforces the company’s reputation for reliability and security.

Seamless Integration Across Devices

In today’s digital era, seamless integration across devices is not just a luxury; it’s a necessity for maintaining operational fluency within any organization. Our EMM solutions are designed to ensure that employees have secure and efficient access to the necessary resources, irrespective of the device being used. This cross-platform compatibility significantly enhances productivity by allowing for a unified user experience that supports both the agility and dynamism required in modern business operations. Leveraging cutting-edge technology, our solutions provide a cohesive ecosystem where data flows securely and effortlessly across mobile phones, tablets, and laptops, ensuring that your workforce remains connected and productive, regardless of their physical location. The adoption of our EMM solutions speaks volumes about an organization’s commitment to fostering a technologically forward and secure working environment, echoing its dedication to innovation and excellence.

Enhanced Productivity

EMM facilitates the seamless integration of mobile devices into the corporate environment, enabling employees to access corporate resources from anywhere. This flexibility significantly enhances productivity by allowing tasks to be completed outside of traditional office settings.

Unified Endpoint Management

The incorporation of Unified Endpoint Management (UEM) within EMM solutions ensures that both mobile and fixed devices can be managed from a single console, simplifying IT operations and enhancing security.

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Advanced Security Protocols

Where cyber threats loom larger than ever, our EMM solutions incorporate cutting-edge security protocols designed to shield your organization’s data from unauthorized access and breaches. By consistently updating and refining our security measures, we ensure your assets are protected by the most advanced defenses available. This commitment to security not only safeguards your information but also reinforces your company’s reputation as a secure and trustworthy enterprise.

Data Protection

EMM solutions implement robust security measures to protect sensitive corporate data across all mobile devices. This includes encryption, secure VPN connections, and the ability to remotely wipe data from lost or stolen devices, thereby mitigating potential data breaches.

Compliance Management

By enforcing security policies and ensuring compliance with regulatory standards, EMM helps businesses avoid costly fines and reputational damage associated with data breaches.

Driving Operational Efficiency

In the quest to drive operational efficiency, our solutions streamline processes, reduce redundancies, and automate routine tasks. By leveraging cutting-edge technologies, we empower businesses to optimize their workflows, resulting in significant time and cost savings. Our approach not only enhances operational agility but also positions your organization at the forefront of innovation, setting a new standard in your industry.

Automated Workflows

By automating repetitive tasks, EMM reduces manual efforts, increases accuracy, and speeds up business processes. This automation supports operational efficiency and allows employees to focus on more strategic tasks.

Real-time Communication and Collaboration

EMM enhances communication and collaboration among team members by providing tools that facilitate real-time interactions. This immediate exchange of information accelerates decision-making processes and improves project outcomes.

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Testimonials from Industry Leaders

Leaders in various industries have witnessed tangible benefits from implementing EMM solutions, including increased productivity, improved security, and enhanced operational efficiency. Testimonials from these leaders underscore the transformative impact of EMM on their businesses, solidifying its vital role in modern operational strategies.

Our commitment to innovation and excellence propels us to continually refine our EMM solutions, ensuring they remain at the cutting edge of technology. This dedication not only solidifies our standing as industry leaders but also guarantees that our clients receive the most advanced and effective operational tools available, tailored specifically to meet their unique business challenges.

Looking Ahead

The evolution of EMM solutions continues at a rapid pace, with advancements in technology such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML), and the Internet of Things (IoT) further enhancing their capabilities. These developments promise even greater efficiencies, security measures, and competitive advantages for businesses willing to invest in the future of mobility management.

Our proactive approach to integrating emerging technologies with EMM solutions positions our clients at the forefront of their industries. By leveraging our deep technical expertise and industry insights, we empower businesses to not only adapt to but also lead in an increasingly digital world, ensuring they remain competitive and resilient amidst rapid technological shifts.

In conclusion, the role of Enterprise Mobility Management in modern businesses cannot be overstated. Its ability to revolutionize workflows, enhance security, and drive operational efficiency positions it as a foundational element of digital transformation strategies. We invite businesses to explore the potential of EMM solutions and partner with us to achieve unprecedented levels of success and innovation in the digital era. Together, we can redefine the boundaries of what is possible in business operations and set new benchmarks for excellence in the industry.

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Lessons From Air Canada’s Chatbot Fail

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Lessons From Air Canada’s Chatbot Fail

Air Canada tried to throw its chatbot under the AI bus.

It didn’t work.

A Canadian court recently ruled Air Canada must compensate a customer who bought a full-price ticket after receiving inaccurate information from the airline’s chatbot.

Air Canada had argued its chatbot made up the answer, so it shouldn’t be liable. As Pepper Brooks from the movie Dodgeball might say, “That’s a bold strategy, Cotton. Let’s see if it pays off for ’em.” 

But what does that chatbot mistake mean for you as your brands add these conversational tools to their websites? What does it mean for the future of search and the impact on you when consumers use tools like Google’s Gemini and OpenAI’s ChatGPT to research your brand?

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AI disrupts Air Canada

AI seems like the only topic of conversation these days. Clients expect their agencies to use it as long as they accompany that use with a big discount on their services. “It’s so easy,” they say. “You must be so happy.”

Boards at startup companies pressure their management teams about it. “Where are we on an AI strategy,” they ask. “It’s so easy. Everybody is doing it.” Even Hollywood artists are hedging their bets by looking at the newest generative AI developments and saying, “Hmmm … Do we really want to invest more in humans?  

Let’s all take a breath. Humans are not going anywhere. Let me be super clear, “AI is NOT a strategy. It’s an innovation looking for a strategy.” Last week’s Air Canada decision may be the first real-world distinction of that.

The story starts with a man asking Air Canada’s chatbot if he could get a retroactive refund for a bereavement fare as long as he provided the proper paperwork. The chatbot encouraged him to book his flight to his grandmother’s funeral and then request a refund for the difference between the full-price and bereavement fair within 90 days. The passenger did what the chatbot suggested.

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Air Canada refused to give a refund, citing its policy that explicitly states it will not provide refunds for travel after the flight is booked.

When the passenger sued, Air Canada’s refusal to pay got more interesting. It argued it should not be responsible because the chatbot was a “separate legal entity” and, therefore, Air Canada shouldn’t be responsible for its actions.

I remember a similar defense in childhood: “I’m not responsible. My friends made me do it.” To which my mom would respond, “Well, if they told you to jump off a bridge, would you?”

My favorite part of the case was when a member of the tribunal said what my mom would have said, “Air Canada does not explain why it believes …. why its webpage titled ‘bereavement travel’ was inherently more trustworthy than its chatbot.”

The BIG mistake in human thinking about AI

That is the interesting thing as you deal with this AI challenge of the moment. Companies mistake AI as a strategy to deploy rather than an innovation to a strategy that should be deployed. AI is not the answer for your content strategy. AI is simply a way to help an existing strategy be better.

Generative AI is only as good as the content — the data and the training — fed to it.  Generative AI is a fantastic recognizer of patterns and understanding of the probable next word choice. But it’s not doing any critical thinking. It cannot discern what is real and what is fiction.

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Think for a moment about your website as a learning model, a brain of sorts. How well could it accurately answer questions about the current state of your company? Think about all the help documents, manuals, and educational and training content. If you put all of that — and only that — into an artificial brain, only then could you trust the answers.

Your chatbot likely would deliver some great results and some bad answers. Air Canada’s case involved a minuscule challenge. But imagine when it’s not a small mistake. And what about the impact of unintended content? Imagine if the AI tool picked up that stray folder in your customer help repository — the one with all the snarky answers and idiotic responses? Or what if it finds the archive that details everything wrong with your product or safety? AI might not know you don’t want it to use that content.

ChatGPT, Gemini, and others present brand challenges, too

Publicly available generative AI solutions may create the biggest challenges.

I tested the problematic potential. I asked ChatGPT to give me the pricing for two of the best-known CRM systems. (I’ll let you guess which two.) I asked it to compare the pricing and features of the two similar packages and tell me which one might be more appropriate.

First, it told me it couldn’t provide pricing for either of them but included the pricing page for each in a footnote. I pressed the citation and asked it to compare the two named packages. For one of them, it proceeded to give me a price 30% too high, failing to note it was now discounted. And it still couldn’t provide the price for the other, saying the company did not disclose pricing but again footnoted the pricing page where the cost is clearly shown.

In another test, I asked ChatGPT, “What’s so great about the digital asset management (DAM) solution from [name of tech company]?” I know this company doesn’t offer a DAM system, but ChatGPT didn’t.

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It returned with an answer explaining this company’s DAM solution was a wonderful, single source of truth for digital assets and a great system. It didn’t tell me it paraphrased the answer from content on the company’s webpage that highlighted its ability to integrate into a third-party provider’s DAM system.

Now, these differences are small. I get it. I also should be clear that I got good answers for some of my harder questions in my brief testing. But that’s what’s so insidious. If users expected answers that were always a little wrong, they would check their veracity. But when the answers seem right and impressive, even though they are completely wrong or unintentionally accurate, users trust the whole system.

That’s the lesson from Air Canada and the subsequent challenges coming down the road.

AI is a tool, not a strategy

Remember, AI is not your content strategy. You still need to audit it. Just as you’ve done for over 20 years, you must ensure the entirety of your digital properties reflect the current values, integrity, accuracy, and trust you want to instill.

AI will not do this for you. It cannot know the value of those things unless you give it the value of those things. Think of AI as a way to innovate your human-centered content strategy. It can express your human story in different and possibly faster ways to all your stakeholders.

But only you can know if it’s your story. You have to create it, value it, and manage it, and then perhaps AI can help you tell it well. 

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